First came cave-wall art, then scrolls. Mr. Gutenberg shook the world when he invented his printing press. Now, the electronic book is causing a new revolution in how we read.
E-books have been around since 2007, courting both devotion and detraction. But in recent months, they have gained an even stronger foothold, as more outlets to download materials, as well as a slew of new devices and upgrades, were introduced.
Google caused a stir in the first part of December, jumping into the fray with the largest library of e-books yet, including 3 million free reads (works no longer subject to copyright). What makes Google's service a bit different is that its material can be read on most devices/operating systems -- Android, iPad/iPhone, Nook and Sony e-books, and most home computers.
So does this latest development spell the end of the sensation of cracking the spine on your favorite thriller?
Margaret Zeemer, owner/operator of Wisebird Bookery in Ogden, thinks not.
She hopes to work with the e-book revolution, not against it. Her business provides not only books, but also expertise in choosing books for pleasure reading and gifts, as well as supplemental texts for a few area schools.
Said Zeemer: "I think e-books have their applications. I travel a lot and see people with them on airplanes. But people love books, too. I firmly believe that people, for example, still love to give the gift of a book. That is one aspect of it -- and how do you give an e-book? Is that possible to do? How do you gift-wrap it? We help you choose a book, and then wrap it for free."
Zeemer is cautiously optimistic about Google eBooks. Part of Google's master plan is to partner with neighborhood bookstores as outlets for their books, via the American Booksellers Association.
Said Zeemer: "When Amazon first came out with Kindle, they just controlled that side of the market. But now independent booksellers can link directly into the Google website and be partners with them. There will be the ability, from our website, to link to Google's huge library. Then you actually make the purchase through our bookstore. We will make less money per sale than we would if you bought a print book -- but nevertheless that is a sale we would not have gotten otherwise."
Zeemer, who with her daughter purchased the 36-year-old store three years ago, just as the e-book revolution began, was still exploring adding Google eBooks to Wisebird's website at the time of this interview.
"But from what I've heard, I think it will be helpful. I think that, after this Christmas, there are a whole lot of new e-readers in people's hands. It is certainly a potentially powerful avenue for us to explore."
Leslie Meredith is a senior writer for TechNewsDaily, an Ogden-based company that evaluates tech products for consumers. She also writes a syndicated tech column that is featured in numerous newspapers, including the Standard-Examiner.
Naturally, it is part of Meredith's job to evaluate and use e-readers as they come to the fore, but she said it is her pleasure to use them as well.
One thing Meredith strongly advises is checking a device out to make sure the unit's operating system is fast enough for your needs.
"Processing and operating system are important, for this simple reason -- you really, really don't want to wait for the page to turn because you have a slow Internet connection. It breaks your reading rhythm -- and it might not sound like a big deal, but that will make you not like these things."
Meredith also recommends investing in a cover (ranging from about $15 to $50). Not only will it protect the screen from abuse, it also makes the reading experience far more like that of a conventional book.
"The cover makes a reader feel more comfortable, makes it much more like a book in your hands," Meredith said. "You can get the reading angle you are accustomed to, whether that's lying propped up in bed or at a desk."
What about authors?
Natalie R. Collins is an Ogden-based author who has had a good deal of success with books such as "The Fourth World" and "Wives and Sisters," both published by St. Martin's Press. She thinks the e-book revolution will help authors potentially earn more money and stay in better control of their copyrights.
"I think it is opening up the market for writers," said Collins. "There are a great deal of formerly New-York-published authors who are making money now exclusively in e-publishing."
She cites David Morrell, author of the Rambo books, and Lee Goldberg, who created obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk, as two big names who have ventured into e-publishing on their own.
"More of the money really does come to you. Most publishers only offer huge advances to A-list writers. The rest of us get small advances. And how much promotion a publisher does is directly in proportion to how much of an advance they paid you. If you didn't get much, they won't do much, because they aren't worried about earning their money back. It's all up to you. Since it's all going to be up to you anyway, why not take more of the profit? After all, you, the writer, did the work."
E-books may be the saving grace of novels and periodicals in the long run.
Said Meredith: "There is a report that devoted e-book readers, if you will, read more overall. Which is great -- we all lament the decline of reading. It's good for the tech-savvy young, who are used to electronics and may in fact get hooked on reading through e-books. And they are easy enough to operate for older readers, and in fact are perfect for people battling age-related vision problems. You can adjust the text of anything you read, instead of trying to find large-print books you like, which are very expensive."
Said Zeemer: "Does this impact us as a book retailer? Of course, it does. But in the long run, the prognosis is good. We are a gathering place for author appearances, book clubs, writers groups. We have a wonderful building, a cozy place to come, with books as well as other items, to browse. We want to give this local community the kind of service they want, and an oasis to sit in -- and hopefully, a place to buy books they care about."
Collins thinks there is a lasting place for both formats: "I think that readers, for the most part, are accepting the changes in the market, and we are headed toward a time when the books you have in your house truly are treasures -- the ones you loved the most. And this is as it should be. It's almost more appropriate, really. Why take up space with books you hated or couldn't get through?"