I’m very pro-electronic media, so moving from treeware to eBooks to me is not only inevitability but also an ideal that society on the whole should be migrating towards. Paper copies are a waste of precious, precious trees and while every eBook you download, own and read will have an environmental overhead it is much more sustainable, flexible and potentially more engaging than any shredded tree has ever been.
So I bought my first eBook this year! Why so late on the bandwagon you ask? Well the answer is a little bit complex. Early eBooks required that you sat at a PC and read them on your big-ass monitor, in an uncomfortable to sustain reading position and the ever present threat of strained blurry eyes and impending headaches. This was not an ideal situation for reading your favourite tome of fictional awesomeness. It had a benefit in electronic storage of and ease of accessibility of referral material. Just popping open a PDF copy of a reference book and searching for the terms you need to review still is probably one of the biggest advantages to owning electronic copies of some books. My real issue has always been that I’ve never before had the right device for reading them on. It was a little while after the advent of eBooks that the eBook reader devices started to hit the market. True enough, they are very good at what they do. The most famous example is probably the Amazon Kindle which several of my friends picked up a few years ago and have had nothing but positive regard for since. I actually feel that they are tremendous devices and the advent of ePaper screens is a testament to the consideration given to their purpose. This isn’t enough for me.
I’m the guy who refused to carry a separate device for playing MP3s, another for making phone calls and sending e-mails and then another for taking photographs MP3 players, mobile phones and digital cameras have been refined, elegant and excellently suited to their individual purposes for a decade or more now however they all operate on the same essential technological principles. There was a minimum standard of functionality to be met after which these three things should have naturally become a unified device and yet it was many years after this occurred in my opinion that the first true smartphones actually hit the consumer market and the corporate smartphones such as the traditional Blackberry that existed before this point were document and e-mail centric and not really the consumer product unifying phenomenon that we now attach to the moniker.
So with other clear applications of a device with the general form of an eReader such as browsing the internet it always felt premature for me to jump on the bandwagon. There were bigger and better things for this device; eBook reading was always just one facet of the function of my ideal device. Clearly the answer to my expectations was the iPad, but it need not have been Apple. Any manufacturer could have been the first to produce a device of this type but I suspect hesitation was endemic due to the luke-warm enthusiasm for devices such as the Kindle; they were successful but not greatly so. Apple in their usual way, whether you appreciate it or not, swooped in and set a benchmark and thanks to them it would seem that the market it about to take off.
Back to the topic at hand though; for me it is this diversity, or consolidation of purposes in the ‘host’ device that finally allows the eBook to achieve mass appeal. It’s now just one function of a device that is part of our day to day lives, a device that more of us are inclined to pay for because we see wider application and value for money. Owning books becomes as natural as owning a movie or an album in purely electronic format and is as easily accessible in a convenient medium. Perhaps more importantly other media can be integrated into the book. Video inline with text, images, animations and interactivity are all possibilities so the average book can become more alive than just text on a (virtual) page. Treeware should finally be dying, because nostalgia alone is not capable of keeping it alive.