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Kindling an interest in reading, or listening
February 12, 2009 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Amazon's Kindle 2 was debuted on Monday at the Morgan Library (as speculated), where Stephen King read (and read) from his kindle-exclusive story. If you couldn't be there, read some live-blogging accounts. The interface and refresh rate is improved, now features text-to-speach (which upse the Author's Guild, who claim this feature is "an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.") But Kindle isn't the only the only e-book device. Going farther from the more book-shaped e-readers, you can read ebooks on iPhones or iPods (the latter has a DIY option), Gameboy Advances, or even the Mattel's Juice Box.
posted by filthy light thief (87 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Written exclusively for Kindle, Stephen King reminds us why he's still the master at the top of his game. In his new novella, UR, King is at his unsettling best as he examines the future of the written word--for better or worse. Following a nasty break-up, lovelorn college English instructor Wesley Smith can't seem to get his ex-girlfriend's parting shot out of his head: "Why can't you just read off the computer like the rest of us?" Egged on by her question and piqued by a student's suggestion, Wesley places an order for a Kindle. The device that arrives in a box stamped with the smile logo--via one-day delivery that he hadn't requested--unlocks a literary world that even the most avid of book lovers could never imagine. Get it only on Kindle.
They got Steven King to write PR some fluff? Does it involve Zombies?
posted by delmoi at 9:27 AM on February 12, 2009


Thanks for the information about the Stanza app for the iPhone/Touch, I didn't know such a think existed and I think I'm in love.
posted by LunaticFringe at 9:30 AM on February 12, 2009


thing*
posted by LunaticFringe at 9:31 AM on February 12, 2009


I like the kindle; think it's really cool, the best current option for ebooks, and would love to have one myself.

That said, this post is a bit bluish tinged, is it not?
posted by leotrotsky at 9:32 AM on February 12, 2009


Because reading on the iPod is limited to 4KB memos, it's not only tedious, it runs the battery down very quickly. Trust me, I've done it.

(The biggest battery "costs" on an iPod are the screen backlight, which is on for reading, and spinning up the disk. Reading from the disk isn't that bad,it's overcoming inertia to get it spiinin at 4200 rpm that sucks down power. 4KB means spin up, read 4KB from the disk,spin down, you spend two to four minutes reading the 4KB of text, then repeat.)

And, you have to find a utility to chop your book into 4KB chunks.

If you want to read books on your iPod, get Rockbox; it'll let you read any text file, no chopping, and it will load a lot more than 4KB at a time.
posted by orthogonality at 9:35 AM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


the best current option for ebooks

Sadly, this may be right. Unless you count PDFs on an Openmoko-powered device. But it's not as e-papery as the Kindle.
posted by DU at 9:36 AM on February 12, 2009


I use Stanza on my iPod Touch and use the desktop client to transfer non-ebook-formatted stuff (word docs, pdfs) to the Touch. It's my favorite app, no question. And yeah, I'm totally in love. At some point I think it's going to cost money (technically, it's still in beta - at least the desktop client is) and I will be happy to pay money for it.
posted by rtha at 9:36 AM on February 12, 2009


Why only 1.4 gigs?
posted by MarshallPoe at 9:39 AM on February 12, 2009


What's most interesting about this announcement might just be the Wispersync feature which will sync with a Kindle 1, but is also likely to sync with a smart phone or your computer. It will give users a lot more options in where they read their Kindle book, but will limit it to tethered devices. The announcement by Amazon the day before about a future using Kindle books on smart phones certainly seems to allude to that.
posted by Toekneesan at 9:40 AM on February 12, 2009


ortho, that's not my experience on the Touch. I loaded a 3.3 MB Word doc onto it (via the desktop client, which handles the conversion) and read it with no problem and no excessive battery drain. Other docs range from 30ish KB and up; some were downloaded directly onto the Touch from gutenberg, and others added via the client. I've never had to chop anything up into teeny bits.

This is a 1st gen Touch, btw.
posted by rtha at 9:40 AM on February 12, 2009


We've ordered a couple of Kindles for the library to supplement our Reserves collection. Normally, we buy two of everything required for each class and sometimes a few books, especially English lit stuff, gets in high demand that it'd be nice to have a device we could use on the fly as backup.

Of course, we should have waited for the 2, but eh.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:42 AM on February 12, 2009


The device that arrives in a box stamped with the smile logo--via one-day delivery that he hadn't requested--unlocks a literary world that even the most avid of book lovers could never imagine.

Had he still been at the top of his game, King would've written it the other way around: Smith would order the Kindle, but:

A) It would never arrive. He would then be ensnared in a customer support nightmare that even the most avid of book lovers could never imagine.

B) As in the case of the actual Kindle 2, there's no slot for memory cards, and the battery's non-replaceable.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:43 AM on February 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


I will always love the dead tree books. And it's just not the same to share a file with someone as it is to loan them a favorite paperback.

Although I've occasionally read things like Alice Through the Looking Glass and Art of War on my little Cleo while riding the bus.
posted by asfuller at 9:49 AM on February 12, 2009


Wired's Gadget Lab has a Kindle 2 vs Sony Reader comparison, using the newest Reader revision (PRS-700BC). It looks like the new revision has some bonus features (touch screen and the auxiliary media slot), and I'd guess it would come down in price ($399.99 MSRP at time of writing). I'm still holding out for future ereaders or a significant drop in prices for ebooks (ideally: both).

orthogonality - thanks for the tip on Rockbox - I didn't know that was one of it's features or plugins.

leotrotsky - I tried to round out the post with interesting links. I was split on flooding the post with interesting Kindle 2 links and other ebook/e-reader links, so I did a bit of both.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:52 AM on February 12, 2009


rtha, the Touch is probably different. I have an iPod video (generation 5, 60GB).

And for ebooks, I now just use my eee 901 and Firefox. (Or occasionally, my Sharp Zaurus and Opera, as it has a bigger screen (though the same resolution) as the iPod video.

Of all the devices, the 901's the best for ebooks. A tip for those reading ebooks as HTML: the following CSS improves the experience subtly but immensely (assuming your document uses paragraph tabs correctly):
p {
line-height: 1.7;
padding-bottom: 1em;
text-align: justify;
}

Almost all ebooks and readers use insufficient leading; this corrects that.
posted by orthogonality at 9:52 AM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


the best current option for ebooks

Why?

posted by Kwantsar at 9:53 AM on February 12, 2009


I love my kindle 1, mostly. But it has always irked me that they released it without WishList support, intentionally, making up some lame-ass excuse about not being able to come up with a way that person A could pay for a book that person B would own. Their suggestion was that people should give kindle owners gift certs for the exact price of a book they wanted, and the kindle owner could them track down the book on their own and use the gift cert. Um, hello, if I can do it in 3 manual steps, you can automate it behind the scenes and do it in...one click ;)

It was only recently that an alternate evil reason for this hoop-jumping occurred to me, beyond sheer laziness on the kindle-dev-team's part...that amazon is counting on people to buy gift certs in round numbers, so they think they might make more money this way.

They did finally get a "save for later" feature implemented, but out of stubonrness, I'm sticking to my guns, and not buying any ebooks from amazon (go manybooks) till they fix the wishlist BS.
posted by nomisxid at 9:55 AM on February 12, 2009


Until I can load my documents on it without having to e-mail them to Amazon first, I won't pay five bucks for a Kindle.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:55 AM on February 12, 2009


I wouldn't pay for a Kindle, ever.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:58 AM on February 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Agreeing with Joe Beese, and repeating that $10 a book is too much, and a proprietary format doesn't work for me. But at $5 a book and HTML, I'll stop buying physical books.

Baen does it right: five or six dollars a book, in HTML (and with a nice javascript menu to allow the reader to easily change the font size, bookmark, and go to any chapter). Any device I own can display HTML.
posted by orthogonality at 10:01 AM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't pay for a Kindle, ever.

I wouldn't pay for a device that the manufacturer doesn't want me to use how I want, ever. That includes both a Kindle and an iPhone/iPod.
posted by DU at 10:03 AM on February 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


heh. I forget that there's poor suckers out there still with HD based media players.
posted by Artw at 10:06 AM on February 12, 2009


I fully support the right of people to like the Kindle and e-books. I just wish for a way that I could turn off some checkbox in my Amazon settings so that any trip through Amazon's site doesn't mean me having to hunt for information I requested amongst all of the offerings for Kindle and MP3s. I'd actually pay for that as a feature. Just shiny CDs and dead trees, please.
posted by adipocere at 10:06 AM on February 12, 2009


Ortho: Why HTML and not PDF? And the Kindle does have a browser, so obviously it can read HTML.
posted by delmoi at 10:09 AM on February 12, 2009


Got mine on pre-order. Should be here on the 25th. E-ink is amazing. I've been reading books on my Eee 701 for the past year and on my iPaq for a long time before that. Eyestrain is a serious problem if you are planning on reading off an lcd for more than an hour or so. So smartphones, ipods, Eee's just cannot compare to an e-ink device in the comfort level.

That said, these (and other e-ink devices) are really for folks who are serious readers. If you pack an extra bag/box for books when you travel, then this is a device for you. Definitely not ready for mainstream consumption, however.

I probably won't be buying any e-books from amazon, however. I buy a metric shit-ton of physical books and find the electronic version on IRC (they have a better selection than Amazon anyways).

Until I can load my documents on it without having to e-mail them to Amazon first, I won't pay five bucks for a Kindle.

Look at Calibre. Automatically downloads feeds (NYT, WSJ, WaPo, Boing Boing, etc), converts to e-book an loads on your device. Converts just about any format to any other format. You don't have to send anything to Amazon; you can load a properly formatted e-book (or .txt) via USB. No special drivers/software either, it is recognized as a generic USB storage device (yay Linux).

Why HTML and not PDF?

PDF is non-flowable. Therefore it sucks for displaying on anything that is not a large LCD or A4 paper.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 10:11 AM on February 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


King was approached about writing an exclusive Kindle story. As noted in the Guardian story, King said he tossed the Kindle into the story because it "gave [him] a chance to confront some of these questions of books versus electronics." Apparently, Amazon just wanted an exclusive story, with no strings about content (or product placement), even though the story pitch on his website sounds like Kindle marketing.

As for PDF support, I was going to promote Sony's eReader as it has native (PC-only?) software to do conversions, but that may not work so well. But maybe MobiPocket Creator or Stanza do the trick, but I haven't heard anything from first-hand sources.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:14 AM on February 12, 2009


I've got my eye on this Fujitsu color e-book reader, so you could read all your graphic novels on it, but it's e-normous (which defeats the point, doesn't it?) and almost a thousand dollars.

The thing that intrigues me most about the Kindle is that you can use it to access text-oriented websites such as Google and Wikipedia for free from anywhere in the US, if I'm reading their description correctly.

But for now, even the Kindle seems expensive to me--I'll keep using the library (free) and Half-Price Books (paperbacks $1-4).
posted by wintersweet at 10:27 AM on February 12, 2009


"Ortho: Why HTML and not PDF?"

The quick answer is that most screens are landscape orientation, most pdfs are portrait. But more generally, pdf doesn't reflow: if I increase the size to read the text, I'm magnifying the pdf, both the text and the margins. If I decrease the size, to get a page to fit my screen, I'm decresing the text size.

How many times have you read a pdf formated for a scientific journal, that's been flowed in two columns, and had to hit pagedown halfway through the page to see to bottom half of column one, then page up and scroll right to see the top of column two, then pagedown to see the rest of column two, then pagedown and scroll left to get to page 2? It's horrendous.

With HTML, the text and graphics automatically reflow to fit my window/screen, and the text size can vary orthogonally.

PDF has a few advantages, with weird fonts, or very specialized formatting. For reading, it's overkill. And if graphics aren't handled carefully, they're worse than in HTML; take a look at the SICP book: the equations are non-vector graphics, and can't be legibly resized.

And HTML means I can control the display, note the simple CSS I show upthread, to add decent leading. And with decent antialiasing, my fonts in HTML are generally much more reable than pdf fonts.
posted by orthogonality at 10:33 AM on February 12, 2009


I'm a huge fan of the whole e-paper thing, but don't these prices seem excessive? Especially since this is apparently turning into another one of those ipod-like "buy it again in a year as version 2.0" products. I mean, there are netbooks that can have free ebook software installed on them that cost less than this thing and do significantly more. $350 feels like a pretty steep price for potential buyer's remorse when the newer version comes out. Am I crazy? Are there people here who think it was worth the price who can give me some explanation as to why? I read pretty often, but not enough to blow $350 bucks on a reader before I even factor in the (admittedly reduced) cost of the ebooks themselves.
posted by shmegegge at 10:37 AM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


"I've been reading books on my Eee 701 for the past year and on my iPaq for a long time before that. Eyestrain is a serious problem if you are planning on reading off an lcd for more than an hour or so."

Did you have antialiasing turned on? I'm forever seeing screenshots where people don't have antialiasing turned on (both MS-Windows and linux).

It makes an incredible difference. If you're not doing, stop right now and turn it on.
posted by orthogonality at 10:43 AM on February 12, 2009


I think Amazon is not approaching this correctly. The iPod took off because users could load their *ahem* own mp3's on it and if they chose, download songs from the iTunes library. With the Kindle, it was obviously designed with downloading Amazon's books to it. You have to jump through hoops to get your own stuff on it.
posted by digsrus at 10:53 AM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Until I can load my documents on it without having to e-mail them to Amazon first, I won't pay five bucks for a Kindle.

This is already possible using Stanza (see above) to convert the files to the proper format and then syncing using the included usb cable.

I love my Kindle. I got it as a gift from my totally awesome fellow-tech/book-geek boss who knew I thought the Kindle was overpriced. After owning it for ~7 months if I lost it or broke it today I would be buying a new one tomorrow, budget be damned.
posted by Bango Skank at 10:53 AM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I got my Kindle as a gift, and like it enough that I've been making excuses to read more than I normally would. I still haven't bought that many books from Amazon, though -- downloaded some of their free book content, and a $1 special offer for something from Iain Banks...

Of course, people have figured out how to put Mobipocket content on the Kindle and strip the DRM, so I've been checking out ebooks from the local library and transferring them over USB. I've also been able to download free e-book content from Feedbooks through their online guide, directly to the Kindle as well.
posted by curse at 11:05 AM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I refuse to buy something that a vendor refuses to sell me. No Canadian Kindle love? No Canindle? Kinada?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:19 AM on February 12, 2009


I'm much of a mind with orthogonality and DU. I'd love to have an e-ink device if something on the order of a Sony PRS-505 got below $100. I'd love to buy my books in electronic format if they were reasonably priced and not DRM-encumbered. So the Kindle and its commerically available books are far from the mark of anything I want. In the meantime, reading e-books on my Nokia n800 is tolerable, if not as good as the e-ink experience.

I've got my eye on this Fujitsu color e-book reader, so you could read all your graphic novels on it, but it's e-normous (which defeats the point, doesn't it?) and almost a thousand dollars.

Depends on what you consider the point to be. If comics publishers showed more sense than book publishers (I'm not holding my breath), I could see spending hundreds (if not $900) on a not-especially-portable color reader to read comics that weren't DRMed and were priced well below the going rate for paper.
posted by Zed at 11:35 AM on February 12, 2009


Thanks for the info on Stanza. I wasn't aware of it. This is fabulous.
posted by shoesietart at 11:41 AM on February 12, 2009


With the Kindle, it was obviously designed with downloading Amazon's books to it. You have to jump through hoops to get your own stuff on it.

Exactly. I'm willing to pay quite a lot of money for a powerful tool. I'm not willing to pay very much at all for what amounts to an Amazon store I can carry in my pocket.
posted by DU at 11:43 AM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


In regards to the price of print vs eReaders: Printing The NYT Costs Twice As Much As Sending Every Subscriber A Free Kindle (one of the links I forgot in the initial posting).
... The company spends $63 million per quarter on raw materials and $148 million on wages and benefits. We've heard the wages and benefits for just the newsroom are about $200 million per year.

After multiplying the quarterly costs by four and subtracting that $200 million out, a rough estimate for the Times's delivery costs would be $644 million per year.

There are approximately 830,000 loyal readers who have subscribed to The New York Times for more than two years. Multiply those numbers together and you get $297 million -- a little less than half as much as $644 million.

And here's the thing: a source with knowledge of the real numbers tells us we're so low in our estimate of the Times's printing costs that we're not even in the ballpark.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:47 AM on February 12, 2009


DU: "I wouldn't pay for a Kindle, ever.

I wouldn't pay for a device that the manufacturer doesn't want me to use how I want, ever. That includes both a Kindle and an iPhone/iPod.
"

That's a very nice notion, one I would agree with except that most advanced, interesting consumer electronics devices out there are locked down in one way or another. Some of them can be cracked to some degree, yes...but if you demand purity and limit yourself to truly unlocked/open devices, your choices are quite limited.

Given all that, the Kindle is weighted too heavily towards the locked-down (and overpriced) end of the spectrum for me to consider.
posted by aerotive at 11:55 AM on February 12, 2009


With anti-aliasing turned on, is there any real advantage to the Kindle vs. a netbook? You can get fairly decent netbooks at least as cheap as the kindle, they're small and light, and you're not tied down to a small number of types of books.

Iphones and ipods make sense to me, but - except for the possibility that the screen really does have better resolution - I don't understand why anybody would choose a Kindle or any other e-reader over a netbook.
posted by nushustu at 11:56 AM on February 12, 2009


but if you demand purity and limit yourself to truly unlocked/open devices

I expressed myself in absolute terms, but it's really a relative position with a lower absolute level. I'm never buying a Kindle because there's zero openness. (Same goes for the iPhone.) However, I own a computer for which I do not have schematics. That's because I can do a LOT with a computer even without those schematics. But if a computer came along that was more open, I'd switch.

In the particular case of the Kindle, something like Openmoko is not all that far. It's intended for phones, but how different really is the a smartphone from a Kindle? The epaper is the biggest diff.
posted by DU at 12:03 PM on February 12, 2009


Once they come up with a really good e-book reader that's reasonably priced, I will absolutely pick one up. I read a lot as it is, and I always take 4 or 5 books with me on a plane. Having 15-20 with me in one slim device would be stellar. But to date I'm not ready to make the commitment.

I don't think an ebook reader would ever kill my love of actual books. There are still many times in my life when curling up with an actual book is a real pleasure. But there are so many times when that's harder to do.
posted by Hildegarde at 12:05 PM on February 12, 2009


No Canadian Kindle love?

Aggravates me too, but in some ways the book business seems to be in an even worse tangle of IP knots than the recording industry. Add to this a babel of electronic formats for books and closed, proprietary hardware that needs support from the rapacious and insular cell carriers and I don't think the Kindle will see north of 49 anytime soon.
posted by bonehead at 12:11 PM on February 12, 2009


Still won't work in Canada correct?
posted by acro at 12:11 PM on February 12, 2009


Still won't work in Canada correct? [preview].
posted by acro at 12:13 PM on February 12, 2009


Uh, any particular reason why it can't display color? It's not like there's some technological obstacle.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:20 PM on February 12, 2009


Exactly. I'm willing to pay quite a lot of money for a powerful tool. I'm not willing to pay very much at all for what amounts to an Amazon store I can carry in my pocket.

I'm kind of torn, personally. I don't like the idea of a locked down mess, but on the other hand I love the idea of an Amazon store "in my pocket" (of course, the kindle is to big for a pocket, so let's say backpack). I'd love to be able to buy books and start reading them right away. I think that would be awesome. But two things.

1) It needs to be cheaper if it's just a storefront. For 300, I should be able to do whatever I want with it. I should be able to run Linux and browse any website. I think an e-paper laptop with a 1-week battery life would be friggin' sweet. I wouldn't mind paying $300 for that if it came with a way to buy books and read them instantly.

2) Paper books should come with electronic versions and vise versa. That solves the 'ownership' issue. I buy an electronic copy, I get the paper copy as well for my shelf. I like having a bunch of impressive looking books on a shelf. Amazon actually does let you 'upgrade' some paper books to 'eletronic' ones... that you can read on their website, but not on the Kindle. for just $10 or so. But the price should be like $4, or $5. It shouldn't be a separate deal.

Of course, both of these ultimately come down to "I want to pay less money", and I think that over the next few years the price of the Kindle device will come down quite a bit. On the other hand, if I had 10 times as much disposable income, I wouldn't mind spending that kind of dough right now.
posted by delmoi at 12:22 PM on February 12, 2009


Uh, any particular reason why it can't display color? It's not like there's some technological obstacle.

I assume it's a cost issue.
posted by delmoi at 12:23 PM on February 12, 2009


E-books : printed books :: MIDI : recorded music.

I don't like the fact that e-books aren't designed, in the way that good printed books are. The lack of hyphenation is appalling to me. And -- perhaps this was fixed for Kindle 2, but I believe it to be true for the original Kindle -- the Kindle's single font only includes glyphs for the ISO-8859-1 character set, making me wonder what Jeff Bezos was going on about when he spoke of his dream of supporting "every book ever printed in any language."
posted by cobra libre at 12:24 PM on February 12, 2009


Did you have antialiasing turned on? I'm forever seeing screenshots where people don't have antialiasing turned on (both MS-Windows and linux).

It makes an incredible difference. If you're not doing, stop right now and turn it on.


You could save yourself the trouble and smear vaseline all over the screen. But you are right the difference in incredible.

I don't know why AA looks like such shit to me, but it does. It's terrible. Unreadable. Unusable. (mac or PC or Linux)

That said, Arstechnica had a report on Ebooks that is well worth reading.

As much as a device like the kindle (tied with Safari Bookshelf or bookbag would be awesome, it's simply Not There Yet.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:31 PM on February 12, 2009


making me wonder what Jeff Bezos was going on about when he spoke of his dream of supporting "every book ever printed in any language."

What's this? A Web impresario spouting blue-sky prophecies of amazing scope?! Shocking!
posted by Spatch at 12:32 PM on February 12, 2009


Eyestrain is a serious problem if you are planning on reading off an lcd for more than an hour or so.

If you are anything like me and most of the people reading Metafilter you spend most of your waking hours staring at an LCD and much of that is spent reading text. This idea that people don't like reading text on screens is self evidently untrue. I don't know of anyone asking to get their internet delivered on e-ink.

The only advantage e-ink readers have is in battery life. People have shown that they are willing to text/email/browse on phones and netbooks so all this talk about contrast and eyestrain is just a way to sell ebook readers.

The best camera/music player/ebook reader is one that you carry with you all the time, i.e. your phone. And, yes I am standing in the middle of your lawn.
posted by euphorb at 12:38 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Did Amazon upgrade its ability to smell and feel like paper? Then it's not even an option.
posted by Roman Graves at 12:52 PM on February 12, 2009


euphorb: If you are anything like me and most of the people reading Metafilter you spend most of your waking hours staring at an LCD and much of that is spent reading text. This idea that people don't like reading text on screens is self evidently untrue. I don't know of anyone asking to get their internet delivered on e-ink.

What books are you reading, exactly? Because -- for me, at least -- the experience of reading discrete little atoms of news and discussion online is fundamentally different from the focused activity of reading book-length prose (or poetry, etc.).
posted by cobra libre at 12:55 PM on February 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Uh, any particular reason why it can't display color? It's not like there's some technological obstacle.
kittens for breakfast, actually there is a technological obstacle. From what I understand, most of the digital paper uses a more simple on/off ink option - the pixel is black or white. This provides for simple, high contrast. Color requires blending RGB for an approximation of proper colors.

Back in 2005, Fujitsu debuted their thin and flexible color electronic paper, but it hasn't hit markets yet. It's getting close, but is tentatively priced at $940, and doesn't look too hot (back in 2007, on a YouTube video).

Re: Kindle 2 vs Others - here's a good comparison chart and article, pitting Kindle 2 vs Kindle 1, Sony Reader PRS-700, Astak EZ Reader, Foxit eSlick, iRex Digital Reader 1000S, and Plastic Logic (not all are available yet).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:24 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"There are approximately 830,000 loyal readers who have subscribed to The New York Times for more than two years. Multiply those numbers together and you get $297 million -- a little less than half as much as $644 million."

Newspapers generate most of their revenue through advertising. That's always been the business model. Subscriber fees never cover publication costs.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:49 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I don't know why AA looks like such shit to me, but it does. It's terrible. Unreadable. Unusable. (mac or PC or Linux)"

The only font set I can deal with on *nix machines for general use is Bitstream Vera Sans. Anti-aliasing works very well with this font, and it's very readable. For consoles (including email) I prefer Courier. But most of the fonts available are not that great with anti-aliasing, to be honest.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:52 PM on February 12, 2009


Kwantsar: it's all about the library (plus the whispernet).

I agree with every sentient person that the content industries have failed business models, but cursing at them isn't gonna get me my books. Demanding DRM-free readers is great, but you need content, and Amazon has found a way to get it. This is just like Apple did with iTunes. Eventually the balance of power changes, and now you can buy DRM-free music from iTunes. Does is cost more? Yes. Is this forever? No. The perfect is the enemy of the good here.

Eventually the content-providers will come around, but until then I'll take my fully equipped dictionary, wikipedia, feed-reading, Atlantic & NYT-subscribing Kindle over anything else out there.

also, GREAT article on ebooks, past and present by a veteran of the last ebook revolution.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:08 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very large or small text looks good with anti-aliasing turned on, but I can't stand it with 'normal' sized (i.e. 8/10/12 point) fonts. Subpixel rendering just makes it look blurry and like I'm looking at it through a prism or something.
posted by delmoi at 2:12 PM on February 12, 2009


Buy a book and it's yours - discrete, personal, untouchable, unalterable.

Buy this service and who knows what kind of ethereal hooks are still attached to the text. Is the book I read today the same as the book I will read tomorrow? Can I be certain? Oh, sure, it's a nice feature for errata, but I have to be uneasy knowing that that the ethernet gives, the ethernet can take away.

Consider the alarmist implications. Book burning? Too difficult, too dramatic, too public. But if we could just zap the offending texts in question and hey presto all will again be doubleplus unbad.

(I'm guessing that's not the direction Mr King's story went, but I could well be wrong. Anyone have a spoiler?)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:24 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Every four months or so I check out the iLiad again, to see if it's become not-stupidly-expensive.
Then I sigh. I keep the window up for a bit, just to look at it.
posted by Acheman at 2:41 PM on February 12, 2009


Can you annotate on any of these and search text? If so, it will be a killer app for writers and researchers because you can then note something in a book and find it again and look at its connections to other books, which is very useful when you are writing a book on a massive subject for which you have to read across disciplines.
posted by Maias at 2:50 PM on February 12, 2009


The perfect is the enemy of the good here.

Rewarding the bad is the enemy of the good. If we take the music industry as an example, then DRM-free sales will only happen after it can no longer be denied (despite heroic achievements in the field of denial) that the DRM is costing the publisher more than it's making them.

If the Kindle and its e-books work well for you, that's great. But I find it peculiar to suggest that rewarding this model will hasten the day a better one will be offered.
posted by Zed at 3:09 PM on February 12, 2009


There have been four separate occasions now when I've been driving, heard someone on NPR talking about a book that sounded cool, and downloaded the book while stopped at a red light. I heart my Kindle.
posted by painquale at 3:18 PM on February 12, 2009


Maias - the Sony Reader has that: "the Reader Digital Book features annotation, highlighting, and search applications that heighten your reading experience."

I'm not sure how well these features work - that was just taken from the product page. And the lack of serious page formatting might be a deal-killer.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:29 PM on February 12, 2009


Rewarding the bad is the enemy of the good. If we take the music industry as an example, then DRM-free sales will only happen after it can no longer be denied (despite heroic achievements in the field of denial) that the DRM is costing the publisher more than it's making them.

How about rewarding the writers and artists?
posted by Maias at 3:31 PM on February 12, 2009


I keep hearing about how good it is, but then I think it's a $350 device when I really only get to read maybe 10 books a year. What happens 5-8-10 years from now, when I think "gee, I'd like to read ___ again" and the Kindle is on a shelf with a dead battery and dinged screen?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:39 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


But on the other hand, assuming the availability of books, I would have loved to have something like it back when I had a few thousand pages of reference articles to go through for my qualifying exams and thesis, but for the level of causal reading I do now? Not currently worth it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:41 PM on February 12, 2009


Maias, I believe (if I remember the cutesy demo video correctly) the Kindle 2 lets you annotate and will search for words or phrases in your entire library.
posted by mostlymartha at 3:59 PM on February 12, 2009


How about rewarding the writers and artists?

Sounds good to me. I'm no apologist for copyright violation. I'm saying that I don't want to buy DRM-ed media, and that supporting it will not somehow help to bring about its end. I'm eager for the opportunity to pay reasonable prices for DRM-free e-books, and my idea of what a reasonable price would be has some wiggle-room if it means larger royalties for artists instead of just larger profit margins for publishers and Amazon.
posted by Zed at 4:03 PM on February 12, 2009


The best camera/music player/ebook reader is one that you carry with you all the time, i.e. your phone

That is untrue for all 3 of those devices. I don't randomly need a music player or an e-book reader or a camera. I supposed if I lived a very different lifestyle I might, but as it is now I don't read books in line at the supermarket or anything (I do read news / RSS stuff, for which my phone is adequate). Music I mostly listen to at home, in the car, at work, or at the gym -- all places I take something capable of carrying an MP3 player.

Admittedly, I almost never use a camera for any reason. So a separate one that takes good pictures the few times I need it is fine. Cellphone pics are worthless to me -- and probably always will be, due to physical limitations of optics on devices of that size.

E-Books especially I just don't get the need to have in a multifunction pocket device. Reading is an activity that, to me (and I know I'm not alone here) requires a certain minimum amount of time and hopefully a quiet setting -- traveling, at home, etc -- all places its no effort to carry a device that produces a much more pleasant reading experience.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:23 PM on February 12, 2009


If you can wait, I'm betting that Google will likely soon unleash Google Book Search to mobile devices and computers, probably based on xml files from the text layers derived from the OCR done for indexing. 7,000,000 books vs 230,000 Kindle titles. And agreements already in place with probably at least twice as many publishers who are already sending a PDF of most of what they publish to the Google Book Search partner program. By the way, not all PDFs are the same. The complaints above about nonflowable text with a PDF and the need for a separate style sheet seem to reflect frustrated experiences with old flavors of PDF. Modern xml based PDFs can be significantly different. This is what both Google and Amazon are using or creating for these purposes. It doesn't totally suck when design is applied. Google is also likely to bring custom publishing to the table, both physical books and digital. As well as your old favorites cut and paste, cite, link. Other readers may have to let them in.

Yeah, Amazon is pretty close to a channel lock with the Kindle, with both a ubiquitous delivery platform and a spiffy device. Very iPod/Tunes-wanna-be. But the Google Book Settlement will have a last word on all of this, I suspect. Yeah, books are cool things, and they're not even close to being endangered (unlike bookstores) but it's about the words. And wow does Google have a critical mass on words.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:37 PM on February 12, 2009


IndigoJones,

"Unbad"? Do consult the Eleventh Edition.

If you have a word like "good", what need is there for a word like "bad"? "Ungood" will do just as well -- better, because it's an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of "good", what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like "excellent" and "splendid" and all the rest of them? "Plusgood" covers the meaning, or "doubleplusgood" if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already. But in the final version of Newspeak there'll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words -- in reality, only one word. Don't you see the beauty of that?

(Quoted in jest, of course.)
posted by dbgrady at 4:49 PM on February 12, 2009


I loved my Kindle more when I found out about the hidden picture viewer. Manga time!
posted by Gull City at 4:52 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


the Google Book Settlement will have a last word on all of this, I suspect.

It turns out to be non-trivial to port Google Book scans to e-ink devices. The PDF has to be formatted to the dimensions of the screen. Margins have to be cut or expanded, scaling, resolution. Each PDF different. Many PDFs too small to read - need a iRex or Plastic Logic size screen for many scans. Not sure how easy or possible to automate it.

Personally, given a choice between reading e-ink or book, I will pay extra for the book, just as some people pay extra for hardcover versus paperback.

However, it's the millions of book scans on Google Books and Internet Archive that make an e-ink device attractive. First editions of rare books. That kind of stuff, that is where the real value of an e-ink device is, a portal to the worlds great libraries.
posted by stbalbach at 5:08 PM on February 12, 2009


Do any of the e-ink readers available have a backlight? Can they be read in a dark room? Because until they can, I will stay nice and happy with my Palm Tx. Yeah, the text is nowhere near as pretty as the e-ink devices, but I can read almost any format of ebook, transfer it on and off the Palm itself or any SD card, and I do not need a lamp to read with at night.
posted by John Smallberries at 5:12 PM on February 12, 2009


The Sony PRS-700BC, linked to above, has an LED light that allows reading in the dark (not a backlight per se.) It's the only one noted to have that feature in this chart.
posted by Zed at 5:22 PM on February 12, 2009


You can read ebooks on PDAs. I have been for over a year - plain text, ereader.com, whatever.

And (as John Smallberries points out), easy to read in the dark.

I still print to paper for academic material, because I want to take notes and put stickies on them - but for novels, the palm is king.
posted by jb at 6:24 PM on February 12, 2009


Actually, now that I'm used to reading on my Palm z22 - the Kindle looks much too large, heavy and awkward.

Also, it doesn't have alarms to tell me to stop reading and go to bed.
posted by jb at 6:25 PM on February 12, 2009


Google will likely soon unleash Google Book Search to mobile devices and computers, probably based on xml files from the text layers derived from the OCR done for indexing. 7,000,000 books vs 230,000 Kindle titles.

They did this last week with 1.5 million public domain books (in the US -- about 620,000 worldwide).

It's a nice UI if you don't mind reading error-filled OCR text.
posted by nev at 6:36 PM on February 12, 2009


"It's a nice UI if you don't mind reading error-filled OCR text."

Wow. Yeah, tons more content, but Project Gutenberg it ain't. It's sort of distracting with the errors - I don't think I could sit down and really read much of any book before becoming frustrated. But it's pretty cool being able to see the original text images from the scans.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:20 PM on February 12, 2009


With anti-aliasing turned on, is there any real advantage to the Kindle vs. a netbook? You can get fairly decent netbooks at least as cheap as the kindle, they're small and light, and you're not tied down to a small number of types of books.

Iphones and ipods make sense to me, but - except for the possibility that the screen really does have better resolution - I don't understand why anybody would choose a Kindle or any other e-reader over a netbook.


I can only speak for myself: I don't like reading books on my computer, because it's not portable enough (and I own a laptop). I like to read in bed, while I'm standing holding onto the pole in the subway, on line at the bank, etc. I like to be able to hold a book in one hand (this is vital when I'm standing on the subway, which I do for over an hour every day, because I need to hold onto something with my other hand).

I love my iPhone, but the screen is too small for me to enjoy prolonged reading on it. I need something in-between the size of a small computer and a phone. Something ... book size. Both printed books and e-ink readers are perfect for me.
posted by grumblebee at 7:29 PM on February 12, 2009


I'm leaning towards the Bebook: I tried reading on the iphone with Stanza, but like grumblebee the screen is just too small.
posted by dhruva at 7:52 PM on February 12, 2009


stbalbach: It turns out to be non-trivial to port Google Book scans to e-ink devices. The PDF has to be formatted to the dimensions of the screen.

True if they were going to display images of the pages. I don't think that's what they'd use. They have everything they need to create a tagged file of the book text, if they don't have those files already. They would probably need for the settlement to be accepted to admit they had those files, of course. They have the original scan files, the OCR output, a list of the words in the book (their index), and a map of both the order of those words and of the parts of the page, also expressed as the highlighting of your search results. I think the step from that to xml is probably within the means of a company with their resources. Once it's in xml, like with the rest of the Web, it's no longer fixed text. How it looks after that depends on the user preferences and the rendering capabilities of the browser/device/app. Design is no longer so tightly controlled by the publisher and fixed text. An xml version would contain the content and structure but design will depend heavily on the medium. I'm guessing they have what they need to create ePub files, and if they do or could create those, all our books are belong to them.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:58 PM on February 12, 2009


Follow-up of sorts: O'Reilly announced recently that they are now hosting Bookworm, an online ePub reader. ePub is composed of three open standards (OPS, OPF, and OCF) that allow users a great amount of flexibility without any lock-in. (Slashdot.org article with more links)
posted by filthy light thief at 9:47 AM on February 13, 2009


In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words -- in reality, only one word. Don't you see the beauty of that?

(Quoted in jest, of course.)


No.

Though a religious minded friend of mind did say it was all down to "I am that I am", five words, beyond which there was really nothing else to say.

(Taken in the spirit intended, and thank you.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:22 PM on February 14, 2009


Amazon to sell eBooks for iPhone and iPod touch
posted by Artw at 1:57 PM on March 4, 2009


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