The fall that led to the march of e-books

Special to Times of Oman

Legend says that fall of apple had sparked the gravitational theory in Issac Newton's mind, which later paved the way for modern day science.

Similarly tumbling out of a book from a grocery pack on a hot July night of 1971 in a computer research lab of University of Illinois unleashed  unprecedented e-book age which is now about to dominate the global stage.

That night, young Michael Stern Hart at the university computer lab, conceived the idea digitising contents of books so that no more book will tumble down the shelves of libraries.

He set off on his mission with digitising United States Declaration of Independence. Project Gutenberg was born with motto of free distribution of book in digital format. The name of the project was more than appropriate.

In fifteenth century in the German city of Mainz one man called Johannes Gensfleisch Zur Laden Gutenberg started printing books, leaflets at low cost and thus opened the floodgates of knowledge and revolution.

Hart also initiated his project for unhindered spread of knowledge, to which he had remained faithful braving heavy odds till he breathed his last in Urbana, Illinois in September 2011.

But the dream Hart unleashed did not get itself confined within the four walls of the lab.

Riding the tsunami of information technology and proliferation of personal computers e-books added a brave new dimension to the global information age.

Laptops and e-reader devices only took the progress forward. Tablets, phablets and smartphones completely changed the traditional reading methods and set forth a revolution.

The USA controls over 26 per cent of global book market and its market size is to the tune of $258 billion. Industry predicts that by 2016, half of America's book market would be gobbled by digital version. During 2012-2013, 473 million e-books were sold in the United States.

E-book would be having significant presence in other five big book markets of the world (i.e. China, Germany, Japan, France and UK) too. The EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) would be having almost $45 billion book market by 2016 and significant portion of this would be on digitized format.

India, Russia, Brazil and South Korea are other big emerging markets for e-books. Already 24 per cent of South Korean book publishing is on digital format.

The global publishing industry considers 280 million strong Arabic speaking population from Morocco to Gulf a big potential market for digital books.  

Advent and galloping proliferation of mobile phones, especially the smart phones, are seen as another platform for spreading education through digital content. UNESCO through its Reading in Mobile Era Project highlighted the necessity of the use of the fourth screen in order to spread education to the farthest corners of globe.

India with negligible e-book market is still considered potentially big for digital publications owing to the fact that she is having fastest rate of smartphone penetration in the world.

So, experts are of the opinion that rather than the habit of reading shrinking, the digital format of books will open new vistas of knowledge.

In the age of ceaseless techno-entertainment, e-book actually has brought back the joy of reading in state of art manner.  

The midnight toil of Hart did not go in vain!

The author is a senior journalist specialised in technology. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely his and not of Times of Oman.


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