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Musings of a Philadelphia Physician who has served the community for six decades

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Reading Books Compared With Computer Viewing

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Old folks fumble with computers and are afraid of them, but even the younger generations brought up on the use of computers generally prefer the ease and eye comfort of books. Fortunes await entrepreneurs who first overcome the technical resistance to the coming inevitable disappearance of paper books.

Electronic books are better than paper ones, not just cheaper. They are easier to search; their contents are available to the whole world, and can even be automatically translated. For browsing and scanning, everyone prefers to browse pictures, and here the Internet offers an unbeatable price advantage; color pictures in a book are prohibitively expensive, while any child with a point-and-shoot camera can broadcast pictures of his dog to the world. Movies are coming along fast, cheap sound reproduction is already available.

In the here and now present, if you have both a paper book and an electronic version available to you, which would you choose? The answer depends on how old you are, but it also depends on the age of the book. Old classics were written for paper books, while electronic books are written to exploit plentiful colored images, sound, movies and search potential. What's so far missing is a publishing industry for electronic books, offering to take the text manuscript from any author and add all of the bells and whistles. At the moment, a technical problem holds that back: electronic books are too easy to counterfeit. The genius who invents a way to prevent electronic book piracy, in a technical way that cannot itself be pirated, would sweep all lesser objections away. The protection cannot rely on patent protection alone; just think how patents could not have protected Gutenberg right up to the present struggle. The protection of paper book printing rested, and still rests, on the enormous cost of high-speed, quality, printing presses.

What follows are a few observations on the current technicalities, added in the hope that understanding the issue will make some reluctant readers less timid about it.

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