One of first acts of French National Assembly in 1789 was to issue this declaration: "The free communication of thought and opinion is one of most precious rights of man; every citizen may therefore speak, write and print freely." UNESCO still defines "book" as "non-periodical printed publication of at least 49 pages excluding covers".
Yet, have innovations of last five years transformed concept of "book" irreversibly?
The now defunct BookTailor used to sell its book-customization software mainly to travel agents. Subscribers assembled their own, private edition tome from a library of electronic content. The emerging idiosyncratic anthology was either printed and bound on demand or packaged as an e-book.
Consider what this simple business model does to entrenched and age-old notions such as "original" and "copies", copyright, and book identifiers. Is "original" final, user-customized book - or its sources? Should such one-copy print runs be eligible to unique identifiers (for instance, unique ISBN's)? Does user possess any rights in final product, compiled by him? Do copyrights of original authors still apply?
Members of BookCrossing.com community register their books in a central database, obtain a BCID (BookCrossing ID Number) and then give book to someone, or simply leave it lying around to be found. The volume's successive owners provide BookCrossing with their coordinates. This innocuous model subverts legal concept of ownership and transforms book from a passive, inert object into a catalyst of human interactions. In other words, it returns book to its origins: a dialog-provoking time capsule.
Their proponents protest that e-books are not merely an ephemeral rendition of their print predecessors - they are a new medium, an altogether different reading experience.
Consider these options: hyperlinks within e-book to Web content and reference tools; embedded instant shopping and ordering; divergent, user-interactive, decision driven plotlines; interaction with other e-books using Bluetooth or some other wireless standard; collaborative authoring, gaming and community activities; automatically or periodically updated content; multimedia capabilities; databases of bookmarks, records of reading habits, shopping habits, interaction with other readers, and plot-related decisions; automatic and embedded audio conversion and translation capabilities; full wireless piconetworking and scatternetworking capabilities; and more.
In an essay titled "The Processed Book", Joseph Esposito expounds on five important capabilities of e-books: as portals or front ends to other sources of information, as self-referencing texts, as platforms being "fingered" by other resources, as input processed by machines, and e-books serving as nodes in networks.
E-books, counter their opponents, have changed little beyond format and medium. Audio books are more revolutionary than e-books because they no longer use visual symbols. Consider scrolling protocols - lateral and vertical. The papyrus, broadsheet newspaper, and computer screen are three examples of vertical kind. The e-book, microfilm, vellum, and print book are instances of lateral scroll. Nothing new here.
E-books are a throwback to days of papyrus. The text is placed on one side of a series of connected "leaves". Parchment, by comparison, was multi-paged, easily browseable, and printed on both sides of leaf. It led to a revolution in publishing and, ultimately, to print book. All these advances are now being reversed by e-book, bemoan antagonists.