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In this area of the website we have links to a help file on the various formats e-books come in, and what they mean to you; user information on how to install and read your Hidden Knowledge e-books; and a discussion of what you can and can't do with the e-book you just bought (your rights and copyrights).

There is also a section of essays on e-books in the future; some of the more interesting things that e-books can (or can't) do, and what they will (or won't) do. A few thoughts on how to bring this about. Some ideas of what a basic e-book really needs. How to build one (get out your metaphorical soldering irons and CAD layout tools). Copyright in the age of Gnutella. Is it necessary to destroy printed literature in order to save it? And more.

Just what are "e-books," anyway?

We're familiar with hardcover and softcover printed books, books which are made of sheets of paper with the text printed in ink on the surface of the sheets.

An e-book (also known as a "digital book" or an "ebook") is the essence of that printed book: the words, the thoughts, the characters, the actions of the original text. But no trees die for an e-book, and there isn't any shipping charge for downloading it.

An e-book is a digital data file, and you use a computer of some kind to look into that file and read what it contains.

You read an e-book on your computer or your laptop or your dedicated (probably hand-held) e-book reader. Everyone is familiar with word processing on the computer; reading an e-book is just like reading the result of a word processor. Only much, much better: with e-books we can display the text in a manner that makes it easier to read, and we can even add links to related e-books, add sound tracks and video, and ... do things that haven't got a name yet.

There are e-book readers like the Gemstar and the Franklin, available for purchase right now. There are more coming out this year. Furthermore, there are special software applications you can put on your computer to make the experience of reading an e-book as similar as possible to reading a book. A complete list of commercially available products is outside the scope of this website, but if you want to keep up with the latest news in the industry, a good place to go is eBookWeb.

Anyway, when you buy an e-book, you get a piece of software that you can install on your computer or reader just as you would install any piece of software. You read it with another piece of software, typically a browser or a "Reader", depending on what format the e-book is and what kind of computer or reading device you have. [We apologize for the silly inconsistency that this industry has created by using the word "e-book" to mean not only the e-book files themselves, but also the e-book reading devices and e-book reader software. The people who managed to screw up the naming have already done the deed and it is too late to throttle them in the crib.]

When you've finished reading the e-book you can usually leave it on your computer (if you want to read it again later), or get rid of it. There may be some systems that charge you less if you only want to read something once, or even less if you only want to look at small parts of a particular text. The options (and business plans and revenue models) are capable of endless variation.

There are even some systems that make it difficult to install the e-book and read it, because the companies that sell them are afraid that people will steal the book and make pirate copies to sell. We go the other direction and make it as easy as possible to read our book, but we do have to put in some simple safety precautions on our download copies to protect the authors' rights. Please take a look at our essay on copyrights and wrongs.

More like this

To find out more:

* We've already mentioned eBookWeb
* Anders Borg has a nice set of pointers and guides
* Michelle Parker collects e-book links; it's an
     education just to read through her web pages
     start with the link to the Directory.

That should get you started.


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"What Are E-Books" page updated 27 December 2003