Don't wait for the iPod of books, because it isn't coming anytime soon.
That doesn't mean the book publishing world is sitting on its collective hands when it comes to technology -- just the opposite is happening. It does mean that universe is so vast and varied that no single solution will work for all types of books.
Think for a moment about the types of books in use. They fit pretty neatly into three categories: reference books, such as dictionaries, directories or encyclopedias; topical guides or textbooks, such as the giant physics book that set you back more than $100; and literature, from biographies to romance novels. Fact or fiction, work or pleasure, each of these types of books is used differently.
Some translate well to for electronic use, such as a medical reference manual searched in seconds on a hand-held device carried in a labcoat pocket. The information is there, and the technology makes it easier to find than the old-fashioned method. A biography or novel, however, is likelier to be read cover to cover, page by page.
I've checked out electronic books from the Clark County Las Vegas Public Library and used both my Treo smart phone and laptop computer to read them. I found the portable display a bit too small to use for longer than about 15 minutes and the laptop too confining. Although the larger screen was far easier to use.
I spend the better part of my work day staring at text on a screen, so perhaps I'm not the person to ask when it comes to reading preferences. One of the first things I master on any computer program is how to adjust the size of the text, because in most cases bigger is better.
The recent Digital Book 2007 conference of the International Digital Publishing Forum, www.idpf.org, focused on standards for this fledgling industry. There are already millions of titles available in various digital formats. It's up to the publishers to make it as easy as possible for the consumer to try, then eventually embrace eBooks.
One company that's had quick success is Harlequin Books, www.eHarlequin.com, releasing new electronic books monthly, just as in print. While total e-sales is still a tiny part of the company's business, they have a very loyal and growing community of e-readers, said Pamela Laycock, vice president for strategy and new business development at Harlequin.
Another area to watch is electronic ink and devices better suited for reading. One unit I tried recently is the iLiad from iRex, www.irextechnologies.com.
I'll share more on this in weeks ahead.
Now it's your turn. Send your thoughts on eBooks with the subject: "eBooks" and I'll share the best in a future column.
Share your Internet story with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.