Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Ink on paper. It’s been around for thousands of years. But computers are certainly leaving their mark on the publishing industry and how we consume books and information.

Newspapers were the first to start putting their content on the Internet. Text and photos are pretty easy to put online. Media requiring higher bandwidth, such as music and video/TV, came next as high-speed Internet connections started becoming commonplace in homes and offices.

Newspapers and magazines have a number of ways to deliver their content electronically. A Web browser provides one view that’s vastly different than the print versions. Some magazines have wanted to retain their bound look and feel and use products such as Zinio ( to mimic the look and feel of a magazine on a computer.

Books, on the other hand, have always been an “offline” read. But not any more. A number of companies are now producing eBooks and eBook readers, most notably Amazon’s Kindle, which is now in its second generation - the Kindle 2 ($359). Sony’s Reader Digital Book ($349) is also providing serious competition. (Photo of Kindle 2 courtesy of

What’s compelling about these products is that they let people carry large amounts of information with them in very little space and with very little weight.

The Kindle is smaller than a piece of standard paper and about 1/3” thick. The Sony device’s specs are similar.

Also key to these new devices’s success is the clarity of the screens. Even computer monitors are fuzzy by comparison to the new eBook readers. This is in large part to the screens from (, which provide very low power, high clarity screens, making long viewing easy on the eyes.

What the current screens don’t (yet) provide are good image quality. They do allow for some black and white images, but color images are still not available.

eBook readers aren’t new. More than 10 years ago, I published information on earlier generations of eBook readers. Unfortunately, the earlier generations had issues of screen readability, capacity, battery life, weight, and on and on.

The new generation of eBook readers are far superior. I’m just trying to figure out if they’ll catch on.

My guess is that they will, although it may take another generation or two before the devices make it mainstream. Here’s why:

First, color: You gotta have color. I say this having started with monochrome computer screens and, except for a few special situations, color is all anyone will have. I also started with monochrome printers and now color is clearly the most prevalent.

Second, multimedia: Along with color, the ability to have interactive eBooks will set them apart from their paper counterpart. For example, a travel book could include photos, as well as videos of the beaches, surfing, rides and other attractions.

Third, cost: At approximately $350, this is a hefty price to pay for a little device. It’s now possible to purchase a usable laptop computer for $350 (perhaps a Netbook) that already supports the first two items. As volumes increase, this cost will most likely go down. When it dips below $100, it will have hit the mainstream.

Fourth, applications that make an eBook compelling: Multimedia is the start, but if one looks at the success of platforms such as the iPhone/iTouch, Google’s Android and RIM’s Blackberry, it’s the applications that are helping to sell the hardware.

Fifth, re-invention of the book: The move to eBooks provides the opportunity for books as we know them to be redefined. Perhaps the eBooks could have author’s comments, other readers comments on the book (maybe even family members), as well as background material, etc. My crystal ball isn’t clear on this, but I’m excited about the potential.

The one challenge I haven’t figured out how to solve on eBooks (or Web sites for that matter), is acquiring the randomness of a magazine or newspaper. Specifically, as I read newspapers and magazines, I regularly stumble across a story, advertisement or other item that catches my attention and is of interest to me — one that I would never have sought out. The randomness of this information can be very valuable and I hope there’s a way to maintain it in the future.

In the meantime, I will enjoy carrying less printed materials when I travel or commute. An eBook reader is one way to do just that.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a Westport resident, was named by Computerworld magazine to their list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 22 April 2009.

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