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Farah Aliza Abd Aziz

The History E-Book Industry
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ICT In Educations
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The History E-Book Industry

The idea of the portable electronic book dates back to 1968 when postgraduate student Alan Kay articulated the concept of the Dynabook, "a portable interactive personal computer, as accessible as a book". Considering that this was many years before the advent of the personal computer and the Internet, his idea for a tablet-style computer capable of wireless communication was a visionary one, and more than two decades passed before products matching his description began to appear in the marketplace. Kay went on to work at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, developing graphical user interfaces, then at Apple, where his vision of the Dynabook finally transformed itself into reality in the form of the Apple Newton MessagePad, the world’s first PDA. Touch-screen based, the Newton was capable of displaying electronic titles in NewtonBook format, and indeed hundreds of e-books were produced, but the product line was discontinued in 1998 when leaner, lighter PalmPilots and Handspring Visors entered the market.

During this time, Franklin Electronic Publishers and Sony were busy developing their own concepts of the portable E-Book. In 1986, Franklin were the first to enter the market in 1986 with a handheld device containing an electronic dictionary and capable of displaying only one line at a time, followed, in 1991, by an electronic Bible, this time with a four line screen and keyboard.

Also in the early 1990s, Sony developed the Data Discman, otherwise known as the Electronic Book Player, which played both audio CDs and books on CD-ROM. The Discman was bundled with Compton’s Concise Encyclopedia, Wellness Encyclopedia, and Passport’s World Travel Translator and introduced to the American market. The Sony Electronic Book Authoring System enabled other compatible titles to be created, but this software sold and few additional e-books were ever produced.

Criticized for its proprietary architecture, small screen size, poor resolution and limited multimedia capabilities, the Discman was soon superseded by the Bookman (to be distinguished from the eBookMan), produced first by Sony and later by Franklin. This weighs 2 pounds, has a 4.5 diagonal screen, and employs cartridges containing a variety of reference materials, from foreign language dictionaries to collections of quotations. Franklin’s other first generation portable e-book which can still be found on shop shelves is the Pocket PDR Medical Book System, a small 4.6 oz device with keyboard and monochrome screen, and with a variety of manuals of therapeutics and handbooks of drug interactions available on book cards.

Poor usability in terms of the comfort of reading from such small screens, and the lack of an appropriate content distribution channel, means that the success of these early devices from Sony and Franklin was limited. Most recently, Franklin have launched the eBookMan, a device which attempts to overcome these limitations by providing a larger screen and enabling titles to be downloaded from the Internet.

The arrival of PalmPilots in 1998 marked the widespread availability and uptake of small, powerful and portable computers, and had an enormous impact on the demand for handheld devices. With the technology now available, a market for small devices established, and reading text from small screens growing in acceptance, publishers and entrepreneurs had both the ability and the confidence to begin developing electronic books, and a second generation was born. Like their predecessors, these models of e-books take advantage of the ability of technology to store multiple titles in a small space, but they also try to provide readers with a comfortable experience by retaining the advantages of the print medium and mimicking aspects of the book metaphor: they are all designed to be used “like a book” by reading black text against a light background on a high resolution screen, larger than that of the Discman or the Bookman, employing pages (or sections of text occupying distinct visual spaces) which can be turned using buttons dedicated to that purpose.

Nuvomedia, Inc. in Palo Alto, California, were the first to launch their new wave E-Book at the Barnes and Noble store in New York in October 1998. The Rocket E-Book is a paperback-size device that holds 10 books (4,000 pages of text and graphics), weighs one pound. It has a 4-by-3-inch high contrast screen with high resolution, a number of font sizes can be selected, and it can be customized for left- and right-handed use. The battery lasts for about 20 hours when backlit, and 45 hours without being backlit. The device has a search facility and a bookmarking function. The Rocket comes with a PalmPilot-like cradle that connects to a serial port; titles are ordered online, downloaded to a PC and finally transferred to the reader.

Its closest competitor was the SoftBook by SoftBook Press of Menlo Park, California. The SoftBook has a leather cover which, when opened, automatically starts up the book. It holds 250 books (100,000 pages), has a backlit, high resolution 7-by-6-inch screen which can display 16 shades of grey and about twice as much text as the Rocket, weighs nearly 3 pounds. Functions such as choosing a title, page turning, bookmarking, underlining and annotating can be performed using touch-screen technology. Its battery provides up to five hours of viewing, but it offers a fast recharge of an hour. Unlike the Rocket, it is completely independent from the PC: content is loaded in an HTML-based proprietary format and downloaded directly to the reader via an internal modem.

The Electronic Book (E-Book)

An E-book can be defined as a text- or text-and-image based publication in digital, i.e., computer-generated, presented, and readable form. E-books can and will take a variety of forms: the CD-ROM, the "Open eBook," and Web-CDs have offered variously successful models for electronic publication.

An electronic book (E-book) also is a book which you can read on the computer (or print from your computer). It can be anywhere from a few pages long to several hundred. The format of most of these books is PDF and is read by a special program.

Electronic books (E-Book) are digital versions of books. Some are available from the Internet through subscription or purchase. Others, like older works in the public domain, are available free. Numerous Web sites offer “libraries” of e-books; there are sites that link to a broad variety of titles and others that specialize in certain kinds of works. The Libraries have purchased access to some large collections.  In addition, UF Libraries are a leading participant in the PALMM Project, a statewide initiative to digitize materials from library collections in Florida.

An electronic book must be read using either a computer or a special reading device. Most e-book users will simply use their personal computer for accessing, reading, studying and printing excerpts from e-books. However, there is a growing demand for a more portable option such as one of the Gemstar readers, SoftBook, Everybook , or eBookMan, and most PDAs offer e-book reader software.

In general terms, e-books, in whatever form, differ from traditional print books in several ways:

  • The reader accesses and views text, images, charts, maps, tables, and indexes on the computer screen.
  • The text citations and any captions for images, tables, charts, maps, etc. are searchable by entering key words into the program's search engine.
  • Various sections of the publication (chapters, subsections, indexes, support materials) can be accessed in many different sequences by electronic links called hyperlinks. These are designated through standard indicators—generally in bold, another color, and/or underlinings—called hot spots.
  • Generally the action required to activate these links is to click on the indicated hot spot with the mouse, using a pointer or finger symbol, which causes the page view to jump automatically to another section.
  • Various other features, including pop-up notes, enlargeable images, data sets created on the fly, have all become standard e-book features.



Like traditional books, electronic books are published to achieve a variety of goals. Although there is considerable overlap, most electronic books can be matched with at least one of four general purposes. Some, like the many electronic encyclopedias published as CD-ROMs, are primarily for reference. In these books there is usually a relatively small amount of information on a large number of topics.

Others have a strong instructional flavor. In these books, information is presented and supported in ways that meet the specific needs of students. For example, an electronic book presenting the works of a major literary figure might highlight key literary devices or provide interpretations of difficult passages. Electronic books designed to meet the instructional needs of students with a range of reading abilities will often provide a digitized reading of the entire text as a way of increasing reading fluency.

Electronic books that provide the reader with a large-scale network of interrelated documents, graphics, and sound are usually meant for in-depth studying. They support the study process by providing links across documents and text enhancements within documents. Finally, some electronic books are primarily for entertainment or pleasure reading. This is true for the new genre of hypertext fiction such as Afternoon (Eastgate Systems) and the highly interactive Animated Storybooks produced by The Walt Disney Company. When evaluating and selecting electronic books for use in the classroom, it is extremely important that teacher understands what the electronic book was designed to do and determine whether this matches their instructional goals.

Implementations of  E-Books

Simply stated, an e-book is the contents of a book made available to the reader in electronic form. E-books are generally found in the following four implementations:

  • Downloadable e-books: The contents of a book are available on a Web site for downloading to the user's PC.
  • Dedicated e-book readers: The book's contents are downloaded to a dedicated hardware device which has a high-quality screen and special capabilities for book reading.
  • Web-accessible e-books: The e-book remains on the provider's Web site and can be accessed for a fee. Readers can "purchase" the books to receive indefinite access.
  • Print-on-demand books: The contents of a book are stored in a system connected to a high-speed, high-quality printer, from which printed and bound copies are produced on demand. The contents may be available on a chapter-by-chapter basis to enable the creation of single copies of customized books.

Print-on-demand technology has existed for some time and has generally been applied to books and other documents used in educational or technical environments, especially where the entire book is not needed by the user. The content is in electronic form only for purposes of production; the user reads these e-books in hardcopy just like printed books. Print-on-demand books are an example of electronic-aided publishing, in contrast to true electronic publishing.

E-Book in Libraries

Despite the current proliferation of literature in electronic form, the chief role of libraries in most people's minds is still firmly associated with books. It is natural, therefore, to wonder what impact e-books will have on libraries. Although e-books are still in their infancy, and their market impact is yet to be determined, several initiatives involving libraries have already been launched. netLibrary, Inc. seems to be the leader in this effort at the present. It has offered 1,500 e-books free of charge to up to 100 U.S. public libraries for a six-month trial. (It is notable that most of the free titles are taken from public domain sources, and netLibrary requires that participating libraries add cataloging records for them to their catalogs if they are not already there. Some libraries have balked at this requirement because of the cost involved.) netLibrary's trial marks the first e-book marketing effort targeted at public libraries.

Several e-book trials are underway in the academic library sector. The following are representative examples:

  • The University of Texas (UT) has established a $1 million budget for e-books and has already acquired over 600 titles. Through its consortium partners, it has access to over 6,000 titles. Digital readers are loaned to users who can download titles and who will be able to create customized "libraries" in the future. According to Dennis Dillon, head of collections and information services at UT, some e-book titles have been checked out 25 times in two months, a statistic which he finds "shocking," given that a book has only about a one-in-three chance of ever being checked out .
  • North Carolina State University has experimented with e-book readers, buying a number of Rocket e-Books and Softbook readers (Part 2 will discuss these devices in more detail). An article by Nancy Gibbs reports that most users enjoyed using these devices. Most of the problems encountered in the trial were in the areas of administration and technology. (Gibbs also noted that she was reminded of the early days of the online retrieval business in resolving them.) In her article about the trial, she specifically addresses the following issues that arise:

1.   Licensing. After a license agreement had been negotiated with Softbook, the agreement that appeared on the introductory screens displayed on the reader contained provisions that negated the agreement already reached. The library would not proceed with the trial until Softbook removed the agreement from the reader screens.

2.   Lack of Standards. Each title had to be separately purchased. Some were available only on the Rocket device and others were available only on the Softbook device, so some library users had to check out both devices to read all the titles they desired.

3.   Bibliographic Control. The library could not add records for the ebooks to its catalog until the catalogers had actually viewed them, because the vendor's listings did not provide sufficient data on editions, etc.

4.   Physical Problems. The devices and their accompanying battery packs were too large to be conveniently carried, so the library had to issue them to borrowers in bags.

Gibbs was favorable towards e-books as a result of the trial, but she feels that they will never replace printed books. One unanticipated benefit of the trial was the bringing together of library staff from several departments to work together in resolving the problems that occurred.

Drexel University, a member of the PALINET consortium, provides access to netLibrary via its OPAC workstations. In an interview with Bruce Whitham, Head of Drexel's Information Services Department, he noted that the books featured on netLibrary's Home Page are not available to users at Drexel because the library has not subscribed to them. Users' expectations are thus falsely raised; Whitham wonders why unavailable titles are shown to users. Apparently, netLibrary simply made the standard version of its system available to PALINET libraries without any attempt at customizing it. And only one copy of each e-book is available to the entire consortium, so if a user at any consortium library is viewing a title, it cannot be viewed by anyone else. Whitham also noted that netLibrary has been very responsive to Drexel's suggestions for improvements to its system. Although he is a strong supporter of delivering full text electronically, and sees electronic text as an integral and inevitable part of the future, Whitham feels that many of today's versions of e-books were developed for ecommerce, not libraries.

E-books have made few inroads into public libraries yet, probably because of the cost, significant procedural and legal uncertainties, and the still-evolving technology. (With their severely constrained budgets, public libraries are probably hesitant to invest in e-book readers for fear that they will be required to incur additional costs if their readers become obsolete.) Susan Barnard's article on libraries in the e-book area considers many of the issues and opportunities. It discusses issues of circulation, cost structures, and compensation to authors and publishers.

Those public libraries that have purchased e-book readers have found that their users are enthusiastic about them. Roberta Burk's cover story in a recent issue of Library Journal describes the experiences of several libraries. For example, the Algonquin, IL library owns 58 Rocket e-book readers and hopes to be able to offer over 100 titles on each reader. They often have waiting lists for a reader, and have observed that a significant number of users have borrowed the readers more than once. The library took the interesting strategy of purchasing several series, observing that users rarely find all volumes of a series on the shelf. The e-books were all cataloged with the word "e-book" so that users could retrieve a complete list of the library's e-book holdings. The reference staff found that they were often called upon to show borrowers how to use the readers--a further expansion of their career role as "an equipment expert". Another public library downloaded over 100 classic e-books to its Rocket reader and found a high user demand for them.

Although many of the questions surrounding e-books are the same as with printed books, many of the present uncertainties with e-books move libraries into previously uncharted territory. For example, how would the library control the circulation of the readers? What is the optimum loan period? If a user borrowed a reader from a library and downloaded some titles, how would the library collect the cost? Once downloaded, would the titles be available to other borrowers, or would the publishers require that they be deleted? When the capacity of the reader is reached, who should decide which titles should be deleted? What about copyright and the possibility of piracy? If it occurred, would the library be legally responsible? If a library decides to invest in e-book readers, which one should it buy to obtain access to the most appropriate selection of titles for its clientele?

Types of Embedded Resources in E-Book

The presence of embedded resources in electronic books has tremendous potential for improving students' comprehension and promoting in-depth learning. Whether this potential is realized, of course, depends on what resources are embedded in or attached to the text and whether these are the types of resources needed to meet teachers' instructional goals or students' instructional needs. Over the past several years, have designed, developed, and tested various types of electronic books with various types of learners. From this work has emerged a growing understanding of the types of embedded resources that prove useful to students. The categories of these types of resources by the function they perform in assisting readers to comprehend and learn from text.

  • Translational resource - translate a word, phrase, or paragraph into something more comprehensible to the reader. Definitions, for example, translate unfamiliar words into familiar ones. Paraphrases translate complex sentences into simple ones. Digitized speech translates printed words into spoken words. Translational resources can also shift the text from its original language to another, such as Spanish, Japanese, or even American Sign Language.
  • Illustrative resource - help readers understand the text by providing examples, comparisons, illustrations, and visuals. They are often, but not exclusively, multimedia objects such as pictures, drawings, charts, or digitized video and sound. A biology text, for example, might illustrate the process of mitosis with an animation, and a music history text might illustrate composers' work with digitized samples from selected performances.
  • Summarizing resource - provide an overview of the text without any encumbering or complicating detail. Examples include graphic overviews, outlines, concept maps, timelines, and geographic maps. Even a table of contents is a summarizing resource as it provides an overview of the topics and subtopics that appear in the text. To be useful, summarizing resources should be available to readers from anywhere in the electronic book. Many summarizing resources also serve as navigational aids, helping students move around the document in nonlinear ways.
  • Instructional resource - promote active processing of the text by suggesting activities for manipulating concepts and remembering information. Examples include minitutorials, self-monitoring comprehension questions, and features designed to prompt in-depth thinking about what is being read. Some electronic books allow teachers to insert their own instructional resources for students, allowing them to draw attention to aspects of the text that meet their instructional goals (e.g., an author's use of figurative language) or ask students to use the text to complete an assignment (e.g., "Find evidence for the economic causes underlying the American Civil War").
  • Enrichment resource - provide information directly related to, but not strictly necessary for, comprehension of the text. They might include side-bars with additional information, historical background information, biographies of important people, links to original source materials, and comprehensive explanations. For example, a reference to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in an electronic history book might be enriched by providing the full text of the speech, audio or video clips of King delivering the speech, links to a brief biography of King, summaries of additional materials on the history of the U.S. civil rights movement, a rhetorical analysis of the speech, and a discussion of the speech's impact on Black pride.
  • Notational resource -  are designed to enable interaction with an electronic book while supporting students' need to reinforce their learning by such actions as taking notes, outlining, diagramming, calculating, categorizing, summarizing, and collecting examples. For example, notational resources provide readers with the tools they need to record observations in an electronic notebook, add commentary in electronic margins, or draw examples on an electronic sketchpad.
  • Collaborative resource - enable students to read and study collaboratively. For example, by linking students' computers to a local or wide area network, resources that support file sharing enable readers to communicate with one another while reading the same electronic book. This can be used for group assignments or more generalized reader support. Using collaborative communication tools, readers are able to work with other students anywhere in the world--asking questions, giving and receiving help, participating in discussions and debates, and collaborating on projects.
  • General purpose - resources are those that can be linked to an electronic book, but were not developed to support the text in that specific document. They include large-scale information sources such as databases, encyclopedias, and dictionaries as well as smaller scale resources such as reference lists, other books and Web sites. These resources enable students to augment the information contained in their electronic books (e.g., pursuing other lines of investigation, looking up distantly related questions, or just making intuitive leaps).

Evaluating and selecting e-books

Not all electronic books are as full of embedded resources and search options as the one described above. The teachers / students may not need such a sophisticated program to accomplish the instructional goals. For these reasons it is extremely important to evaluate carefully any electronic book that intend to use for instruction. It is very easy to be impressed by the glitz and glamour of a program's multimedia without clearly identifying how the various media can be used to promote studying and learning. There suggestion following a series of three steps when evaluating and selecting electronic books to be used in the curriculum.

        First, be very explicit about the purposes for selecting an electronic book or set of books. What is the hope to accomplish that can't be accomplished with traditional versions of the same information?

        Second, look for features in the available electronic books that would support the purpose. If want students to be able to search the text for specific types of information, make sure the program has good search tools and indexes. If want students to be able to take notes while reading, make sure the program has good notational resources.

        Third, look for features that would enable a diverse body of learners to use the book effectively. Since classrooms are filled with students of varying literacy skills and prior knowledge, it is helpful to select electronic books that meet a wide range of needs. Traditional books can't be very accommodative, but electronic books can. Specifically, look for translational, illustrative, and instructional resources that support students' comprehension of the text. Especially important are definitions for problematic words, explanations for difficult concepts, and graphics that clarify or bring additional information to the text.

Advantages of E-Book


The electronic book has advantages for academic and public library communities and their users.

  • A single copy of a work can be loaded onto a server and made accessible to an unlimited number of users.
  • Searching for specific information in large volumes of text can save time and turn texts into reference books.
  • Links, graphics, and sound embedded in texts can provide additional resources of information.
  • Electronic archives can preserve historical print texts in jeopardy of disintegrating.

         Conducting word searches for computer-counted occurrences can help track the history of language and cultures.

         Promotes compensation for authors and other rights-holders by the number of hits or reads, a model of pricing that may lead traditional publishers who are presently resisting the electronic changes currently underway to open their archives.

         Because there is no physical inventory, electronic books can be printed or downloaded on demand; consequently, a publisher never has to worry about running out of stock.

Disadvantages of E-Book


However, E-books have its potential disadvantages too. Obvious ones include:

  • The size and weight of portable computers designed to display pages on a screen, the expense of purchasing portable devices, and the difficulty in reading digitized print.
  • The transformation from linear text to hypertext may change the authoritative nature and understanding of the original works.

         Users of electronic text need to know the specific edition they have received and how well the publisher or database producer has maintained the accuracy of the electronic text. For example, marginal notes may become lost or placed out of context in electronic copies. Publishers and research editors may manipulate and change text. Value-added hypertext links may be added at the whim of a questionable source.

  • Licensing and copyright, several issues for concern arise. If electronic books are “borrowed” from an electronic library, accompanied by encoding designed to prevent unauthorized copying and printing, will these measures invade the privacy of individual readers? When we buy hardcopies or receive printed books as gifts, no one knows how or whether we read the material or what we copy for friends or colleagues.
  • In an electronic book world, it is quite possible that individuals will be monitored for their use of specific sections within the complete text.
  • Internet-based subscriptions to an electronic library collection are also troublesome if the subscriber decides not to renew.



The development of technology is now and will continue to be a dominant influence on scholarly communication; and we are now in transition from a print-based world to an era in which scholarly discourse will be conducted largely within a globally networked electronic environment. Scholars are becoming increasingly dependent on technology for research, teaching, the exchange of ideas, and the dissemination of information. It is extremely difficult to keep up with the changes occurring on an almost daily basis. But this is nothing new for information professionals. The e-book market is one more segment of a very rapidly changing industry--the electronic information business.

Today’s e-book technologies have features valuable for learner with various abilities, language and special needs. The unique features and capabilities of e-book technology can provide accommodations such as variable text size, text-to-speech, and interactions that many students need to be successful with text-based materials. The availability of this text format is increasing and many consider that electronic book will be the future print. Today’s desktop, laptop or handheld computer with e-book software can assist teacher to provide their students with access to text information that utilizes features of universal access design concepts, and text that provides for increased interactivity with the text itself.

Opinions on e-books vary widely. Some industry observers feel that e-books will never amount to anything more than a small niche market, and that printed book publishing will continue to be dominant. Others feel that e-books will displace a portion of the printed book business. Nobody feels that e-books will completely supplant printed books (although such predictions have been made). What is certain is that e-books will have a significant effect on the publishing industry, and that they will bring about major changes and restructuring, similarly to the way that online databases have revolutionized their industry. Although there is still some distance to go before e-books become a viable force in publishing, there is considerable optimism in many quarters.

Will the e-book ever replace printed books? In my opinion, no--not any more than online databases have replaced reference libraries. The book publishing industry is alive, well, and healthy. When the technology and marketing of e-books become developed and well accepted, they will certainly find a place and will be attractive to certain types of users.


Farah Aliza