Electronic-book (or e-book) readers, including the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader, use an electronic "ink" (or e-Ink) display to reproduce text. (The image at right shows a sample of the e-Ink technology. You can click on it for a closer look.) You move through a book by pressing a button to pull the next page from the device's electronic memory. Current versions are imperfect, but in recent weeks a leading print magazine; you, our readers; and several design and media experts have convinced me to follow this fascinating technology more closely.
The print magazine is Esquire, which announced that its September issue will appear on newsstands with a battery-powered e-ink cover. Meanwhile, our test observations on the Kindle continue to draw readers and comments some eight months after we posted them. Our tests and your comments reflect a mixed verdict, highlighting many disadvantages as well as some pluses. Our take on the second-generation Sony Reader was similarly ambivalent.
But several lectures I've attended in the past week or so argue that flaws are inevitable when products break significant new ground—as these devices clearly do, being more legible and more portable than past e-books. Last week, while attending Stanford University's Stanford Professional Publishing Course, I heard professor Paul Saffo urge magazine editors to embrace the Kindle and its ilk, in spite of their flaws. Another instructor, renowned product designer Bill Moggridge, told me the Kindle has streamlined his research process by allowing him to electronically highlight passages in books and download those excerpts to his computer, saving him hours of transcription time.
Here at Consumer Reports, we recently enjoyed a lecture from Bo Sacks, an expert on so-called Electronically Coordinated Information Distribution, who predicts that e-books will command a growing share of the print market. That will happen, he says, as the devices improve and as the downsides of printed paper continue—notably its escalating cost and its long-term environmental issues.