What is an e-book?

e-Books are changing the way we interact with words. The digital word is now electric when presented in an e-book format. Electric words, or digital words, jump off the page and interact with a reader in ways that only science fiction writers dreamed of.

Ancient access

Books harken back to ancient civilizations who wanted to share information or stories. Monks who toiled to reproduce ancient texts, were once revolutionaries who changed the way a certain few could access books. In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press that enabled manuscripts to be mass produced. It was then that books became available to the masses, instead of a certain few.

A project is born

1971 was the year that Michael Hart, a student at the University of Illinois, and later founder of the Gutenberg project, typed up the Declaration of Independence and made it accessible to computer users. Since then, the Gutenberg project, run by volunteers, has uploaded hundreds of books that are in the public domain. Specifically, software enables these books, now turned into e-books, to be accessible by computer devices.

Physical space versus virtual space

Think of this, books were bought, sold and lent to a people who had access to a bookstore or a library. The Gutenberg project volunteers took books that were in the public domain and digitized the words so that they could be delivered electronically to a computer and later, devices with software that could present the book in a readable format. Hence, with the click of a mouse, anyone could access a book that otherwise would have had to be checked out of a library or bought from a store. According to Wikipedia, it is estimated that six million books are stored in the Internet Archive and Open Library. Project Gutenberg has 52,000 books and counting available on their website. Compare this to the number of books at your local library or bookstore where the inventory of books available, is limited by the physical space within a building.

E-Books by the hundreds

Another great thing about e-books is that they don’t take up a lot of digital space. For example, you can store hundreds of e-books on an e-reader or a device like your smart phone. My attention span is short: one minute I want to read a romance and the next minute I feel like a good memoir. With an e-book reader, I can carry all sorts of books around that will suit my mood without loading up my back pack or satchel. If I have the space on my device, in theory, I can store and have access to as many books as would be found in a small library.

How can you read an e-book?

With the growing popularity of books in e-book format, the digital word became available to more people when devices like smart phones, and tablets were able to load apps or software that could present the electronic word. In addition, there are devices that are dedicated to reading e-books called e-book readers. These e-book readers have brand names like Kindle and Nook. Having an app that could present an e-book increased the number of people that could access e-books. For example, the Kindle software can be downloaded to many devices, including the smart phone which is a device owned by millions all around the world.

What an e-book is not

You might be wondering if your Microsoft Word document or Adobe PDF file is considered an e-book. After all, those words are electric, and in some cases alterable. The key difference is that Microsoft Word documents and PDF documents are meant for the printed word. In these software programs, you keep track of words by page. This means that the text does not flow. If it’s on page one it stays on page one. In an e-book, the text flows and does not have a page designation.

Why does text flow?

The reason text flows in an e-book is because of all the neat things you can do with an electric word. Mainly, you can change the typeface or the size of the typeface. For example, if you have middle age eyes and refuse to wear bifocals like me, you would bump up the size of the typeface or font so that you can easily read the words. If you did this in a Word or PDF document, the bigger words would change the pagination, or location of the words on paper whereas in an e-book, the text would adjust and flow in the correct order.

The Cloud is where it’s at

 Sometimes I don’t have an e-book reader in my purse and find myself with some time to read. What do I do then? Well, using an app like Amazon’s Kindle on my smartphone, I can access my e-book from a cloud. The cloud is a place where you can store things and retrieve them anywhere you have internet access. This is great for those times that you come in on time for an appointment and you unexpectedly have to wait for an hour. You didn’t expect to have time on your hands but now you do. No problem, you have an e-book to read on your smart phone.

E-book versus print books

Some feel that it’s a battle: e-book versus printed book. I don’t believe it is. I still read and buy printed books. Yet, I’ve also embraced the electronic book; however, that doesn’t mean I am going to start replacing all my books with e-books. Do you think that the arrival of e-books is like the time that compact discs came on the market and people rushed to replace their records with compact discs? In that case, the argument was that the sound was better on a CD versus a vinyl record. Is the electric word better than the printed word? It all depends on your preference.

Electric words rock

I am excited about e-books. I believe that electronic words rock! But for some people, this is too much change. Yet, there are so many advantages to being able to access the electronic word via an e-book. How do you feel about the printed word going electric? Are the advantages worth the change?