“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.” Henry David Thoreau quotes (American Essayist, Poet, and Philosopher, 1817-1862)
The 1970s was evolutionary with the advent of new technologies for the transmission, storage, and distribution of data, once the prerogative of book publishing, had become a problem for the industry.
Television screens and databases became symbols of the challenges to editors and publishers; the increasing use of sophisticated copying machines, pose new problems to the need of publishers and authors to protect their property by copyright.
In the twenty century, computers and such related innovations such as the CD-ROM and the internet have allowed publishing to expand, making them readily updated text available online and on disc and fostering multimedia presentations and interactive uses. However, does the emergence of the hypertext replacing the place of the traditional book?
In electronic publishing, the data can be maintained up-to-date so that the buyer will be able to purchase the latest version of publications (for example, encyclopedias, and directories). This enables ‘on-demand publishing’, and allows retrospective searching and SDI. The individual subscribers can be provided with only those documents which match their profiles and can be charged accordingly. The EPs provide aids for connectivity, audio visualization, customizability, creation, and revision of documents, interactivity, and rapid information retrieval.
The most important advantage of EP over the conventional journal is the time lag in submission, refereeing, vision, editing, composing, printing, binding, and forwarding eliminated by using computer and communication networks. This enhances timely publication and is suitable to the letters-type journals where rapid communication is of utmost importance.
“Books open your mind, broaden your mind, and strengthen you as nothing else can” William Feather
The electronic version also offers Boolean search of the full text to browse and read only the selected items. Further, when computer and communication facilities are available, the reader need not have to sift through unwanted material as in conventional journals to retrieve the relevant papers. Electronic publications may help in overcoming the restrictions on the length of the paper imposed by many scholarly journals.
Finally, e-books promise another kind of restructuring in the publishing markets. In general, publishers do not know their customers; a complex chain of wholesalers and retailers serve as intermediaries. Retailers accept cash, further contributing to the anonymity of readers. Publishers sell very few books direct to readers in the print world. In a world of e-books, particularly where there may be few cash transactions, publishers may get to know and track the behavior of their consumers for the first time. Certainly, network-based retailers will be able to track their customers better because few will be anonymous.
There are, then, at least three major agendas implicated in all the hype over e-books:
- the nature of the book in the digital world as a form of communication;
- control of books in the digital world, including the relationships among authors, consumers/readers, and publishers, and by extension, the way we will manage our cultural heritage and intellectual record; and,
- The restructuring of the economics of authorship and publishing.
Some of the problems of EP include high initial costs to the publishers to invest before benefits are expected, the non-compatibility of hardware (and hence the market potential) due to the absence of common standards, and the usage of different retrieval software by different publishers.
Why? Not every digital book can be viewed using every viewing technology. Some are highly targeted to specific viewing technologies, while others are versatile and can be easily delivered to many diverse viewing environments. Also, recognize that while it may be technically straightforward to deliver a book to a wide range of viewing environments, the publisher may deliberately choose to limit the environments a digital book can be delivered to.
And of course, viewing technologies can be thought of as defining markets. Authors may choose to author for markets that they believe are large or easily reached or profitable, and as a consequence may choose to create works that deliver well to particular viewing technologies.
The acceptance of Electronic Journals depends upon the user-friendly retrieval software. As a prerequisite, EPs necessitate the availability of a computer and communication network to the subscriber. The gap between developed and developing countries (those who can access and those who cannot) makes the EPs an elitist technology.
The electronic journal may take some time to percolate down to the reader level mainly due to the problem of displaying page images conveniently on a computer screen. For an entire page to be accommodated the size of the image has to be reduced and the low resolution makes it difficult to read.
Ease of use, reading at a convenient time and place, is not possible with Electronic Journals. As there are no restrictions on the length of the papers and of course no page charges, the quality of papers may be poor if lengthy papers are accepted. Other disadvantages include the psychological feeling that researchers generally read more outside their workplace, thus requiring portable reading material, though this problem can be solved by taking a printout of the required literature.
One major drawback of the Electronic Journals at present is their delayed-release. Though there are many publications that are available only in the electronic medium, in many instances, when the publication is issued in both printed and electronic forms, the electronic version is released after a gap of three to four weeks.
Issues of searching and selecting the right books and the right passages in the books become an important function that none of the current reader manufacturers seem to be thinking much about. We can think about purchasing books from multiple publishers when we think about an e-book reader as a surrogate for individual books.
Is it equally reasonable and realistic to think about having it integrate subscriptions for reference libraries from multiple sources, or combing a reference library subscription with random purchases from specific publishers? These are all unexplored questions, and they have implications for standards, for digital rights management, and for issues such as individual privacy.
Other problems include the necessity of training for the subscribers and readers, and multiple copying license/charges. Due to these factors, unlike their printed counterparts, Electronic Journals are not open to all but somewhat restrict. Notwithstanding these drawbacks, Electronic Journals will become all-pervasive as their printed counterparts, at least in some subject fields. The day ‘may not be too far when a researcher is able to read Electronic Journals at a convenient place and time using laptops (to read in journeys, leisure, etc) and computers at home.
Consider a few implications: losing access to a single book may be a problem; losing access to an entire personal library built up over years is a problem of a different magnitude altogether. Can books be withdrawn from a digital library subscription, and if so under what terms and with what notification? We have been able to keep books for a lifetime, though they may be long out of print and out of fashion or commercial viability, to consult them again and again, though their pages may become brittle and their bindings fragile. We have been able to pass books on to our children, our nephews and nieces, to share them with friends, to keep them in libraries for future generations to learn from and enjoy. Can we accept a world where this is impossible?
In spite of the positive trend in embracing technology, it seems clear that the future of the book isn’t purely digital, and that in addition, the paper will be an important user interface via print-on-demand, many genres of books are rapidly migrating to digital form.
Two different and distinct things are happening to the book as it moves into the digital medium. It is being translated rather literally into a digital representation, and it is undergoing a transformative evolution into new genres of digitally-based discourse. This is a major reason to why most libraries are closing down for aspects of restructuring. For example, the British Council in Kenya has closed down most of its libraries. Both of these developments, which can be viewed as two opposing endpoints of a spectrum of digital content, may legitimately lay claim to being digital books.
These transformative evolutionary developments are not, at least today, heavily constrained by issues of control and protection of intellectual property, or of revenue and economic viability. They are still largely experimental and are focused primarily on improving the ability of authors to communicate and document. Developments in this world are taking place largely outside the framework of the new technologies that are specific to these translated electronic books and the readers that support them.
It is important that as we explore and exploit the capabilities of the new viewing technologies we also continue to nurture the development of the new genres that are evolving. These are an important part of the digital future.
New technologies – both in hardware appliances and in software for general-purpose computers – are developing to facilitate the use of digital books. These technologies emphasize the support of books that are translated, rather than reconceptualized, for the digital medium. These new technologies should make many digital books more convenient, more readable, and more useable.
On the other hand, we must not let the hype about a technological update to the printed book – the move from printed book to e-book reader – trivialize the enormous social implications of the change that is starting to occur. These new technologies come with a potentially steep social price. They provide new levels of control, monitoring, and usage restrictions for digital books that may well go beyond what consumers are accustomed to with physical print books, and they create serious questions about our ability to manage, preserve, and provide access to our cultural and intellectual heritage.
Without such capabilities for control, existing print books may not move to digital form, or at least not quickly and in large numbers. Appliance readers provide particularly powerful levels of control; the capabilities of software book readers to offer the same level of control remain to be validated in large-scale consumption. It is likely, though far from certain, that those publishers will favor appliance book readers. The precise balance points between marketplace acceptance by consumers and demands for control by publishers have yet to be established.
It may be that consumers, and indeed society as a whole, are willing to agree to the various costs of adopting e-books. They raise serious questions about the future role of libraries. But thoughtful, informed consent is critical. Hidden agendas and unforeseen consequences – that emerge only after e-books have become extensively established through a consumer marketing campaign that persuades the public that e-book readers and the content sold for them represent the future – do not serve us well. Copyright, with all of its social as well as legal ramifications, has always been an explicit and carefully wrought bargain between creators and society at large. E-books can reshape this pact in complex and wide-reaching ways. How Can E-Books Revolutionize Literacy and Publishing in Africa?
Issues of preservation, continuity of access, and the integrity of our cultural and intellectual record are particularly critical in the context of e-book readers and the works designed for them. These have enormous importance both for individual consumers and for society as a whole, and for libraries, which manage much of the intellectual archives of our society. Most fundamentally, we face the question of whether libraries can continue to collect books as they move to digital form, particularly in mass-market publishing. We must not overlook these issues in our rush to adopt e-book readers and content distribution for them, and libraries will have a special obligation to speak out on these issues and to educate society about them, while also trying to work out viable arrangements with the content industries.
Finally, we must continue to recognize that digital books, in the broadest sense, are at least potentially much more than simply digital content translated from the print framework that can be viewed by e-book readers promoted by today’s publishing establishment and technology providers as part of an agenda of market share, new revenue opportunities, or control over content. Digital books, in all of their complexity and potential, are as yet only dimly defined and will be a continued focus for the creativity and ingenuity of present and future generations of authors, teachers, and scholars.
The printed word, and particularly its manifestation in the book, holds a very special and privileged place in our culture and our society. the revolution of authoring to the digital medium, the book – rather than other cultural products such as musical works – should be the benchmark to measure and test the assumptions and beliefs about the roles and uses of intellectual property in the new environment. The case for digital books broadly, as new genres of works, is about more effective communication of ideas, enhanced teaching and learning, and renewed creativity. While the first case is a good one, if the price is not too high (in social as well as economic terms), the second case is truly compelling and inspiring.
The future digital book will take us far beyond today’s printed books and publishing industry.
Raymond Kurzweil, (1990). The Age of Intelligent Machines. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Richard Lanham, (1993). The Electronic Word: Democracy, technology, and the Arts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Robert Darnton, (1999). “The New Age of the Book,” New York Review of Books (18 March),
Michael Jenson, (2000). “E-Books and Retro Glue Protect the Vested Interests of Publishing,” Chronicle of Higher Education (23 June), http://chronicle.com/free/v46/i42/42a06401.htm