1 Nov 2011

science eBooks

Two years ago I wrote a piece for the Vancouver Sun about ebooks. The text of the piece follows below. The article motivated me to take my own advice and this week our first enhanced eBook- Bathtub Science- comes out with HarperCollins. This book represents a major change in the way that we, as authors, communicate science information. The parents and teachers who have seen the rough cuts love the idea. It makes science exciting and for those who feel intimidated by instructions (and yes, there are many out there who don't try hands-on science activities for this reason), the enhanced eBook is the perfect solution for science scaredy cats.
As science writers we ought to be leading the way in innovative and effective communication of information. How can we best spark a child's interest in science and how can we stay relevant? I have been told by teachers that there isn't a need to buy science books because everything is on the internet for free. Changing that attitude is something that we as science writers must actively address.

RE: "It's far too soon to terminate books" Ceri Radford, Vancouver Sun, (Vancouver, BC, Canadas -Page -A17, June 11, 2009)

Ceri Radford's article, "It's far too soon to terminate books", was in the same self-righteous tone as those prognosticators in the early 1900's who said that cars would never replace horses, or those who claimed that if man was meant to fly, God would have given him wings.

Wake up. Already some of the major North American publishers at Book Expo America (BEA) seem to be abandoning books in print form. At the annual show last week in New York, I was given large format postcards at the Harper Collins booth. Each card had the image of a book cover, and on the back was the book identification number (ISBN), information about the book, the author, the publication date, and a free download of the book when I went to the publisher's web site and put in the 16 digit PIN number. The book was then downloaded into my computer, in my choice of formatting, and I had access to their new front list of books.

Next year at BEA the majority of publishers say they will be giving out their new releases in this manner.

Why is this good thing? Frankly, digital books are better for the environment. Let's start with how a book is made. Trees are cut down; they are then turned into paper pulp, which means chemicals are spilled into our waterways killing fish. The pulp is turned into paper, shipped
off on trucks, processed, printed and shipped off again to a warehouse, which then sends off the books. There is a very large carbon footprint in this process, while downloading a book into a computer requires no gas, little energy and no pollution. There is never extra stock to be warehoused, and there is no waste. Publishers who are worried about their profits love
digital books because, let's face it, they cost very little to produce, nothing to ship or store, and there are no returns.

The bottom line here really is the "bottom line". Digital books make more sense financially. Just as homes are not built the way they used to be because labour and material cost prohibit this kind of construction, so it will be with printed books. As for school books, I hate to agree with Governor Schwarzenegger, but he is right. California ought to move its science and math
textbooks to digital books. Yes, it is going to save the state an estimated 30 million dollars, but that's missing the bigger picture. In B.C., one Grade 9 science text is available on CD, while the Grade 10 text is available online.

Science changes every day but science texts are only updated maybe every 15 years. Having the latest information available to students will mean that children aren't learning outdated science.
So will digital readers supplant paper? Yes. For those of us who like to read in bed without waking the person next to us, a backlit Kindle is great. I don't have to wear my glasses because I can make the font bigger. It always remembers what page I'm on. It weighs less than the 10 books I take along on holidays.

And as an author of children's books, I think that digital books will be good for my work.
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