An ebook (electronic book) is the digital media equivalent of a traditional printed book. Ebooks come in many file formats and can be read on devices such as computers, smartphones, PDAs, and portable reading devices made just for storing and displaying books. The book file is downloaded from the internet to a computer (and then to the reading device, if applicable) or in some cases the file is beamed directly to the reader (Amazon's Kindle, and iPhones/iTouch, which have a free app for reading Kindle format, Barnes & Noble's Nook, the iPad).
Ebooks are available for sale from individual publishers and third party book retailers. Most sites also offer free reads - such as classics in the public domain, and promotional offers. Many library systems now "shelve" ebooks. Patrons get a short-term user license when downloading the file. Once the license expires, the file will no longer open. No return trip necessary! Gutenberg.org and Google offer free downloads of over 500,000 titles.
Ready for this? Ebooks are cheaper. Usually 25-50% less than paperbacks of the same edition. And if you're a bestseller reader, the news is even better. Kindle editions of NYT bestsellers run $9.99 max -- at least, for now. Many online retailers offer membership discounts like that of Barnes & Noble (who purchased fictionwise.com - behemoth ebook retailer). It's easy to earn deeper discounts and rewards by signing up for newsletters, and cyberread.com offers a 40% off coupon for each reader review you write.
If you're looking to stay on the cheap side, stick with what you've got. Got a personal computer or laptop? You've probably already got an edition of Adobe, which will allow you to read PDF files. Upgrade to Adobe Digital Editions - for free - and you get a neato virtual bookshelf plus lots of other fun features.
iPhone owners, rejoice. Amazon offers a free app so you can read their popular Kindle books on your phone or iTouch. And these devices have one nifty feature most ereaders do not: they are backlit, which means you can read them in the dark (while your significant other snoozes blissfully, happy there's no lamp on and they don't have to listen to you rustling pages).
Sure, you'll have to front some green to get one, but the advantages of dedicated reading devices are numerous.
The Sony Reader is available from Sony, Target, Best Buy, and a host of other retailers. Amazon sells the Kindle exclusively (Hey, don't shoot the messenger! I have no idea why this is). Other options include the Cool-er (similar to the Reader, less pricey, but mixed reviews on overall quality). Barnes & Noble has the Nook, which is also available at Best Buy stores. And let us not forget the latest -- and many think -- greatest, iPad. More devices are in the works all the time, some available in the U.S. and others not.
Nothing. Print books are cool.
The print publishing model is what's jacked. Most big publishers print a certain quantity of any given book up front, then allow retailers to return unsold stock for credit. Which in itself isn't a problem. The travesty is in the numbers. 35% of printed books are never read, returned to the publisher, and sent to a landfill. That's right: only 5% of paper used in the book industry is recycled. And, speaking on behalf of future generations of kids who might be fond of trees, that sucks. Now think for a moment about all the fossil fuels burned in printing and binding those books, hauling them around to stores, hauling them back...
Creating one paper book requires 4 times the greenhouse gas emissions, 3 times the raw materials, and 78 times more water consumption than manufacturing one ebook reading device.
And nobody's counting how much fuel the consumer spent driving to the store to buy the book. Or the time. Ebooks are instant. Downloadable in seconds, no delivery charge, and often tax-free. Let's face it: you can cover lots more territory looking for a particular author or title with your keyboard than you can cruising brick and mortar stores. And guess what? An ebook is never out of stock! Ebooks don't make your bookshelves sag and - even if something happens to your reading device - the books themselves are virtually indestructible.
Will ebooks ever replace print ones? Heck, no. And I don't think that's anybody's aim. I'll always love the feel of a new book, the smell of an old one, the sight of my favorites standing side-by-side on the shelf in my room. I want to sign my books for readers, too. And walking into a local store to see my book on a shelf? Whoa. Priceless.
Still, it's always a good thing to have more options, no?