The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Future of the ebook

In the Technology section of CNN.com there was a recent article on ebook readers, their limitations and their future. The article starts off with nothing all that new -- i.e., that ebooks, and the Kindle, are "not quite there yet," but getting close. Three key limitations are noted --

(1) Lack of extensive wireless, or wireless options outside of the States.
(2) Current readers are focused on text and mostly limited to "text-only, grayscale versiouns of otherwise colorful and lively" content.
(3) Lack of ebook inventory diversity.

Each of these limitations are ultimately surmountable the piece argues. In that process, the article does provide some interesting content and quotes. Here are some of the points of interest:

  • For E Ink, the next frontier is color. Qualcomm's mirasol technology, still in development, uses biomimetics to engineer low-power, flat-panel, color-rich displays viewable in any
    lighting condition, based on butterfly wings.
  • There is some interesting coverage of the recent history of e-book readers, from Sony's Librie, to the Iliad by iRex, and of course, the Amazon Kindle.
  • Technology takes time to be adopted. It begins with everyone saying, "why would I ever use that," and eventually becomes a mainstream concept. Note the last quote below (noted as my favorite) for a samplinng.

And here are some of the more "quotable quotes":

  • In response to the lingering fetish for the printed page, Bezos sighed: "I'm sure people loved their horses too, but you're not going to keep riding a horse to work."
  • E-book sales are still a small, but fast-growing segment of our overall revenue," says Simon & Schuster's Adam Rothberg. "In 2007 we experienced a 40 percent growth over 2006. If current trends for 2008 hold, we expect that we will double or better that growth."
  • Long before the success of "Brokeback Mountain," Fiction Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx infamously told the New York Times in 1994: "Nobody is going to sit down and read a novel on a twitchy little screen. Ever." Today, no less than seven of her authored books are available in Kindle edition from Amazon.
  • The main thing," Silicon Valley-based user-interface engineer Darryl Chin, 31, continues, "and seemingly always will be with e-books, is content. Give me all the books I want. Like CDs to MP3s, give me everything I can get physically, digitally."
And my favorite quote from the piece is from Rita Toews, author of several e-books and founder of the annual "Read an E-book Week" in March. She quips:

Print books, on the other hand, have their place. Nothing can replace a beautiful art book, or a book of photography. E-books are simply a different format for something we've had for hundreds of years. When penny dreadfuls were introduced in the 1800s they were scoffed at, as were paperback novels in the 1930s. Also in the 1930s, as farmers were being signed up for rural electrification, one of the most common responses was: "Why do we need electricity? We have lanterns!"



Anonymous said...

All of this e-book talk is missing one extremely future use – school books. Every parent and school employee knows about those heavy loads on the back of the kids. Doctors know the spinal damage that can result. What we really need is inexpensive school-owned e-books that can be easily programmed by staff with up-to-date textbooks based on the students’ class schedules. Now that would be progress!

Anonymous said...

This has been coming for sometime now especially after seeing this technology in shows like Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise fully equipt on glass like monitors with video and voice included as well as multi-media applications. I do agree agree however that the school books application is a great start.

M said...

Good point. This blog has covered course materials (i.e., school books) in the past. Because of my job, I am more focused on digital course materials in the higher ed space a bit more. There are several challenges at this stage in what you propose --

"inexpensive" -- by what standard? for K-12 the standard for digital is not just a ".pdf" version of the text, but something more interactive. That costs a lot more to produce on an initial run than traditional textbooks in many ways. My understanding is that there is also a shortage of students with computer and technology skills to fill such jobs (at least in the states).

"school-owned" -- that could be a sticking point, as what does it mean to "own" digital content? The copyright and IP interpretations seem somewhat unclear. The models for e-books seem to be emerging around "digital rentals" as a an option. The traditional "perpetual license" model that went with print books may not exist with digital options.

"easily programmed by staff" -- we might again need to ask, by what standard? Even very bright people can have difficulty with new things or technologies outside their domains of expertise. User interface design for learning technologies is still an area we probably need more knowledge about -- and more people with training.

"Up-to-date textbooks" -- I am with you here. But again, as we move away from "pdf-like" content to "born digital" content, updating can be difficult.

"Based on the students' class scheduled." Customized, self-paced learning. I could see this being a big part of the future of k-12 (and maybe even higher ed) learning, but we are still several years away from this being a reality with current technology on the whole. I have seen a few demos of technologies that move in this direction. Cool stuff.

For K-12 the challenge seems to fall on a couple levels -- software companies (and publishers) trying to convince states (and school districts) to include digital options on acceptable textbook selection lists for one. Finding ways to reduce the costs of producing (not distributing, but producing) first run material that is educationally and pedagogically sound, while also generating interest on the part of students, for another. There are also questions of levels of access to technology (i.e., comparable technology) across different schools and school districts, and a question of teacher preparedness. There is no doubt we are moving in that direction, but there are a list of questions to resolve. On top of that, the content producers will still expect to make a profit in order to satisfy their shareholders and authors. In the long run, that may be more feasible with digital, but in the short run, the economics of the transition period seem far more complex.

Thanks for raising an important point.

Anonymous said...

I am a prolific reader. One of the things that I do not understand about e-books is the cost. Why do publishers want you to pay so much? If you consider that e-books have no paper, ink, glue, etc. the cost should be much less than a hardcover or even a paperback book. Until the price of an e-book goes down to a reasonable level I will not buy into this technology. I'll continue to read for free from the library.

M said...

Good question -- re: the cost. Although we may have to divide up the conversation a bit. If you do not mind, I am going to repost your question, and a response as a new blog post. It is an important topic and it would be interesting to start another thread of discussion there.