By Howard Solomon
Assistant editor, Network World Canada
For the first time that I can remember, technology made a bold appearance at the annual Word On The Street book and magazine festival Sunday in Toronto. At the event, which took place also in Vancouver, Kitchener and Halifax, Sony was hawking its $299 Reader Digital Book. This slim, paperback sized device has been on the market for a couple of years but hasn't made a significant dent in the personal electronics market. But its appearance made me think about the future of print in an increasingly electronic world.
Portable video and digital music players are taking the planet by storm, and thanks to the competition prices are plunging. Not so for eBooks, although they have some advantages in terms of weight compared to print publications. Caroline Van Hasselt's 530-page book on Ted Rogers' empire has been weighing down my knapsack for several weeks, and it would be nice to have that off my back (and I could, if I read faster...). Also in there today is a daily newspaper, 50-odd pages of articles printed out from U.S. Sunday newspapers that I don't want to read from a PC screen and my MP3 player. The Sony device plays MP3s and AAC's, so I could drop my (admittedly weightless MP3 player), and it displays txt. versions of the newspaper articles I want. Yet desite a $25 festival-only discount, the Reader Digital Book wasn't tempting. The Digital Reader, has a 6-inch diagonal screen and can slip into a jacket pocket (although it will stick out) or large purse, but its 20-line monochrome screen made a book exerpt I read seem unsubstantial. I felt like I'd be clicking through pages in seconds rather than readling slowly for comprehension. The screen is only monochrome, and in Canada you can't yet buy and download entire newspapers, as users can in the U.S. With sales so small, there is no ecosystem for the Sony Reader yet: I can't go to trade shows and have PR people say, "Here's our presentation in an eBook format." (Hmmmm. Potential bonus...). And while some new books have been converted to the Reader format, and sell at a lower price than their hardback version, missing from Sony's store are travel books, which on a trip would save valuable space. If the price had been $199, I might have pulled out my wallet. The bottom line is, though, I'm just not ready yet to give up paper.