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E-Books

Remember the concept of a "paperless society"? No more paper files, business stationery, textbooks, newspapers—and of course printed books. Why didn't it happen? To quote a colleague of mine, "The paperless society will come into being when we have a paperless toilet."

I would agree for the most part; I feel there is a use for e-books, but not necessarily the way they're being used today. Let's face it, you're not going to curl up in bed or sit on the toilet reading The Hunt for Red October or Chicken Soup for the Soul on an e-book. One of the problems with e-books has to do with the devices needed to read them. PCs and notebooks aside, handhelds or portable e-book readers like the RocketBook have been slow to infiltrate the American lifestyle. Even if you have a portable e-book reader of some sort, reading the small print can get old pretty fast.

So if e-books are not good for fiction or nonfiction books, and if reading a narrative for more than several minutes is a chore, what are e-books good for?

E-books are good for information that emulates web sites.

Let me explain. Just about any survey of Internet users shows that they use the Net primarily for information. Users will sit in front of a device—such as a PC—to read information from a web site. Especially if the content is written to take advantage of the way a web site is read. Clear, uncluttered, concise "how to" types of information combined with easy to navigate "pages" are the hallmark of a good content site.

So is a good e-book.

I believe that e-books should take a page out of web sites: Focus on trade books, specialized books, and reference information genres.

Trade e-books can be read whenever and wherever someone needs a piece of information to learn how to perform a task: writing a piece of programming code, crafting an e-marketing email message, coding a web page, optimizing a web page for search engines, writing a press release. The benefit of e-books is that you can load a number of different trade e-books onto one device for reading, instead of lugging around several printed books. Imagine sitting at your desk or at a client's office and quickly and easily finding the information you need at the moment, without having to search through printed books or web sites.

And e-books could even help your company. It's easy to publish an e-book these days. The most common format that imitates closely the layout of a "real" book is Adobe Acrobat. Converting your business and technical manuals, spec sheets, and employee documents into an e-book format such as Acrobat can make all of these documents easily available to you and your customers.

Much too often today, technology products are created because they can be, not because they should be. If manufacturers realize this, then there is a place for Net appliances and e-books in their future.

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