Ever since I first put my fingers to the keyboard of a PolyMorphic Systems Polly 88 microcomputer and learned to program it in BASIC, I have been very interested in technology and integrating technology in my life. I have owned computers since the early 1980s and spent a career first as a programmer, architecting systems and networks, and for the last 18 years in information security. Over my 30 year career I have seen the industry grow from million dollar mainframes to being able to put a computer in your pocket that can make telephone calls without wires and play music.
My trip down memory lane comes as the the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) opens in Las Vegas. It is the largest show that features nearly every electronic gadget and gizmo both available and not available. It is where companies announce new products, new features, and show off what they are thinking about the future—which those of us in the industry call vaporware. It is where all of the neat toys are shown off.
Even for those of us in the industry, it is difficult to predict the future, even after seeing this year’s “next big thing.” We can look back at the last CES and see what made it past the announcement and has became hotter a year later. Watching the new product introductions, the hot products are smarter phones and tablets.
Tablets are smallish computers with the functionality to consume media and content and only powered enough to be a limited content creator. Applications run locally to enhance the tablet’s functionality while giving the user access to an entire Internet of resources. This year it is clear that those introducing new products are looking to be the next iPad killer. Weather you like Apple or not, the iPad has set the tone for the tablet market the same way the iPhone has set the tone for the smart phone market.
So why am I talking about CES on a coin collector’s blog? Because this big thing will have an impact on how you consume numismatic information.
The future of content consumption is electronic. E-book readers will support the reading of books, magazines, newspaper, and some online content on a small handheld device conveniently sized for reading. They are designed to do one thing very well: provide you a way to read published content in a more convenient manner and without killing trees. While tablet and smart phones are more general devices, both have the ability for you to read published works when you are not playing the current hot game or social networking. All of these devices have programs that can tap into online bookstores so that you can buy books at a reduced price and have it loaded directly onto your device to read.
E-book readers can read many different format files, but the type used for the best reading experience is based on the concept of “electronic paper.” Electronic paper allows the reader to resize, bookmark, type notes, highlight, and do anything to an electronic page except fold it while maintaining the integrity of the book. As the read changes size or add their own notes, electronic paper allows the book to reflow, or repaginate, within the device. When a book or document is repaginated, tables of contexts and indices are also adjusted to make the text easy to search.
Currently, the only numismatic book publisher selling electronic versions of their books is Krause Publications. If you visit their online store you can search the Coin CDs/DVDs section to find a number of their publications, including the Standard Catalog series can be purchased on CD. Once you load the CD on your computer and copy the Portable Document Format (PDF) file to your hard disk, you can open the file in a PDF reader (Adobe Acrobat Reader on any system or Preview on a Mac). Once the file is open you can search for any text, zoom in to view any image up to 400 percent, add notes, bookmark pages, and highlight areas. Again, anything you can do with a real book except fold page corners.
Krause also sell sections of the Standard Catalogs and other publications as downloads. For example, if all you are interested in are Obsolete Bank Notes of the District of Columbia, you can just download that section of the Standard Catalog of United States Obsolete Bank Notes for significantly less than the entire four CD set.
Since I purchase the Standard Catalog of World Coins for the 20th century, it has been a wonderful resource to have while sitting at my computer. Searching for country coinage information and making highlights has really enhanced my appreciation for the work without having to lug around that huge volume. I also consider how many trees were saved by buying bits and not pulp.
Using a PDF document on an e-reader does not take advantage of the e-reader’s strength. Since I do not have an e-reader, I downloaded Krause’s U.S. Coin Digest onto my iPhone to use as a portable reference. It is a wonderful portable reference to have without having to carry the book. However, the use of a PDF document shows its limitation on smaller screens. A test on a friend’s Kindle demonstrated the limitation of a PDF file when it was proven difficult to navigate a zoomed PDF document because of screen size limitations. It would help those of us with e-readers if they would publish books in ePub and E Ink formats.
At least Krause has taken the first step into electronic publishing. Whitman Publishing, the other major publisher of numismatic books, only offers “dead tree editions.” I know that some people like the physical book, but they should start embracing the 21st century and offer e-books for those of us who want to read their books in a more portable format that does not kill trees. I am sure Whitman can figure out the economic benefits of replicating bits over importing physical copies from China.
Until Whitman and other numismatic publishers catch up with the e-reader, you can find classic electronic books to download to any device. The best source if Google Books. While Google Books does sell current editions in electronic format, they also have a number of scanned books they have permission to make available or whose copyrights have expired. The best way to find numismatic books is search for “coins” on the Google Books website. Books can be read online or you can download free books through the Google Bookstore. You can file early copies of The Numismatist through Google.
Publishers who have not embraced the e-reader will lose out on the business of younger numismatists and technology-oriented people like myself. CES made it clear that the future is in portable electronic devices and the publishers who cannot or will not provide the appropriate product will be losing out on new business. I hope the numismatic publishers consider this for their current and future publications