Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Move Over Kindle: Here Comes the Chinese E-Book

By Dennis D. McDonald

So you’re still reluctant to curl up with a nice, cute, cuddly electronic book? Does the Kindle leave you cold? Are your kids developing backaches while laboring under 50+ pounds of graphics-intensive textbooks in their school backpacks?

Maybe salvation is here. Read what Seema Sindhu wrote in Digital publishing coming of age on February 13, 2008:

In China, lately, the government decided to supply 165 million students with an e-reader in order to avoid all the physical costs associated with textbooks.

Yup, you read it right: that number is “165 million.” Think about that. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, the 2007 population of the United Kingdom was less than half that (60.8 million). That’s a lot of e-books and a lot of rescued trees!

Still, before you descend into paroxysms of delight in anticipation of all the cheap books such a system can promote, keep in mind that the physical manufacturing and distribution of a textbook is relatively independent of the front end/pre-distribution costs. These include editorial, research, composition, editing, authorship, artwork, and programming work that has to be performed before a book is ready for distribution electronically or via paper. The more complex the book, the higher those front end costs tend to be.

Someone will still have to pay those costs, unless you assume that some large benevolent institution (read: a national government) will be willing to subsidize those costs as well as the costs associated with the e-reader’s new infrastructure.

On the other hand, assuming an infrastructure does exist to organize and distribute e-books (the Internet? a separate state-controlled network?) an individual e-book is potentially less expensive than a general purpose portable computer, especially when the costs of software and operating systems  are taken into account. (Some will interpret this to be a reference to “Microsoft,” which, as everyone knows is headquartered in the United States. I’m assuming, though, that the Chinese e-book does not run Windows.)

Personally, I’m looking forward to the dawn of e-books, even though I greatly enjoy my hardbound and trade paperbacks and my weekly trips to the public library. I have to wear reading glasses, and the ability with my computer I have to increase text size significantly improves readability. That’s something I still can’t do with my hardbacks and trade paperbacks. And I figure that if I’m happy using my Made-In-China iPod, why not use a Made-In-China E-Book?

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