Electronic Books The Future Is Here Today

Kindle DX

The Digital Revolution Just Arrived

It’s fairly easy to make predictions of the future. As long as you look far enough ahead and use broad brush strokes you’ve probably got as much chance as the next person of getting it right(ish).

However, if you haven’t been paying attention – or even if you have – it’s more than likely that you may have missed a major technological change which is about to have a huge, and immediate, impact on one of society’s oldest and most important activities – reading.

It would be wrong to suggest that this has happened overnight. Portable electronic book readers have been around for about ten years now. However, it does seem as if they have been catapulted into mainstream consciousness during the first six months of 2009. The concept of electronic book readers may not be new – but it is an idea whose time has come.

The Franklin eBookMan was launched in 1999 and is generally held to be the original portable e-book reader. Maybe it was ahead of its time and the supporting technology wasn’t in place – but it never really caught on. Nevertheless, the concept had been established.

The next major milestone in the e-book reader story was probably the launch of the original Amazon Kindle (now sometimes referred to as the K1) in November of 2007. The key elements that made this significant were the facts that electronic books could be wirelessly downloaded and that the device was marketed by Amazon – one of the biggest book sellers around. It sold out less than six hours after launching and remained out of stock for months. Even so, it was more of a curiosity than a mainstream consumer device.

Other e-book readers were launched, including the Sony PRS reader, but the next big event on the e-book reader map was the launch of the Kindle 2 in February of 2009. Amazon had basically taken the feedback from their early Kindle users and made significant improvements in the device. And it was Amazon again who made the next leap forward, just a few months later in June 2009, when the Kindle DX – a large format reader was launched.

The DX’s large display capability was marketed as being ideal for readers of newspapers, magazines and academic textbooks. Amazon partnered with national newspapers and magazine publishers to offer subscription based electronic delivery of periodicals. Partnerships with half a dozen universities and colleges were also put in place and these would prove to be very important.

Future Trends In Publishing

As important as Amazon’s efforts were, they were not taking place in isolation. Two very significant events took place in the summer of 2009. First the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, announced that his state would initiate a program to provide free electronic text books in its schools. The key thing was that this was not some futuristic long term plan – but a scheme which was scheduled to start in August 2009. The future was here – Arnie said so.

Also in the summer of 2009 the New Democratic Leadership Council (a Washington think tank) issued a paper entitled “A Kindle In Every Backpack”. This publication suggested that all of America’s K-12 school children be provided with free electronic book readers. Music to the Amazon marketing team’s ears no doubt.

Needless to say, the marketing team at Amazon are not the only ones taking a keen interest in this market. Sony, iRex, Plastic Logic, Samsung, Apple – the list of players in the nascent e-book reader market is impressive and growing all the time. A lot of money has been spent developing the technology, setting up the infrastructure and deciding upon the best marketing strategies.

Sony have partnered with Google to make the search engine giant’s vast library of public domain books available free of charge to Sony PRS users (note that free Kindle books are also available direct from Amazon’s Kindle store). Plastic Logic have developed a virtually indestructible display – bound to be handy for school children. The Apple tablet pc is due out in early 2010, or possibly even before the end of 2009, and it will also be ideal for reading e-books.

There is, simply put, just too much momentum behind electronic books right now for there not to be a major change in publishing as we know it. Big business – both publishers of all types and electronic manufacturers – is behind it. The academic establishment is behind it. The political parties are behind it (education is a big vote winner after all). It cannot be stopped now.

There are a number of possibilities for the future. We could see e-book readers sold in a similar manner to cell phones. A low initial cost (possibly even free) subsidised by a monthly subscription. Think book of the month club.

Low initial cost could also be subsidised by relatively high download fees. We may even see e-book readers given away as incentives – some colleges are already offering a free Kindle reader as an incentive to enrol with them.

It’s even possible that we may see a large number of free books available – but with adverts every few pages.

All of the above, and more, are genuine possibilities. Only one thing is for sure – digital readers are going to be mainstream very soon. The way we read books is about to change forever.

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