Read manuals or self-study materials in an electronic device near you.

Well e-Read

Read manuals or self-study materials in an electronic device near you.

I recently returned from a fascinating two weeks away from the office at a publishing conference. It was absorbing partly because publishing (along with high-tech) is the business we’re in here at MCP Magazine, but also because publishing is on the verge of a huge technological revolution, a change that more than one conference speaker referred to as the biggest thing to hit publishing since Gutenberg’s movable type.

I’m talking about recent changes in electronic publishing that may finally realize the promise of paperless distribution of books and magazines. Although electronic publishing has been possible for some time, e-publishing seems finally ready to take off.

One reason may be that popular content is finally available electronically: Witness Stephen King’s recent and hugely popular release of “The Bullet,” a serialized novella made available only in electronic format. Another reason may be that Microsoft is throwing its considerable weight in earnest behind its own electronic book technology, Microsoft Reader. In early August, Microsoft and BarnesandNoble.com announced a partnering at BN’s new eBooks store. The site pushes you to download Microsoft Reader (free, of course), and offers a 2,000-book selection of titles, with prices all over the map, that you can download and read electronically. Also, a small but growing number of magazines and newspaper are available for electronic download if you have the right software.

This is significantly different from what Books24x7.com or iBooks.com has been offering for some time (see “News” in our January 2000 issue). With that model, you subscribe to technical book content on the vendor’s Web site and read it there—you don’t download anything or use special software.

E-book titles are still comparatively rare, so don’t bother looking for technical books—there don’t seem to be any yet for Microsoft Reader (Rocket eBook and Glasshouse are companies offering competing e-book formats). For now, Barnes & Noble and Microsoft are offering a selection of electronic classics for free—so if you want to be one of the first to read Machiavelli’s The Prince electronically (an interesting title choice for Microsoft to offer), you can download it now (most books take up about a meg of space).

The software technologies are young (I tried reading an electronic book using Microsoft Reader’s patented ClearText; it’s still many times easier to read ink on paper); the hardware is crude (have you seen an electronic book lately? They have a ways to go); but all that will change over the next few years.

How does this affect you? As technology implementers and early adopters of new ideas, you’re the ones who push through change by trying things first. So this wave of early offerings in electronic publishing will gain ground through people like you. Are you using the new publishing technologies yet? Do you read parts of The Wall Street Journal on your handheld? Would you like to download some aspect of MCP Magazine into your PDA for later reference? What are you waiting for to make electronic content a truly usable technology for you and your users?

About the Author

Linda Briggs is the founding editor of MCP Magazine and the former senior editorial director of 101communications. In between world travels, she's a freelance technology writer based in San Diego, Calif.

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