Crackpot tech: E-books

Remember the paperless office? If so, you may recall a close cousin: the e-book, which promised access to entire libraries of documents in easily readable formats -- an obvious boon to the enterprise knowledge worker on the go. As did many ideas debuting midway through the dot-com boom, it failed spectacularly.

And yet a visit to Sony’s Connect eBooks suggests that rumors of the e-book's demise have been exaggerated. For a cool $350, you can pick up the Sony Reader and start collecting from more than 11,000 titles.

But what does a shelf's worth of Michael Crichton in your pocket have to do with the enterprise? Not unlike the path to adoption taken by many devices permeating today's mobile enterprise, the e-book's "proof of concept" phase will play out on the consumer stage. And it may just be copyright protection and distribution — rather than any paper vs. LCD debate — that determines the technology’s long-term prospects.

"Another issue, besides the prohibitive cost and cumbersome nature of e-documents, concerns the vast portion of the contracts that were signed and agreed upon before e-books came onto the scene," says litigation lawyer Esther Lim, a partner at Finnegan Henderson. "That raises questions not just in terms of what rights the user has, but what rights the publisher has vis-à-vis the copyright holder."

If these issues aren't resolved, the e-book market may fail to attract the kind of vendor investment necessary to overcome the technology’s lingering cost and usability concerns.

So, until e-books have their day in court, the jury remains out on their viability for the enterprise.

-- Richard Gincel

What's your take onthe long-term viability of e-books?

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