I hadn't realised until looking at that, that Project Gutenberg was that old, or that the digitized Declartion of Independence was the world's first e-book. You'll see also on the infographic that only 10 e-books were created on Project Gutenberg in the first 18 years, but that the Project has tripled output in the last eight years.
A number of factors have given the e-book project a real dynamic in the last 3 years.I saw an e-book reader at Microsoft in 2001 but in today's terminology it was a real "brick" and didn't take off. Before the launch of Amazon's Kindle nobody could really take e-book readers seriously, and the only place you could read your Project Gutenberg e-book was on your computer, and even then it was often an unfriendly text file with peculiar line lengths.
With the advent of the Kindle came new technology and new features
- text sizing
- a new way of acquiring the books through wi-fi download
- text to voice
- lighter in weight and smaller in size than earlier e-readers
Some of the other technology that has made the e-book (and e-textbook) revolution possible has almost passed us by without notice because it is has been so bound up with what we have come to expect.
- faster computer processing
- larger capacity storage chips
- widespread uptake of wi-fi
- file size reduction - we tend to think of file sizes as being bigger than they were, but that is true only to a point - in fact the file sizes being used in pdf, mobi, and azw files is pretty small. While the photos you take on your camera are often pretty large (4 MB+), the digital images used in e-reading software are much smaller because of the file compression software being used
With the arrival of the iPad on the scene in the middle of last year, then the idea of viable tablets/ computers where one of the applications was an e-reader really took hold. Dedicated e-readers like the Kindle still have the upper hand in terms of battery life and basic cost. The 3G Kindle retails at $189, and it seems that the iPad2 costs nearly twice that to manufacture and retails at approximately 4 times that. These are serious issues for educational institutions, but already we have seen contenders who are promising much cheaper tablets. Prices for the iPad in Australia are all over the place.
So now it is really coming down to an issue of whether you are happy with a dedicated e-reader, or you want, and are prepared to pay for, a tool that can do a lot more. I'm not sure that those who say that consumers won't buy both are right. There are already examples of people who are buying both.
Last week, March 6-12, was read an e-book week. So a belated happy birthday e-books!