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Have you tried E yet?
Download what you need, or pick up a heavy sack

School’s back. Classes, professors, assignments, paying the rent and who’s throwing the first party weigh on your mind. Massive textbooks weigh heavy in your backpack and lighten your bank balance.

That’s today for some, but wind yourself into a future where e-books are the norm.  Imagine waking up and popping all your textbooks, library references, today’s news, plus your favorite magazines and novels into your pocket. Some people are living that future now, while others scoff at the very idea as they pick up their backpack swing it over their shoulder and close their eyes to a future as a hunchback of San Jose.

The appropriately named Tom Pack from Beat the Bookstore says he’s enlightened. He cycles everywhere carrying a whole library of books … all packed in his pocket PC. “A few things have to be fixed before they'll take off,” he says, “but some people still ride horses and some with cars also ride bikes.” Tom’s the guy to go to if you want to consult the Constitution, see the Bill of Rights, translate a paper into Spanish, or check a phrase from Plato’s writings. He has all this, and more, right there in the palm of his hand, literally, and literarily. But he hasn’t paid a cent for any of it. He downloads free software and texts from libraries and the Internet. “I can connect through wireless and carry around a big library in a little space,” says Pack. Anyone with Internet access can be the coolest walking encyclopedia, à la Mr. Pack. It’s the way to go, guys.

Not so, fears Richard Warren quoted in Business Week on February 27, 2006. “I’ve tried to convert some friends to this, but they think it’s kind of geeky,” he says. According to Business Week, Warren usually carries seven novels on the train with him everyday in his Palm Trio. “It’s just so versatile,” he says, to those who will listen. 

Despite the naysayers, San José State University is championing e-books - sort of. Spartan Bookstore has gone digital. Walk down the stairs of the Spartan Bookstore, react in your own way to the “lowest textbook prices guaranteed” notice facing you, continue left down the steps into the book section, and turn right around the corner to hunt down the e-book promotional display. If you are lucky the computer may be turned on and you can try the demonstration. Next, look around the shelves and you’ll see orange stickers beside some of the texts. These orange stickers are your access to digital books, and they show the massive savings you can get. Roger Chan picked one up and he was intrigued. “I didn't know this computer demonstration and the leaflets were here,” he said.  His course does not offer digital books, though. “It would be more convenient,” he said. “I could put it on my laptop and just have it.”

SJSU journalism & mass communications associate professor Richard Craig explains why some books have not been digitized. “One problem is permission to use photos and illustrations is restricted to the print book, so e-books are not produced or end up with blank spots,” he says. Kathleen Martinez, lead textbook buyer at the Spartan Bookstore, adds, “Publishers probably only invest time, effort and money for books on high demand.”

Assistant Professor Tim Hendrick’s advertising class “128” can get their textbook online, saving $43.15 off the new price or $11.05 off the used price. “I didn't know this book was digital,” Tim says. “My students all have the print text.” Professor Craig says, “I know people that are more wedded to the feel of books, far more than I am. It would be an enormous thing for people my age and older to wrap their head around.”

Martinez notes other disadvantages of e-books. “Some people like to underline parts of books or scratch in the margins, and students can't sell back the digital book to the bookstore,” she says. According to Martinez, Spartan Bookstore sold 40 e-books in the spring 2006 semester. That’s 40 e-books out of the 46 digital titles they stocked, and out of the hundreds of print texts they had for over 100 departments. 

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library has invested in digital titles as well. “They are extremely cost-effective,” says reference librarian Brian Fowler. “There's no need to physically label it and cycle it in and out and back to the right place on the shelf.” Susan Barb, from the Ask a Librarian chat service, says libraries are investing in e-books “because patrons want access online, which is unrestricted by time or geographic location.”

The King Library now gives so many choices. It’s like ordering fast food. Do you want to read or listen to it? Do you want to download it to your computer or browse it online? Do you want it for PC or Mac? What format do you want – Audio, Adobe or Mobipocket? Download the readers for free. You can have them for your CD player, Palm, Pocket PC, Tablet PC, PDA, or DAD. You don’t know what PDA or DAD are?  Personal Digital Assistant and Digital Audio Device.  To find out how to get e-books onto your iPOD, check out www.makezine.com/blog/archive/2005/06/make_ebooks_for_1.html.

Phew, so many choices can make the head spin. Never fear, help is here. There are pages of instructions and FAQs on the library help pages, telling you everything you need to know and things you would never think to ask. Brian Fowler thinks a move to e-books is inevitable. “Maybe not tomorrow, but ten years from now, people will be getting their books electronically,” he says. “There are the same issues as there are with videos and music,” he says. “but people don't have to make a trip. They're convenient. Audio books are good for commuters in their cars.” Brian reads e-books on his PDA, which he can even set to scroll for him. “I don't have to move a muscle. The only drawback is if I fall asleep, it keeps scrolling,” he laughs.

Tom Pack thinks that e-books might not take off because there is an iPOD ... and a Blackberry ... and a Palmtop and ... just too many incompatible choices. He says that he would prefer to have one thing that does everything.  So let’s have a drum roll for Sony.

When 2006 was only a few weeks old, Sony revealed it was revolutionizing reading (again).  It announced the follow-up to its original e-book reader, the Librie, which was born in 2000 but now mainly languishes forlornly on techie geeks’ dusty shelves. The Librie tanked because it did not replicate the print book experience. Summer 2006 delivered the Sony e-Reader, which Sony expects to be the “must have” device of 2006.

Is this death to the novel and weighty course readers? Sony is adopting Apple’s model for iPOD music sales. It will sell digital book downloads for its e-Reader from its own online store, and several major publishers have agreed to digitize their titles. “We hope (Sony's e-reader) will be the equivalent of when the Walkman or the iPOD came out,” says Jane Friedman, CEO of Harper Collins as quoted in Business Week on January 9, 2006. The Sony device can display any PDF file and can also be hooked up to a computer to get websites, newspapers, magazines, analyst reports, out-of-copyright books, and electronic texts for that end of term paper you are working on.

So why do so many students avoid e-books? English major Ingrid Starink isn’t turned on by the thought of digital books. “I don't think they're geeky, but I just love the feel of books,” she says. When she compares packing her books into a little reader rather than a big space in her backpack, however, she says she could be persuaded that there might be something in it. She’s already transferred her music collection to her computer. Maybe her book collection is next.

Christina Curas, a senior public relations major, says she is for books going digital. She didn’t know about e-books and that Spartan Bookstore and the library have them, but she says she is used to downloading academic articles.  She says she would love e-books, especially if they are cheaper. “Textbooks cost a ridiculous amount of money,” she says. “Carrying them around is bad for the back.”
The publishing industry is pushing digital books as the next cult item.  Digital Ink technology is the spark that reignited the revolution and brought electronic paper displays. A small company called E-Ink has made it possible to create words with an electronic charge, which is the technology behind the Sony e-Reader and competing devices. Power is only used when you turn over a page in your reader.  According to Sony's website, you can do “approximately 7,500 page turns per battery change.” It doesn't mention how long your eyes can go on for, though. 

Imagine yourself in the future. You wake up with the help of your speaking clock, which has very kindly turned the lights on for you. You stretch over for your injection of freshly brewed coffee from the machine by your side and pick up your e-Reader, which you left hooked up to your PC or Mac during the night. Your emails and favorite newspaper or magazine are ready for you. You check your calendar and see that you have business, advertising and communication classes today, and papers to prepare for your economics, philosophy, and psychology classes. A quick check shows that the six texts you need have been downloaded to your e-Reader. Your e-Reader can read to you, flash pictures on its screen, and tell you how long you have to finish your class paper. In the next release of the software, it will be able to plant the knowledge from the book directly into your brain, meaning that you won't have to go to school at all, except to meet friends. But if you're the old-fashioned sort, then there's still a feature by which you can read the text yourself, and, if you're really fuddy-duddy, you might be able to find an antique shop where you can buy an old-fashioned machine and print the book out.

The Rivals

The Sony Portable e-Reader, which Jane Friedman, CEO of Harper Collins Publishers Inc., quoted in Business Week, hopes “will be the equivalent of when the Walkman or the iPod came out.”

Irex Technologies, a spin off of Philips electronics. “The iLiad is a portable device that lets you read and write as you do on paper everywhere you go,” reports their website.

Jinke Electronics Co., a Chinese company offering two versions of their V series e-Reader.

Polymer Vision, also a Philips spin-off, calls theirs the “Cellular-Book”. It has a rollable, foldable display, which can extend to a full five inches yet still wrap up to be smaller than a cell phone.

Plastic Logic Ltd., a British start-up, whose reader will be as flexible as a magazine. Stuart Evans, founding CEO of Plastic Logic is the Printed Electronics Champion of 2007 Winner.

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The following article was published in the Fall 2006 print edition of Access Magazine - the magazine of San José State University School of Mass Communications and Journalism. We have made it web-friendly. We can investigate topics and write articles for you. We can also edit your print articles for the Web.
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