What are Electronic Books?

Now that they are firmly established in the consumer sector, electronic books are beginning to demonstrate capabilities that challenge the very definition of reading. Audiovisual, interactive, and social elements enhance the informational content of books and magazines. Social tools extend the reader’s experience into the larger world, connecting readers with one another and enabling deeper, collaborative explorations of the text. The content of electronic books and the social activities they enable, rather than the device used to access them, are the keys to their popularity; nearly everyone carries some device that can function as an electronic reader, and more people are engaging with electronic books than ever before.

Electronic books have continued to rise in popularity since their appearance on the mid-term horizon in the 2010 Horizon Report and that popularity has won them a place on the near term horizon for 2011. The variety of content available — and the range of readers that cater to individual preferences — has grown over that time to the point that electronic books are a viable and easy alternative to printed ones. In addition to dedicated electronic readers, multifunction devices like the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy represent a new class of tools that merges the utility of electronic book readers with web browsing, a wide variety of applications, and an expanding set of entertainment options. The ready availability of both reading devices and digital content makes it very easy to integrate electronic books into everyday portable computing.

The most interesting aspect of electronic books, however, is not the devices they are accessed with; it is not even the texts themselves. What makes electronic books a potentially transformative technology is the new kinds of reading experiences that they make possible. Publishers are beginning to explore richly visual interfaces that include multimedia and collaborative elements. The social magazine format used by Flipboard, for example, turns the browsing of RSS-enabled web content into a serendipitous experience, a dynamic journey that changes every time it is opened. Magazines like Time, Wired, and others include interactive graphs, links that extend the reader’s experience, video, and more. Epicurious for the iPad is a rich media cookbook complete with reviews, tips, recommendations, and the ability to add recipes.

As the electronic book moves further from a digital reproduction of a printed piece, some writers are seeing it become something far richer, allowing journeys through worlds real and imagined, undertaken not alone but in company with other readers. The gestural interfaces of new electronic devices enhance the intellectual experience of reading with tactile interactions. Electronic books have the potential to transform the way we interact with reading material of all kinds, from popular titles to scholarly works. For three compelling visions of the future promised by the electronic book, see the five-minute video The Future of the Book produced by design firm IDEO (http://vimeo.com/15142335).

Standards for the creation of electronic publications are still in development, and those that exist often focus on the text and do not include guidelines for the kinds of interactivity that is possible in electronic books. As more of its media morphs into digital forms, the publishing industry is undergoing a shift very similar to the one that took place in the music industry in the last decade. New business models and methods of distribution are appearing as older ones begin to falter. While there is no clear winner among the many available and emerging formats, the acceptance and widespread use of electronic books has enabled the industry to see a potential path through the times ahead.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • With electronic books, one can easily change (add, amend, delete) the material and/or resources. With the content in e-book form, there is the possibility of taking the information and adapting it to different lexiles for the various readers in one class. Perhaps, some students read at a lexile of 1200, others at a 900. Just think if it was possible with a keystroke one could take the reading content and adapt it to a level that fit the reader’s ability level.

    In addition, I’ve found when reading on an iPad, students are able to find the meaning of a word quickly, add information and highlight key sections as well as see what others have underscored....no need for sticky notes and markers. Also students are able to carry several e-books on an iPad/tablet without the heavy, overweight bookbag. (- michael.lambert michael.lambert Feb 21, 2011)
  • I think Electronic books provide a bridge between practices with which teachers are comfortable (ie using books - books have áuthority'), and the many 'singing and dancing' capabilities of the 'value-add' capabilities of electronic books. In addition, they are practical. Access through mobile devices matches current practices with hardcopy books, without the weight.- kathryn.moyle kathryn.moyle Feb 26, 2011
  • I read somewhere that ebooks are typically written in a code that allows for it to be easily translated into different languages - this would be excellent, except there will be concerns of some loss in translation. But with the features of content search, multimedia effects and even opportunity for enhanced reader participation (eg. scripting opportunities to re-write the ending of a story), e-books would certainly add to the overall experience, particularly for reluctant readers. - julie.hoo julie.hoo Feb 28, 2011

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • How can e-books be distributed from one student’s iPad/tablet to another without extra cost, like the textbook? It is my understanding Amazon is looking at allowing customers share their e-books with a limit of five readers. (- michael.lambert michael.lambert Feb 21, 2011) It is 5 devices for the same resource, but amazon has also introduced Lendle which is Kindle book sharing http://lendle.me/ - judy.oconnell judy.oconnell Feb 26, 2011
  • School libraries are taking a lead role in exploring and implementing ebook solutions, either with Kindles, iPads etc but some are taking on products associated with public libraries that make distribution to mobile devices easy. http://heyjude.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/turning-a-new-page-ebooks-and-audiobooks/ and Overdrive App http://www.overdrive.com/
  • Social networking within e-Books - Be able to take notes, annotations and share them with other peers who may be interested in our notes, ideas and questions - adrian.lim adrian.lim Feb 27, 2011
  • I think the whole issue about copyright still remains a hurdle - as e-books are downloaded to specific devices and subject to copyright, I can't share it as easily as a traditional book. This requires every user to download the same e-book, a cost factor, when the current practice would allow for schools to purchase multiple copies of one book, and have that shared across classes. - julie.hoo julie.hoo Feb 28, 2011

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • I think this area has a lot of potential to move into new areas as we see more blended media "texts" appear in electronic form. A good example of this is an interview with Wolfram Research co-founder Theodore Gray who discusses his Touch Press publishing model and where he thinks e-books are headed. http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/wolfram-research-co-founder-gray-and-his-touch-press-may-be-future-of-e-books-publishing/44823 - KeeneH KeeneH Feb 15, 2011
  • We spend billions of dollars on textbooks here in Texas and many sit in warehouses not being used. The information in them is sometimes outdated as soon as the books are printed. We need to push publishers to change their business models and push legislators to loosen up requirements on purchasing textbooks so that we can select material that is current and relevant to the content being taught. Digital materials are the only way to go! alice.owen- alice.owen alice.owen Feb 19, 2011
  • Availability of a variety of e-books that can be easily transported. Convenience. Not as costly as textbooks. Can be updated quickly. Reduced carbon footprint. (- michael.lambert michael.lambert Feb 21, 2011)
  • There is a convenience and practical element of the electronic books, but the more important potential it seems to me is the functionality described above to bridge the text to resources, commentary, emerging and evolving projects related to the text and possibilities I can't imagine at the moment. The challenge will come from the filtering and shaping of those additional resources but that is a direction we need to go - the portability and cost efficiency is on the foundation on which the real potential can be examined. - jeanne.century jeanne.century Feb 21, 2011
  • Availability of ebooks from internet archive and open library as added to the massive availability of material for ereaders. http://heyjude.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/still-more-free-ebooks-from-the-internet-archive/ - judy.oconnell judy.oconnell Feb 26, 2011
  • The ability to annotate and collect notes for sharing, regardless of device when using Kindle is very flexible and useful for older students - judy.oconnell judy.oconnell Feb 26, 2011

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon K-12 Project form.