Extra! Extra! E-read All About It!

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Extra! Extra! E-read all about it by Kallarn Lo'Vosh (Published on May 4, 2013)

A long time ago in a galaxy not too far far away, the written word was committed to paper and the humble book has remained mostly unchanged for a large portion of its life. The advent of the digital age meant it was only a matter of time before our beloved books got a makeover. In this article i'll be looking at different methods of reading electronically as well as looking at the e-books themselves.

The E-reader

E-readers aren't a new thing, with early versions being attempted in the 90's, but it wasn't until 2004 that the first e-ink screen e-book reader was released by Sony. Following hot on its heels, and probably the largest factor in the rise of the E-book, the first Kindle went on sale in 2007 and sold out within five hours!

The basic design thing to remember about any dedicated e-book reader is that they have monochrome screens, usually fairly small (around 6 inch screens), light and have batteries that last a long time (depending on usage obviously). Despite the emergence of more devices into the market, the basic e-book reader hasn't changed much since then, with the only differences between models being size of storage, full QWERTY keyboards, touch screens, wireless connectivity (Wifi or 3G) and, more recently, lights to aid reading.

For future designs a few manufacturers have looked at color e-ink displays but there have been some issues with colors not being nearly as good as tablet LCD's, not to mention cost of the screen, for which there is little content aside from comics, Manga and textbooks. The biggest difference between the majority of readers is the support for different book formats, and this is often what affects peoples decisions on what brand to buy or whether to opt for a more rounded content consumption device like a tablet.


Tablets are probably the biggest market for electronic reading at the moment purely because of the sheer number of them being sold (122.3 million tablets in 2012 vs 14.9 million dedicated e-readers). As with dedicated E-readers, they are not a new device. The success of Apples iPad and the subsequent release of numerous Android, Windows RT, Kindle and now full Windows 8 Tablets is making them ever more popular with people for content consumption whether it be music, movies, websites or e-books. Smartphones are generally smaller versions of their tablet brothers and with screen sizes increasing, they too become much more viable to sit and read on without straining your eyes too much.

Tablets and smartphones rely on software for e-books and all the major bookselling manufacturers tend to have an app that will run on most operating systems to read (and buy) their books. Kindle, Kobo, and NOOK are the main three platform agnostic providers with Google play and iTunes (via iBooks) catering to their own specific operating systems. All tend to feature similar ideas with animated page turning, auto saving of where you've read to (some even across the cloud), filing books into shelves or categories and of course visiting their stores to buy your new books.

E-books formats

Probably the most prolific format at the moment is the electronic publication (ePub) developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) as an open free standard for multiple devices. Sony, Apple, Google, Kobo and Nook devices all use this format, although some apply Digital rights management (DRM) that limits them to a brand of reader and stops lending between devices. Amazon uses the AZW format for its E-readers and KF8 format for its Kindle fire tablets, which are both a derivative of the Mobipocket (MOBI) file, also with DRM applied. These are the big formats at present and there are many more out there, but the only other real format with any noteable presence is the Adobe PDF document which has been around (for good or ill) for many years and can generally be read on most devices, although the documents are often large in size and slow to load.

The are a number of issues with E-books though that will need to be addressed eventually. First and most important to most users is being tied to the formats based on their device. With tablets, it is a pain to have books spread between multiple programs because of format, and with E-readers, it could mean losing books you've bought if you switch brands. There are obviously ways around this such as Calibre for PC which allows you to convert books (that have no DRM) to different formats, but it requires people to know it exists and have the patience to convert all their books and store them. Once converted, you can use reading programs such as Aldiko on Android and iBooks (iTunes) on Apple devices allowing you to import books into your collection all in one place.

The second issue is where do E-books fit in with releases and pricing? In my experience, e-books are generally released at the same time as the hard back and with a price tag in between hard back and paper back; however, there are exceptions to this such as with the release of 'A Memory of Light', which was specifically delayed in e-book form by three months to protect sales of the hard back. There is also the issue of availability. There are a number of books I've come across still unavailable in e-book form or only released on a specific store which means they are unavailable to some people.

The other unknown area with E-books is lending. Some book sellers have started e-book lending services but these are often tied to paid-for accounts such as Amazon prime but even then, certain publishers have stopped their books being lent in electronic form. So far in the UK I've not come across any libraries offering any kind of e-book lending although I did read that the government has looked into the issue, so that leaves lending between friends and family which, with DRM involved, is discouraged if not impossible unless you can circumvent these measures which in itself is a fairly grey area of legality.

I did a quick straw poll of TarValon.net members reading habits and from the thirty responses I gleaned the following

70% (21) of responders read books in electronic form 57% (17) of responders used a dedicated e-reader (not exclusively) 20% (6) of responders read on a tablet (not exclusively) 30% (9) of responders read paper books exclusively

So will electronic reading replace books? For the time being I'd say not completely, but as always things change. There are advances and costs come down, all of which make it more appealing. I personally love e-books and use my Kindle as much as possible over paper books, but it's still hard to justify spending to replace a full book series I already own or to not buy books at charity shops or car boot sales for a fraction of the cost of their electronic equals.