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Library eBooks Have Arrived!
August 26, 2009 8:20 PM   Subscribe

Wow. I was going to say something witty and clever, and I got nothin, so: "The new Web-based Sony Library Finder tool can be used to find e-books in the local library that can be checked out, downloaded onto a desktop computer and then loaded onto a Sony Reader device -- all without charge." [Note - Probably USian]

Via Google News and this article. Money quote: "...the New York Public Library said it had 29,000 e-books available in its systems. 'Anything that promotes reading is a good thing,' said a spokeswoman for the library."

Could this be a tipping point? I've already got my PRS-505 and love it. It's just good enough to do exactly what I want: be an electronic book that effectively simulates paper. All I need now is a NYPL membership card...
posted by ZakDaddy (62 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Additionally, on my MacBook I had to install Adobe Digital Editions to manage the books I checked out. ADE has a pretty decent reading interface in its own right, so you don't necessarily *have* to own a Sony reader. Also, IIRC there's PDF support so Kindle users may also have a shot.
posted by ZakDaddy at 8:22 PM on August 26, 2009


Interesting application of DRM. I never thought DRM eBook readers would catch on but the Kindle is pretty popular these days.

I'm surprised publishers would allow this, but it's kind of Trojan horse, since now they can charge more for "Library" versions of books, they can limit the number of times they're checked out and they'll be able to control every aspect of a book. So letting people share them this way isn't too terrible for them.
posted by delmoi at 8:41 PM on August 26, 2009


He designed this? Wow is there nothing that guy can't do?
posted by Smedleyman at 8:41 PM on August 26, 2009


Fascinating...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:43 PM on August 26, 2009


It looks like an annoyingly oversized palm pilot, or an apple newton.

Sorta don't want.
posted by fleetmouse at 8:43 PM on August 26, 2009


It has potential. Downsides are -

Existing e-ink screens are too fragile. They have a glass substrate that shatters under very very slight pressure, ruining the device.

The sony 600, 700 and this new personal whatever version has a plexiglass touchscreen in front of the eink panel. Downside is that it fucks up the visibility. The 700/600 had shit contrast to the 505/kindles even though the tech was largely the same. Still, it's getting better.

The Plastic Logic device (8.5X11) doesn't use a glass substrate. It's a plastic one that's sturdy as all hell and has the touchscreen integrated. I think they're affiliated with Borders, but it won't be out until next year.

The bigger issue is that the content providers will fuck this up. I LOVE the idea of ebook libraries. 29k books is nothing. Go to the library's listed and look at their selection. It's crap. Not "It's a start" crap, but just crap. It's served through "Overdrive" (I think), which is some service that manages audiobooks and ebooks through libraries.

The publishers will do everything in their power to make sure this fails. They continue to price ebooks at equal or greater than print books. Hell, they've been continually raising the 10 dollar pricepoint on kindle releases, continually trying to get that last dollar out of their customer base, all the while guaranteeing that they're digging their own fucking grave.

I've been reading ebooks exclusively for 6 years. I started with an RCA reb-1200, REB-1150, 2 prs-505's (wife broke hers), and now I'm an Ectaco jetbook.

I would pay for a book rental/library service. I'd pay for reasonably priced ebooks. But what I'm continually told is "Fuck you. You pay over paperback prices or more. Fuck you if you want to read the book you want to read. You read what we give you. Harry Potter? Fuck you."

What that means is that the source for these books is IRC, usenet, bittorrent. You want to pay for an ebook of Harry Potter? Tough. Get the pirated one.

So do I think this is awesome? Yup.

Do I think it's going to work? Not if the publishers have anything to do with it.
posted by Lord_Pall at 8:50 PM on August 26, 2009 [8 favorites]


In an era of e-book technology, libraries have felt threatened about their futures, but Doherty said the idea of e-book borrowing to a mobile device could be another stage in the advancement of libraries, which moved from schools and churches to public libraries in the 1860s, then added bookmobiles in the 1930s.

"There isn't a librarian I have met who doesn't like e-book borrowing," Doherty said. "They don't want to see the majority of books going to warehouses, whether physical warehouses or e-book warehouses."
I like how they talk about how much the librarians just looooooove this and yet don't manage to get a quote from a single one. Not that I don't appreciate that lots of people would like to read more stuff form their devices. However, for libraries this is a cash-losing proposition. Well, don't get me wrong, libraries are always a cash losing proposition. But, moving from a purchasing model for books [covered by first sale doctrine] where you own the books you buy, to a rental model where you have to maintain your payments to the service in order to be able to continue to offer the content... I guess I'm skeptical.

Overdrive is trying very hard to provide libraries with the "checkoutability" option they think libraries want. They also have a clunky and awkward product that is doing more to make people in rural noplace hate technology. Those two things may be linked, it may be the restrictions that they feel libraries are asking for that are causing them to make terrible DRMed products the only thing they have available. However, I think they're just really really wanting to hit it big with something, in the way that audiobooks never quite did, because they didn't, until very very recentlywork on ipods and most of the digital audiobooks that Overdrive offers to libraries still don't work on the most popular MP3 player in history. Plus libraries have to buy the MP3 version of the book separately from the DRMed wmv version. Paying twice for what any patron can tell you is the "same" content.

So, I don't mean to piss on your personal parade ZakDaddy but man I hope Overdrive doesn't totally fuck this one up. And I dont think it's anywhere near the boon for libraries or librarians as the PR makes it out to be.
posted by jessamyn at 8:51 PM on August 26, 2009 [6 favorites]


I just spent an hour trying to download an audio book from my local library. First: shitty selection. Second: had to download extra software. Third: Of the books I found that I'd actually listen to...none were formatted for the Mac. We're not in the future just yet.
posted by ColdChef at 8:53 PM on August 26, 2009


Oh yeah, my anecdotal evidence on how fucked the publishers are going to be -

In the past, most of the pirated ebooks came from people who did their own scans. Figure a handful of books a week. A good selection, but they tended to be stuff in the sci-fi/fantasy/internet people genres. Someone scanned it, and then it gets proofread and continually re-released.

In the past year the quantity of pirated books has EXPLODED. To the point of 50+ new books a DAY.

And the striking thing is that they're not sci-fi or niche books. They're romance novels. Primarily Romance novels.

That to me implies that somewhere along the line, fans of popular fiction have decided, enough is enough. And the scary part (if you're a book publisher) is that these aren't typically pirate-material. But there it is.. Hundreds of new scans a month of material that people are going to read.

It's going to be hard to put that back into the bottle.

Pre-Napster you could get away with selling a cd, or a song.

Post Napster, after consumers were exposed to being able to get every piece of music they could ever recall for free, well, it was a bit harder to justify 20 dollars for an album. The book publishers are going to be facing that type of situation shortly..
posted by Lord_Pall at 8:58 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Plus the library finder app told me my nearest ebook library source is two states away. The big question of course, is if this stuff is all downloadable and awesome, why don't I also go get a library card at the library that offers these shiny things in addition to my local library? Here in Vermont you can get a library card at a small public library for free. Why wouldn't someone do this and take advantage of whatever their electronic resources are, resources you can access from anyplace? This is, mark my words, the next big battlefield in the library world. Not how cool the new mobile whatevertheheck it is is, but how much the big vendors are causing libraries to give crappier service because the businesses need to preserve their revenue stream and business model and don't give a crap about libraries, or readers.
posted by jessamyn at 8:58 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


How does this post do anything but promote Sony's ebook reader? Overdrive has its own limitable search page with way more options than that weird Sony page, and from which it's apparent that downloading ebooks is not a "USian"-only thing.
posted by cog_nate at 8:59 PM on August 26, 2009


jessamyn, what is their justification for charging more for the eBook version? Surely, since they have DRM, they could sell you the eBook, which you could "lend" to someone for up to a week, say (DRM would then make it self-destruct or something) with the limitation that you can only "lend" one "copy" at a time, and then charge the same per rental slot (need a better term here) as they did per physical copy of a book?

I mean, that's the logical way forward - publishers still win, as (while the initial overheads are high) the production costs become almost exactly zero.
posted by Dysk at 9:01 PM on August 26, 2009


FWIW Google Books today announced all/most of its PD scans are now available in ePub format - over 1 million. Free. Easy. Accessible on most readers (including Sony, except Kindle).

This bodes well for GB making out of print and possibly in-print books available in ePub format, for a fee, sometime in the future.
posted by stbalbach at 9:01 PM on August 26, 2009


You can convert epub to the kindle format with Savory.
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:04 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


the production costs become almost exactly zero.

The production cost of a book is about 5-10% of the cover price. Those $9.99 Kindle books are being sold as loss leaders by Amazon.
posted by stbalbach at 9:07 PM on August 26, 2009


what is their justification for charging more for the eBook version?

I think it's something along the lines of "We made it with a computer, therefore it's expensive. Librarians will buy that, right?" Actually I don't know much about how Overdrive prices ebooks, their audiobooks are about the same price as buying the books wholesale with much less in the way of processing fees, but we lose them if we stop subscribing to Overdrive. Vendor pricing for stuff in the library world is sort of notorious for being based on nothing other than libraries' ability to pay.

The consortium I work with paid Overdrive $1500 [non-negotiable, I don't think] to design an incredibly terrible website -- well actually they just put our colors on the same old website they give to everyone else -- that doesn't even vaidate and is difficult for our patrons to use. And yet, because they're a services company [you know, like business to business] there is literally no competition for what they offer. There are a few other digital audiobook providers, but none that even have the (crappy) selection that they have with (some) new titles and kids and SF titles.

I literally have nothing good to say about them and you know me, I'm a glass half full sort of person.
posted by jessamyn at 9:08 PM on August 26, 2009


Baby steps. We're getting there, slowly, but dedicated ebook reader devices need to get much cheaper and the ecosystem needs to develop through a few more generations.

Once we get to the point where a decent color touchscreen device with a well-designed UI is under US$200, where it seamless connects to a Gutenberg project server for browsing of non-copyright materials, where there is a well-designed (I can't believe I'm saying this) iTunes-like integrated storefront that sells digital books at a substantially lower price than paper copies, where there is none of this idiotic America-only tied-to-a-3G-wireless-provider lock-in, and where, like this new reader is pointing towards, a digital library system (even if, yes, it includes some sort of DRM where 'checkouts' offer a limited-time usage modelled on brick-and-mortars libraries† (to keep copyright holders happy, I guess)) is built-in and accessible globally, then we're almost there.

There are a lot of small and large steps on the way, but it's coming. I'm a decade in, at this point, to doing all my reading for pleasure on-screen -- the web, of course, but usually 3 or 4 books a month as well -- and though I still enjoy the physical feel and smell of books, I certainly don't pine for it in the way that many nay-sayers claim they would.

It seems patently ridiculous to to me impose real-world scarcity modelling on digital files that can be copied infinite times with full-fidelity, but, as always, hoops have to be jumped through to keep the dinosaurs happy.

In the meantime, I've got a new tablet-convertible touchscreen netbook running Win7 that I couldn't be happier with, that I use for reading (or watching movies or whatever), but can also swivel back to laptop form factor and use quite happily for business apps or playing games (older one -- curse you Intel integrated graphics chipsets and your weak sauce) or whatever.

But 5 years or so from now, when the price has come down, the vendor lock-in has abated somewhat, and the hardware is better, and the ebook ecosystem has developed some more, I can see myself buying a dedicated device.

I don't like any of the current solutions, but I'm happy to see them appearing and trying to innovate, because they're pushing the ball along, and that's good. The tipping point will come soon, I hope, and a device that includes all the necessaries will appear, with a company behind it that can provide the services required as well as the hardware. I hate to say it, but I suspect it might be Apple.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:13 PM on August 26, 2009


FWIW Google Books today announced all/most of its PD scans are now available in ePub format - over 1 million. Free. Easy. Accessible on most readers (including Sony, except Kindle).
Is there a way in Google Books to search for, or preferably browse for, only for downloadable books?
posted by Flunkie at 9:22 PM on August 26, 2009


Last rant -
It's the same with all of these bullshit services. Circuit Cities Divx, The new Napster, ATRAC, Overdrive, whatever.

They're all inventions. Ways to turn what was a simple purchasing situation into a continual revenue stream. It's fucking stupid, and the more they push for it, the more they push people to the easier piracy side.

The only ebook service (other than the PD stuff and gutenberg) that's worth a shit is the Baen Books site. No DRM, many formats, huge free library. I've bought books from them.. Not because I have to, but because they're offering a legitimate service. I give them money, they give me exactly what I want.

They don't try to charge me 4 times for the same book. They don't try to give me a book I can only read on thursdays or only on their device. They give me a fucking book for money. Sorta like a real book, but in this case, it's electronic.

Why is this so fucking hard? Oh wait.. It's because the knowledge that the book that they could charge 30 dollars for yesterday is suddenly worth far far less to the consumers today.. Not because the quality has changed, but the breadth of consumer choice has grown.

This is where I'd love to see libraries embrace ebooks, not as these bizarrely bitlocked revenue streams for some private third party. I'd love to see the resurgence of libraries as physical representations of the boundless knowledge we have access to online. Community libraries combined with electronic books have the opportunity to be the centerpiece of a local information community. You don't need to pick out one book, or settle for only the books they have, you have access to every book, any book that's available.

Yeah it's a pipe-dream, but I think that it's a noble goal. Unfortunately, there are too many forces at play to keep it from happening. The reality is that the central repository for human knowledge, central supplier of electronic books is going to be usenet, irc, rapidshare, bittorrent. The end results are the same, but it sorta lacks the heart of a community library..
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:22 PM on August 26, 2009 [6 favorites]


stbalbach: The production cost of a book is about 5-10% of the cover price. Those $9.99 Kindle books are being sold as loss leaders by Amazon.

So they go from making $9 per $10 book to making $10 per $10 book. That's still a dollar more per book. The overheads for setting up a system or an infrastructure for this are steep, yes, but they're surely just a one-off? Once you have a system in place, you just feed it TeX documents (or whatever publishers use) and get salable product?
posted by Dysk at 9:26 PM on August 26, 2009


I gues I am repeating jessamyn but what is so great about this site again? It shows me what ebooks are available at my local library? Well since my local library already has a website (for about five years) that shows me what ebooks are available (as do all the libraries in the surrounding area) this isn't exactly novel. And overdrive is an impediment to ebooks being used by a larger audience. Their customer support needs to be 24/7 for library patrons. I've talked to many a patron at 10 am that wanted an ebook while we were closed and now wants me to solve their problem. But I can't. I don't know enough about Overdrive to help them so I forward their contact info to someone else in the library that has the authority to contact overdrive who then gets back to the contact person and the patron gets an answer a day or three later.

I've worked at two public libraries with overdrive and neither of them think frontline staff should be trained in how to use it (free training should be provided by overdrive for what they charge) AND restrict staff computers from downloading the necessary ap to run it so we have no personal experience or way to walk through the steps when demonstrating to patrons. Plus I am annoyed that website doesn't list Canadian libraries. Not to mention the deceptive "get ebooks for free" when many public libraries charge fees to non-residents.

Gee, could this be a marketing ploy to get patrons to exert pressure on their local library to sign up for overdrive?
posted by saucysault at 9:27 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I gues I am repeating jessamyn but what is so great about this site again? It shows me what ebooks are available at my local library? Well since my local library already has a website (for about five years) that shows me what ebooks are available (as do all the libraries in the surrounding area) this isn't exactly novel.
Well, it doesn't sound exactly great anymore now that I've read the way that knowledgeable people here are describing it, but I'll tell you exactly what I initially found great about it:

My library doesn't have ebooks available.

To me, the idea of a library offering ebooks is novel.

So, what I found great about this post was that it gave me the sudden hope that my library would, someday, make ebooks available.
posted by Flunkie at 9:39 PM on August 26, 2009


I think that publishers are getting away with DRM nonsense in books (so far) because the consumption of popular books isn't the same as the consumption of popular music.

If I download a song, and I like it, the odds are high that I will listen to it hundreds of times, over years and years. It will get downloaded and copied to a dozen devices and computers over the next decade. I'll use the hell out of that file. If it has DRM, it'll make my life a living hell.

If I download a book, and I like it, I MIGHT read it twice. (Three times, maybe, but that third time will be years later). With that in mind, it doesn't shock me that people are content to "rent" or "borrow" e-books. That's what DRM really is, anyway: rental enforcement, which is why it's such a poor match for music.

Despite the fact they get lumped together with music, movies are more like books. We don't, most of us, watch movies more than a few times, and we happily rent them and return them without feeling like we lost anything.

Few would do that with music.

(None of this applies to textbooks, technical books, or educational audio or film, because those are used very differently.)
posted by rokusan at 9:40 PM on August 26, 2009


Is there a way in Google Books to search for, or preferably browse for, only for downloadable books?

Yes. Search on "Full View only".

Once you have a system in place, you just feed it TeX documents (or whatever publishers use) and get salable product?

90-95% of the cost of the book is for paying the author, the publisher, the editor, marketing and advertising, etc.. the other 5-10% is for the printer (book) - we assume printing must be costly. It's not. Ebooks don't really change the cost of creating a book, much.
posted by stbalbach at 9:42 PM on August 26, 2009


stbalbach, how can it both be true that authors (except those in the NYT bestseller list) get paid peanuts, and it's one of the major expenses for publishers? Also, including the publisher's cut in the 90% is a bit misleading, as that is essentially profit, rather than a cost to the publisher. So that leaves marketing, the editor, adveritising, and maybe distribution (which also gets essentially nullified by ebooks). I don't quite believe that this makes up so overwhelming a majority of the price publishers charge, but I'll happily accept a more qualified opinion than my own (or some form of corroborating evidence, of course).
posted by Dysk at 9:48 PM on August 26, 2009


Ways to turn what was a simple purchasing situation into a continual revenue stream.

Yes, exactly. This is called rent-seeking, and every "content provider" is trying to get in on this game. It even extends to software. Book publishers will doubtless follow suit.
posted by Maximian at 9:53 PM on August 26, 2009


I'm not a tech Luddite by any stretch - I'm an IT geek, ferchrissakes - and I'm not blind to coolness factor. Nevertheless after having read the article AND the entire discussion thus far, I'm left with a profound sense of meh. I just don't see a compelling reason (yet) to break away from printed books for my reading needs. It still seems like these e-solutions are all no better than whatever alleged shortcomings they're attempting to address. Am I missing something obvious? Why are e-books, at this embryonic "horseless carriage" stage, such a hot topic among anyone other than most rabid hardcore early adopters?
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:14 PM on August 26, 2009


This might be a stupid question, but why don't libraries scan their own books, and offer them in any format they please? They could even resource-share, and send copies to any other library with that same book in the stacks.

It would be labor intensive, that is for sure, but the libraries use lots of volunteer hours already, right? That would definitely be something easy school kids could do for their community service or whatnot. Hell, I would volunteer to do this; it would be fantastic.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:41 PM on August 26, 2009


paisley henosis, I am neither a lawyer nor a librarian (IANALNAL), but wouldn't that violate some sort of copyright law?
posted by Dysk at 10:46 PM on August 26, 2009


these e-solutions are all no better than whatever alleged shortcomings they're attempting to address.

Right, it's a trap. Costumed in cool-looking technology, DRM-carrying e-books are being developed so that publishing companies can enjoy the same "eternal revenue streams" that the copyright cartels are beginning to harness for music and video. By manipulating the legal environment and the concept of "copyright violation", they can force "consumers" to pay continually, while providing nothing additional of any value. You pay them for the "right" of not having your access revoked.

There is nothing in this for you, as the reader. Being able to search books electronically is cool, but you don't need DRM for that. The reference to the Trojan horse is quite accurate. Even now, my university is being bamboozled into getting rid of many of its regular books in favor of DRM-restricted e-books. Even if the DRM is not there to begin with, or you're assured of "free access" for some period of time, you're going to be swindled in the end.
posted by Maximian at 10:46 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Brother Dysk: paisley henosis, I am neither a lawyer nor a librarian (IANALNAL), but wouldn't that violate some sort of copyright law?

I have no idea, but taking pictures of something one owns and letting people look at those pictures seems like something one is allowed to do with one's possessions, to me.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:00 PM on August 26, 2009


paisley henosis: This might be a stupid question, but why don't libraries scan their own books, and offer them in any format they please? They could even resource-share, and send copies to any other library with that same book in the stacks.

It would be labor intensive, that is for sure, but the libraries use lots of volunteer hours already, right? That would definitely be something easy school kids could do for their community service or whatnot. Hell, I would volunteer to do this; it would be fantastic.


What you've just described is exactly what my public library does - except these volunteers (and pages, and summer students, and even temporary paid positions) are scanning donated historical photographs for our local history database or local newspapers for our newspaper databases.

And it seems like it's never enough. Part of my job is to index these scanned newspapers, and we're at least a year behind where we want to be. So I guess I'm skeptical of your suggestion, although I like the idea. If any books were to be scanned as you suggest, I suspect they would be self-published works by local artists and, yet again, local historical matter.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:50 PM on August 26, 2009


paisley henosis, wikipedia says thus:

Photocopying material that is subject to copyright (such as books or scientific papers) is subject to restrictions in most countries.

Also, I know for a fact that teachers at my school were continually annoyed that they couldn't just photocopy materials from books to distribute to us students as it would be illegal. Copyright law obligated them to either pay a licence, or buy more books.

There is some fair use leeway regarding photocopying, but I believe that only excerpts can be given away, at least (I don't know if more complete copying for archival purposes is allowed).

(This is all under Hong Kong law).
posted by Dysk at 12:01 AM on August 27, 2009


The Plastic Logic device (8.5X11) doesn't use a glass substrate. It's a plastic one that's sturdy as all hell and has the touchscreen integrated. I think they're affiliated with Borders, but it won't be out until next year.

They're affiliated with Barnes and Noble. Borders has a relationship with Sony.

(Disclosure: I work for Borders.)
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:11 AM on August 27, 2009


As for book readers, I'm really, really interested in this netbook with an e-ink mode you can switch to. You'll be able to download your ebooks from wherever right to the netbook...which is also your e-ink reader.

Apparently these screens aren't "true" e-ink, but rather a jacked-up kind of LCD screen. If there's no eyestrain involved with reading on this, I'm so in. They're due out later this year. Supposedly. No prices yet, but should be at least comparable to current e-ink readers, which are way too expensive.
posted by zardoz at 4:53 AM on August 27, 2009


how can it both be true that authors (except those in the NYT bestseller list) get paid peanuts, and it's one of the major expenses for publishers?

It is true authors get paid peanuts, it is not true it is one of the major expenses of the publisher, it is just one of the many slices of the pie.

I'll happily accept a more qualified opinion than my own (or some form of corroborating evidence, of course).

I don't have anything off hand but I've read the breakdown of a cost of a book on the net so I guess it's out there for the searching. But you'll see it in the cost of ebooks going up over time, once the publishers stop taking a loss on them and have established a base of readers large enough that raising prices doesn't kill the market.
posted by stbalbach at 5:39 AM on August 27, 2009


Breakdown cost of book.

I have to run but will come back later to discuss...
posted by stbalbach at 5:42 AM on August 27, 2009


The slim selection doesn't exactly push me over the edge to buying an ebook reader. It's the same issue I had when my very good hometown library started stocking audio books. There just wasn't enough there to make it a regular part of my browsing rounds.

I look at the fact that an ebook reader is more than my annual book-buying budget, I'd still have to pay for anything that's not on gutenberg or google books, and the DRM baggage. 5 years ago when I was paying in excess of $500 a year on textbooks while hitting full-text research articles on PDF it would have been no question, but with my current reading habits it hasn't hit the right price/convenience ratio.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:00 AM on August 27, 2009


Breakdown cost of book.

Wow. So another 10% goes to the wholesaler? The industry sure glosses over that cost when they are discussing how little eBooks save them.

Also, wouldn't author royalties go way down if the list price of an eBook is $10? If you're getting 15%, now that's $1.50 rather than $4.05.
posted by smackfu at 6:14 AM on August 27, 2009


> Overdrive is trying very hard to provide libraries with the "checkoutability" option they think libraries want. They also have a clunky and awkward product...

QFT. Whenever a patron asks how to download books using Overdrive, really all we can do is direct them to the library's Overdrive FAQs page (which is longer than many books) and hope they have a computer science degree.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:17 AM on August 27, 2009


Having recently purchased a Kindle DX I can say that it has changed my reading habits much for the better. There are a lot of sources for Kindle books beyond Amazon, although it took me a couple of weeks to find this out. I wrote out and researched a list of books I wanted to read. Usually these were ones I could never find being out of print or just not available in the local bookstores. About 50% of these are available as ebooks and this is enough to keep me busy - forever. I am saving substantial amount of money on my book reading, I'm reading books I really want to read and I am reading more frequently.
As for my students, who are expected to lug around 30 pounds of texts costing $300 each semester, it has been inspiring jealousy.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:44 AM on August 27, 2009


Lord_Pall: I LOVE the idea of ebook libraries. 29k books is nothing... The publishers will do everything in their power to make sure this fails. They continue to price ebooks at equal or greater than print books... I would pay for a book rental/library service. I'd pay for reasonably priced ebooks. But what I'm continually told is "Fuck you. You pay over paperback prices or more. Fuck you if you want to read the book you want to read. You read what we give you. Harry Potter? Fuck you."

Agreed - 29k books is nothing. Try 100,000. I like the idea of ebook libraries, too; the trick, counterintuitively enough, is: don't pay for them. If you put in the work to digitize some, if you help maintain the collections online like those at Gutenberg that are put together by people that want it rather than people who want to profit from it, then you'll be making this happen. Text wants to be free, and it will be free. Give any text a hundred years and it is free. Think about it: absolutely none of the major advances in books have been made industrially or commercially; this has always been a DIY effort, so looking to Sony or Amazon for help with it is generally a fount of fruitless hopes.

I'd be interested to know just how many of the New York Public Library's texts they digitized themselves.

That said, it seems to me that ebooks are a pretty dead end, and I'm sorry but I don't see them going anywhere. They seem a bit fetishistic to me; a little device that displays text like a book, only digitized? But I have one of those already, and it works fine for displaying text! My laptop flips the screen sideways when I press a hotkey, and I can very conveniently read pdfs, txt files, docs, cbr files, any format you can think of; I don't have to wait for somebody to format it for me and waste time getting it to go through the wires to my little fetishy device. If anything, it seems to me that at some point ebook capabilities should be adopted into laptops rather than the other way round. But then I never did understand the recent vogue for having separate devices (netbooks to go with your laptops for when you want a tiny computer, for example) for every conceivable function.

Books are books. Computers are computers. To adopt these 'ebook readers' aren't you doing almost nothing but accepting limitations imposed by the manufacturer? I mean, even on some tiny netbook, one already has access between archive.org and gutenberg.org to tens upon tens of thousands of public-domain text, plus the means to convert these into a more readable format, plus the means to read them; and, in addition, a way to view almost any other media. Isn't anyone else tired of waiting for the day when x device has the capability to do what we can already do so much better with every other device?

My own process is simple, and I find it almost soothing: when I need a text, I find it, generally via Gutenberg or Archive.org but sometimes even on Google Books. (Their number of public-domain freely-downloadable books is quite large in its own right; I get two million hits for books that you can download in pdf from Google, although I'm sure that number includes lots of doubles and such.) Once I've got the text, I can either read it as it is or (as is almost always the case with books I get in plaintext form) I get the pleasure of setting the typeface and spacing in OpenOffice (or, since the excellent new production version came out, Scribus) setting the titles and headings as I'd like to see them and finally dropping the whole thing into a nice pdf. It's pleasing to be able to put these options where I'd like to put them.

E-readers seem like they're actually ridiculously simple (aside from the fancy screens they insist on putting on them) and I'm certain that some enterprising engineer could design one that cost forty bucks or so if they weren't worried that the whole thing is really a dead end for any company that doesn't have massive positioning and marketing resources.
posted by koeselitz at 6:46 AM on August 27, 2009


... of course, people could probably solve a lot of these ebook problems if they just did what I did and stopped reading books by people born less than a hundred years ago.

heh.
posted by koeselitz at 6:47 AM on August 27, 2009


E-readers have at least three advantages over a netbook for books: the battery life is far longer, the form factor is much better for reading, and the text quality on the screen is much better.

You certainly may not value those at $300, or worth carrying a separate device, but it seems obstinate to ignore the differences.
posted by smackfu at 7:06 AM on August 27, 2009


This might be a stupid question, but why don't libraries scan their own books, and offer them in any format they please? They could even resource-share, and send copies to any other library with that same book in the stacks.

The general issues are a few

- copyright exists and is complicated making determining what the exact rules are for each and every book something that's not entirely clear and mostly only something that is undertaken by people who are afraid of not getting sued. Librarians, generally, are afraid of getting sued
- People who are not afraid of getting sued are doing this, notably Google [who is not a library] and the Internet Archive [who, for the purposes of these sorts of discussions, is]. Google is getting very seriously sued and the outcome of that lawsuit may change the face of book digitization and copyright for digitized books forever.
- there isn't really a top-down library organization that could spearhead that sort of project. I think we'd all agree that each library scanning their own book is a wate of time and energy. But, there aren't really national or international-level organizations who could say "hey we've been scanning these books so that everyone can have them!" because none of them are
-- tech savvy to the level where they could get things done
-- that inclined to work together
-- not afraid of getting sued

Libraries did some great stuff back before internet times, getting library catalogs online when you'd have to access them via a dumb terminal in a library. For a lot of librarians around my age, they first interacted with library catalogs via telnet and this sort of thing. Then the innovation sort of forked and techie people got involved in a lot of heavy lifting surrounding metadata and left the scanning/digitizing field to the vendors.

This was, to my mind, a serious misstep, though I'm not sure how they could have done things differently. Basically a library deals in information containers, not the information itself, or this was the old model. This has made our transition to the digital world [where the container and the information are linked more inextricably and are legally more difficult to untangle] a little herky-jerky. And, honestly, the vendors have no real incentive to open up the field to you getting your books from, say, the internet archive [who is really in second place in this whole run, but this is where the first place is Google and that's pretty amazingly terrific] or anyone but them [see the rent seeking link above] so that's also hampering the delivery of what I think most of us want which is a digital book we can read on the device of our choosing, with a minimum of fuss and/or DRM.

Working with Overdrive's tools makes me despair that we'll have an elegant solution to this so I spend a lot of time telling people that there are better ways and we don't need to settle for their terrible model.
posted by jessamyn at 8:02 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not a tech Luddite by any stretch - I'm an IT geek, ferchrissakes - and I'm not blind to coolness factor. Nevertheless after having read the article AND the entire discussion thus far, I'm left with a profound sense of meh. I just don't see a compelling reason (yet) to break away from printed books for my reading needs.
I'll explain my own view with regards to this:

I would love to be able to take out library books without needing to actually physically go to the library. Get the book I want to read, more or less instantly, without leaving my couch? I'm having a difficult time imagining what's not to like about that*.

*: I mean, in theory. In practice, of course, companies like Overdrive could screw it up.
posted by Flunkie at 8:53 AM on August 27, 2009


Oh, I don't know. One of the things I miss about my hometown was that both the university and county libraries were centrally located and well connected via public transit. As a result, they were convenient places to just hang out for a few hours with a stack of periodicals, and possibly bump into old friends. We'd also hang out at the Borders cafe as well.

Now, I don't really have that so I can see the appeal of having the on-demand download. But I'm still stuck on the fact that the Kindle is a $350 gizmo and I still pay $10 for a rented copy that will vanish when I upgrade to a different system. I'm resigned to the probability that my video games will be unplayable in the future, I'm not resigned to having those constraints on my literature.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:28 AM on August 27, 2009


E-readers seem like they're actually ridiculously simple (aside from the fancy screens they insist on putting on them)

The "fancy screen" is really the whole point! I have a Kindle DX and a Sony PRS-505, and reading on these devices is simply not comparable to reading from an LCD. It's like - get this - reading from a book! Reading from a computer screen is not like reading from a book.

My own process is simple, and I find it almost soothing: when I need a text, I find it ... Once I've got the text, I can either read it as it is or ... I get the pleasure of setting the typeface and spacing in OpenOffice (or, since the excellent new production version came out, Scribus) setting the titles and headings as I'd like to see them and finally dropping the whole thing into a nice pdf.

My own process adds one step to this: copy the PDF to the ebook reader. Then, I no longer need the computer to read the book. The Kindle DX battery lasts for weeks if I leave the wireless off. I can read it comfortably wherever I am. I can read for a five-hour flight without having to plug anything in. There's no heat or fan noise. I can hold it in one hand. I can even use it during takeoff and landing. I can prop it up next to my computer if I want to read something while I use my computer - this is great for programming texts.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:32 AM on August 27, 2009


In the cost breakdown presented here, it looks like there's a lot more than 10% of the cost that could be removed by switching to digital distribution. Nearly half the price is going to the retailer, and another big chunk is going to other middlemen. Add to that the printing overhead involved, and ebooks could easily cost less than half of what a physical book does. If ebooks had a compelling price and a convenient purchase and ownership arrangement, they might have a chance.

Instead it's easy to see that the publishing industry will choose the same route the music industry took. They took far to long to deliver a mass-market solution, and when they did it didn't come at a reasonable price. They're competing against free, and they're bringing weaksauce to the game.

I predict Apple will come out with something soon that'll upend the market and turn the Kindle into the Diamond Rio of the early 21st century. What Apple doesn't own when the dust clears will belong to the p2p community. Table scraps for the rest. Not saying this as an Apple fan, it's just what I see in the tea leaves.
posted by mullingitover at 9:40 AM on August 27, 2009


I put the Stanza reader app on my iPod touch, just cause what the hell, right? It's free, why not try it out? I have to say, it is awesome. I'm a long time ebook skeptic, and now I'm annoyed that all books aren't available as ebooks. The advantages: it's always there, in my pocket. It can carry a (very) large number of books with no additional weight or hassle. Even on the relatively small iPod screen, it's very easy to read, and I can adjust the font size and colors and contrast of page and text to my heart's content to fit local conditions. I can read in the dark! When my wife wants the light off to go to sleep, I can gladly oblige her and still read. This one fact all by itself very nearly makes it worth reading ebooks.

I don't see myself buying a dedicated ebook reader, but maybe possibly if one comes out that is so much wildly better than the device I already have with me all the time, I might consider it. I haven't actually bought any books yet, because we're still in the format-wars phase of things. If and when publishers get their act together and can offer me a book in essentially Gutenburg Project format, that I am sure I can take with me to future devices and/or read with simple universal computer tools, I'll be a customer. The pricing is also going to have to change, like software pricing is changing in the wake of the iPhone app store. $5.00 is the most I'd pay for any ebook. Most of them should be around the $2.50 mark.

Figure it out, publishers, or some tech company is going to do it for you. In the meantime, the Gutenburg Project has plenty for me to read.
posted by rusty at 9:45 AM on August 27, 2009


USian

Please stop doing that. It's always been annoying. And to add to that, it now it makes everyone think of the world's fastest human.
posted by Zambrano at 11:02 AM on August 27, 2009


USian != Usain.
posted by Dysk at 11:48 AM on August 27, 2009


I've added this to the favs so I can come back and read/discuss/comment more; we're looking at developing a pilot project to test some of the various tools and the files needed to use these different readers.
posted by aldus_manutius at 1:52 PM on August 27, 2009


Following up for myself, my experience has been really good with the Sony. I like the current state of the art enough to justify the luxury expense of the device, given that I never intended to pay for eBooks anyway (Gutenberg, you bet. Public library?? I had no idea, hence my somewhat breathless tone.) After I've read 25 books at what would have been a DRM-ed* retail of $10 each, it's paid for itself. Additionally, I don't mind treating it delicately so as not to hurt the screen.

The thing has completely fooled me more than once; I keep looking for a slip of paper to use as a bookmark (!!!) or begin to briefly lay it face down if I need to step away for a moment. I'm reading voraciously again in a way I haven't in almost 20 years.

*Regarding DRM, I address that quite simply: the only DRM titles on my device are borrowed. Anything I intend to keep is DRM-free, and I'll just leave it at that.

Regarding librarian concerns: I'm delighted to see you here, jessamyn et al. I had hoped to get your input and as usual you have done a great job of articulating your concerns from a perspective I don't have ready access to otherwise. Thank you.

Collectively, I think everyone here has a piece of the truth, and it's easy for me to agree that:

1 - Old-school IP business models are dying, and it's not pretty.
2 - eBooks / digital readers are in the horseless-carriage stage, and for most people curiosities more than appliances.
3 - The future is uncertain, and there is a great deal of opportunity for harm, neglect and abuse in the deployment of this emerging technology, covered amply elsewhere.

I'm still really excited, and I still love my Reader.
posted by ZakDaddy at 3:59 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's extremely frustrating that there are now books available in a format that is way cheaper to produce, and way cheaper to store, and very convenient to me...that I can't check out of the library. Just like the 20 physical books a week we check out of the library, except less expensive to deal with.

I guess it's the publishers' fault. It just seems so silly, you could take out the costs of physical production and transport and still make money.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 4:15 PM on August 27, 2009


Reading from a computer screen is not like reading from a book.

People keep saying this, but I am compelled to disagree with the implication that it's substantially worse, at least for indoor reading. Like I've mentioned before, I've done it for 10 years, and I read a lot. If you set things up properly in terms of font smoothing and size and use an app designed for the purpose, it is more than fine, at least indoors.

One of the major problems (for me, using laptops/devices running Windows) at the moment is that the very best windows app for reading ebooks in a variety of formats (but not pdf -- I loathe pdfs, and the Adobe Digital Editions reader is pretty but extremely sub-par in terms of functionality and the other options are worse) is ubook. I've been using it for most of the last decade.

But ubook, even though it's current best-of-breed on the Microsoft platform and enormously tweakable, is a design and usability nightmare. Seriously, it's a goddamn trainwreck, at least until you learn its quirks. But it does allow for easy and configurable use on a convertible or tablet-style touchscreen as well as a regular computer-with-keyboard, which makes it even more of a winner that it already was.

If I were a software developer and not just a web dilettante, I'd be working on an application that combines the extensive functionality and flexibility of ubook with some UI and interaction design best practices and, if not making the big bucks, at least be satisfied that I'd filled a niche that desperately needs filling.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:15 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks to the responses to my question. Copyright/IP law on digital "property" is so counter intuitive to me it might as well all by in hieroglyphs.
posted by paisley henosis at 6:10 PM on August 27, 2009


smackfu: E-readers have at least three advantages over a netbook for books: the battery life is far longer, the form factor is much better for reading, and the text quality on the screen is much better. You certainly may not value those at $300, or worth carrying a separate device, but it seems obstinate to ignore the differences.

I value those things, I really do—it's just that they're all things normal computers should have, too! Meanwhile, it seems to me that e-readers are almost always artificially limited, at least in terms of the user's ability to manipulate the files that s/he's reading. Why shouldn't small-form computers and e-readers be the same thing?
posted by koeselitz at 6:16 PM on August 27, 2009


me & my monkey: My own process adds one step to this: copy the PDF to the ebook reader. Then, I no longer need the computer to read the book. The Kindle DX battery lasts for weeks if I leave the wireless off. I can read it comfortably wherever I am. I can read for a five-hour flight without having to plug anything in. There's no heat or fan noise. I can hold it in one hand. I can even use it during takeoff and landing. I can prop it up next to my computer if I want to read something while I use my computer - this is great for programming texts.

Okay; that actually makes a lot of sense to me. (I wasn't aware of that battery life, which is pretty awesome, and on thinking about it I can see why the screen is worth having.)

I guess in the end my sense is that, at the very least, e-readers ought to be a hell of a lot less complex than they are. I wouldn't pay $200 for a Kindle, I just wouldn't; I already have a computer and a phone for god's sake that does wireless, I just don't need another appliance that can connect to a network and download this and that and whatever. I mean, all we really need is a screen with a memory card, a battery, and a USB plug, right? I have a feeling that all that would easily cost less than a hundred dollars.

This seems like a pretty solid example of DRM concerns getting squarely in the way of development.
posted by koeselitz at 6:28 PM on August 27, 2009


AFAIK It's not the complexity that makes it expensive, it's the simple cost of the screen that's manufactured by one producer (Vizplex?) owning one patent, for the entire e-reader market.


Kindle itself is basically being sold as a loss-leader to give amazon an I-tunes type lock on the ebook market (kindle has wireless, but many ebook readers have substantial amounts of additional features).
posted by stratastar at 8:20 AM on August 28, 2009


If Amazon wants an iTunes type lock on the ebook market, they're going to have to seriously step up the selection. I have the kindle reader app on my iPod too, and have not yet been able to find a single ebook I want to pay for to use it with. The selection is really not there yet.
posted by rusty at 9:29 AM on August 28, 2009


Really? I guess it depends on what you are buying. Of the books I've bought from Amazon in the last year or so, 14 are available for Kindle, and 5 are not. All the Kindle prices are at least $1 less, and some are $5-7. It totals out around $50 in savings. The ones that are not available are back-catalog paperbacks, coffee table books, and very small publishers.
posted by smackfu at 9:43 AM on August 28, 2009


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