This is Steve Ember. And this is Faith Lapidus with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about a revolution in technology that could change the way many people read books. We tell about electronic books and what they could mean for the future.

For a few minutes, let us imagine that it is two o'clock in the morning. You can not sleep. You get out of bed and walk into the room where you keep your computer. You turn on the machine and slowly the blue light of the screen becomes brighter. You link your computer with the Internet communications system.

Moments later you learn that you have no electronic mail. So you take a minute to read most of the world news. There seems to be nothing of interest. Then you remember reading about something called electronic books, or e-books. Maybe that might be interesting.

You have the computer search for the word "e-book". Immediately your computer and the Internet find a great many choices. You go to a Web site that offers free electronic books.

A list of electronic books appears. Many were written by the man who may be the most famous writer in the English language -- William Shakespeare. As you look at the list of his works you see "Henry the Fifth."

You choose this famous play. And, there on your computer screen are the words of William Shakespeare. You begin to read:

"O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention, A kingdom for a stage, princes to act And monarchs to behold the swelling scene! Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels, Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire Crouch for employment.

But pardon, and gentles all, The flat unraised spirits that have dared …"

Within a few hours, you have read "Henry the Fifth." Best of all, it cost you nothing. You have your computer save the Internet address of the free electronic book Web site. Soon you are off to sleep with dreams of the great play you have read.

The story we just told is not from the future. It is happening today. If you do not want to read the plays of William Shakespeare, you could read thousands of other electronic books. Perhaps we should explain just what an electronic book is. It is a book. But it appears on a computer screen, not printed on paper. E-books are not a new idea, but they are becoming more important, more interesting and easier to find.

You can find free e-books many places on the Internet. One of the oldest and most successful Internet web sites is called "Project Gutenberg." Its name honors German printer Johannes Gutenberg. He invented modern printing during the fourteen-hundreds.

Project Gutenberg was the idea of Michael Hart. In Nineteen-Seventy-One, he was a computer scientist working at the University of Illinois. The university provided him with a large amount of money and a huge modern computer to use for his experiments.

Michael Hart decided that the computer could be used to hold famous and important books. He decided that these would be free to anyone in the world who could link to the project with a computer. The first important document Mr. Hart placed in the computer was the American Declaration of Independence.

Since then, Mr. Hart has been joined by hundreds of people who give their time to help place important books on the Internet.

The idea is to bring information, books and other materials to the general public in a way that most people can easily search for read and use.

More than six-thousand Project Gutenberg electronic books are now on the Internet. And they cost nothing to read. Anyone with a computer can copy them on to paper, or make an electronic copy to keep in their computer. It does not matter if you live in India, Japan, the United States, Italy or China. If you have a computer, you can link with Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg also offers many of its books in fifteen different languages.

We have told about the thousands of free e-books you can find with your computer. These books are most often offered for free because they no longer carry the legal protection called a copyright. Copyright protection makes it illegal to sell, print or publish a person's work without the permission of the writer and publisher. Books still under copyright protection can be found on the Internet, too. But you have to pay for them.

Many companies sell electronic books on the Internet. You pay for them with your credit card number. Then you can electronically move your new book to your computer. Two of the book companies that offer e-books are Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com.

For example, Barnes and Noble is offering many e-books this summer. They include the very popular book about an American racehorse, called "Seabiscuit" by Laura Hillenbrand. This e-book costs about eight dollars. The company is also selling Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's new book, "Living History." This e-book costs seventeen dollars.

Amazon-Dot-Com also sells many e-books, including another best-seller, Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code." That e-book costs twelve dollars. Amazon also sells many kinds of science fiction books, including the popular "Star Trek" series. It also sells study guides which provide information about books and writers. And the company sells e-documents. The most popular ones are about computers, education, leadership, business and jobs.

You can also find e-books on other serious subjects. For example, a company called "Science Week" sells e-books about cancer research, neurobiology, chemistry, and many more subjects.

You need a computer that can link to the Internet to read an e-book. For some books you may also need special computer programs that help deal with e-books. These programs make the electronic information easier to copy and read. Two of these computer programs are Microsoft's Reader and Adobe e-Book Reader.

The companies that make both programs offer them for free. Several companies that offer e-books have special links that lead to these e-book reader programs. It only takes a few moments to copy these helpful programs to your computer.

Many people do not like the idea of sitting in front of a computer to read a book. They like paper books better. You can easily take a paper book with you everywhere you go. For example, you can take it outside on a nice day and read it under a tree or while lying on a large chair.

However, you can not take most computers outside on a nice day. So several companies have now made it possible to move an e-book's information from your computer to a small electronic device that can be carried anywhere.

The device is called an e-book appliance or e-book reader. It has a small screen about the same size as a page in a small book. Many of these devices hold as much as ten-thousand pages of information.

That is the same as about ten large books. The more costly e-book readers also can play music, show photographs from an e-book and do other useful things.

E-books may become even more popular in the near future. For example, a college student who begins a new school year usually must buy a book for each class. In the future, a trip to the bookstore might not be necessary.

In a few minutes, the student could copy to his or her computer all the necessary books and other written material for each class.

The student would also be able to copy books and class information into the small e-book reader that he or she carries to class. In the future, the use of e-books could change education on all levels. Many experts say the e-book revolution has already begun.

This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. Our studio engineer was Suleiman Tarawaley. Shakespeare's "Henry the Fifth" was read by Shep O'Neal. This is Steve Ember. And this is Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program in Special English on the Voice of America.

Voice of America Special English

Source: EXPLORATIONS - August 6, 2003: E-Books
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