The Readable E-Book Is Here

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I suffer from
Picard’s Syndrome. I
like to have a book in my lap that looks like a book, feels like
a book, and is portable.

I am willing
to read an article on-screen, but not a whole book.

This has limited
me to printed books. We have been hearing about e-books, dynabooks,
and similar technologies for twenty years. Nothing has arrived.

The big barrier
has been a screen that has the equivalent of 600 dots per inch,
which is the minimum needed to look like a printed page. The other
major barrier has been battery life.

Sony has introduced the Sony Reader. We’re almost

The product
is pricey: $350. Its battery life is adequate — “7,500 pages”
— but not spectacular in actual use. The screen is not lit,
so it can’t be read in the dark. But the product offers hope. If
it catches on, the price will fall. Features will be added.


The product
will be fine for reading popular novels. It does not maximize efficiency
for academic books. Here is what I want as a researcher-author.

  1. Flicker-free
  2. Copy &
  3. Notation:
    hand-held “pen”
  4. Notation:
    speech-recognition software
  5. Retrieval
  6. Uploading
    to a computer
  7. Downloading
    from the Web
  8. Wide range
    of titles

This arrangement
will take a while. It will not take forever. I doubt that it will
take half a century.

Think about
how you read an academic book. You read, underline, make marginal
notes, and hope you will remember all this. You won’t.

Think about
an ideal researcher’s e-book reader. You read. You come across something
that interests you. You use a cursor — or your finger —
to extract the passage, word for word, error-free. You add keywords,
including phrases, to help you retrieve the passage. Preferably,
you do this with speech-recognition software. You save the passage
and your notations to the book’s internal disk.

You later upload
all this to your computer, where the overall file becomes part of
your data base.

You upload
this to your on-line data storage system. If your desktop dies,
you still have back-up. These on-line storage systems already exist.
They are free.

The retrieval
software enables you to locate the extracted passage, put it on-screen
with the original page, so that you can see the page number. A digital
link takes you to the book’s data page: author, title, edition,
publisher, city of publication, date of publication. You get your
footnote reference this way.

All of this
is technically possible now. It is a matter of design and price.


As an author,
I see the advantage of ebook readers that read PDF files, which
are universal. If my book sells for $4.95, and I get a dollar royalty,
the publisher still makes money. He doesn’t have to print the book,
warehouse it, or mail it to the buyer or to a physical store. He
pays no inventory tax. A publisher can publish far more books this

Those authors
who know how to typeset their books can eliminate the middlemen.
They can make deals with digital book distribution outlets. The
outlet makes its share, the author makes his share, and the liberal
New York publishing houses make nothing. I like the sound of this.
It would end the ability of the Left to burn books in advance by
serving as gatekeepers: suppression by committee.

A printed book
could be available through print-on-demand format: one book at a
time. For someone who had ordered the ebook, he would be allowed
to order a single printed copy for printing and mailing costs —
no book royalty.

The unknown
author could break through without the entrenched book-publishing
bureaucracy to baptize his efforts. Book publishers would spring
up like mushrooms after a rain. The cost of entry would be a few
thousand dollars.

An author could
go straight to Amazon. He can do without a publisher. He buys off-the-shelf
software to enable him to take orders.


A. J. Liebling’s
quip a generation ago is coming true: “Freedom of the press is wonderful
if you own one.”

are watching the demise of the gatekeepers. This has never happened
in man’s history. Entry is open. There will be gigantic quantities
of junk, but there will also be a huge increase in the number of
gems. The Remnant will find what is worthy.
Isaiah’s job
will become cheaper. So will the cost of footnotes.
The court prophets’ job will become more difficult.

The ebook will
speed up this process.

13, 2006

North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit
He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible

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