By now, most of us are familiar with what an ebook is. If not, here's a quick definition, culled from a few different Web sites: ebooks are electronic books, digital versions of our favorite paper tomes. They can be downloaded instantly, so there's no shipping involved — which means no shipping costs, no waiting. Of course, anticipation can be sweet, so it's up to you whether or not no shipping is an advantage. Ebooks can come in various text forms, very often requiring proprietary reading software.
It wasn't until I discovered Project Gutenberg that I was willing to consider ebooks as … legitimate. That Web site offers, free to everyone, classic literature that has entered the public domain. It sounded great, but, could I really give up actual books and go electronic? Like so many others, it felt sacrilegious and, well, immoral.
Still, I started to weaken. Project Gutenberg has a huge library of classic literature. I started downloading and read a book or two in the Notepad format. It was okay. Then a friend gave me a PDA and I discovered that these ebooks could be read anywhere. While running about doing errands for work I ended up at Del Taco. I sat there, eating a Macho Burrito, and read Heart of Darkness. I was sold on ebooks.
I found an ebook reader and started using it on my computer at home which made the experience a little better. Now, then, where else to find ebooks? There are a number of good Web sites with a large catalog of ebooks. Barnes and Nobles has entered the game now and has its own library. According to their press release and Web site, they offer over 700,000 titles. That includes current bestsellers in various genres. That's a huge library, over double what Amazon offers and seven times more than ebooks.com. In addition, like several other Web sites (including Gutenberg mentioned above), the Barnes and Noble site provides access to over a million public domain books via Google Books. They've got all the books you'd want in one spot. Very desirable.
Creating a B&N account is painless. They have their own free Reader which you must download to read their books. You even get some free ebooks when you sign up. The reader is available for iPhone, Blackberry, PC and Mac. The Web site is easy enough to navigate. Their prices are slightly higher than Amazon's on the few items I checked.
Additionally, B&N announced that they will be the exclusive provider for the Plastic Logic eReader. It's a Kindle-like device, or a Sony Reader-like device — whichever you prefer. The portable, wireless reading device is obviously catching on. I don't have any of them (certainly not Plastic Logic's, since it won't really be available till 2010), so I will not pretend to be authoritative about them. Do some research.
I enjoyed reading on my PDA, so these readers should at least mimic that. Isaac Asimov had devices in his stories and novels that the Kindle and eReader resemble. They seemed like cool devices, and here they are, the primordial versions of Asimov's vision (and probably other writers, too). I like the idea and hope to be able to try these devices out. I think that it will eventually come down to how well the portable readers perform that will determine which of the ebook providers comes out on top.
Till then, I'll be downloading ebooks — mostly the free ones, because I'm cheap (that's also a reason I like libraries). However, if I do decide to splurge I may very well be persuaded to try out the offerings from Barnes and Noble. I like browsing the stores, to be sure, and browsing the Web site feels familiar. That was important to me, the familiarity. That will probably be important to others who have spent time at the stores.