What is an e-book?

An e-Book is an electronic book, read with your computer, laptop, or on devices called e-book readers.

Where We Started

The concept of electronic books is not new, but dedicated devices on which they are read are relatively new.  I remember when Adobe released Acrobat back in the late 80’s when I was at Indiana University.  I taught several classes promoting the benefits of the Portable Digital Format (PDF) and talked about how it would forever change the way we would think about documents.  Of course, this was back in the days when finding a way to publish documents that would look the same no matter what operating system was difficult.  (Don’t forget this was back in the DOS/Windows 3.1 and early Macintosh). We’ve come a long way – sharing documents across operating systems is fairly trivial.

Now we’re dealing with more than just documents, it’s books, novels, text books, etc.  Google has over 1.5 million books available online.  Amazon has millions of electronic books that can be purchased.  Publishers are making their books available both in hard copy and electronically.  Individuals are now publishing books electronically without professional publishers.

So what about the devices that we now call e-books?  There’s the Kindle, the Sony Reader, NetBooks, and some would figure the iPhone in this space.  All can read various formats.  Getting the content into these devices is different, however. The Kindle uses both USB and the Sprint network.  The Sony Reader utilizes USB and standard wireless.  The iPhone utilizes iTunes and/or an app.

  • Amazon has positioned the Kindle DX for education.
  • Apple has supported education for some time through iTunes U.

Advantages

I own both the Kindle 2 and the Kindle DX along with an iPhone.  I have several books and subscribe to newspapers and magazines on my Kindle.  I find that both Kindles read very well and once I got used to how the devices navigate through pages and chapters, it was very convenient to read on the train, an airplane, or in my easy chair.  No messy papers or books laying around, just a single device.

The Sony Reader and the Kindle DX can both read PDF documents without a conversion.  The Kindle 2 must go through a conversion process for $.10 per document through Amazon.  (The free converters don’t work very well).

Reading on the iPhone is a bit more difficult since the screen is much smaller.  However, I like the navigation much better.  I can zoom in on text and it’s backlit.

Pleasure reading is great on all of these devices.

Getting New Books, Magazines, and Newspapers
  • The Kindle uses the Sprint network, receiving subscriptions or access the Amazon store is nearly always available.  When I first received my Kindle 2, I was accustomed to turning it on in my apartment.  I didn’t think much about it, but one day it wasn’t until I got on the the train and turned it on that I realized how flexible this device was.  I got my subscription to the Boston Globe, the NY Times, and the US Today within just a few seconds.
  • The Sony Reader, I use my computer get content.
  • The iPhone uses either an iPhone app or an iTunes update.  The iPhone app takes care of getting the content through the AT&T network.
  • The Kindle supports voice recognition on many books.  However, some publishers have this feature blocked on their book because they already have the book published as an audio book.
  • The Kindle supports saving clippings into a separate file.
  • All can play MP3 audio books/music.

Disadvantages

While I really enjoy my Kindles, there are some definite disadvantages – especially in the academe.

  • Highlighting and underscoring is clunky.
  • PDF support is limited.  Unless the PDF is taken through the conversion process into the Kindle proprietary format, tables of contents, indices, and other linkages do not work.
  • The less expensive books are flat with no navigation links.
  • Neither Kindle has the ability to zoom.
  • Neither the Kindle or the Sony are backlit
  • iPhone screen is small and reading text can be difficult because you have to move the screen around to read the text.

Non-Technical Disadvantages

  • Publishers haven’t priced e-books cheap enough to make a $400 purchase of the device worth it for most.
    • Especially in the text book purchase.  e-Books are only marginally less expensive than hard copy.  Students can’t sell the book back, like they can with hard copy.
  • For educators, getting content onto student devices isn’t easy or in some cases it’s unavailable.
  • The devices are subject to theft, making it difficult to take it to the beach or the park without making sure that it never leaves your possession.  If an individual book is stolen, we’re out the cost of the book.  If someone steals our Kindle, we’re out around $400.
  • The device is treated like a laptop by the airlines and TSA.  In one airport, I needed to remove it from my bag like I did my laptop.

Where Is This Going?

I think we’re close, but not quite ready for education.

A great device would be a cross between my Kindle and my iPhone – without the phone capabilities.  With the Kindle, I like the size and the ability to have up to 1500 books stored on it.  But, the iPhone has superior navigation.

If this device could be integrated with something similar to iTunes U, it would make it easy for instructors to introduce new content to students enrolled in their course.  When the student turns on their device, the new content would automatically be downloaded.

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