Colwich Computer Club. 

Electronic Books War

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As with most new things in our digital age different formats appear and run side by side until one comes out on top and is dominant. It happened with Audio Cassettes and 8 Track Cartridge Tapes: VHS Cassettes and Betamax tapes: 12 inch Video Discs and DVD’s: (Although very few people actually saw a 12 inch Video Disc,) it is happening with Microsoft’s WMA, the Music Industries MP3 and Apples I-Tunes using MP4 Audio and so it is with Digital Books.

Guttenberg Press was one of the first organisations to make books available on-line in digital format and they seem to be happy to try any and all formats including digital audio! Formats offered include Audio, (Computer Generated and Human Spoken) HTML, PDF, Plain Text and even the new E-Pub, etc. At the moment their books can be read/downloaded in their entirety, subject to international copyright regulations, and are free for the surfer to keep. Generally, most books available, are the older classics, but many are also available in different languages as well as English for added variety!

A few years ago Google started a project to ultimately make available, on-line, all printed publications in the Worlds History. They have hit several legal copyright stumbling blocks which they are slowly overcoming, but the format they have adopted is PDF because of the ability to lock PDF documents to prevent copyright infringements of most sorts. PDF documents are commonly used already on the Net for many things and open with a free Adobe Acrobat PDF player that most people have installed. The books are listed on “Google Book Search,” free of charge to the publishers who retain overall copyright, and the system is paid for by targeted advertising, as with their search engine. Surfers can browse through only a small random percentage of the books pages in much the same way as they might a book in a bookshop. Publishers can link their books to their own retail sites of choice to then sell them. At the moment Google don’t actually sell them, but I am sure I read somewhere that they are considering this as well.  The books are donated to the Library by publishers who generally send them in electronically, however, some are sent in by ordinary libraries and computer scanned. The text is then displayed as pictures, making the text of poor quality to read. This is often the case for older books out of copyright. Very often the surfer can view or download the whole text of these older books free of charge. (Many have now been added in the E-Pub format as well)

As the idea of E-books is developing more computer gadgets call E-Book readers, produced by companies such as Sony and Amazon’s Kindle, are becoming available. They might seem expensive at a couple of hundred pounds or more, but they are coming down in price rapidly. Little bigger than a paperback book their screens use “E-ink” that gives a more readable text type display, than text on a normal computer screen. Most are sold with dozens of free E-books as an enticement and the claim that hundreds of books can be stored to take away on holiday with you instead of carrying a case full of books. Some readers can connect to the net and download magazines and other periodicals such as a daily newspaper and some will play music or video. Some book readers read WORD.Doc, some PDF and some the newer format of E-Pub, but there are many other formats out there as well. Some readers will not only play Audio books, but will produce spoken word from an ordinary digital text e-book! 

Until now publishers have only been able to use the program to produce books in the Kindles own format in America, but the Kindle is now being sold in Europe and there are moves to make a program service on-line available in Europe, so that publishers don’t have to actually buy the very expensive program outright to publish in their format. However, the publisher will have to give 30% of the sale price of the E-book to Amazon who will offer the only way of selling the resulting E-books.

The new industry standard format of E-Pub has the advantage of allowing text to be altered in size along with the accompanying pictures, to make it re-flow, so that the book keeps more of its original layout the way that the publisher intended. There is also talk of a DRM type system (the same as on music files) to prevent multiple copying of files as can still be done at the moment with PDF.

Amazon’s Kindle is taking a big percentage of the small, but growing market and Amazon are moving to reduce the price of E-books, that until now, have mostly been the same price as printed, paper books. They obviously intend to dominate the E-book market in the same way that Apple do the music downloads, however, Apple are now entering the scene with yet another player, (the I-Pad,) and probably a new format of their own. Apple want their new I-Pad to do for books what their I-Pod did for music. (P.S. Apps are now being made available for the new I-Pad to increase it's functionality over and above the original design uses - when it becomes available here in the UK.)

P.S. Since writing the above, the British Library has announced that in the Spring it will make available 65,000 E-Books  to download free of charge. The project has been developed with the help of Microsoft.
P.P.S. The latest on the British Library project is that they have entered into a financial agreement with Amazon to make their free downloads only available to Kindle owners and users. Most of the titles included are those of little known authors, but some books by very famous names are amongst them including many of the works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame.

P.P.P.S. The British Library are now embarking on a new project with the help of an IT firm called Brightsolid to digitize some 40 million newspaper pages over the course of ten years. The papers will go back to the 1700's and cover 52,000 local, national and international newspapers. The project will cost millions of pounds, but will be commercial as pages will then be available to view on-line at a price.