I’ve always had a hard time explaining my position on e-books. Some of my esteemed colleagues are quick to point out the minor dent that e-books have made in overall book sales in this country and others. But when I started evangelizing about e-books back in the late 1990s, we were still talking about what I call the “curl-up factor.” I grew so tired of hearing people complain about not wanting to curl up with an e-book, or the inability to take an e-book to the beach, that as soon as I read either phrase in e-book commentary, I simply stopped. [WARNING: rhetorical question ahead. No need to flood comments.] How many laptop owners can say they’ve never curled up with theirs in bed, and who hasn’t seen a Blackberry at the beach?
The interesting thing to me is that much of the debate about whether to do e-books ended when Google made its now-famous announcement. “Whether or not” to digitize became “how, which, and whose books” nearly overnight. I still find it ironic that despite publishers and middleware providers’ valiant efforts to digitize books, it took a press release about Google digitizing millions of books for which it had no rights to turn the tide of e-book production.
There are a couple of interesting new things out there. First, the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) is announcing a conference in New York City for May 9, 2007. Digital Book 2007 will feature digital publishing and mobile device innovations. Librarians might remember the IDPF as the OeBF, or Open eBook Forum. It dropped the old moniker when it became clear that the group was essentially a trade organization, and not primarily an effort to create an open e-book standard—a goal that I still believe was thwarted by the conflict of interest of some of its participants in maintaining the strong footing of proprietary technology in the e-books market space. Anyway, the conference will likely include a better look at e-ink technologies, Adobe’s new Flash-based e-book reader, and more.
The conference’s confirmed speaker list includes the Digital Library Federation’s new executive director, Peter Brantley. Brantley recently shook up the e-book world a little with a Google e-book apologia related to recent library dealings with the Google Books project. The original post is a poetic read; its follow-up, “Reprise with Clarity,” is also excellent.
Back to my position on e-books. It’s not a “more digital books” position, but what I like to call “books more digital.” That is, the more digital the book is, the more options publishers, libraries, patrons, and shoppers will have for consuming them and building services upon them. Whether e-ink, cell-phone, or print-on-demand paperback, a more digital book is a more readable book. Now that the “whether or not” debate is coming to an end, it may be time (or it may be too late) for libraries to reinvest their time in investigating standards, pressuring publishers to release content for digitization, and playing with the technology that will soon be (or already is) in the hands of our patrons.
[This post originally appeared as part of American Libraries’ Hectic Pace Blog and is archived here.]