It seems e-books and e-book readers are the new must-haves and they are not just a passing phase. We find out what all the fuss is about.
150 years ago, the book industry came up with paperbacks to replace the expensive hardbound novels. Cheap paperbacks were meant to be read and thrown away. Unlike hardcover books, they did not command respect. They were called “dime novels” in America and “penny dreadfuls” in England.
Although paperbacks were not respected, “respectable” writers such as Louisa May Alcott, Longfellow, Robert Louis Stevenson and Alfred Tennyson succumbed to the trend (or was it to the money?) and allowed their worthy words to be published in such a worthless manner. The first reputable publisher to produce paperbacks was Penguin (1935). One of its first 10 titles included “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” by Agatha Christie.
In January 2012, Barbara’s Books, an Auckland independent bookstore, closed down. Not because New Zealanders stopped buying books, but because they switched from paperbacks to electronic books (e-books).
why the trend?
Simply put, e-books are books that are available in an electronic format, like a computer file you can read using your word processor or PDF reader. Some dictionaries define an e-book as an electronic version of a paper book, but in reality, many e-books are published only digitally and are not available as print books.
In the past, many e-books were amateurish, sometimes having gone into the marketplace without a proper edit. That’s changed. With reputable publishers turning to e-books, the editing process is highly professional. What determines the quality today is not the medium (electronic or paper): it’s the publisher’s track record.
Surprisingly, e-book readers do not refer to the people who read e-books. E-book readers are hand-held portable devices
on which you can read an e-book. They look like miniature tablet computers or iPads, and their main function is to look like a paperback.
Of course, you can read an e-book on your computer, iPad, iPod or phone. Because those screens are back-lit, is a bit like staring into a low-wattage light bulb. In contrast, the e-reader screen uses external light just like a paper book does. This makes the reading process as easy on the eyes as reading an ordinary paperback. Easier, in fact, because an e-reader allows you to zoom in and adjust the size of the text optimally for your eyes. Dedicated e-reader devices use electronic paper technology to make the text crisp and easy to read in sunlight and from a wide angle.
The main players in the e-reader arena are: Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Sony Reader.
the features and the frills
Many e-readers come with an Integrated Dictionary, which allows you to look up words you’re not sure of. Touch Screen e-readers weigh a bit more, but are now available on all models except the entry-level Kindle. The Text To Speech function will read out the text for you, ultimately turning your e-book into an audio book. E-readers usually come with rechargeable batteries, much like your laptop. However, many users moan about the batteries: some e-readers allow the user to replace the batteries, while others you have to take back to the vendor. Colour displays are available on some e-readers.
e-readers for kids
Most e-readers currently available are made for adults. If your children read chapter books, those e-readers are great for them also. Younger children, however, will benefit from bright colourful graphics, easy navigation, sturdiness and minimal weight of e-readers made especially for children, like VTech’s V.Reader. These e-books are full of colour, animation, sounds and bubbly music.
obvious benefits of e-books
- E-books are cheaper than paper books.
- They take up less room.
- You can take a thousand e-books with you on holiday and not be over the luggage limit.
Did you know? You can borrow e-books from your local library from the comfort of your computer armchair. Kathy Neivandt of the Birkenhead Library Branch in Auckland, explains. “If an e-book is available, you can borrow it straight away, using your library barcode number and PIN number. The first time you check something out, you need to download the operating software from Adobe. We normally have one or two copies of a title – just like paper books. If not, you can place an e-request. Once the title is available, you are advised by email and have 5 days to check it out. You usually have 21 days to read the book, and it can’t be renewed. The title just becomes unavailable on your device, so you can’t get overdue charges.” And of course, borrowing e-books is free.
It’s important to note, though, that library e-books are not compatible with Kindle at this stage, because of the trade agreement between Amazon and the library’s book supplier. Of course, there’s always a solution. A piece of free software called calibre can convert e-books between differing formats. (It can also organise your e-book shelf.)
And if you happen to have a USA-based Amazon account, you can borrow certain Kindle books from Amazon. For the rest of us, Smashwords is a publisher who doesn’t believe in digital rights management, so if your friend buys an e-book from them, you can borrow it.
- “My wife and I have a Kindle each, but we share one account. This means we can buy one e-book and read it at the same time. We can also read it on our phones, tablets, etc.”
- “You can download loads of legitimate free e-books from the Internet. Many authors will give away the first book in the series, hoping to hook you in.”
- “Project Gutenberg is the best place for free e-books.”
digital books for kids
- tumble book library
(www.tumblebooks.com/library/asp/home_tumblebooks.asp) is an online collection of animated, talking picture books. They are created by adding animation, sound, music and narration to existing picture books in order to produce an electronic picture book that kids can read, or have it read to them.
- tumble readables
(www.tumblereadables.com/home.asp) is aimed at primary, intermediate, and high school students. It’s an online collection of read-along titles which features adjustable online text and complete audio narration. Sentences are highlighted as they are being read and the pages turn automatically. The collection consists of chapter books, early readers, teen novels and classics.
- any questions(www.anyquestions.org.nz) is an online service that puts primary and secondary school students in touch with librarians who direct them to reliable sources. Librarians are available between 1pm and 6pm on weekdays, including school holidays. For the times that a librarian is not online, kids can visit ManyAnswers.co.nz to find the answers to the most commonly asked questions from AnyQuestions.
Dr. Yvonne Walus is an education specialist consulting for Creative Learning Systems. Her shelves are full of dusty paper books and she doesn’t have an e-book reader.