17 December 2009

Electronic Books, Thoughts About, Part Two

Last week we were talking about the Kindle, the Nook, the Sony Reader. We could have added the Kobo, the iPhone, the BlackBerry, the fabled Apple Tablet, and more... All of these small machines will let you read a book not on paper, but in happy little electrons appearing on a screen that resembles the pages in a book.

There will be more developments soon: Color, easier navigation, more books to read, sharper text, perhaps useful illustrations. Students will find some text books not only available on e-readers, but ONLY available on e-readers.

Clearly, something is changing in our comfortable, comfortably old-fashioned, world of books. There always will be physical books to read in the usual way – on lap, in bathtub, commuting to work, sitting in the library, standing on your head at the beach. Millions of used books aren’t going anywhere. Every newly published book, in whatever format you find it, floats on an immense sea of books previously published and forever available to you.

A number of listeners to and readers of this program wrote to express their thoughts about this new landscape, and I read some of them last week. Here are a few more:

John Coate, manager of KZYX&Z commented: “Tony, there are a few concerns about the Kindle screen and it should be pointed out that it is an entirely different technology than you find in a laptop which makes it a far more pleasing experience than you can get from an lcd screen. When I was at the Chronicle we were sponsors of the MIT Media Lab when they developed that basic technology - I was there for the meeting where Jeff Bezos of Amazon attended and saw what it could do.”

From Donna Bettencourt in Grand Junction, Colorado: “From a library perspective, it's entirely different in that we pay the licensing fee from two vendors... and must take selections the vendors offer in their packages... The patron can download selections for free from a computer station in the library... if a patron already has downloaded ‘The Lost Symbol,’ (for example) then no one else can ‘borrow’ it until that person's time has expired... When you download these items, you have a time limit, just like a check-out period on a real book. Too bad if you haven't finished listening to something humongous like ‘The Story of Edgar Sawtelle’ or ‘Moby Dick.’

“I actually got a request from a patron who obviously doesn't understand the concept of a Kindle. She wanted us to purchase content for her... Evidently she had run into the problem (of)... Amazon sucking you in with low prices but hidden costs. This patron was hoping to get her Kindle content through the library for free. Hmm. Maybe that's next.”

From Paul Takushi, bookseller at UC Davis: (You can) report me to the Kindle police. I don't have one. I get so many... comps that I never have to buy books anyway... I don't commute far or travel very much for extended vacations so this is not an issue... I don’t crack open the spine and smell the binding. I don't go ape over first editions... I like the feel of books, but sometimes hardbacks are a pain in the neck, literally, when I'm not reading at a table or desk. Would I get one if I wasn't in the biz? ... I think (not) ... because I don't live the Kindle lifestyle.”

The Kindle lifestyle, whatever that is. The Wall Street Journal cautioned its readers “Books are having their iPod moment this holiday season. But buyer beware: It could also turn out to be an eight-track moment.”

A sampling of recent international stories: “In praise of the e-book,” “Seven reasons why e-book readers make lousy gifts this year,” “Should e-books be copy protected?” “Growing e-book industry discusses challenges at MediaBistro event,” “U.S. e-book content revenue will top $500 million next year” and so forth.

We will continue to follow this interesting phenomenon in the new year. Meanwhile, the one-person writing staff here at Words on Books wants to wish you and yours a most happy holiday season. And for those of you who still believe in Santa Claus, a hearty Ho Ho Ho.


An interesting note from Andrea Sharp about the Kindle as used on her iphone, too long to use on air, but not too long to reprint. If it reads a bit broken up, it’s not her prose, but the fact she was answering a string of questions I had posed:

I am using the Kindle reader for the iphone.  I think I have been using it for about a year.  I absolutely love it. The way I use it is to always have one book I am reading on it. Right now it is the John Irving book, ‘Last Night in Twisted River.’ I also read other books, in the normal way, at the same time. I usually am reading at least two books at the same time. Prior to starting to use the Kindle on the iphone, I would mostly get my books from the library, borrow some from friends and only occasionally buy new ones. Once I started with the iphone, I decided that I would indulge in always having a book on it that I am reading.

I always have a book to read, since I always have my phone with me. I can take it out anywhere, anytime.   I can read in any light since the pages are back lit. I can read a book in a hotel room in bed with my husband sleeping next to me and it won't disturb him with either a light or the noise of turning pages. I find it very comfortable to hold and actually easier to read on then books. Especially hard backs. I can buy new release books for a discounted price that normally I would be waiting for at the library or having to get another way.

I always love to share my books or pass them on, and you can't do that (at least yet) with this medium. I think that might be the biggest drawback. I find it very easy to read on my iphone, and not as easy to read articles on my computer. You can sit anywhere, or lie down, when you are reading on the iphone. Harder to be comfortable reading on your computer.

I don't think I would buy a separate reader, but I am so happy reading on the iphone that it seems irrelevant to have a whole separate device. (It is) very easy to download and use. Books take just seconds to download onto the iphone. What a great feeling to know that you can literally have almost any book within moments. I am very happy with the small iphone screen. Very easy to flick through the pages. I like the short lines.

I am amazed at how skeptical people are about this medium. I love books and I love this way of reading. I don't know that I would give up reading "real" books if I could afford to, but I really enjoy the option of having this available to me.


 .... and more ...

Should e-books be copy protected?

Growing e-book industry discusses challenges at MediaBistro event

U.S. e-book content revenue will top $500 million next year

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