The end of print ??


The other day I bought a book, which would not have been unusual enough to mention, but it’s a book that was produced without any ink being used or trees being harmed.

What I bought, in fact, is just a collection of zeros and ones mixed together and which, when reconstituted in Adobe Acrobat reader, become a great little 58-Page book on black-and-white photography.

Called the Magic Of Black & White, by Andrew S. Gibson, the book is all about learning to see in black-and-white. Included in the superbly laid out publication are plenty of inspiring photos to illustrate points the author makes in the text.

It is quite a leap from buying printed books to electronic ones, but I have been very pleasantly surprised by my first few experiences of them. I have written about e-books before and even tried a couple on my Blackberry phone, but I hadn’t taken the plunge and actually bought one.

The decision to try came about when I started to hear of Canadian photographer David Duchemin who has started up a business publishing photo books written by himself and a number of others. It’s called Craft & Vision and has a growing selection of titles costing the grand sum of $5 each.

I quite liked the look of Andrew Gibson’s book and fed in my credit card details, clicked the OK button, and downloaded the 23 MB file. The Craft & Vision books are designed to be viewed on as many different platforms as possible and so come in Adobe’s PDF format.

I had no trouble in viewing and enjoying the book on the screen of my desktop computer but the story wasn’t quite as good when I tried it on my netbook. It only has a screen 600 pixels high and the text becomes a bit small for comfort, as the book is designed to be viewed double-page at a time.

Still, it was a successful experiment and I decided to see how I would cope with reading text-only books on computer. The Mobipocket site provides a free e-book reader, an online store with a great selection of bestselling books, and even a lot of free ones.

I downloaded the reader software and a couple of sample books to be going on with. The reader allows you to read the books on your PC, and it will also copy them to a number of different mobile devices, including dedicated e-book readers and phones.

The text was easy to read on both my PCs and the program transferred books to my Blackberry without any trouble at all. In addition to books, the Mobipocket software can be used to subscribe to website feed, read them on your PC, or transfer them to a mobile device.

My conclusion from my admittedly limited experience so far, is that electronic books are perfectly viable but I sit for quite long enough in front of my desktop computer and my netbook, although usable, doesn’t fold flat and is a bit too heavy to hold comfortably for long periods sitting in the lounge or lying in bed.

What is needed to make e-books viable for me is either an electronic reader of some sort, or a light tablet computer with a big screen, such as the Apple iPad. Readers are still pretty expensive in South Africa but there are signs that the situation might be improving, with Amazon’s Kindle now available in South Africa for $189, plus postage.

The Kindle apparently includes a free wireless connection which will let you log in to your Amazon account and buy and download books pretty much anywhere you happen to be. I must say it sounds quite tempting, especially when you consider that bestsellers such as Wilbur Smith’s Assegai will cost you only $10, and there are no shipping charges on top of that.

The Apple iPad hasn’t yet arrived in South Africa but it has been getting very good press as an e-book reader, and I’d certainly want to wait and see it before deciding which path I’m going to follow. Another factor to bear in mind is that Apple has well and truly launched tablet computers into the public consciousness, and there are bound to be many other manufacturers launching competing products in the near future.

The one big thing to look out for when getting into e-books is that many of the readers use proprietary file formats for the books sold in their associated stores and you need to be sure that the unit you choose will be able to display all the books you want to buy.

Quite frankly, I don’t know what the answer is in terms of choosing an e-book format and reader to ensure that they are as widely compatible as possible. On my list of wants, for example, is a format with a wide selection of titles, and a reader that can also display text and PDF files and content from the Internet.


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