problem of defining electronic books
of electronic books
field of study
at a definition of “electronic books” has emerged as an important
preliminary goal for EBONI. This
will provide focus for the evaluation procedure and enable the Project
Team to work within set boundaries.
is a description of the issues that arose when arriving at a definition,
with references to the relevant literature.
“traditional” book represents a designated format: a physically distinct
creation made of a collection of pages and presented in a bound volume.
However, in discussing the electronic book, the focus shifts
from the form to the content: whereas the content of a paper book takes the
form of words on a page, digital content is not tied to a physical
object . Essentially,
it is intangible, consisting of a series of 1s and 0s which go through
many kinds and layers of encoding in order to be understandable.
problem is documented by Desmarais in his comparison of the electronic
book with the “horseless carriage”:
principal concept underlying the electronic book is the book.
Where the horseless carriage at least continued to resemble
a carriage, our electronic book looks and/or feels nothing at all
like a book … The word electronic adds nothing to the concept, except
that it uses electricity to operate.
It speaks in no way of its enhanced functionality, or its enhanced
value over a book. In this context, the “book” refers to the information
content rather than the format or playback device .
is not surprising, then, that concepts of the “electronic book” vary
wildly. Some attempts to define
the term include:
The Webopedia definition, focusing on portable devices:
electronic version of a book. Currently there are two e-book products
available, the Rocket eBook, from Nuvomedia (www.nuvomedia.com)
and the SoftBook from SoftBook Press (www.softbook.com).
Both are small computers -- the size of a paperback and a legal notepad
-- with backlighted screens that allow a user to read, save, highlight,
bookmark, and annotate text. Both can download books from a Web site,
such as barnesandnoble.com
(although the Rocket eBook requires another PC) .
Ana Arias Terry’s definition, which centres on texts
with paper counterparts:
its simplest level, an e-book consists of electronic content "originating
from traditional books, reference material, or magazines" that
is downloaded from the
Internet and viewed through any number of hardware devices. These
include PCs, laptops, PDA’s (personal digital assistants), palm PC’s
or palmtops, or dedicated e-book readers .
The Visual Book Project definition, which concentrates
on the preservation of the familiar paper book metaphor:
result of integrating classical book structure, or rather the familiar
concept of a book, with features which can be provided within an electronic
environment, is referred to as an electronic book, which is interpreted
as an interactive document which can be composed and read on a computer
Indeed, the term “electronic book” is used throughout professional
literature and popular culture to refer variously to hardware, software
As Tony Cawkell notes, the traditional concept of the book
includes novels, dictionaries, telephone books, textbooks, anthologies,
instruction manuals, proceedings of meetings, and directories. The phrase “electronic books”, however, has
been applied to some types of CD-ROM systems, palm-top CD players,
on-demand text, electronic documents systems of various kinds, and
nearly any kind of computer-based text system that needs “hyping up”
for marketing purposes .
In the words of Walt Crawford, “When someone asks what you’re
doing about e-books, perhaps your best response is: ‘What do you mean
Types of electronic books
The ebook arena is in a state of flux, and the concept of
an ebook is not attached to one single medium in the way that DVDs
or CDs are. Therefore, it
is useful at this point to introduce a classification of the various
examples of electronic books.
Two authors have recently attempted to identify the various
concepts, products and models. In
Part 1 of Don Hawkins’ ‘Electronic Books: A Major Publishing Revolution’
, the following implementations are discussed:
ebooks, in which the contents of a book are available on the internet
for downloading to the user’s PC; no special reading device is required. Major players who have compiled collections
of such ebooks include Bartleby,
ebook readers, in which the contents of a book are downloaded to
a dedicated hardware device with a high quality screen and special
capabilities for book-reading.
Examples include Gemstar’s
REBs and Franklin’s
books, in which the contents of a book are stored in a system connected
to a high-speed, high-quality printer, from which printed and bound
copies are produced on demand.
These could be classed as examples of electronic-aided publishing,
as opposed to electronic books in the purest sense of the term.
ebooks, which are published on the provider’s Web site and can be
accessed for a fee. Readers
can “purchase” the books to receive indefinite access.
Walt Crawford, on the other hand, identifies nine varieties
of ebook :
ebook devices: portable hardware devices such as Gemstar’s
REBs or Franklin’s
eBookman, to which text is downloaded in proprietary formats
locked to a single reader.
ebooks: the XML-based standard that allows any text to reside on
any reader, but also protects publishers’ interests. Potential reading devices include PCs, notebooks, palmtops,
and even proprietary ebook devices.
books: digital copies of books already in the public domain or texts
placed in the public domain for various reasons, such as those available
through the Internet Public Library.
These are free for downloading, printing, and circulation.
titles bought by libraries or consortia and loaned out to users
to download to their own PCs. Only
one user can “borrow” a title at a time, unless the library has
paid for more than one copy.
books printed and bound on-demand from fully marked up digital texts
or scanned page images stored digitally by companies like Lightning
Source or Replica Books.
quite a book: mid-length texts (novellas or novelettes) such as
Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet, which are awkward to publish in
print media, can be converted to PDF, packaged, e-published and
e-distributed by the likes of Mighty Words.
and self-publishing: books published by individuals on the Web.
before the Web: books on CD-ROM or disk.
books: published on CD-ROM or the Web, these go beyond printed books
in a number of ways besides offering searchable text, for example
through hypertext, multimedia, and interactive elements.
Classifying these manifestations of electronic books can
be made meaningful by distinguishing between which aspects of the
original paper book have been considered as most important. For example, some electronic books try to simulate mainly the logical
aspects of the original paper book, while others are more concerned
with simulating the physical components or a specific aspect, such
as portability, of the paper book.
By studying which aspects of the paper book metaphor have been
adhered to, the following classes of electronic books emerge:
Much of the activity in the ebook arena centres around the
emergence of electronic handheld devices which imitate the book as
a portable tool for providing information.
Some of these are dedicated solely or primarily to the function
of book-reading, others are Pocket PCs or PDAs for which ebook reading
is an added functionality:
Dedicated ebook readers. These are built especially for storing and reading books, incorporating
special features to make book reading simple and easy, and modems
that dial directly into the ebook publisher’s server to download books. Typically, they are small, lightweight devices
with backlit screens and embedded dictionaries. Usually they enable searching, bookmarking,
and the creation of erasable annotations.
They are available now with monochrome or colour screens. Examples include:
Cytale’s Cybook; and
PDAs/Pocket PCs and Palm Pilots. These devices are usually smaller than dedicated
ebook readers and primarily function as personal organisers. Often they will also offer Internet access
and word processing, spreadsheet, and MP3 playing capabilities. Increasingly, as content and ebook reader software
for these devices become available, they are now being used additionally
to read books.
developments in the ebook technology world could lead to an even closer
approximation of the experience of reading a print book.
“Electronic ink”, invented by physicists at the MIT Media Lab,
creates letters or images by exposing tiny capsules of blue dye and
white pigment to an electrical charge.
Similar technology is being developed by Xerox.
With specially coated, reusable paper, a “book” could thus
consist of a single page with the microelectronics stored in the binding
and called up as needed.
Early ebook producers simply scanned
books, converted them to text using optical character recognition
(OCR) and made them available in ASCII text.
However, ASCII is unappealing to read, does not preserve formatting,
and cannot handle graphics. As
a result, a variety of formats have been developed, designed to make
electronic texts easier to read by preserving the logical structure
of the paper book and some of its visual features such as typefaces,
colour images and page layout. With this software, no special hardware is
required; it can run on any laptop or desktop PC and is often intended
for use on handheld devices, such as the PDAs and Pocket PCs described
Adobe’s PDF, for example, is available
for downloading at no cost, and is becoming widely used for delivering
ebooks. Other, more recently developed, software includes:
Microsoft Reader in particular attempts to recreate the look-and-feel
of ink on paper through use of ClearType technology.
This claims to triple the resolution of previous computer screen
text by using sub-pixel font-rendering to improve the screen by addressing
the microscopic space between the pixels on a computer screen, and
smoothing the characters.
category borrows Walt Crawford’s term to describe books which are
often published on CD-ROM and add value to electronic texts through
multimedia, hypermedia and interactive elements. As Matthew Barlow, marketing vice-president
for Versaware notes, “A book is a book, but if it’s going electronic,
let’s enhance it”. The company
has published 18 textbooks on CD-ROMs, enhancing the original text
with everything from audio and photographs to hyperlinks to Internet
sites and other books.
Such extended books represent a
step away from the paper book; it is no longer possible to keep this
sort of enriched form of information inside the physical border of a
classical book. That is why
the electronic environment is the natural one for this class of book. They still borrow essential features from the
book metaphor by either imitating its physical appearance or keeping
the same logical structure. The
metaphor is enlarged to consider this new form of information as generic
book contents and to organize it in the new book container according
to new needs and presentation paradigms.
An example of a multimedia book, mainly aimed at education, is
the one produced by the HCI laboratory at Teesside Polytechnic (Barker
et al, 1994; Barker, 1996).
Electronic books are accessible
via the Web in a number of forms.
Generally, they are texts that have been scanned or typed and
either published on a Web server or made available on the Web for
downloading. These can be free, “borrowable”, or may require
payment. Examples include:
can either be made available for downloading to a user’s PC, or remain
on the provider’s Web site and be accessed for a fee. Examples include Books24x7,
ibooks.com, and Glassbook,
Inc. which, in addition to delivering ebook reading software to
users’ PCs, offers a collection of ebooks for sale from its Web site.
ebooks, which are bought by consortia or institutions and “loaned
out” to users. NetLibrary,
for example, can provide libraries with “anytime, anywhere” access
to thousands of electronic books for their users, while saving on
shelf space and reducing acquisition costs.
This system allows one patron at a time to use a book, which
they can “borrow” online but not download.
ebooks. Self-publishing vendors
give authors space on their server to disseminate their work, provide
help with graphic design, promotion, etc. and provide a Web site where
readers can purchase the works. For
these services authors pay a nominal fee and receive royalties. Examples include 1stbooks.com,
nightkitchen.com, and onlineoriginals.com.
texts. Universities have
played a key role in developing and using the Internet since its
beginnings, and now they are responsible for a large proportion
of the material available on the Web.
In addition to the texts published commercially, academic
institutions are increasingly producing learning and teaching
resources such as tutorials, lectures, textbooks, and guides online,
free of cost. Many of these are not “books” in the strictest sense of the
word, since they often have no print counterparts.
books”, therefore, assume a number of forms and vary in their adherence
to the paper book metaphor. Some are simply plain pages of ASCII text;
some incorporate paper book features such as tables of contents, indexes,
and page numbers; others exploit Web technology and features of HTML
through hyperlinks and frames, and by incorporating search facilities. Arguably, as users become used to browsing
and searching the World Wide Web and reading text on screen through
their browser windows, their expectations from electronic books will
change, with their familiarity with the paper book sitting beside
their familiarity with Web technology.
N.B. Print-on-demand books are
excluded from this classification since they are examples of electronic-aided
books as opposed to ebooks in the purest sense.
field of study
EBONI is concerned with the last of these classes, Web books,
and in particular the educational texts produced on the Internet by
UK universities. This is free
material published by lecturers and academics to aid the learning
and teaching of students at all stages and in all disciplines.
Because it is produced by individuals, groups or departments,
this material is characterised by its diversity: different types of
resources can be found in a number of subjects exhibiting a variety
of styles and techniques.
An initial survey of the range of educational resources available
on the Web uncovered the following:
each of these resource types employed one or more of the following
techniques or styles for presenting the material:
Inevitably, material which displays so much diversity in
its presentation will also vary in the success with which it provides
help to students. EBONI’s
aim is to identify those styles and techniques which maximise information
intake by users, in order to provide the creators of online learning
and teaching content with guidance on how to produce usable, effective
material. This will be achieved by selecting examples
of educational Web books from the aforementioned catalogue which are
representative of the techniques listed above, and carrying out user
evaluations. A methodology
for assessing the usability of the selected material is currently
being developed. EBONI will
also test the applicability of its guidelines to portable electronic
books such as Gemstar’s REBs and a handheld device.
Clearly, the limits we have set to the “electronic books”
considered for evaluation are very specific to this project, and would
need to be adapted for application to other contexts.
However, we feel that our field of study, as defined here,
is at once broad enough to achieve the evaluative goals of the project,
and focused enough to be meaningful within the specific context of
learning and teaching material.
 Desmarais, N.
Models of the electronic book.
8 (5). May 1995.
N. An electronic carriage
… or a horseless book? Audiovisual
librarian. 20 (4). November 1994. p287.
 Ana Arias Terry.
Demystifying the e-Book - what is it, where will it lead us,
and who’s in the game? Against
the grain. November 1999. Available: http://bibliofuture.homepage.com/demyst.htm. Last visited 28/9/00.
 Landoni, M. and Gibb, F. The role of visual rhetoric in the design and production of electronic
books: the visual book. The
electronic library. 18
 Cawkell, Tony.
Electronic books. Aslib
proceedings. 51 (2), 54058. February 1999.
 Donald T Hawkins.
Electronic books: a major publishing revolution (Part 1). Online. July/August 2000.
 Crawford, Walt.
Nine models, one name: untangling the e-book muddle. American libraries. September 2000.
EBONI: Electronic Books ON-screen Interface