Books in the Digital Age: Types & Usage

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Digital technologies have caused major shifts in the book and publishing industry, adding both strengths and challenges. In this lesson, learn more about books in the digital age, including e-publishing, platforms, and print-on-demand.

Reading Material

Jasmine is set to go on a vacation and is trying to figure out what books to take. She's about half-way through her current thriller, but has a historical fiction book she's been wanting to check out. There's also that great new bestseller her friend recommended.

What's an avid reader to do? How about take all three, plus a few hundred more!

No, Jasmine isn't packing more suitcases; she's simply harnessing the power of the digital age and tucking her e-reader, stocked with hundreds of book titles, under her arm as she heads out the door.

The change in the book publishing industry has been significant in the past decade. What once required a physical copy of a book in a reader's hand has now shifted to include digital books that allow you to catch up on your favorite author right from your smartphone.

Books in the Digital Age

Not so long ago, if you wanted a copy of a bestseller, you'd get in your car and head to the library or a bookstore where, if you were lucky, there would be one or two copies left for you to check out or purchase. Today, you don't even have to leave the comfort of your couch to find and download a book title.

New technology has created seismic shifts in the way that books are created and the way that readers access them. Once confined to traditional printing means such as hardcover and paperback volumes, authors are now expanding their horizons to digital books, e-publishing and print on demand.

Digital books are simply electronic formats of a book in printed form. Digital books (or e-books) can be downloaded by book lovers almost instantaneously to e-readers, tablets or other internet-enabled devices.

For authors and publishers, e-publishing (publishing digitally) is cheaper because they don't require printing, binding, warehousing and shipping. For consumers, they are less expensive, more portable and available quickly.

Print-on-demand is when an author prints only as many books as are demanded by the public. Instead of printing hundreds or thousands of books at one time, they can to publish a quantity as small as a single book. This saves on costs incurred by producing books that don't sell well or in circumstances where the author wants a little more control over their work.

Platforms for Digital Books

The great thing about digital books is that there are multiple platforms available to use. Don't have a tablet? No problem!

Digital Libraries

Digital libraries function much like traditional libraries, but offer digital formats of books only. Project Gutenberg (available on the internet) is the world's oldest digital library. Other digital libraries, such as the one available through Google Books boasts millions of titles that you can search through and download. Even your local library may have a digital wing where it loans out digital books you can download for a short period of time.


E-Readers are perhaps the most popular platform for digital book usage, having burst on the scene about 10 years ago and popularizing the digital book trend.

Amazon's Kindle (of which there are many variations) is the most popular, followed by options from Barnes & Noble (the Nook), Sony and Kobo. These types of devices are dedicated exclusively to viewing e-book content, newspapers and magazines, allowing its user to download new content through a Wi-Fi connection.

Mobile applications

If you don't have an e-reader, you can still get in the e-book game using your smartphone or a mobile tablet. Thanks to mobile applications of popular e-readers, such as the Kindle app, you can read the same content you'd get on an e-reader or any internet-enabled device.

Some authors and publishers are now shortcutting dedicated mobile apps altogether and turning books into mobile apps themselves. That means all a reader has to do is download the book directly to their device, with no other programs necessary.

Many of these mobile applications have desktop or laptop versions available as well.

Strengths and Challenges

Yet, where there is new technology, there will inherently be strengths and challenges that must be accounted for. Books and publishing in the digital age are no different.

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