Thoughts and commentary about life & technology, with a focus on Information Technology (IT). Seeking to help organizations and their leaders (CIOs, VP of ITs, and key business leaders) select and leverage the right technology to solve real-world problems.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Thoughts on e-books & e-readers
I have been spending a lot of time recently reading material in the
e-book format. I must admit, I am a
paper diehard in many ways. For books,
particularly technical books, I really prefer the printed hardbound
editions. Not only do I seem to “bond”
with the book, but I also highlight sections, write notes on pages and on some occasions
even flag a page. For long e-mails, I
tend to print them as well. I seem to
absorb the material I am dealing with more effectively that way.
Final editing is another occasion when paper is also a preferred medium
for me. Errors that seemed invisible on
the printed screen just seem to jump out on a printed page. I better cover myself here and say I did not
print this posting before doing a final edit ;-)
J.H. Newman once said, “Growth is the only Evidence of Life,” an
observation that I have found remarkable insightful on many levels over the
years. It is part of my motivation and
passion for continuing to be a lifelong learner across a broad array of
subjects. In this case, it has motivated
me to take another look at e-books and in turn, e-readers.
A variety of drivers are fueling the rise of e-books including price, ease
of access, and low cost e-book reader and the “green factor. Sure paper is saved, storage space (which is
a critical issue in my home – between all of us, there are way TOO MANY books),
and possible energy savings. However, I
am always a bit suspicious that “green” numbers may not be correctly calculated
on a true net-net basis. Nevertheless,
there are significant motivators beyond environmental considerations.
I have also used enough e-readers to understand their advantages,
particularly with all the material we have to process through daily. These e-readers generally let you perform
text searches, place electronic bookmarks, and, in some cases, create your own notes. These features can be powerful tools, thought
it may take time to find what works well for your particular needs.
On a document basis, PDF is the most common form of electronic
publication I suspect most people encounter in their life (I am considering web
content in its own category). PDFs are
great for sharing documents and making large libraries of reference material
available in a simple and consistent manner.
A number of e-book libraries are PDF based for this reason. Depending on how the PDF was created, it may
share most, if not all, of the features of an e-book.
Commercial e-readers and associated devices are designed to enable the
purchase, storage, and viewing of material from a specific source(s). These readers tend to use propriety formats
and licensing terms.
The market leader and strong innovator in this space is Amazon. Their Kindle devices and tablets are the most
significant force behind the proliferation of e-readers and the associated publishing
market. Amazon’s devices continue to
flood the market with a stream of innovative enhancements. On the backend, the library of material grows
Amazon has also created a software-only version of the Kindle reader for
other devices. This software enables
cross platform capabilities for the Kindle and is a shrewd move on their part. In essence, Apple is making another reading platform
for Amazon. Amazon’s software enables
users to access their “Kindle” on their PC, iOS device, or Android device with a
good experience. These devices use the
cloud to sync so the experience and appear nearly seamless.
Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Sony’s reader are other popular examples. I recall reading an article last year that
listed 10 software e-readers of notable quality available for the iPhone
alone. There is a lot of activity in
A lack of standards has created a nagging problem for end users. In many cases, these readers are sourcing
from propriety libraries which are not interchangeable. For example, as of today, books bought on
Amazon’s Kindle store cannot be read by Apple’s iBook reader and vice versa.
It gets worse. While the Kindle
reader makes provisions for a user to read their purchased content on more than
one device, including saved “notes” and “bookmarks,” the iReader does not. In fact, you cannot even buy a book from
Apple except via that application. There
is not a provision, at this time, to read your books from a Mac or PC.
Content “ownership” is also an area of great confusion. When I buy a book, I can take it home knowing
it is mine. Other than outright theft,
it cannot disappear due to the actions of a third party. I would like to understand, in simple terms,
what is happening legally when I “purchase” an e-book. Is it non-revocable? What happens if the provider were to go out
of business; does part of my library disappear overnight? What about bookmarks and notes? Are these protected and, if so, what are the
service levels? How will new editions of
the books be handled? The legal issues
surrounding e-books is constantly evolving and the terms of each transaction
seem unique to the provider involved; what applies to one case is unlikely to
apply to others.
There have been cases, well covered in the news, where some publications
have been pulled back from Kindle users.
In other cases, “corrected” versions of books were pushed onto devices,
replacing existing versions. I find it
troubling these actions can occur without the user’s permission. Clearly, in these cases, it is a far cry from
having a book safely stored one's own shelves.
On the personal side, I confine my e-books purchases to a few sources. I am hoping market forces and a standards
push will enable interchangeability in the future.
CIOs and their IT organizations need to work with their stakeholders and
help their organizations map out clear strategies. Legal needs to be closely involved as there
could be important IP issues. As an
example, consider the possibility an employee’s electronic notes in a book
might contain proprietary information.
Other important considerations include the "lending" of books
between users and what happens when someone leaves the organization.
It is going to be an exciting ride for everyone. I will post future updates based upon my
personal and professional experiences in this space. But in the meantime, it would be a good idea
for organization to make sure they have plans in place to manage this important