E-Books, Part 2: Trends and Standards: Given the Variety of E-Reading Devices and Standards, Librarians Would Do Well to Begin Experimenting and Select the Product That Best Meets Their Needs

By Abram, Stephen | Information Outlook, June 2010 | Go to article overview

E-Books, Part 2: Trends and Standards: Given the Variety of E-Reading Devices and Standards, Librarians Would Do Well to Begin Experimenting and Select the Product That Best Meets Their Needs


Abram, Stephen, Information Outlook


In my previous column, I wrote about some of the issues facing us in the transition to a new, and much more complicated, printed book (p-book) and electronic book (e-book) ecology. I explored our too-shallow understanding of e-books and how they differ from traditional books. I noted that things were happening fast--indeed., even more has happened since writing that column.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A key point I made was that the electronic experience differs greatly depending on whether the book in question is a work of fiction or non-fiction, a reference book (e.g., an encyclopedia or dictionary), a textbook, a scholarly work, or other type. That said, we need to develop a better understanding of a few other issues related to e-books. This container for information and experiences isn't going away; rather, it is mutating and growing in importance to the research, library, entertainment and education fields.

Emerging E-Book Standards

Two issues that are guaranteed to be hot topics for many years are copyright and digital rights management (DRM). Our advice as information professionals will be sought even more regularly as our enterprises struggle to adapt to and comply with changing laws and practices. With small battles erupting over Apple's censorship of some books and the ability to limit or deny access to some applications, real concerns are being expressed about the impact on our freedom to read. It's getting warmer out there and more complex.

As librarians and information professionals, we wish there could be just one e-book standard, but it seems that every new technology evolves in several directions at once. So, right now we have a few competing standards, largely driven by the big e-reader vendors and not so much by the education, library and publishing industries. There are a few international standards committees, and much good work is being done. However, the fat lady isn't singing yet and there may still be time to influence the direction of events. To do so you need to read about these standards and understand each one's strengths, weaknesses and openness.

In my opinion, it's premature to pick one at this time. I would suggest, however, that if you're considering purchasing e-readers, you should choose one that supports the most standards (unless you're only interested in fiction from Amazon). Keep close watch on EPUB and MOBI and on changes in HTML and HTML5 as well as PDF. Keep an eye on innovations in DRM, like the announcement by Barnes & Noble that books for its Nook e-reader can be previewed and read in the store or shared between readers.

This competition won't just be about leveling the playing field but also about features and functions that support study, teaching, reading, research, collaboration, and Information behaviors. The e-book format comparison charts on Wikipedia (visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_e-book_for-mats) are the most complete I've seen thus far.

What's in the pipeline?

Since my column tries to be about trends, let's think about what we can expect in the coming months with respect to e-books.

Although Amazon is the dominant e-book provider right now, the Kindle's position was weakened by Apple's entry into the market with the iPad. In April, Apple announced that iPad users had downloaded 1.5 million books during its first month on the market, during which time 1 million devices were delivered. That's just a very small start.

A week doesn't go by without an announcement about new e-readers, new e-book stores, and new e-book apps for readers, phones and devices. It's the Wild West all over again in the quiet world of publishing, schools, research, and information. And this time it's doubly interesting, since e-readers are being adopted by baby boomers more quickly than by millennials!

We've already seen the first big skirmishes in the price wars for books, with Amazon trying to set the allowable price(s) for all books. …

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