A FEW YEARS AGO, SOME FUTURISTS CLAIMED E-books would make paper obsolete. If such a revolution ever happens, it may be generations away. In a huge vote of no-confidence for the technology, Barnes & Noble announced this month that it's dropping e-books from its Web store.
Amazon.com and other sites still sell e-books, but their niche is tiny. Total e-book sales reached only about $5 million in the first half of 2003, according to the Open eBook Forum.
Users complain that the current generation of portable tablets is too expensive and cumbersome for regular use. Gemstar-TV Guide International, for example, heavily hyped its readers, but the division was quietly shuttered earlier this year.
Microsoft and Adobe still support their e-book software, and publishers like Random House say they will keep issuing electronic editions. Some small presses and self-publishers use electronic formats because they simplify distribution. And e-books do succeed with very large works that typically aren't considered books: manuals, reports, reference guides, and the like.
But for mass-market novels and nonfiction books, the revolution seems to be on hold. "We all believe there is a future for e-books," said Daniel Blackman, vice president and general manager of Barnes & Noble.com. "It's just not here yet."