200605191333Definition of the E-book

When we refer to traditional print books, we immediately understand and can identify elements we recognise as belonging to book technology.  This is not so with e-book.  E-book is a vague term which is used to describe a text or monograph which is available in an electronic form.  Converting paper books to bytes and digital form (Carvajal 1999) is a growing trend, this has resulted in a collection of hybrid definitions of e-books. 


Although, this term ‘e-book’ is unclear and contradictory, neither explaining its form nor its operation.  Any digital copy of a large document readily available on CDROM or other portable storage medium could be referred to as an ‘e-book’ (Magnik 2001).  The different types of e-books which we have identified as being of major importance are the Text Electronic Books, Static Picture Electronic Books, Moving Picture Electronic Books, Talking Electronic Books, Multimedia Electronic Books, and Hypermedia Electronic Books and such as in the market. 


Sometimes, e-books are defined diversely by researchers to fit their own expectations. For example: (Shiratuddin et al. 2003)

1.          any kind of digitised information ranging from a CD-ROM title to an online interactive database or a collection of Web pages;

2.          a collection of reactive pages of electronic information that exhibit many of the characteristic features and properties of a conventional book;

3.          Learning environments which have an application containing a multimedia database of instructional resources that store pre-captured multimedia presentations about topics in a book.


Recently, the definition of an e-book has been extended to include book titles that are available online.  It can be retrieved by a portable electronic reading device, or as a file that can be downloaded on to a computer (Allen 2002, Carvajal 1999, Clister 1999).


In addition, sometimes people said e-book in the term of digital book.  Clifford Lynch(2001) offers a clear distinction between the idea of a digital book and a book-reading appliance in The Battle to Define the Future of the Book in the Digital World, .  Lynch defines a digital book as:


... just a large structured collection of bits that can be transported on CD-ROM or other storage media or delivered over a network connection, and which is designed to be viewed on some combination of hardware and software ranging from dumb terminals to Web browsers on personal computers to the new book reading appliances (Lynch 2001).


Lynch also introduces another distinction to the term e-book, with the ‘… introduction of general purpose software book readers that run on general purpose computers.’  Effectively, these turn desktop and laptop computers into book-reading appliances.  It is this distinction that has the potential to become the standard means by which e-books are accessed as it requires no additional financial outlay for a separate hardware device, or book-reading appliance (Magnik 2001).


Similarly, Borchers (1999) defined an electronic book as “… portable hardware and software system that can display large quantities of readable textual information to the user and that lets the user navigate through this information.”  However, Lemken (1999) provided a simpler definition of electronic books as “… a mobile, physical device [used] to display electronic (digital) documents.”  Borcher’s and Lemken’s definitions described a reading device that enables a user to view collections of documents or text where the content is represented by a book.


Common to these reading devices is content, in the form of books, to be read with the devices.  Barker (1994) originally defined electronic books as a “… form of book whose pages were composed not of static printer’s ink but from dynamic electronic information.”  Then he amended that definition to state that electronic books are a “… collection of reactive and dynamic pages of multimedia information.”  These collections of pages represent the content (books) that are read with a reading device.


Barker (1992) also provided another definition, which promoted the importance of metaphor use in electronic book design.  Barker defined a metaphor as the ability of users to transfer familiar knowledge from one area, such as reading a paper book, such as reading an electronic book.  Therefore, Barker defined an electronic book as “a generalized metaphor or myth that projects an image to both designers and users of being just like a [paper] book”.


Clister (1999) stated that reading devices appeal to a limited number of computer users while the concept of reading a book online appeals to a far greater number of computer users.  The concept of an electronic book, as defined by Clister, is more important than the machine used to read the book.  Lemken (1999) acknowledged the need for well-designed books by stating that after 35 years of creating electronic text, paper is still preferred not because of the reading devices but because of ‘unsatisfactory interfaces and presentation principles’ of the content itself.


Tony Feldman wrote that the simplest definition of an electronic book is the hardware devices, such as personal digital assistants, laptops, mobile phones, and so forth, that are used to access the printed word, whether in the form of databases or structured electronic books.  Feldman also wrote that a complex definition of electronic books is the adaptation of paper book metaphors and book-like features to create a new format for reading that re-interprets the paper book into a new, interactive, format (Henke 2001, p.19).  Barker and Feldman provided a definition of electronic books as a generalized metaphor used to project an image of a paper book (book-like) to both designers and users. 


Another recent interpretation of an e-book is the "print-on-demand" book where the contents are stored in a system connected to a high-speed, high-quality printer, from which printed and bound copies are produced on demand with the possibility of buying chapter-by-chapter, customised books (Hawkins 2000a).


Furthermore, according to the Oxford University Press of Concise Oxford Dictionary recently, e-book is explained as below:


e-book * n. an electronic version of a printed book which can be read on a personal computer or handheld device designed specifically for this purpose.


The Association of American Publishers (AAP) has developed the following characterizations (Slowinski 2003):

An e-book is a literary work in the form of a digital object, consisting of one or more standard unique identifiers, metadata, and a monographic body of content, intended to be published and accessed electronically.


A digital object, a sequence of bits that incorporates unique numbering, metadata, and digital content, is the lowest level transactional unit in a digital publishing environment. Each e-book can be described as a collection of one or more digital objects. Digital objects can be arranged in a hierarchy, where some digital objects are the .children. of .parent. objects. Child objects may inherit some of the attributes of their parent object. This entity is the fundamental unit of transaction within the e-book market model.


In the netLibrary model, content is the essence of an e-book (Slowinski 2003):

An e-book is not a device; nor is it a mechanism of creation; nor is it defined as one dedicated source of content. An e-book is the content itself.


Similarly, the National Information Standards Organization describes an e-book as electronic “monographic” content that can be read on a (Slowinski 2003):

1.          Dedicated e-book device

2.          Personal digital assistant

3.          Personal computer

4.          The World Wide Web

5.          Printed page (including print-on-demand)


At the University of Virginia, home of the Electronic Text Center, an e-book is described as (Slowinski 2003):

Any full text electronic resource designed to be read on a screen, in something other than a web browser. E-book content can be read on a PC, a laptop, a PDA, or a dedicated reading device, in one or more of a growing number of available formats and software applications..


To sum up, in understanding the characteristics of an electronic book, this research of definition of an electronic book includes hardware and software based e-book reader.  A n E-book is a user can read the variety content with a well-designed dedicated electronic book reader, an electronic multi-purpose handheld reader application such as PDA, or with a personal computer.  The variety e-book content collection can be reactive and dynamic pages of multimedia information.


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