Save a tree, buy an e-book

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 1st September 2009.

Recent technological advances have seen many pop culture mediums adapt to a digital format. The general public have readily accepted the development of the digital distribution of photography (legal), music (mostly legal) and movies (mostly illegal). However, a stalwart of pop culture, the book, remains mostly locked in a physical format. That is, the book has not physically changed much since the development of the printing press in 1454. Digital book reading devices and e-books are now starting to appear in the market but their uptake so far has been limited and their potential to become the dominant format for written material remains questionable.

The Amazon Kindle, released in 2007, is a portable e-book reading device. Priced between US$299 – $489 and less than 1cm thick, the Kindle weighs around 300 grams and connects to the US cellular phone network to allow the downloading of e-books purchased for about US$10 on the Amazon website. Due to copyright and import restrictions, the Kindle is only available at this time in the US. Despite reasonably strong sales figures (4.4 units predicted to be sold by the end of 2009), the Kindle has been criticised for poor screen contrast, causing eye strain and mild headaches, as well as limited storage capacity.

E-book access is not limited to dedicated devices such as the Kindle, the Sony Reader or the Samsung Papyrus, they can also be read using Personal Digital Assistants (PDA), mobile phones such as the Apple iPhone and laptops or personal computers.

Whilst the majority of Australians may not yet be able to purchase the latest books and magazines electronically, over 30000 e-books are available to download or read online for free from the Project Gutenberg (PG) website. Founded in 1971 by American Michael Hart, PG is the oldest digital library in the world and aims to digitise and archive cultural works. The books available are generally public domain and have been submitted and proof read by volunteers worldwide.

 The affiliated Project Gutenberg Australia website hosts over 2000 titles, also entered by volunteers, and specialises in works about the history and exploration of Australia. Due to differences in copyright law, PG Australia also has available works by notable authors such as Margaret Mitchell, George Orwell, H.P. Lovecraft and Dylan Thomas which are not available on the main US-based site.

As the popularity of dedicated reading devices, PDAs and 3G mobile phones such as the iPhone continues to grow, so too will the interest, distribution and sales of e-books. Personally, however, nothing will beat the feel of turning a crisp new paperback page or the smell of a well-loved library book. Whilst it may be bad news for trees, the physical book looks like it will be here to stay.

Since the publication of this column, the Amazon Kindle has become available to Australian customers.

Published in: on December 23, 2009 at 06:55  Leave a Comment  
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