Unless you’ve been stranded on a Scandinavian fjord for the past year, the cover of my latest WhatTheyThink “primer” report—E-Books: From Cellar to Bestseller: A WhatTheyThink Overview of Electronic Publishing, Its Impact on Traditional Publishing, and the Opportunities It Offers Graphic Communications Professionals—should look vaguely familiar. It is of course an homage to (or blatant rip-off of; it’s a fine line) the ubiquitous (and actually quite good) Stieg Larsson The Girl Who... novels.

I mention/rip-off these books here and in my report not just to jump on a bandwagon (shameless though I may be) but also because they mark an important and relevant milestone: Larsson is the first author to sell one million Kindle e-books (this includes all the books of the trilogy, not a single title, a milestone that has yet to be reached). Curiously, the first author to sell one million e-books in general (that is, in all formats) is James Patterson. Wha?

I suspect Larsson will remain silent on the issue (though one never knows), but the distinction illustrates one of the perennial problems that has plagued the e-book market: a multitude of formats and devices to choose from. But then, is that even a problem anymore? Conducting my unscaleable, unscientific, and probably unreliable “airplane” survey (that is, noticing how many people on airplanes or trains have an e-book reader of some kind) over the past several months has found Kindles, Sonys, Nooks, and iPads in roughly equal numbers.

One complaint that has been leveled at dedicated e-book readers like the Kindle is that is “only does one thing.” A curious remark; most of the things in our lives only do one thing. After all, no one complains that their steam iron doesn’t play music (although, who knows, Apple may be coming out with an iRon one of these days), or that their refrigerator doesn't cook a roast. My blender doesn't do an awful lot with video. (Some married folks I know would complain that their spouse only does one thing, but that’s a whole other issue.) And, in fact, a printed book really only does one thing. (Well, two, if you count the fact that a printed book can be used to swat insects; I just finished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest and I think she kicked it into my basement, but I digress...) So I am not entirely convinced that the “single-use” aspect of e-book readers is that big a deal, at least for a lot of people, many of whom seem very happy with their devices.

In the report, I run down the latest hardware and software readers, a Sisyphean task not unlike the proverbial painting of the Golden Gate Bridge (is there a proverb about that?).

So, by mid-2010, we had Kindles, Sony Readers, Nooks, myriad mobile phone-based e-readers...

And then there’s Maude.

That is, the Apple iPad, which deserves a report all to itself (and will...), but is included in a special section of this e-book report. What is it, why is it important, and why is it a “game-changer”—and what game are we playing anyway?

I also took a unique approach to detailing the advantages and disadvantages of e-books vs. printed (or p-) books. In the original version of this report (which was published in May 2009, which may as well have been during the Pleistocene Epoch when it comes to e-book developments), I had a bunch of boring bulleted lists and tables. In the update, I framed it as a lively Platonic dialogue (well, not really; maybe if Plato were reincarnated as Christopher Moore), in which two characters debate the merits of print vs. electronic content. (This will sound eerily familiar to some people.)

For content creators, the report also includes a lengthy Appendix in which I actually try to make real actual e-books from two real actual printed books (my and Dr. Joe’s Disrupting the Future, and a self-published novel I wrote some years ago called Virus!), trying to export my original InDesign files to both Kindle and EPUB formats (the latter of which is required for many hardware and software e-book readers, most importantly the Apple iBook reader on the iPad). Is it easy? Is it a pain in the tuchus? How seamless is it? What additional software do you need? Is it for the faint of heart? How much XML do you need to know? One thing you quickly learn: when it comes to e-books, a “page” is a nebulous concept, unlike print or even the Internet. It does throw a spanner into many things we know about book design. And don’t talk to me about footnotes! Oy!

(A shout-out and thanks to my Kindle and iPad “beta testers” Cary Sherburne, Dave Zwang, and Jim Olsen!)

The report also includes the latest data on e-book sales, and other quantitative and qualitative goodies. And you don’t even have to speak Swedish to read it. Could this be the first WhatTheyThink report to sell one million copies? Ah, if only wishing made it so.