By the magic of Creative Commons licenses and generous authors, I got my hands on some free e-books not too long ago. More precisely, I got electronic versions of the books off the Internet, but it was not until I converted them into a format amenable for reading on my e-reader and transferred them onto that device that I really think of them as e-books.
It’s a mishmash of confused terminology and unspoken assumptions on my part that I’d like now to clarify. I don’t consider PDFs on a radiating screen e-books. I think it’s no coincident that the e-reading revolution only took off when Amazon introduced its dedicated e-reader. This e-reader (outdated as it seems now) allowed users to interact with texts away from the eyesight-destroying computer screens; it brought about e-book standards like ePUB (and the maligned, proprietary .AZW) ; it enabled a flexible, comfortable reading experience where fonts size up and down, texts flow with the page instead of being rigid pictures, and the whole thing looking and feeling a lot like the reading of an actual book*.
So that’s what I consider e-reading: reading an e-book in a native e-reading format on an e-reader. What fall outside of that purview are PDFs that cannot be converted and worse, one-page displays of books that one can view only while on a computer, connected to the Internet, which is the form in which some academic libraries make available their electronic subscriptions of monographs (like this). I don’t know how much use these types of single-page-at-a-time, to-be-read-on-a-radiating-screen-for-an-entire-monograph-length see. I suspect not too much, and I dearly hope that the libraries don’t pay too much for them. I hope that libraries see e-books the way I do and not the limited, ossified electronic versions represented by PDFs and computer screens. I hope that as the e-book market evolves, this is the direction in which all the players are moving.
I hope that’s not presumptuous.
*: For those who dispute that reading on an e-reader is like reading a “real”, paper book, I agree that there are prime differences. In this post, I’m making the case that reading e-books, e.g. books in ePUB format on a dedicated e-reader, is a lot closer of an experience to paper reading, and better than reading, say, PDFs on a computer screen.