Books ‘n things

It seems that the technology for reading books electronically is getting better all the time and I don’t think it will be too long before even us South Africans are heading that direction.

One unit I’ve heard about is the Sony Portable Reader, which is 12mm thick, weights 250g, and can store up to 80 books in its 64Mb memory. The $349 reader is not yet available in South Africa and, although I’m sure it would be available online, you might not be able to get access to Sony’s online store to buy titles for it.

The reader has a memory card slot, which means that you could feasibly take your whole library with you on holiday, and a 150mm screen. It will last 7500 page turns between charges, because it only uses power when the page is turned and not when displaying text.

Getting stuff to read electronically is not hard, with Sony having opened an online book shop, and there are other sources. The prices of electronic books do seem a little high, when you consider that the publisher has no shipping or production costs to cover.

For example, The Wit & Wisdom of Winston Churchill by James C. Humes will cost you $7.96 as opposed to $10.36 plus postage, if you got it new from amazon.com. The book Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child will cost you $14.36 in electronic format, or $15.60 plus postage from Amazon.

Electronic titles are obviously being priced so as not to be significantly cheaper than the printed editions. The publishers are hoping that people won’t mind paying for convenience but I’m not sure that they will accept that a few bits and bytes are of nearly equal value to a printed book.

The Sony Reader, and other units I found online, are not confined to displaying books bought from online book shops, however. They will also display a whole lot of other stuff including Adobe PDF files, text files of various kinds and content from the Internet.

One source of free books in electronic format is Project Gutenberg, at gutenberg.org, which has been underway since 1971. Its founder, Michael Hart, started digitising books on which copyright had lapsed, and there are now 20000 titles available for download; 100000 if you count those from affiliated sites.

I think that Project Gutenburg is well worth a visit in the meantime, because you can still download and read their books on any PC. And, if you’re that way inclined, you can get involved in the project, from the comfort of your PC, and help with tasks such as proof reading.

I shouldn’t think that printed books will ever totally be replaced by electronic ones because the pleasure of owning and paging through them is something that mere bits and bytes could never provide. Electronics will be just fine for news, the latest bestseller that you don’t think about for long after you put it down, or for reference texts.

Previous columns at allan-fishnet.blogspot.com.

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