E-book is short for “electronic book”. An ordinary book, known as a codex, uses paper, ink and string to make a book small enough to fit in your hand. An e-book does the same thing by using a computer, batteries and a single piece of special electronic paper.
If you work as a maid in New York, it will take you an hour to make enough money to pay for the first. For the second you will have to work four days – unless you happen to have an e-book reader lying about.
And yet it is a mystery to the great and good of Sony why the codex outsells the e-book a thousand to one.
Where a codex uses hundreds of leaves of ordinary paper, an e-book uses one leaf of special electronic paper which the computer inside can write and rewrite over and over again to be any page in the book that you want. This makes it easier to use than a scroll, but more difficult than a codex – or even one of those Japanese folding books.
The current e-books have two advantages over a codex:
- It can store many books, not just one.
- You can quickly search for words.
If you are doing research and are always on the road, then these are wonderful things. But for the sort of reading that most people do – one or two fiction books at a time – these are slight advantages at best.
Why then is the iPod doing so much better? After all, it just seems to be a sort of e-book for music.
- The starting price for an iPod is far lower. Our maid will only have to work four hours to get the cheapest one. Further she will need some sort of music player (or go without) – since for music there is nothing as cheap and easy to use as the codex.
- Songs are far shorter than books. In the course of a day you could easily go through dozens of songs. But you are unlikely to get through even one book. That means that being able to carry a hundred songs with you wherever you go is a far greater thing than being able to carry a hundred books.
That said, I think the e-book will one day make the codex seem old-fashioned.
First, because in time an e-book will be able to contain a whole library.
Second, because the marriage between a computer and a book is a powerful thing. But right now it is just being used to create a battery-powered codex, and not even a good one at that. A shame, because the computer is capable of far more than that – far more than turning pages, finding words and remembering your spot in a book. But it seems it will take a genius to figure out what that far more is.
– Abagond, 2006.