Towards a paperless world: eBooks are here to stay

Over the last few years I have purchased several electronic books in the form of PDF files.

I find the PDF format quite useful and indeed better than printed books particularly when reading science, math, software and technology related documents since it allows me to Copy & Paste items for testing and prototyping while reading.

This feature of Copy and Paste I find it very useful; it is an active and experimental learning experience unavailable using conventional paper format.

eBooks change not only the reading experience but probably more importantly the authoring and review process of creating, editing, publishing and distributing books.

For schools and universities, both for faculty and students, this interactiveness, validation and experimentation represent a unique way to author, learn, document and review, thereby enhancing, communicating and validating in realtime, activities possible today by using mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktops in the classroom, lab, office, bus and at home.

In fact the evolution of eBooks may morph with other electronic developments and media and possibly transform into a much more different experience than today's eBooks; much more interactive and likely resembling applications self-contained and optionally connected to external resources offering more than passive text rendering and including features and functions adding value, effectiveness and productivity in a number of disciplines such as in health, education, science, math, language, chemistry, and transportation to mention few areas of applicability.

Licensing is difficult. The PDF books I have indicate clearly they are licensed to me; a watermark and text along the bottom of each page say so; however, they can be copied and distributed; enforcing of the license is a problem for authors and publishers.

Browsing through amazon.com I found Stephen Hawking's latest book, The Grand Design, for $9.74 unavailable in PDF format but available in Amazon's proprietary format: Kindle.

I was not about to buy yet another electronic proprietary gadget to read a book; however, I found Amazon offers free Kindle readers for a variety of platforms including the Mac.

Few minutes later and $9.74 allowed me to commence reading Hawking's latest book using my MacBook Pro, a bright and very legible platform for reading electronic content.

Some lessons I learnt from this experience include the following points:
  1. I prefer PDF format for eBooks. Using a PDF I have a file that I can read using any of the technologies I use. It allows me to Copy and Paste content such as sample source code which is now the majority of the eBook content I read.
  2. Amazon's Kindle is subscription based. You purchase books housed in Amazon's cloud; you do not store nor own a file such as when obtaining a PDF or ePub book. The Kindle unit and readers for various platforms connect to the Amazon's cloud, download the book to be stored internally within the reader, and rendered using a Kindle or readers for various platforms. The Kindle reader in both the Mac and MS Windows are very good but read only Kindle books. The system is good but closed; I prefer an open format accepted by the industry to be used universally as we do for text files, Web pages, PDF documents among other formats. However, using a subscription model and using a proprietary format, Amazon is able to better control licensing and avoid copying books. Kindle does not support Copy & Paste.
  3. ePub. ePub is an open file standard for documents; files have the extension of .epub and there are various utilities to convert from text, MS Word, PDF, etc. to ePub format. See the Wikipedia entries for ePub and for International Digital Publishing Forum.
Given my limited experience reading books using electronic media, I see a trend evolving towards eBooks that may result in more new books appearing and distributed in electronic media than paper and some books may be produced only in electronic format for subjects such as textbooks, software, R&D and industry specific.

Mobile phones, laptops, tablets and other electronic appliances may influence the direction towards certain new books, magazines, etc. appearing only in electronic format as is the case for Internet based content. In that case, new information is already available only in electronic media thus contributing towards the desired but elusive paperless world for information exchange.

I found a good summary and chronology for eBooks and related developments at Wikipedia.

Update. See reference to news that Amazon's eBook sales surpass paperbacks for the first time. For each 100 conventional books, Amazon sells 115 eBooks, should I say, Kindle formatted books.
Update. Article re subject: As E-book Sales Explode, Consumption Patterns Change.