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Electronic Books

Learn about electronic books, or digital versions of print manuscripts.

Electronic books can be viewed online or downloaded to special devices. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Electronic books can be viewed online or downloaded to special devices.

Electronic books allow readers access to digital versions of print manuscripts. There are several ways for a person to view electronic books, such as by looking at electronic books online with a laptop or desktop computer or by downloading the books to special devices called e-book readers.

Electronic Books on CD

Although book recordings date back to the 1930s, technology helped spurn audio books in 1979 when the Sony Walkman was introduced. With the boom of books on cassette tapes, consumers could listen to books while doing other things, such as driving, exercising or just relaxing. CDs came onto the market during the mid-1990s, and the technology of electronic books was further advanced.

As technology continues to evolve, electronic books on CD and cassette are giving way to digital devices. Readers can now listen to books on their iPods or other mp3 players, smartphones or handheld readers. They don't need to worry about transporting bulky and breakable discs.

Electronic Books Online

Whether a person is doing research or wants to know more about a specific book, Google has more than seven million books available through its search function, although some contain only excerpts from the books. The Web site is partnered with worldwide libraries and more than 20,000 publishers.

Handheld Electronic Books

Part of the appeal of electronic books is the ease of downloading the books to devices such as PDAs, iPhones or electronic readers. However, electronic books may only be made available in certain formats or for certain devices. Publishers sometimes choose to make their electronic books compatible with only one type of reader. If a consumer wants a book that is not available in the reader's format, the consumer is either out of luck or must purchase a print version. Audio books on CD are an exception; if the e-book reader is compatible with the CD (and with Windows Media Player), the book can be synced up with the e-book reader to play the audio file.

Kindle is one of the most popular types of handheld electronic book readers, and it is owned by Amazon.com. The newest version, Kindle 2, came out in 2009 and is as thin as a magazine and lighter than a typical paperback, which makes it easy to transport. Currently, the Kindle holds more than 1,500 books and lasts for several days without recharging. According to Amazon.com, patrons can select from more than 285,000 books, as well as numerous newspapers, magazines and blogs. It only takes about one minute for the information to download to the portable device.

A benefit of the Kindle 2 is that it is wireless, allowing the reader to download the electronic book files without connecting the reader to a computer. Readers can also choose the read-to-me feature, which turns an electronic book into an audio book. Users have the option of a male or female narrator, and the voice speed can be adjusted as well. If a user is unsure of a word's meaning, Kindle 2 features a built-in dictionary that provides instant definitions.

Handheld devices are still costly. According to a 2009 article from Wired, e-book readers can cost several hundred dollars -- the Kindle 2 sells for $300 and the Sony Reader is $350. Some consumers complain that the backlighting on electronic book readers is poor, making the words difficult to read. For persons using their iPhones as electronic readers, there was an issue with security lapses in a book reading application introduced late in 2008. This is a common concern whenever applications are added to phone software.

What does the future look like for electronic books?

According to a 2008 study conducted by Scholastic, two out of three children ages 5 through 17 believe that within the next 10 years most books will be read digitally. Though some are hesitant about trading in a classic first edition copy in exchange for a PDF format, others are embracing the new technology, as sales of the Kindle indicate otherwise.

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