The once and future e-book
January 4, 2011 8:17 PM   Subscribe

The once and future e-book: on reading in the digital age
posted by Joe Beese (122 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hat tip to euphorb, with whom I agree that this article is "pretty convincing".
posted by Joe Beese at 8:18 PM on January 4, 2011


Amazon's efforts are handicapped by the hurdle of that separate hardware purchase, so the door is still open for a strong competitor targeting an existing reader-capable hardware platform, whether it be Apple or someone else.

This is where I start wondering just how good the rest of his research is, if he doesn't know about the Kindle software for basically every platform currently purchasable. I spent a couple of hundred bucks on Kindle books to read on my commute on my iPhone before I ever bought the gadget, and half the people I know reading eBooks are doing it on their iPads rather than a dedicated device. Amazon's not handicapped by that hurdle - their hardware-agnosticism is one of their biggest advantages.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:41 PM on January 4, 2011 [16 favorites]


He makes a common "medium is the message" mistake, associating "e-book" with "e-reader" .. in truth the majority of e-books being read today are done so on PC's - laptops and desktops - not on Kindle's or iPad's. People will pigenhole ebooks with e-readers as if they are one and the same, making the same mistake book lovers are accused of. In the end books are simply content, independent of the medium.
posted by stbalbach at 8:44 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is where I start wondering just how good the rest of his research is, if he doesn't know about the Kindle software for basically every platform currently purchasable.

The Kindle applications for other platforms weren't made available until after the article was written.
posted by euphorb at 8:45 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Kindle applications for other platforms weren't made available until after the article was written.

D'oh! That'll teach me not to look at the date. I assumed it was current.

If anyone needs me, I'll be reading on my Kindle and washing the egg off my face.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:46 PM on January 4, 2011


This article is also a year old.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:47 PM on January 4, 2011


Do you know how I know this article is old?

"Everything is set for another run at this e-book thing. Will Apple wake from its apparent slumber and pull the sword from the stone—the sword that's currently taped to its hand and sheathed in a teflon-lined crevice? That'd certainly be the shortest path between the present and the inevitable e-book future."

"An Apple product launch and associated marketing campaign could get the world reading e-books faster than anything else I can imagine. Short of that, it looks like it's going to be up to individuals to make it happen, albeit on a much longer timeline."


And Apple has pulled the iPad sword from the stone and it's effect on the e-book market? Minimal compared to Amazon's Kindle or even the Nook.

"The Kindle is the best example, hitching itself to the star of Amazon's existing retail store. Maybe Amazon will haul the ungainly Kindle right across the critical mass threshold and it will become "the iPod of e-books." "

Already done. The Kindle is the de facto standard for e-readers.

I've been using a Sony Reader for just over a year and I treated myself to a Kindle 3 for Christmas and I don't see myself buying many paper books in the future. I read a lot and I've purchased exactly one dead tree book since September 2009. E-reading is here to stay and love 'em or hate 'em Amazon and it's Kindle are to e-books as iTunes and iPods are to MP3s.
posted by MikeMc at 8:49 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've bought approximately three tree books since September 2009 and I don't have a kindle or any of the others. Because I am poor. I cannot afford to buy books, I read books from the library. I have more money than most of the people in the world but I cannot afford to buy an ebook reader. How can these ebook readers be a good thing if they are only for the rich?
posted by charlesminus at 8:56 PM on January 4, 2011 [14 favorites]


I'm not disputing the claim that the Kindle format is probably going to triumph; but I wonder if their sales are so great, why won't the release actual figures?

Here's how I see the market shaking out:

1.) Kindle (the platform)
2.) iBooks (iPad)
3.) Also-rans.

Nook? Gimme a break.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:00 PM on January 4, 2011


How can these ebook readers be a good thing if they are only for the rich?

Yet you own, or have access to, a computer. On which you can read ebooks.

Besides, you read books from the library. Which is supported by tax dollars, which only really works if a society is wealthy enough to spare money to maintain libraries, employ librarians, and stock books. Most people in the world do not have access to libraries because they are too poor. Are libraries not a good thing?
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:00 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, it looks like Borders is on the verge of bankruptcy.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:01 PM on January 4, 2011


The Kindle device is great — technically, a better eBook reader than the iPad, and the availability of Kindle readers on other platforms makes it easy to pick up and read a book from pretty much anywhere there's a network connection. I wouldn't be surprised to see it survive in one form or another five years from now, if not thriving.

But I think the one thing that is holding back electronic books is the ridiculous cost of said product. The greed of publishers and Amazon is just jaw-dropping; for example, a Kindle version of Heller's Catch-22 costs $13! Camus' The Stranger is $10! I walked to a used bookstore down the street and bought a paperback copy for fifty cents.

This is the sort of thing that drives book lovers to piracy. It's particularly usurious when the electronic book format isn't even established as a reasonably settled standard. A book bought today might need to be repurchased down the road, if you decide to switch platforms. And DRM keeps you from easily sharing, trading or gifting books.

While the technology has been ready to go for a couple years now, some pretty ugly kinks in the distribution process still seem to remain. I'll bet we're still a few years away from eBooks really taking off.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:03 PM on January 4, 2011 [25 favorites]


An interesting history. What strikes me about this article is, in the two years or so since it was written, how out of date it has become.

The rise of the tablet computer will be the death knell of the traditional book. As more and more people own these devices, it becomes only natural to want to read books on them. The display technology, as the article argues, is largely irrelevant. Whether the technology is LCD, or AMOLED, or e-ink, or color e-ink, or something yet to be developed, the coming ubiquity of these devices will allow, finally, the dominance of the e-book.

Look how the market has changed since this article was posted: Amazon came out with the Kindle 2, DX, and 3, and lowered the prices from a untenable $360 to a mere $140 for the entry level model. Barnes and Noble responded with an e-reader of its own, and now a color version that mirrors the Android tablet market. And, the 800 pound gorilla Apple created the iPad, which seems to have changed everything with a single stroke. Apple's masterstroke -- ironically, given Apple's history -- has caused Amazon and B&N to abandon their version of a vertical market, with customers locked into buying their specific hardware to read their brand of ebooks, so that now Kindle books can be read on Kindles, PCs, Macs, iPads, iPhones, Android devices, Blackberry, and others. Also ironically, I believe this opening of the Kindle platform (which started on the iPad) killed whatever opening Apple's iBooks had, though this remains to be seen.

All these things Metafilter readers already know. The questions that have to be addressed now are: transferability of the books, from person to person and from e-reader to e-reader. The continual problem of DRM, which has never really been solved in any medium. Most importantly, the pricing of books, given the sheer lack of resources that need to be committed to provide a digital file and the risks associated with purchase of any DRMed, non-physical object. As the ebook becomes more and more important to the publishers' bottom lines, I think these issues will be settled sooner rather than later, though I doubt consumers will like many of the solutions.
posted by Palquito at 9:05 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Last year I read 138 books, of those 76 were non-traditional:

3 Kindle DX
6 Internet Archive and Google Books online readers
27 PDF's and Epub's on a desktop 20" LCD screen
13 LibriVox audiobooks (pc speakers and/or portable player)
27 Audible audiobooks

Things are fragmenting.
posted by stbalbach at 9:06 PM on January 4, 2011


New figures from market researchers Nielsen BookScan show digital sales of the [romance] genre have overtaken print copies for the first time – which the gadget users can read without anyone else knowing.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:10 PM on January 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'd be interested to know what percentage of iPad owners who bought it (at least in part) for its e-book capabilities have actually read a single full length book on them. Genuinely curious. Talking to iPad owners is sounds like it is somewhere in the 10-15% range, but who knows, my sample size is small. I have a Kindle and I'm planning on buying an iPad, primarily for web surfing and secondarily for books that benefit from color and diagrams.
posted by stp123 at 9:12 PM on January 4, 2011


Meanwhile, it looks like Borders is on the verge of bankruptcy.

They've been in trouble for a while. They used to sell their books online via Amazon, before trying to do it themselves. I don't think they have been able to quite manage to switch over to Amazon's model, the way that B+N has.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:15 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


How can these ebook readers be a good thing if they are only for the rich?

A new Kindle costs, what? $150 with shipping? That's three shifts waiting tables at Olive Garden. Not out of reach. Plus, if you own an Android phone, an iPhone, a Blackberry, or just a laptop or desktop computer, the Kindle software is free. Or get the (free) Stanza software and start reading (free) books from Project Gutenberg. And your local library nay now be lending ebooks, too.

I scoffed at ebooks for years. Then I finally got an iPhone. Then I got the Kindle app. Now I do 90% of my reading on my phone. And for exactly the reasons this article enumerates: my phone is always in my pocket, I like reading large white text on a black screen in bed with the lights out, and I love being able to try sample chapters of new books for free.

That said, thanks to Amazon caving to publishers' demands, Ken Follet's new book is $19.99 in Kindle format. Um, NO.

But $10 for a mystery or pulpy thriller that I know I'll only read once, that I can have in my hand in seconds? Sure, sign me up.

And when I get an iPad I foresee that 90% of my comic book reading will go digital, too.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:23 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


The greed of publishers and Amazon is just jaw-dropping; for example, a Kindle version of Heller's Catch-22 costs $13!

As an experiment just now, I I tried to think of a current bestseller I'd be interested in reading. I picked "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks".

I found a PDF version using FilesTube, downloaded it, converted it to .epub with calibre, and loaded it on to my iPhone. Total time required: less than 60 seconds.

Then out of curiosity I looked up the Kindle edition on Amazon. Ten bucks for a DRM-ed file in their inferior proprietary format.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:23 PM on January 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


I see peop;e readings e-books on the subway and in bars, and cafe's and stuff.

The Kindle has graphics now and and sound, or so I hear. The Ipad's always had it.

Hmm...reminds me of a certain device.....
posted by Skygazer at 9:33 PM on January 4, 2011


Err...k, nevermind....I can't type tonight.
posted by Skygazer at 9:34 PM on January 4, 2011


This article came out just after the Kindle launched in late 2007. It was probably even posted to MeFi then.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:41 PM on January 4, 2011


Apple's masterstroke -- ironically, given Apple's history -- has caused Amazon and B&N to abandon their version of a vertical market, with customers locked into buying their specific hardware to read their brand of ebooks, so that now Kindle books can be read on Kindles, PCs, Macs, iPads, iPhones, Android devices, Blackberry, and others.

Yes Apple's greatness is such that they caused Amazon to release a Kindle PC application in November 2009, a full two months before the iPad was even announced in January 2010. They are such a commanding presence that they can force other companies to completely upend their business strategy before they even announce a product. Such is the greatness of Steve Jobs that time and space are no barrier to his genius.
posted by euphorb at 9:42 PM on January 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


Nook? Gimme a break.

What? You don't like the Nook E Reader?
posted by nola at 9:49 PM on January 4, 2011


Nook? Gimme a break.

Why so quick to dismiss the Nook? I got a Color for Christmas and I think it's pretty fantastic.
posted by graventy at 9:58 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is how I know Barnes & Noble is doomed:

I used to spend hundreds of dollars in there. Now I buy a $5 candy coffee, which I sip as I peruse the new releases, iPhone in hand, checking online prices and downloading sample chapters to the Kindle app. The last physical book I bought in a real bookstore was a coffee table art book. It was a gift. They wrapped it for me.

Makes me feel kinda guilty, really.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:59 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I'm not disputing the claim that the Kindle format is probably going to triumph; but I wonder if their sales are so great, why won't the release actual figures?

Here's how I see the market shaking out:

1.) Kindle (the platform)
2.) iBooks (iPad)
3.) Also-rans.

Nook? Gimme a break."

The Kindle sales numbers comes up on Mobileread fairly often. My take: what does Amazon have to gain by releasing exact sales figures? They say it's their best selling item ever surpassing whichever Harry Potter book previously held that title. Some people have used that to put Kindle sales in the 8-9 million range. B&N and Sony don't release exact numbers either.

Currently iBooks is in the "also-ran" category. How many people are actually paying for books through iBooks as opposed to downloading freebies or buying Kindle editions? I can read Kindle editions across platforms, iBooks - not so much. Apple has also generated some ill will and helped raise e-book prices by agreeing to Agency Model pricing from the get go. Thanks Steve.

As far as the Nook goes, there's a distinction to be made between devices for reading (Kindle, Nook) and devices that can be read on (iPad, Blackberry). As a reader the Nook is popular, the Nook Color insanely so (but I think that's mostly due to the fact that you can root it and end up with a nice Android tablet cheap).

There's a long long way to go in the e-reading market yet. I predict Sony will exit the market in the next year (two at the most), Kobo/Borders probably won't last out the year. In the end it's going to be Amazon and B&N ( again in reading devices as opposed to devices that can be read on).
posted by MikeMc at 10:00 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


See, here's the deal.

I switched to all ebooks all the time around 2002, hand converted for the (also B&N now) eReader app, now apparently abandoned. I was using a Palm III, in night mode, lights off. The soft green LCD glow carried me thru every word Mark Twain had published and great chunks of the public domain material available via Gutenberg, and I was content, and leaving my tomes at home when I chose to roam.

Why was I content?

BECAUSE EREADER HAS A SCROLL FEATURE.

ibooks (iphone)? nope, page tap only.
Kindle (iphone)? same deal.
Stanza, for god's sake? Nope.

Additionally, of these apps, only e-reader and stanza permit meaningful type customization. I can set the text in ereader or stanza to a green which is 2/256 lighter than black, which is ideal for my bed reading, and the goddamn sleep-disruption photon-emitter telecom unit is still brigh enough for me to use as a flashlight in midnight feline excursion examinations.

The apps were previously mature; now they are in flux, responding to the needs of marketing. I imagine in ten years I will be able to use a handheld reading device as good as that fuckin Palm III ten years ago. The sad thing is this whole circus will kill off editorial services, not misguided device manufaturers.

Oh, darn, didn't proofread this before posting. That's the future! Enjoy.
posted by mwhybark at 10:26 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


When does the pc version of the ipad come out so I can start reading my ebooks on a cool looking, PADD like device?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:29 PM on January 4, 2011


The greed of publishers and Amazon is just jaw-dropping; for example, a Kindle version of Heller's Catch-22 costs $13! Camus' The Stranger is $10!

I'm pretty sure the publishers set the prices, not Amazon.

Look closely at the product page for Catch-22 and you'll see that the price was set by the publisher, not by Amazon.

As for The Stranger, well, it looks like most Kindle books are $9.99. You can probably get the paperback version for less, but not in 60 seconds.
posted by Ratio at 10:32 PM on January 4, 2011


I'd be interested to know what percentage of iPad owners who bought it (at least in part) for its e-book capabilities have actually read a single full length book on them. Genuinely curious. Talking to iPad owners is sounds like it is somewhere in the 10-15% range, but who knows, my sample size is small. I have a Kindle and I'm planning on buying an iPad, primarily for web surfing and secondarily for books that benefit from color and diagrams.

I have a Kindle and my husband has an iPad. I don't think he's read an entire book (using the Kindle app) and it's because reading backlit screens sucks. That's one of the reasons I bought a Kindle in the first place. I'd been using the app for my iPhone, which is fine, but the e-ink screen is just much better. It really is like reading off paper. Neither of us have used the iBooks app, but I did install the Nook and Bluefire apps, and am going to install Overdrive next, just to see if I can get library books.

I honestly don't see standalone devices lasting forever. E-reading will get folded into devices like the iPad.

Now, the restricted loaning sucks, sucks, sucks. My mom got a Kindle a couple of months ago and she's been reading more than I can ever remember. But with Kindle lending, between the two of us, we've found probably fewer than five books we can share between one another. If she or I had purchased those books, we could pass them back and forth. So why not digitally?

I am not interested in pirating books or breaking DRM, for instance for books that aren't available in my market. This is what DRM fans don't realize: People who pirate books are not lost sales. They were never going to buy books, anyway. Much more money is lost every time a person like me, who wants to pay for a book, is unable to. I want to give someone money! Let me do that! Because if not, I'll just buy someone else's book instead.

I have awful impulse control. You'd think retailers would want to take advantage of that.
posted by sugarfish at 10:32 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the publishers set the prices, not Amazon.

Some prices are set by Amazon, some are set by the publishers. Both parties agree to those prices. It just seems onerous for what was already, in most cases, a digital product. For example, it's unlikely that newly printed copies of bestsellers that one finds in B+N and Borders were set with lead type.

There are relatively little manufacturing and distribution costs, since the costs of translating from one markup format to another should be pretty low — it can be done for one work and then mostly automated for the rest of the publisher's library — and Amazon recoups Whispernet costs through Kindle device pricing and manages its own storage through AWS.

I agree about the point about convenience. What the iTunes Music Store got right was setting reasonable prices for digital music, which made the easy-vs-piracy equation favor purchasing digital music. I wonder if the publishers are setting themselves up for failure by overpricing their wares and encouraging the piracy side of things. But eBooks are young and I'm hopeful either adjustments will come, or writers will be able to reduce dependence on parasitic publishers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:49 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


It really, really annoys me when people complain about the kindle not being backlit. E-ink does not and should not work that way. The real joy of a Kindle is thousands of digital books in a format that reads like a real book. I've never found the need to own a book light, why would I need a backlit book?

I really do hope e-readers largely replace the traditional book, but it'll be a shame if e-ink devices are killed off because no one really understands how they're superior to an iPad for reading.
posted by girih knot at 10:59 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd be interested to know what percentage of iPad owners who bought it (at least in part) for its e-book capabilities have actually read a single full length book on them.

I bought an iPad in August I think. Since then I've read a couple dozen books using Kindle and iBooks. Someone gave me a US iTunes voucher for Christmas and I've bought another half-dozen or so books as a result. I'd buy more, but Amazon restricts me from buying certain Kindle books in Australia, and iBooks doesn't have quite the same breadth of titles just yet.

There is one thing that bugs me - I bought the Kindle edition of Under the Volcano because everyone has always raved about how great it is. Anyway, it's practically unreadable. I'm not sure if something has gone horribly wrong with the Kindle edition, or those people who recommended it never actually tried reading it. Anyway, it's not clear how you return a Kindle book (or any e-book, for that matter), or I would have done so.
posted by Ritchie at 11:01 PM on January 4, 2011



Yet you own, or have access to, a computer. On which you can read ebooks.

Besides, you read books from the library. Which is supported by tax dollars, which only really works if a society is wealthy enough to spare money to maintain libraries, employ librarians, and stock books. Most people in the world do not have access to libraries because they are too poor. Are libraries not a good thing?


Tell the truth. Have you ever read an ebook on a computer? Of course not, it would be totally impractical. Ebooks suck, they are good for research because you can search text, but for reading, on a computer. That's stupid.

The amount of tax money that libraries use would not pay for one Air Force drone. Libraries have existed for well over 2000 years, they are a hallmark of civilization.

You can't even buy an ebook. You fucking rent it from Amazon. You can't resell it, give it to a friend or leave it in the coffee house for someone else to enjoy, or even put it on the shelf and come back ten years later to read it again.

Maybe, when I can buy a usable $10.00 ereader, I may give it a whirl. And it may happen, my $12.00 mp3 player works great.
posted by charlesminus at 11:04 PM on January 4, 2011


That was an interesting and enjoyable article, albeit outdated (but still relevant for its history). Also, that's a nice looking blog, which is a repreive from the clunky and cluttered more popular ones I end up at often.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:08 PM on January 4, 2011


You can't even buy an ebook. You fucking rent it from Amazon.

The Kindle supports formats beyond Amazon's DRM books. 95% of the books I've read on mine have not come from Amazon.
posted by girih knot at 11:08 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Someone needs to make a law making it legal to transfer eBooks, it's ridiculous that people pay for them, but can't resell them. Demand digital rights of first sale, people!
When does the pc version of the ipad come out so I can start reading my ebooks on a cool looking, PADD like device?
People have been making PC tablets for years. There are lots of "netvertables" which are netbooks that you can rotate the keyboard out of the way on, and they're pretty cheap. Probably not as thin as an iPad.
posted by delmoi at 11:11 PM on January 4, 2011


Have you ever read an ebook on a computer?

Yes. I read books on my desktop Mac all the time. For those of us with terrible vision, being able to enlarge the text on a big bright screen is a real boon. Plus I can then resume reading on my phone right where I left off thanks to Kindle's cross-platform syncing.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:14 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I scoffed at ebooks for years. Then I finally got an iPhone. Then I got the Kindle app. Now I do 90% of my reading on my phone. And for exactly the reasons this article enumerates: my phone is always in my pocket, I like reading large white text on a black screen in bed with the lights out, and I love being able to try sample chapters of new books for free.

Yep. That's my story too, all the way. I don't even have a Kindle, but I use my Kindle app on the Mac constantly, right now mostly to sample free chapters and see if I'll want to read the whole book. I also use instapaper like a fiend. I still read (or try to read) paper, too, but it's becoming increasingly a challenge for me to do so, not because I don't love books and newspapers, but because I already have so much to read on my devices that I never get around to the paper stuff.

I don't fully know what that says, but I do sense that if this is happening with a bibliophile like me, the shift toward e-books is happening before our very eyes and so seamlessly that before we know it they will have become the main entry point for many people's reading habits.
posted by blucevalo at 11:15 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't mind reading on a backlit screen; I did it on my Palm back in the day (mostly pirated) and do it on my iPod Touch today (mostly public domain stuff—Eucalyptus is a joy). But being able to instantly get an electronic version of something I have a sudden impulse to read is completely outweighed by having to spend three or four or ten times the price of a used print version to get an ebook that you don't even own in any meaningful sense. I never need to read a specific title that badly. And almost none of the titles in my current to-read pile or want-to-buy list are available as legal downloads in the first place.

(I have bought a handful of O'Reilly titles in download form, but only because they were so ridiculously cheap that it became a complete no-brainer—$35+ for print vs. $5 or $6 for an iOS app that's easily unpacked into a DRM-free ePub.)
posted by Lazlo at 11:20 PM on January 4, 2011


I imagine in ten years I will be able to use a handheld reading device as good as that fuckin Palm III ten years ago.

This is no different to my experience of smartphones, which are absolutely fucking useless about getting basic stuff that "dumbphones" have been doing for years. Sharing vCards over MMS out-of-the-box, getting frigging alarms to work, and so on and so forth. Maddening.
posted by rodgerd at 11:22 PM on January 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Maybe, when I can buy a usable $10.00 ereader, I may give it a whirl. And it may happen, my $12.00 mp3 player works great.
I don't doubt it. In fact I think Kindles will be free in a few years. After all, Kindle's cost $350 when they first came out, now they cost $150.
posted by delmoi at 12:06 AM on January 5, 2011


tl;dr;404;Out of memory

Ah,... literature.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:10 AM on January 5, 2011


Living in a modern English home I have another reason for moving to ebooks - every single wall is full. I can't physically fit any more books into my home so I've really had to start looking seriously at buying files instead of paper. I love the look of books as well as the fact I really do re-read what I've bought.

The sad truth is that Amazon are getting my money for rented books (as charlesminus notes above). I've tried Waterstones again and again (for US readers - think B&N - they're going under in the same way B&N are too) - but they often simply don't have anything other than bestsellers and even when they do they insist on pricing the ebook identically to the hardback.

I don't subscribe to the fantasy that books are cheap and only printing is expensive - having spent a lot of time in 2009 as a project manager setting up a printing service I know where the economics lie. All the money is spent before the file reaches the printer. The printing maybe takes £1 of the £7 a typical UK book costs - call it £2 for a hardback...

Perhaps it's because ebooks are still too small a portion of the marketplace - and of course the usual problem that technical illiterates in their fifties run most businesses, and appoint their successors, but it is clear that only Amazon are investing in the marketplace. Waterstones and all of the UK alternatives still insist on pushing ebooks at me that I have no interest in purchasing, sending me their "newsletter" that is little better than spam and then trying their best to hide the books I actually want to pay for. I even take their surveys and clearly say what I want when given the option - but still get told that some celebrity's ghost-written semi-coherent self-justification is now available, every week.

Perhaps if the owners of these companies could see that the trend is in one direction they'd be more willing to accept they need to sell across all formats as a single release - but I doubt that will happen until more executives are culled for failing results. Oh well, back to renting.
posted by Hugh Routley at 1:44 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ritchie, I've returned an Amazon e-book; I just emailed customer service and told them I didn't want the book I'd ordered thinking it was something else, and they refunded my money and asked me to delete the book.

At this point, it's definitely the publishers/distributors who are doing their best to kill e-books with ridiculous prices and DRM; as Sugarfish (and the posted article) notes, it's a retail model that explicitly discourages buying and encourages piracy. In my opinion, the truth is that most people would rather buy the damn e-books — if the price makes sense; if they don't have to deal with consumer-punishing DRM; if they can use whatever e-reading device they choose; if they don't have to deal with wacky country-specific copyright restrictions. And they will buy more books — probably many more.

Mobile devices mean that people can find more time to read, utilizing ordinarily lost time standing in lines, waiting in a doctor's office, during their commute, during lunch breaks. And at home, as well, the e-reader makes it so much easier to read more, if only because you don't have to wait until you get time to go to a book store, or wait for your physical books to arrive in the mail. The moment you decide you want to read a specific book, you can be reading it, which also cuts out hesitation time (oh, do I really want to spend X to read that one? Maybe I'll wait and see what other people are saying...), or the gap between when you really feel like reading, and when you manage to get your hands on the book, at which point you may not be in the mood, or too busy.

But even beyond that, if the prices are right, people will just plain buy more books. In fact, I would be really interested in the actual loss of sales from e-book piracy; it would be impossible to measure, but I suspect it's pretty low. As far as I can tell, most downloaders read only a tiny fraction of the books they collect, and of that fraction, the books that they would ever have actually paid more than $5-$10 for are very few. Reasonable pricing encourages more adventurous choices, more exposure to new authors and/or genres, and more sales.

I am 100% percent convinced that the typical person would always prefer to buy the book if the retail model was sane. You hear me, publishers? People would rather buy the damn e-books. Why would they want to spend time searching on a piracy site? Why spend time converting formats? Why worry about breaking the law? Why not support authors? Why have to concern yourself with possible virii? Why wonder if this book is the actual book without missing pages or other changes? Publishers seem to believe that if buyers were able to buy e-books that they could actually use at prices they are willing to pay, it would encourage piracy. How does that make sense?

Of course, publishers are also loathe to give up on the brute force tactic of forcing readers to pay big bucks for the hard cover editions of new blockbusters. In my opinion there is no surer strategy for driving hoards to the download sites that they might never have had reason to explore before. Seriously. Shoot yourself in the foot much?

(Also? Publishers? Do you have any idea how stupid you are for not releasing out-of-print books as e-books? I was able to read an out-of-print book that I'd wanted to read for years because someone OCRd it. I'd have gladly paid for it. I wanted to pay for it. You won't let me. There's probably some really good reason that you don't want that money, and the author shouldn't get paid for that book I read, but I'll be damned if I can figure it out.)

Anyway. I have other thoughts about the ways to encourage sales as opposed to illegal downloads and/or store loyalty, but since this is way too long already, I'll do that in another comment.
posted by taz at 1:47 AM on January 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


If someone were to offer a netflix-style subscription service for books where a reasonable (<$10/month) fixed fee would let you read as many books as you wanted, then I'd seriously consider e-books. But right now I can read as many books as I want from the library for free, so the idea of paying $10 a pop merely to lease books from Amazon isn't that appealing.
posted by Pyry at 1:56 AM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


By this point in time I'd tought that the book publishers had taken home a lesson from the DVD publishers. The price point for DVDs are probably just right at the moment. They're found in large bins near the checkout. I would rather grab a DVD to watch than mess about trying to find a usable downloadable file. I also get the warm fuzzy feeling associated with making Hollywood just a tiny bit richer.

I can't imagine buying an ebook in today's market. And my local (Norwegian) publishing houses are even more clueless than the big English-language houses.

And why does the book and ebook cost more than the DVD of the film adaption? That's not right...
posted by Harald74 at 2:48 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like reading off e-readers. I like reading real books too. I did a lot of both over the holidays.


Readers are compact, light, convenient, and nifty.

Mr. Mustachio got one as a gift, and it's all right, for some things.

I did notice that I was scrolling through the preloaded books, all awash in gadget lust, that there was a copy of The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear - "OH YAY IT'S THE COMPLETE NONSENSE OF EDWARD LEAR!" I exclaimed, and "opened" it, excited to find such treasure. My excitement was short lived; my next exclamation was "THERE AREN'T ANY DRAWINGS. THIS IS BULLSHIT." because if I can't say "Oh hey it's the Quangle-Wangle look at that thing" then it really only is half the book. Less than half.

So that's one strike, but hardly damning. I'm sure there are illustrated versions around (Right? There must be.)


But really, e-books will replace real books only when they can smell like books.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:54 AM on January 5, 2011


smell-o-vision for Kindle 5? I like it.

Are there any e-readers that have/preserve illustrations?
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 4:01 AM on January 5, 2011


I have another reason for moving to ebooks - every single wall is full

Me too: but it will be a shame when you can no longer get a useful insight into new friends/acquaintances by running a curious eye over their shelves.
posted by Segundus at 4:05 AM on January 5, 2011


So, okay, as a follow-up to my earlier comment, if I were Amazon (or whoever. but, really, Amazon) here's what I'd do: I'd focus really strongly on the idea of a killer value-added personal Cloud Library. Amazon does store your books for you, but it's not that simple to access (it's easier for me to see what Amazon books I have by storing them in a folder on my drive), and it doesn't offer what I really want. I'd like to see them create an expanded LibraryThing- or GoodReads-type service for all the e-books you buy from them.

The books should be able to be viewed as a list or by cover image, with tags (and the ability to create delicious-style tag bundles) and categories, and all sortable by various criteria (alphabet, year bought, year published, year read [tag], author, publisher, genre, personal and overall ratings), with pages for each individual book showing links for recommended similar books, links to discussions and various other related material (author bios, interviews with authors, reviews, promotional videos, author/book web sites, reading lists, all downloadable to your e-reader wherever possible). Also, I'd really love to see things like maps, family trees and other graphics that are a part of a book you've bought available to view separately as high(er) resolution images, plus a view of the various covers for a given book.

Books by authors you like who have new books out that you don't own should be highlighted (as an option; choose all/none/select authors), and books in a series that have a new addition you don't own should be highlighted a different color (also as an option); click the book, which takes you to your individual book page (with all the associated info), see the blurb/price/etc. for the new book with a click-to-buy, or link to the main Amazon page for that book.

And I'd like the option to see notices about book awards long lists/short lists/winners, with a click-to-buy and links to the Amazon pages for those books, of course. All from my library page, where I can peruse them when I'm interested in reading about/buying books, not as Amazon emails that drive me crazy.

Of course, publishers could throw in with some extra materials/media available to e-book buyers if they wanted to get in on this value-added idea (yeaaaaaah, right).

And there should be a community aspect with groups, and friends who are allowed to comment and view your library (and the option to allow anyone to view, and to disallow by individual book). It should be easy to create discussion threads for book club folks that will have links to book discussion questions or seminars (like the Amy Hungerford talks that the Metafilter book club uses), plus updates about upcoming discussions/books, etc. Among your friends, you could choose to be updated on what they are currently reading if they choose to display that info (so you would have a "what your friends are reading" page link), and if they allow you to access their library view, you should be able to do a match search, to see what books you have in common (or not). And if you don't choose to allow your library to be viewable by all, but only to friends (except for the disallowed books, as I mentioned), you should be able to also choose by group. So maybe I choose only specific friends to be able to see my library, but I can also allow all members of "Metafilter Group," for example, or "X Book Club Group." And, I'd have an "Ask" section, and personal reading (b)logs, for those who want them, sharable or private.

Naturally, the entire social aspect would be entirely at the library owner's discretion — absolutely no aspect of that would be an automatic opt-in, and absolutely no offsite personal information sharing (explicitly in the TOS).

So. In other words, I'd make a LibraryThing/Delicious/Facebook-like killer app built around your personal online library (where all your books are stored and instantly accessible, so you never have to bother with backing up your own files) so that you lose so much value by downloading elsewhere (including pirating), that you are really tied into this retailer because of the Cloud Library aspect. If I were Amazon.

I know it wouldn't be cheap, but it would result in more sales, and more customer loyalty — which will become increasingly important as the scene begins to play out and loosen up, and publishers eventually come out of their coma, and other smart corporations begin to get a better handle on the whole e-book business concept.

The other thing I'd do, if publishers weren't wack, is to have a certain special pricing for people who want to buy both the paper and digital version of a book. So, like, buy the paper version, and get the digital for another $2 or something.

again, waaaay too long, and I've actually left off a lot of specifics. sowwy!
posted by taz at 4:12 AM on January 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


The big stumbling block for me with e-books is the lend-ability issue. My wife bought Anathem via Google Books to read on her phone; which is great but she can't lend it to me so if I want to read it on my phone, I'd have to buy another copy.
posted by octothorpe at 5:34 AM on January 5, 2011


Tell the truth. Have you ever read an ebook on a computer? Of course not, it would be totally impractical. Ebooks suck, they are good for research because you can search text, but for reading, on a computer. That's stupid.

No, you're stoopid, stoopid-face!

I read ebooks on my laptop and my notebook all the time. Novels, anthologies, scholarly works, cookbooks, graphic novels, the list goes on and on. I like the backlit screen, I like the control I have over format, font and text size, I like the ability to minimize the reader window and zip off to the web to check out something I've just discovered, I like to be able to cut passages at will and email them to friends who've read the same book.

I also like the fact that I can change the screen angle while resting the base of the machine on my legs. That lets me change my leg position regularly, and means I'm not having to hold my body or the hardware in a single position to get a clear view of the screen.

I also like that if I get bored, I can come over to metafilter and call someone stoopid..
posted by Ahab at 5:44 AM on January 5, 2011


Euphorb: Yes Apple's greatness is such that they caused Amazon to release a Kindle PC application in November 2009, a full two months before the iPad was even announced in January 2010. They are such a commanding presence that they can force other companies to completely upend their business strategy before they even announce a product. Such is the greatness of Steve Jobs that time and space are no barrier to his genius.

I acknowledge your point, but remember that Kindle had an iPad app pretty much ready to go when the iPad was launched. Given how slow they usually are (and how long it took them to launch the PC version, which people had been demanding for years), I think it's quite likely that Amazon knew months in advance what Apple was up to and reasoned that they had better change their model if they wanted to retain their top place in the soon-to-be-radically-changed market.
posted by Palquito at 6:00 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


You hear me, publishers? People would rather buy the damn e-books.

EXACTLY. This is why there's iTunes and the Amazon MP3 store and probably a dozen others I've never heard of. This is why I can rent movies from AppleTV or watch TV shows on Hulu Plus (if I wanted to pay for that one, which I don't.) I could screw around with Bittorrent (and, uh, my friend might do that to see Doctor Who before it's shown in the US) but I for the most part I don't want to bother. I don't want the risk of getting a nasty letter from my ISP and also I WANT to pay content creators. I'm a writer! My friends are writers! I want writers (and musicians etc etc) to get paid for their work! I believe that working artists are vital to a civilized society. I WANT TO PAY.

(Also? Publishers? Do you have any idea how stupid you are for not releasing out-of-print books as e-books? I was able to read an out-of-print book that I'd wanted to read for years because someone OCRd it. I'd have gladly paid for it. I wanted to pay for it. You won't let me. There's probably some really good reason that you don't want that money, and the author shouldn't get paid for that book I read, but I'll be damned if I can figure it out.)

To be fair, this is really a contractual issue. It's only been within the last few years that electronic rights have even been addressed in contracts; older books simply don't have the language. For books that have reverted back to their authors, it's a matter of converting the book into a format for e-readers, which from all accounts is a pain in the ass. Still, it's happening more. I see it often in genre fiction -- there are backlist sites for groups of SFF and romance authors.

The big stumbling block for me with e-books is the lend-ability issue. My wife bought Anathem via Google Books to read on her phone; which is great but she can't lend it to me so if I want to read it on my phone, I'd have to buy another copy.

I'm also irritated by the lending, as I mentioned above, but at least with the Kindle the account can be shared. My husband and I share a Kindle account and it's not a problem at all.
posted by sugarfish at 6:09 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd be interested to know what percentage of iPad owners who bought it (at least in part) for its e-book capabilities have actually read a single full length book on them.

I have a Kindle and my husband has an iPad. I don't think he's read an entire book (using the Kindle app) and it's because reading backlit screens sucks.

Funny. I just gave my wife my Kindle, which I wasn't using any more. When I first bought it, I used it all the time. But after I got an iPad and tried reading on it, I found I preferred it to the Kindle.

I'm a bit embarrassed, because I was a big e-ink evangelist, telling everyone how it was like reading ink on paper -- "so much better than reading pixels on a backlit screen." But then I discovered I preferred reading pixels on a backlit screen. I don't know what this says about me. I'm a programmer, so I look at text on backlit screens all day. Maybe my brain has just grown used to it.

In any case, what I prefer about the iPad is (a) the page is white, as opposed to the Kindle's dull gray, which I found depressing (and the fonts look crisper to me on the iPad, too). And (b), I can flip pages instantly. I feel a bit stupid saying that the Kindle was too slow for me, but I always did get a little irritated when I clicked the next-page button and then had to wait (I know, I know... just half a second) for the new page to appear. And if I wanted to flip back ten pages, it took so long I just wouldn't do it. That really sucked.

At first, I tried to tell myself that, if I was reading a physical book, it would take me half a second to turn a page with my fingers, during which I would have to stop reading. But I realized that's not true. With physical books, I unconsciously start to turn to the next page a little before I'm done reading the previous one, taking in the last few words as the page turns. Having done this for 40 years, it has become so fluid for me, I don't have a sense of pages. It's just one continuous text, like a scroll. So I didn't like the Kindle's way of forcing me to notice the fact that I've reached the end of a page. The iPad doesn't do that.

When I first bought the iPad, I got all excited about games and stuff like that. But I recently removed about 30 apps that I never used. For me, the iPad is almost exclusively for reading and watching videos. (I watch videos on it when I'm riding my exercise bike.) I've probably read over 100 books on it. Spoiled as I am, I get pissed off when I go to Amazon and see that I book I want is not available in Kindle format. So far, I've always bought the book anyway, but each time, a little voice in my head says, "Oh, just skip it. They clearly don't want you to buy it."

One thing that bugs me about e-books: I don't know how far I am from the end of the book while I'm reading. Sure, if I tap the right way on the iPad, I can see a sort of percent readout. But I have to consciously think to do that. When I'm reading a physical book, I'm always oriented by the bulk of pages left ahead of me. There's that delicious, bitter-sweet feeling when you can tell there are just a couple of pages left. It's like the music swelling near the end of a movie. A couple of times, while reading ebooks, I've thought I still had several chapters to go and then -- bang -- I was done. Disconcerting.

Also, I WISH there was some way that ebooks could give you printed paginations if you asked for them. It's irritating when a friend with a printed copy asks for a page number and I can't tell him.

I find it fascinating how my bookish friends and I are split when it comes to e-books. We're all middle class and can all afford the readers. So the split has nothing to do with money. But some my friends are romantic about printed books: the smell, the feel, etc. To be honest, I am too. I will miss those things if they go, just as I missed LP album covers for a while. But, in the end, for me the real romance is the content. The cover of "Wuthering Heights" matters to me when I'm in the bookstore and when I first sit down to read the book. But once I'm into it, I don't give the book a thought. I'm too busy thinking about Heathcliff. So, with a little sadness, I'm willing to live without the physical pleasures, because ebooks allow me to read so much more conveniently. I've probably doubled the amount of reading I do since I started reading ebooks.

Sometimes I wish I had a child, so that, on his birthday, I could give him a Kindle or iPad with 100 books already on it and a gift certificate so that he could buy more for himself.
posted by grumblebee at 6:29 AM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Are there any e-readers that have/preserve illustrations?

Maybe I misunderstand what you mean, but don't they all do this? Both my Kindle and iPad show illustrations, the iPad in color.
posted by grumblebee at 6:35 AM on January 5, 2011


Not to get all subversive, but what prevents somebody from writing a script that takes screen snapshots of every page, chops 'em down in Photoshop, exports as a PDF, and stitches it all together? With page numbers of course.

(I'm sorry, but the lack of page numbers is so annoying that I might write this script myself just to have them.)
posted by iamkimiam at 6:36 AM on January 5, 2011


The Kindle is the de facto standard for e-readers.

Perhaps, but they are seriously fucking up by not playing nice with epub books - which is what almost all public libraries are making available to their patrons. I don't know how many calls my library system gets a week that goes something like this-

"Hi, I just bought a Kindle, and I was wondering if you could help me with the Overdrive software. It doesn't seem to work."

"No, unfortunately, the Kindle will not work with Overdrive....."

"Oh. Well, which eReader do they work with?"

"Almost anything but a Kindle."
posted by bradth27 at 6:54 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Perhaps, but they are seriously fucking up by not playing nice with epub books - which is what almost all public libraries are making available to their patrons.

This is the exact reason I went with a nook rather than a Kindle. I just wish there was a way you could get books directly from the library website, rather than having to download them to a computer and then transfer them over to the nook.
posted by Lucinda at 7:00 AM on January 5, 2011


Not to get all subversive, but what prevents somebody from writing a script that takes screen snapshots of every page, chops 'em down in Photoshop, exports as a PDF, and stitches it all together?

Sounds like the analog hole, minus the analog.

Funny about the author here mentioning his start on the Palm platform. I recently got a Kindle and spent a few hours trying to convert/de-DRM some ancient Palm format ebooks to read on the thing.
posted by exogenous at 7:05 AM on January 5, 2011


I just wish there was a way you could get books directly from the library website, rather than having to download them to a computer and then transfer them over to the nook.

I believe Overdrive is working on this now.... I know that it WILL do just that on my droid, and it bothers me that it will not download directly to the Nook as well.
posted by bradth27 at 7:16 AM on January 5, 2011


Perhaps, but they are seriously fucking up by not playing nice with epub books -

This is true, fortunately, being a bit of an e-reader geek, I also have a Sony Reader. Sony has dropped their DRM scheme in favor of ePub/ADE which works with Overdrive. ePub support would be great for Kindle owners but...then they would be able to buy books from B&N, Sony, Kobo and others. Kinda hard to maintain a "walled garden" when you leave the gate wide open.
posted by MikeMc at 7:21 AM on January 5, 2011


I have an ebook reader, which I very much love, but it's got limited use. It's ideal for vacations -- but not beach vacations, my favourite type, because I cannot read it in the water. It's great to carry in my purse, it's nice to have lots of options of what to read -- but a book that I cannot easily lend, resell, or take in the bath is not worth as much money to me as a physical book.

I have read on my phone and ipod touch -- it's particularly useful to sneak into the bathroom at work, but otherwise too small to read conveniently. I find the screen distractingly bright at night, though I am less distractable than I worried I would be.

I, too, would be ecstatic to have a library that had Overdrive (mine has it only for audiobooks, it serves a fairly elderly population) -- I'd be very willing to pay 100-200/year for just an Overdrive subscription. I doubt that my reading habits will move more towards ebooks until I can borrow them -- over 90% of my reading is from the library or borrowed from people.
posted by jeather at 7:22 AM on January 5, 2011


He makes a common "medium is the message" mistake, associating "e-book" with "e-reader" .

Um, he takes great pains on page two to address this very point,and finishes the page with the observation that "Clearly, there are devices, both portable and stationary, from which people have proven that they are willing and able to read large volumes of text and (in the case of portables) carry with them nearly every waking moment. And yet, when it comes time to consider investing in something called "e-books," there is an immediate context switch in the minds of customers and they begin fretting over the real or imagined failings of the dedicated devices that purport to embody this concept."
posted by Neiltupper at 7:26 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


exogenous: "Sounds like the analog hole, minus the analog."

Ha, neat! I learn something new from you people every day.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:31 AM on January 5, 2011


The last physical book I bought in a real bookstore was a coffee table art book.

I bought about three dozen "real" books (time to resurrect "codex," eh?) over December alone. Two or three I bought from Barnes & Nobles, a few more I bought through Amazon; the rest I bought from used book stores or thrift stores. I buy most of my books used; if it's a specific title I can't find used, I usually buy it from Amazon, indie new book stores having gone to their rest in these parts. I have maybe a dozen or so books on pdf, mostly reference works. To me, E-readers seem most suited to ephemeral publications (periodicals, pulp fiction, comics, etc) or very out-of-print items (old ephemera, centuries-old publications, etc.) and if/when I buy an iPad, that's probably what I'll read on it. But I don't expect that I'll buy fewer codices when that happens.

The rise of the tablet computer will be the death knell of the traditional book.

Just like movies killed stage theater, video killed movies, and cds/iTunes killed vinyl records, right? Maybe codices and all those other formats will disappear come the Singularity, but I don't think they're going anywhere soon.

(Speaking of books, Republican National Committee candidates name their favorite books. Is our children learning?)
posted by octobersurprise at 7:40 AM on January 5, 2011


Hey Amazon! if you are reading this please hire user "taz" and pay attention to them. if you do i will purchase one (1) kindle for personal use* and if you look at my purchase history you'll see that i spend foolishly on books so honestly you should give me a free one anyway

* even though android phone + alkido ebook reader is pretty rad
posted by jtron at 7:54 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I honestly don't see standalone devices lasting forever. E-reading will get folded into devices like the iPad."

That would probably be the point where I go back to paper. I have attempted e-reading for at least a decade on monitors, PDAs etc and I could never finish a novel. E-Ink was a revelation to me, this is what electronic reading should be. A device that mimics ink on paper and offers a distraction free reading experience. I have never been able to read blocks of texts for hours straight on a back-lit device not mention that if Angry Birds or a web browser are just a couple of finger taps away I'm not strong enough to resist.
posted by MikeMc at 8:11 AM on January 5, 2011


I got a Kindle 3 for xmas after having used the Kindle reader on my laptop for the past 7-8 months. Barring a few teething technical issues (the battery and several failures to reset) I'm quite pleased with it. As of now it's got about a hundred AZW and MOBI format books, TXT and PDF files of random crap that I read or need to carry and a few mp3s for me to listen to should I leave my other three music playing devices behind when I leave the house. It is also perfectly capable of displaying images in those books that had them in the first place.

I'd love it more if it had a touchscreen and could read any file type, I'd love it more if it were a colour screen and had a simplified zoom function so I could read comics on it (basically I would love an iPad...) but for the price it can't be beat. I love the ability to buy books on the move and I'm pretty good at finding bargains.

I'm not impressed by the battery at the moment - I suspect mine is just a poor one but I've been lucky to get more than two days usage out of it (even with wireless switched off).

My only other complaint is that a lot of the books that are available are (generally) a big old pile of wank. I'm sure a hefty percentage of Kindle owners out there actually like Stephen King and James Patterson but I have terrible trouble finding about 75% of the books I am after in an ebook format. It doesn't help that I read a lot of ridiculous stuff and I will admit that I've been lucky with some obscure titles but I'm pretty certain that from this point onwards the only books I will actually need to have physically will be those that simply are not possible to format for an ebook reader.
posted by longbaugh at 8:11 AM on January 5, 2011


longbaugh, check this regarding battery life with a new Kindle
posted by exogenous at 8:21 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I'm not impressed by the battery at the moment - I suspect mine is just a poor one but I've been lucky to get more than two days usage out of it (even with wireless switched off)."

The battery should last for weeks you should return your unit and have Amazon send you a replacement.
posted by MikeMc at 8:23 AM on January 5, 2011


... if this is happening with a bibliophile like me, the shift toward e-books is happening before our very eyes and so seamlessly that before we know it they will have become the main entry point for many people's reading habits.

A few months ago I developed a hankering for a 1982 miniseries tie-in edition of Nicholas Nickleby. Once I might have driven around to used bookstores looking for it. Instead I just bought a copy on eBay. I like looking at it.

But yesterday it occurred to me that if I ever get around to actually reading the text, I'll almost certainly use the Project Gutenberg .epub on my iPhone*. With me everywhere, instant place-saving, yada yada.

And I shuddered a bit at the onrushing future. LPs were around for a long time, but books were around for a really long time. I'll miss them. A bit.

* Even if I insisted on e-ink - with which I still have concerns about contrast and speed - I would not buy a Kindle. No support for the industry standard format? Ha ha, no thanks.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:28 AM on January 5, 2011


Libraries have existed for well over 2000 years, they are a hallmark of civilization.

Public libraries, which anyone can walk into and borrow a book and take it home to read? No, those are pretty fucking recent. Hallmark of civilization? Sure, for the extremely wealthy who could afford to learn to read, and could afford access to books. Until very, very recently, access to books was limited to only a handful of the richest people in the world. And even today, as you seem to be willfully ignoring, the kind of extensive public library system you're so fond of is paid for by the taxes on one of the wealthiest countries to have ever existed.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:31 AM on January 5, 2011


Thanks for that exogenous - I'm at work right now but I'll give it a shot later tonight. Appreciate the heads up on the indexing - I actually added a metric shitload last night so that would certainly explain things...
posted by longbaugh at 8:35 AM on January 5, 2011


I would not buy a Kindle. No support for the industry standard format? Ha ha, no thanks.

You can easily add industry standard public domain ebooks using Calibre (which I highly recommend for managing a Kindle) - the problem is with DRMed ebooks.
posted by exogenous at 8:37 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


r_nebblesworthII: Are there any e-readers that have/preserve illustrations?

From the answers in this AskMe thread (the first Google search result for kindle illustrations, which made me smile), it depends more on the edition of the e-book than the e-reader.

grumblebee: I WISH there was some way that ebooks could give you printed paginations if you asked for them. It's irritating when a friend with a printed copy asks for a page number and I can't tell him.

The problem then becomes, which edition does your friend have? Sure, you could get the general location for a book of roughly the same pagecount, but then you're probably as good as checking by chapter.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:38 AM on January 5, 2011


Taz:

"Do you have any idea how stupid you are for not releasing out-of-print books as e-books?"

In a very large percentage of cases where books are out of print, the publisher does not own the electronic rights to the books -- or often, any rights to the books any more, since there are often reversion clauses when return the rights to the author in the case of the books going out of print.

So it's not a matter of them being stupid, it's a matter of them not violating the copyright of the author. Which is, in fact, smart.

In a more general sense, as an author, my take on eBooks is pretty simple: You want to read my book in electronic form? But you're still willing to pay me for it? Groovy, here you go. There are fiddly practical considerations at play (for example, contractual issues, one of which was specified above), but overall I'm happy to have people read what I write, however they want to read it.
posted by jscalzi at 8:39 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


You can easily add industry standard public domain ebooks using Calibre

Yes. But I would resent the necessity.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:40 AM on January 5, 2011


I think it's an attention span issue for me. If I lock myself in a computer-less room I can vanish into a book for hours.

If I'm sitting in front of an electronic device that can do things OTHER than read that particular book I'll end up skimming, skipping ahead, multi-tasking, checking the internet, or whatever.

But hey. I don't expect the powers at work to care about that kind of thing. They're probably out funding studies to prove that kids can multi-task better than ever, and learn best while watching pepsi commercials or something.

I'm at peace with the idea of being a weird, cantankerous old bastard that hauls books around while everyone else is streaming media directly into their optical nerve or something.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:42 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes. But I would resent the necessity.

The necessity of using third-party software? Funny, I would resent a necessity of being forced to use Amazon's techniques for adding books to the hardware I own!
posted by exogenous at 8:52 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've just remembered a couple of other things that piddle me off about Amazon and that is that I cannot purchase Kindle ebooks from a wish list and that if I do send them a "I'd love to read this on my Kindle please motherfiddlers" message I get no feedback as to whether this has been added at a later date. If I'm signed in to my account and I say "Add this one!" it's not a big deal for them to let me know if it's been done. Otherwise I have to manually check through the ~2500 print books in my other wish list to see if it's been updated.

Anyway. No more moaning. I'm going to try and stick some Calvin and Hobbes on it tonight as well because why the hell not.
posted by longbaugh at 8:57 AM on January 5, 2011


Stagger: ...while everyone else is streaming media directly into their optical nerve or something.

Look. At the risk of sounding tiresome (and preaching to a fellow Literary Luddite). Can we just, you know like understand that printed books are going nowhere. E-books are simply another delivery content channel/stream/platform. Period. And they will eat themselves, because they're all moving towards multimedia. That's not literature. That's something else. Yeah, you can read a book on them and download stuff instantly, but for fucks sake. It is not the experience of reading a book for a hours and losing yourself in the thoughts and images and beauty, or ugliness, or whatever it may be it evokes that happens in one's mind.

Kindle, and it's cousins are a HUGE case of the emperor's new clothes. Amazon has been pretending they have a huge ground-breaking device since it came out, yet they still, refuse to release numbers on what the sales actually have been, and I find that deeply deceptive and untrustworthy. They may have a multimedia device on their hands, but they do not have a new paradigm that will replace the printed word. People who read the Kindle and its retarded cousin devices look foolish in public.

Look at internet TV. It's a repeated failure because it's simply, NOT TV. That is a certain type of medium that has it's own thing going. Sure, there's a thrill to the instant download. Who doesn't love that, but at the end of the day a multimedia presentation of a book is a movie, not a book.

A printed book is something special. It has lasted through the ages. TV didn't replace the movies. E-book readers are not going to replace printed books. Just another channel. Period. I hope everyone, the authors especially (Not Amazon, who still can take your books away at the blink of an eye if it wants, anyhow they're a department store really..) become multi-millionaires, but serious reading is always going to require a book and when the Amazon sponsored Fahrenheit 451 Firemen, come for my books, they better come armed to the teeth.

Reading an E-Book, for serious literature is like going down on a plastic robot. It's just wrong. Not only that, you get electric shocks from trying it. Ewww.

Jeff Bezos might dig that, but then he obviously is a sorry excuse for a Capitalist and a freak.


/End of semi-serious Humanist Bravado Rant (tm.)
posted by Skygazer at 9:11 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Until very, very recently, access to books was limited to only a handful of the richest people in the world.

For some value of "very, very recently," some value of "access to books," and some value of "richest people in the world."

I mean, printing in the west is coming up on its 600th birthday; popularly available printed material such as chapbooks, broadsides, vernacular bibles and such have circulated in the west for the better part of 500 years or so; widespread access to large numbers of books for the educated classes in the west has been available at least 400 years, let's say; in the west, the steam-driven press, use of cheap (wood pulp) paper, and rising rates of literacy which accompanied/drove the 19th century printing explosion are all about 150-200 old; and widespread access to free libraries is, we'll say, about a century old. (Mass-market paperbacks come in #1 with a bullet at about 80 years old.)

A nice copy of The Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) looks like it was printed yesterday. A copy of a 19th century popular edition of a popular author usually looks like shit, even if its been cared for and is probably dust if it hasn't. Millions of early 20th century paperbacks will be gone in another half century or so even if they are handled with care. Most of us don't even bother trying to read CD-ROMs that were produced just 10 or 15 years ago.

It's a funny old world.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:16 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not to get all subversive, but what prevents somebody from writing a script that takes screen snapshots of every page, chops 'em down in Photoshop, exports as a PDF, and stitches it all together? With page numbers of course.


Nothing, but the end product will have some limitations.
[1] A typical ePub format eBook has a size of about 200k. A PDF of screen snapshots of the same book will be about 8,000k (i.e., taking up the space of 40 ePub books)
[2] Most eBook readers can do word searches to find occurrences of the word in the text. You cannot do that with a PDF of snapshots.
[3] Most eBook readers allow you to select an unfamiliar word and look up the dictionary definition. You cannot do that with a PDF of snapshots.
[4] Most eBook readers support clickable footnotes, so you can jump to the footnote then return to the text. You cannot do that with a PDF of snapshots.
[5] Most eBook readers support a table of contents, allowing one to jump to a specific chapter. You cannot do that with a PDF of snapshots.
[6] But most important of all, PDFs do not work well on eBook readers. This is because PDF is a page description format, which means it is resistant to re-flowing the text to match the screen size.
And it is impossible to re-flow the text if you have a PDF of snapshots. This means you will be faced with a choice: have the entire page on the screen but so shrunken that you cannot read it, or have the image large enough to read but be forced to constantly scroll left-right-up-and down to view the page.
posted by Nyrath at 9:27 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


AElfwine Evenstar: "When does the pc version of the ipad come out so I can start reading my ebooks on a cool looking, PADD like device"

You know what's funny? Just before Xmas I took a spin thru the EMP/SF museum, and in one of the cases there was a TNG PADD. It was the exact size and shape of the iPad.
posted by mwhybark at 9:28 AM on January 5, 2011


It is not the experience of reading a book for a hours and losing yourself in the thoughts and images and beauty, or ugliness, or whatever it may be it evokes that happens in one's mind.
I agree -- books aren't going to entirely disappear -- but I have managed to, despite thinking it could never happen, read a book straight through for hours on end on an ereader. Just a plain ordinary novel.

People who read the Kindle and its cousin devices look foolish in public.
Maybe to you, but in general, I don't really think people reading in public, using electronic devices in public (except those who Skype in a cafe -- assholes), or doing some combination of the two look any more foolish than anyone else. I do regret that I cannot see what they are reading, as I have found interesting books by scanning covers on public transit, but that's about it.

Who doesn't love that, but at the end of the day a multimedia presentation of a book is a movie, not a book.
Most ebooks are not multimedia.
posted by jeather at 9:29 AM on January 5, 2011


Most ebooks are not multimedia.

They will be. Because they can't help it. Amazon's going to put out a netbook and a laptop and they'll be spin off's of the Kindle. I am 100% sure of this. Why you ask?

Cos I'm bloody effin' psychic.
posted by Skygazer at 9:41 AM on January 5, 2011


Most of my thoughts on e-books have been addressed by other commenters, but I just wanted to mention one use that has saved me piles of cash. For the record, I still mostly read printed books, but I have an iPad loaded with a bunch of common reader apps including Kindle, Nook, and Stanza, and I have read several books all the way through on them. I've also read a few books simultaneously in print and on the iPad because of travel, sand... etc.

But here's what I've liked best. I'm a sucker for cover art. I have wasted many many dollars on crappy books that seduced me with their covers. Even hardcovers. I have very poor impulse control in bookstores. But recently, I've started to download the free previews from the ebook store instead of just buying the book. They're usually a few chapters, which is more than I have the patience to read standing in the aisle at the bookstore, and once you get to the end of the preview, it's (of course) very easy to buy the whole book and keep going. I've discovered several great books and avoided several dogs this way. I'm sure someone is already working on an app that downloads the preview automatically when you take a picture of the book. (I'm sure someone is going to tell me the name of that app, which inevitably already exists, in the next few comments.)

One other ebook note - I recently bought a hardcover of a book from Baen publishing in a long running series that I really enjoy. Included with the book was a cd that included not only an e-book version of that book, but also every other book in the series, essays from the author, and some companion literature. I should note that all of these were offered in multiple formats including pdf and epub. This was a revelation to me. I hope other publishers do something similar. If nothing else, the opportunity to get a digital version of a book along with the hardcover would induce me to continue to buy hardcovers for a while.

Baen also has a pretty extensive library of free books available on their site. Many of them are series books, or from authors with pretty extensive catalogs so in a way it's just more marketing for their back catalog. Read a free ebook, get hooked on a series, buy the rest of it.

I definitely agree with the idea that e-books are beginning to come of age, and I look forward to a future with a healthy mix of printed and digital options.
posted by Noon Under the Trees at 9:48 AM on January 5, 2011


Amazon's going to put out a netbook and a laptop and they'll be spin off's of the Kindle. I am 100% sure of this.

I 100% doubt it. The Kindle is extremely specially optimized to serve as a reader. It does a handful of other things, but not particularly well, and basically the only major, unique selling point for the device is its display technology and the single-mindedness of purpose in its design.

As someone up-thread said: "It really is like reading off paper." Or at least, as much like it as any tech currently out there. I read Vonnegut's Slapstick in one sitting on the one I got for Christmas. At times, I forgot I was reading on an eReader. It started to feel like reading a pulp paperback pretty quickly for me.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:50 AM on January 5, 2011


Meanwhile, it looks like Borders is on the verge of bankruptcy.

I'll be really depressed if Borders goes. My feelings about most retail experiences ranges from mild disdain to a sort of depressed, but Borders is one of the few that's not only pleasant for me but approaches the status of third place in my mind. I genuinely enjoy going to hang out there and occasionally buy books and other things there I wouldn't have to just for the reason I appreciate their store. I also think they've done a fantastic job with certain things recently -- the Border's Rewards program reliably gives me access to purchase prices competitive with Amazon's and their various shipping options (to the store or to your do) provide a lot of flexibility, particularly if you travel.

That said, if ebooks are a significant part of future revenue, I can kindof see why they're in trouble. Most of their e-readers aren't cost / feature competitive and are kindof lumpy. All their display units seem to be fiddly, slow, or outright broken. Their people don't seem to know the tech like B&N's people seem to know the Nook (probably as a consequence of the fragmented product line). And they don't seem to have really communicated (or perhaps even thought out) where the revenue from various electronic purchases goes as far as the store goes.

They have an awfully big gap to close in terms of product development and marketing, not to mention polish on the experience, if they want to compete here. I'm worried they can't do it.
posted by weston at 9:54 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading an E-Book, for serious literature is like going down on a plastic robot.

Can you explain? I read "serious literature" on my iPad all the time. For instance, I regularly read Shakespeare plays on it. When I was last reading "King Lear," and he disowned Cordelia, I got that same sad feeling I get when I read it in print. In fact, an hour later, if you'd asked me whether I'd read that scene in print or on a screen, I would have had to think for a second before answering you. And then, I would have said, "On a screen. But can we talk about Cordelia, instead"?

People who read the Kindle and its cousin devices look foolish in public.

Where do you live? If you live where I do (NYC), you must think hundreds of people look foolish. I ride the subway at least twice a day, and at least half the people are staring at iPads, Kindles, Nooks, droids, etc. It's so common, I don't even notice it. Finding people like that foolish would be like finding people with shoes foolish.
posted by grumblebee at 9:58 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"People who read the Kindle and its retarded cousin devices look foolish in public."

Really? Why do you feel so threatened by electronic reading devices? As to the sales numbers I'll repeat what I said earlier; how does Amazon benefit from providing exact numbers? What's the payoff other than giving competitors a yardstick to measure themselves against?
posted by MikeMc at 10:05 AM on January 5, 2011


I'm a sucker for cover art.

Me too. Another reason to pirate.

The publisher's book jacket for Henrietta Lacks is fugly. I made a nicer one for my .epub file. Couldn't have done that for the Kindle edition without jailbreaking futzes.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:11 AM on January 5, 2011


Reading an E-Book, for serious literature is like going down on a plastic robot.

Really not sure what you mean by this. My Kindle is chock full of literature that would be considered to be "serious" including some really, really super-specific educational texts that actually physically hurt your brain if you've not got a background in the subject. Some ebooks are srs bsns.

Also, as a fan of Frank Zappa the idea of fellating a plastic robot makes me think of the miniature rubberised homo-replica that looks like a magical pig with marital aids stuck all over it from Joe's Garage. So now I'm going to have to listen to that. Thanks!
posted by longbaugh at 10:21 AM on January 5, 2011


re: Skygazer

Look. At the risk of sounding tiresome (and preaching to a fellow Literary Luddite). Can we just, you know like understand that printed books are going nowhere.

I think that we can expect the publishing industry to change. I'm not necessarily opposed to that either, as long as the price of paper books doesn't go up too much. Some genres might make the move easier than others - I'm thinking certain kinds of reference manuals, and possibly some of the more pulpier flavors of fiction.

I've often wondered why short stories aren't becoming more publishable yet. I understand why book publishers don't like them, but I'd expect them to work better than novels for readers.
Conversely, so far, I haven't been impressed with episodic comment.

Somehow the idea of embedded media, hyperlink footnotes or choose your own adventure style links just doesn't do it for me. :) But at least they'd be trying to work in their own medium.

Anyway, I guess the point is... the industry will almost definitely change, and that's probably not a bad thing. And maybe when they release A Tale of Two Cities as interactive fiction I'll go buy a reader. But I'll always love books, and I don't think they're going to go anywhere, although the availability and price may not be what we're accustomed to.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:39 AM on January 5, 2011


That should read "episodic content." Not "comment."
My kingdom for an edit button.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:40 AM on January 5, 2011


I've often wondered why short stories aren't becoming more publishable yet. I understand why book publishers don't like them, but I'd expect them to work better than novels for readers.

It is -- in the romance genre. I've started writing gay romance as a kind of hobby/for pin money (and let me tell you, it doesn't buy a whole helluva lot of pins, but that's partly my fault too, for various reasons), and so far I've only sold short stories and novellas. All e-book only, and it's not quite free to publishers, but the number of Romance e- or mostly e-publishers springing up is amazing.

Perhaps this is the equivalent to porn keeping new forms of video alive until the rest of the culture catches up to it?
posted by kalimac at 12:18 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Re: oral sex with a robot.


So this comment is coming from a color Nook device at a
BnN (14th Union Sq. NYC) and. T his thing desperately needs a trackball. Argh. WTF.

This being the ereader I might buy and it's really a mini ipad. It's heavy and metallic and hot. And not a good hot, anele tronicy hot. Its gross. I could never read this inbed. Id rather maketoaxt with it....

To be continued.
posted by Skygazer at 12:25 PM on January 5, 2011


One thing that bugs me about e-books: I don't know how far I am from the end of the book while I'm reading.

The Kindle addresses this with a little meter on the bottom. There's even a visual reference to how far you've read in a book on the home screen, like a little bookmark stuck in it.

I can totally see how the iPad would be superior for you. My problem with it is that I really can't read novels on a screen. When I read a lot of text on a website, my eyes jump around in a different way to avoid eye strain, and the eye strain is still inevitable after reading something for more than half an hour. This might be a problem more with stationary screens than something like the iPad, though.

It's heavy and metallic and hot. And not a good hot, anele tronicy hot. Its gross.

Try looking at an e-ink device. They don't even get warm and are lighter than most books.
posted by girih knot at 4:48 PM on January 5, 2011


Yeah, I tried the e-ink Nook as well, and found the button for turning the pages, although I did sorta get into the book the B&N Nook genius (like Apple store people) guy brought up for me (Portia De Rossi's Lightness and Being, which as about her off the charts insane obsession with her weight and subsequent anorexia...).

It was indeed much lighter and friendly, but I still felt that all the buttons got in the way of simply reading. I also downloaded a book onto my Android (Wordplayer - Oliver Twist) and even there I found myself fussing spending half the time to get the display and page turning settings just so.

If B&N can get a track ball on the Color Nook I'd go for that as a portable web device to double as a textbook or magazine reader somewhat, But I'm still going to need real books to supplement it. I have a feeling the Kindle e-ink reader is probably the champ usability wise, but I still don't want to support Amazon in that regard until the offer DRM-free books and there is absolutely no chance and no ability for them to wipe the book. Also artwork. Lots of it. No reason they can't give you a nice beautiful color JPG or something.

Anyhow, that was my little unscientific research for the day.

Back in 1995, being in sort of a tech advanced job, someone asked me what would happen to print books, and my thought was that the perfect book would be a book with paper type pages that turned and nice hardcovers and it could take on the words and art of any book on the fly with very little difference for the user. The pages would generate the words and the back and front could hold a clolor image and title. All that was necessary was a plug to your computer or memory chip.

That's the ultimate e-book. And once the technology is available to do that, and I don't see it taking tha tlong, the Kindle and the Nook will look like the primitive clunky devices they are.
posted by Skygazer at 5:27 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think I am the author's intended audience -- I already read all of my novels on an iPod, after being introduced to ebooks very successfully by the free ereader.com program and sample books on my old palm z22.

For people who want to buy books, and have less evil DRM, ereader.com was great. The DRM was not server-based, and you could Share the files so long as you put in the code (your credit card number). I recently "lent" my parents-in-law a set of books I bought on ereader to read on their own iPods. I don't know if fictionwise will continue that DRM method, but I'll be a customer if they do.

That said, whoever claimed upthread that e-ink is inherently better than backlit screens is as silly as someone who claims that vanilla ice-cream is inherently better than chocolate. I love reading on a backlit screen, it's wonderful. I walk down a dark road reading my book. Sure, I bump into telephone poles, but I still can read my book.
posted by jb at 5:33 PM on January 5, 2011


Also artwork. Lots of it. No reason they can't give you a nice beautiful color JPG or something.

Well. Yeah, there is. Color e-ink is just now being released, so the current devices are only black and white. It probably won't be long before all the devices are color, but currently they aren't.

That said, whoever claimed upthread that e-ink is inherently better than backlit screens is as silly as someone who claims that vanilla ice-cream is inherently better than chocolate.

My implication that e-ink is inherently better is only based on the fact that it reads like real ink. I can't read novels on a screen because of eyestrain, so e-ink will always be superior to me.

I am quite concerned that people won't know or care to learn the difference between e-ink and a screen. E-ink does feel slow and clunky comparatively. It's not meant to replace screens, but as a digital replacement for paper books, it's fantastic.
posted by girih knot at 5:57 PM on January 5, 2011


My problem with it is that I really can't read novels on a screen. When I read a lot of text on a website, my eyes jump around in a different way to avoid eye strain, and the eye strain is still inevitable after reading something for more than half an hour.

Your eye-strain is almost certainly not due to reading on a backlit screen, unless you have a really old monitor with crappy refresh rates. It's possible due to something about the designs of the websites you're looking at (font size? widths of lines?). But most likely, the ambient lighting in whatever room you're in when you read on a monitor is sucky for reading. I'm betting that when you curl up with your Kindle, you're under a strong lamp. You'd also be under that lamp with an iPad.

I read with a Kindle for a year and then switched to an iPad. No difference in eye-strain. But I often get eye-strain at work, when I'm using my Mac. My office is dark.

On eye-strain: "the science does not yet support the idea that backlit digital displays are bad for your eyes, said Ivan Schwab, a professor of ophthalmology at UC Davis. The idea that computer screens cause eyestrain 'is more hearsay and anecdotal,' he said."

And: "Dr. Mark Hornfeld, who has a practice in Manhattan ... [said a] backlit or nonbacklit display doesn't make a difference... And if you're reading a bright screen in the dark, your eyes will adjust. Your pupil gets large in the dark, so when you turn on a brightly lit display, it may bother your eyes at first, but they'll compensate. It's like when you wake up in the morning, open the shades, and are blinded by the light at first. But then you get used to it. ...Hornfeld says that today's LCD screens aren't going to give you eyestrain. That said, some people simply like the way e-ink appears on the page, and some prefer how the iPad displays text. It's an aesthetic issue more than anything else. In other words, you can simply be averse to one screen or another--but that doesn't mean it will give you eyestrain."

And: "First of all: doctors say that reading on a screen won’t cause any harm.

"'Most of what our mothers told us about our eyes was wrong,' said Dr. Travis Meredith, chair of the ophthalmology department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 'Sitting close to a television, or computer screen, isn’t bad for our eyes. It’s a variety of other factors that can cause physical fatigue.'

"...Michael Bove, director of the Consumer Electronics Laboratory at the M.I.T. Media Lab, says different screens make sense for different purposes.

"'It depends on the viewing circumstances, including the software and typography on the screen,' said Mr. Bove. 'Right now E Ink is great in sunlight, but in certain situations, a piece of paper can be a better display than E Ink, and in dim light, an LCD display can be better than all of these technologies.'

"...Professor Alan Hedge, director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University, said that reducing eye fatigue is less a matter of choosing a specific display than of taking short breaks from looking at the screen."

"...Today’s screens are definitely less tiring to look at than older displays, which refreshed the image much less frequently, causing a flicker. Carl Taussig, director of Hewlett-Packard’s Information Surfaces Lab, said the 120 Hz refresh rate typical of modern screens is much quicker than our eyes can even see.

"'The new LCDs don’t affect your eyes,' Mr. Taussig said. 'Today’s screens update every eight milliseconds, whereas the human eye is moving at a speed between 10 and 30 milliseconds.'"
posted by grumblebee at 6:50 PM on January 5, 2011


I have extreme myopia and have had iritis, an inflamation of the eye which has led me to have poor nightvision and low light vision. I am reading (and posting to) this thread from my iPod, and then will flip to my novel. And if I have any trouble, it will be because the book isn't very interesting.

All of us have just read a 100+ comment thread, all on backlit screens -- unless someone is reading metafilter on a kindle? I read as many words, if not more, from the Internet everyday as I do from offline material, and I'm not that heavy an Internet reader (don't blog or journal). Everyday people are reading on backlit screens, but don't even think about this because it's not offline text and not called a "book", though it may be just as wordy (metafilter is still mostly text, thank god).

I respect that there may be some people who, because of their particular eye condition, prefer e-ink. I also know a low-sight person (aka blind) who cannot see well enough to read e-ink, but who was excited about the potential of an iPad to display very large, backlit text against a black background, hoping she might be able to read text novels again. (Sadly the ebook programs we tried didn't have large enough fonts -- the screen was fine, but the programmers didn't provide for 72pt or more).

Like I said, it's like debating chocolate versus vanilla. You might prefer one, but insisting that others should agree with you is just silly. For us, your bug is a feature.
posted by jb at 7:48 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


In a very large percentage of cases where books are out of print, the publisher does not own the electronic rights to the books -- or often, any rights to the books any more, since there are often reversion clauses when return the rights to the author in the case of the books going out of print.

This, to me, screams the need for some sort of compulsory licence scheme. Want to read a book? Great, if they offer it in your market (country) at all, the publisher MUST make it available to you under certain generic conditions: unrestricted rights of access (no exclusivity deals), first sale rights, lending rights, common electronic format. They can dictate price, of course, perhaps even the use of DRM and some ancillary usage rights (eg text-to-speech). The required licence would enforce basic usage rights and terms, as well as defining a common format.

I'm a constant reader, often three or four books a week, for going on four decades now. I buy almost everything I read. This Christmas I must have given away a few hundred dollars in books. I buy dozens of technical books (at $100+ each) for work each year. I'd love to free myself of all the shelves of books I have at home and work, not to mention many the boxes in storage. I'd love to have one device with my library on it.

For now, I do not own a reader and continue to tell my friends and family not to bother with them. Those that do often report being frustrated with the non-technical limitations, to the point of not using the devices after a few weeks or months: not being able to lend or borrow, items being unavailable for purchase because of rights issues, non-interchangeable formats, etc...

The publishers, the authors and the distributors continue to be long in their ablility to fuck up and very short in their ability to deliver value to potential buyers. There's no guarantee that any DRM service will be around in even six months (how many music DRM services have been turn off now? Microsoft has ditched at least two right?). Formats are a mess. Contracts are even worse, each publisher, each author, even each book having it's own special terms (no audio book on this one, no ebook in your country for that). Some technical publisher do this right, offering documents in pdfs, particularly for reference work, but there's (almost) no fiction publishers that seem to understand why assuming that their customers are all dirty, filthy copyright infringers whose licences must be restricted in every possible way.

I continue to hope that something like the Google books settlement will shake this out. I know a lot of authors hate it and a lot of publishers too, but fuck me if they haven't brought this on their own heads. Look at the mess they've made of the market, actively inhibiting electronic book sales for going on 15 years now. Someone, maybe Google, maybe governments, probably both, needs to drag all of these fuckers into the electronic age. They certainly don't seem capable of doing it themselves.
posted by bonehead at 8:37 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Except for a few of my old beloved books from my younger days and a few nice author-signed copies (got one of jscalzi's original Agent To The Stars hardback, as well as Asimov's The Caves Of Steel, for instance), I'm in the process of vigorously replacing as many of my paper books as possible as rapidly as possible with iPad Kindle App or iBooks versions. (Mostly Kindle app versions - sorry Steve - and I think making a Kindle App for iPad and now pretty much everything else will prove to the the smartest thing Amazon has ever done apart from their founding initial business model.)

Why? With those few exceptions, most of my books are mass-market paperbacks that are mostly in beat-to-hell shape and they're just taking up too many cubes in our apartment. They're not valuable, they're not a legacy to my descendants... most of them are easy to find and buy again, if I really need the paper version for some reason.

I'm actually pretty frustrated by the process, since a lot of my paper books are not yet available thru the e-stores. Amazon and Apple would be making a lot more of my money if they were, not that they're not doing pretty well from me already. I spend a minimum of $30 a month, sometimes as much as $100.

Also, I really love reading on the iPad. Eyestrain is not a problem when you can enlarge the type and comfortably adjust the brightness and contrast. I've been waiting to do this kind of thing since I saw Lt. Gary Mitchell reading on the screen in Sickbay in "Where No Man Has Gone Before," somewhere about 1971 or so, so maybe I'm an outlier, but come on, it's the friggin' 21st Century already. We're not living on the moon, we don't have our flying cars and shiny silver clothes, but right here, this tablet thing in my hand, is A Piece Of That Sci-Fi Future I Wanted To Live In. I'm taking what I can get, dammit, and I'm deliriously pleased with it.

I think at some point it's just flat out going to become economically unfeasible to publish mass-market books on paper anymore. It's already starting to go that way for magazines (I also started reading WIRED again because it's on the iPad), and don't even get me started on comic books. I just grabbed Zub's Skullkickers via the ComiXology app and it looks friggin' fantastic, better than the printed version.

I just don't have any physical room for most of the paper stuff anymore. I'm not interested in buying ever-larger living space just to hold more stuff. My wife and I are big on the Unclutterer thing, cutting way way back on Stuff We Own and trying to make a very nice living in relatively few square feet. This has seriously modified my previously somewhat voracious book, magazine and comics reading habits and forced me to cull through and drastically shrink my collections; they were filling up a lot of closet and non-closet space which we really need for important things. I'm even scanning in all my paper file-cabinet contents now, trying for as near to a paperless existence as an artist can have (and because I'm a digital artist I already have a very robust set of backup systems in place). With the iPad and these various apps, I can crank back up to my previous reading rate without filling up our space - actually I'm reading even more and faster now, and reading a lot of books that I always wanted to but never bought or found or got around to. With the ability to get them instantly without leaving the house, it's ridiculous not to!

I actually bought a few Peanut Press editions for my Palm device back during that time. The text was clunky but it still worked. I read a bunch of Larry Niven's Known Space stuff I'd never been able to get a paper copy of before, which was great. I still have backups of that Palm device, so I could probably dig them out, heh.

I think the horse vs. car comparison is accurate, but I think the transition will happen a lot faster and that it will be dependent on economics and business models rather than reader preferences. 10 years from now it will be funny that people are even arguing about this, just like it's funny that people were arguing over the iPod back in 2001.
posted by zoogleplex at 9:48 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


grumblebee: semantics and expert testimony aside, I find reading on a screen uncomfortable. I'm sitting here reading MetaFilter in a brightly lit room, on a monitor that's large enough and new enough to clearly display text, and it's making my eyes tired.

I don't own an iPad and I haven't played with one. I suspect that it'd be different than reading on a static monitor because you can hold it and move it more like a book, but I also find reading text on my smart phone uncomfortable, even when conditions are ideal.

I understand that not everyone has this issue and it's fine with me if some people prefer to read on iPads or whatever they like. I just don't want consumer ignorance to kill e-ink, since that's what I prefer.

jb: If you got from my earlier comment in the thread that I was saying "No one should ever read on an iPad, because e-ink is always better," I'm sorry that I didn't make myself clear. There are ways in which e-ink is superior (here's an article that shows magnification comparisons, e-ink requires a lot less power so the battery stays charged for a lot longer, and the device runs cooler). I do not want e-ink to die because people do not recognize the ways that e-ink is better, and instead just see it as a slow, clunky iPad wannabe.
posted by girih knot at 10:59 PM on January 5, 2011


And when I say people, to clarify, I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about the faceless majority of first world consumers. I'm not concerned about individual preference killing the kindle off, but just a general public going "Hey this device is cooler and brighter, why would I need a stupid kindle?"
posted by girih knot at 11:07 PM on January 5, 2011


10 years from now it will be funny that people are even arguing about this, just like it's funny that people were arguing over the iPod back in 2001.

yeah, the whatever it was comment about going down on a plastic robot or something? You people look stupid reading on an electronic device? I had to laugh a lot because I remember back when it seemed like Metafilter members were all sneering at people with cell phones.

I was totally puzzled by that; we weren't in the U.S., and pretty much everyone we knew had a cell phone, and it was one of the greatest new bits of technology in our lives. Massively, massively useful since my husband's work does not involve an office presence or a stationary phone.

Now I feel the same way about my E-reader; I had really been cut off from books in English because of my location with regard to availability and pricing, and could only afford to have a few shipped every now and then, so this is absolutely one of the best things to ever happen for me. It's hard to even describe. I read every single day. I quite literally never turn my Kindle off ... and it's been like the water of life after a long drought. And somebody wants to say that's not really reading, because ... why, again? Something about sexing up a robot or something? I find that totally bizarre.

And I'm not a young person, by the way. I still would have bought the 1st gen Kindle even if we still lived in the U.S., because instant books? Whoah!! It's like a beautiful dream. Not having to constantly shed books because of space limitations or moving house? Fantastic. I love real books, too; I'd love to have a big old house full of them, but I don't have a big old house, and I have moved a lot. And more than anything, I really love reading.

Also, the comment about Amazon sponsored Fahrenheit 451 Firemen doesn't actually make much sense. Amazon could, conceivably, in an inexplicable act of corporate suicide, delete all your books from your Kindle (only while you are connected, of course) ... but you could also accidentally drop your Kindle in the bathtub or a gorilla could sit on it, and the books on your Kindle would also be gone. But I have my books backed up. Amazon also stores them for you, but I back mine up anyway. It never occurred to me not to do that. The other reason that I don't think of my books as "rented" from Amazon, is that I could jailbreak them if I wanted/needed to. I'm not willing to tie all my e-book purchases to one device, or one kind of software, forevermore. And that's one serious drawback for Amazon and Kindle, but not terribly onerous, I suspect. If it ever gets to the point that masses of non-techy people want to convert their Kindle books, there is going to be a simple program for doing it easily, I imagine — perhaps even in batches. I would personally buy a lot more from Amazon, though, if they didn't use the proprietary format. I also don't know how long they can go on not including EPub as a readable format on the Kindle. That's just not going to be sustainable, and they must know that.

Anyway, there is still so much to be ironed out, obviously, on every level — from licensing and distribution to marketing, pricing, formatting, and all the related technology, so, no, it's not yet ready for prime time. Definitely not for everyone yet. But, like zoogleplex, I still feel utterly giddy and delighted to have my magical book.
posted by taz at 12:00 AM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I do not want e-ink to die because people do not recognize the ways that e-ink is better, and instead just see it as a slow, clunky iPad wannabe... I'm not concerned about individual preference killing the kindle off, but just a general public going 'Hey this device is cooler and brighter, why would I need a stupid kindle?'"

Even though I'm enjoying reading on the iPad, I feel the same way, I'd like e-ink to keep going and develop more and get faster to use. However, I feel like the market forces involved in a massive proliferation of touch-tablet devices like the iPad may be irresistible and e-ink may not be able to develop fast enough to compete.

Especially in a world where most people watch a hell of a lot more video than they read books. Multi-purpose devices that play games and video appeal to almost everyone, whereas dedicated readers appeal to the smaller group of people who like to read a lot.

And the lit-screen resolution is going up quickly now. The iPhone Retina display is pretty outrageously sharp, at 326 pixels per inch. If all the small screens go to that, the argument will be moot as the resolution will be high enough that most people won't be able to tell the difference.

I think your concern is well-justified, unfortunately. :\

However, if Amazon is making a profit on the Kindle hardware (or the hardware plus books sold directly on the hardware), they probably won't kill it, so that's at least somewhat encouraging.
posted by zoogleplex at 1:04 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I get wanting to declutter, I really do. But paying $10 apiece to get rid of beat-up old mass-market paperbacks?
posted by Lazlo at 1:41 AM on January 6, 2011


taz: "The other thing I'd do, if publishers weren't wack, is to have a certain special pricing for people who want to buy both the paper and digital version of a book. So, like, buy the paper version, and get the digital for another $2 or something."

This is already happening in the (niche I am familiar with, but probably others too) circle of self-publishing and small press knitting designers. Buy the printed book for $20, add a digital version for $4 or even thrown in for free. I think that's great.

The knitting industry is going digital fast - besides allowing independent designers to publish at little to no upfront cost, almost all the major magazines have started selling pattern downloads as well. Digital is a great way to go for certain categories - I can see cookbooks and comics in a similar vein. You can buy stuff a la carte when it was previously only available in expensive color hardcover anthologies, you open up a new realm of possibilities of indie designers, and you let people have giant libraries without taking up any space.
posted by Gordafarin at 3:21 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just as an update - my Kindle started behaving after several reboots and a couple of hours charging but due to it having spent about 6 hours of me being at work displaying the same text on the screen the e-ink is now borked. I can still read text no problems but pictures appear negative (white = black and vice versa) and some images have lines of text across them from whichever page was last viewed.

At midnight when I got in I spoke to Amazon Customer Care (and *the* single most useful and polite agent in history) and I get my new one delivered tomorrow. That's pretty damn good imo. Now I just need the 11 packages that didn't arrive over xmas due to inclement weather and I might start being happy again...
posted by longbaugh at 5:17 AM on January 6, 2011


I get wanting to declutter, I really do. But paying $10 apiece to get rid of beat-up old mass-market paperbacks?

Mass market paperbacks are, for the most part, at mass market paperback price or less. Trade paperbacks and hardcovers are, for the most part, $9.99, though some are more expensive.
posted by sugarfish at 6:15 AM on January 6, 2011


USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list, to be published Thursday, will show digital's new popularity: E-book versions of the top six books outsold the print versions last week. And of the top 50, 19 had higher e-book than print sales.

It's the first time the top-50 list has had more than two titles in which the e-version outsold print.

posted by Joe Beese at 8:18 AM on January 6, 2011


"I get wanting to declutter, I really do. But paying $10 apiece to get rid of beat-up old mass-market paperbacks?"

As said above, most of them aren't costing me $10 apiece. Even if they did, it's worth it, because I replace the books without refilling the space they currently take up. Domestic tranquility is worth a bit of a premium here.

Besides, new paper copies of MMTPBs run right around $8-$10 at retail anyway.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:05 AM on January 6, 2011


I'm preparing to be older and Goddamn it! Bitching about these new fangled e-Readers is going to be my little old person bitch. That's what I want.

Now get off my fuckin' lawn and take yer new fangled POS clickity stickity wickity electronic hot brickity Errr-Readers with you!!
posted by Skygazer at 12:49 PM on January 6, 2011


/wink

Like I said up thread, I'm looking for the perfect e-Reader and it is a proper book. A real book with pages and covers. Perhaps leather. That can content shift itself into any damn book I want it to be. That's what I want. And I want the tech-mo-nology to go there NOW!! I will accept nothing less.


Unless someone gifts me with a Kindle...then I might read it where no one can see me....

Which make's me a slight hypocrite, but so what.

Get off my etc...etc!!!

posted by Skygazer at 12:53 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a Kindle, an iPod, a Nook, and an Android phone. By far my favorite way to read is on the one with the worst display for reading -- my phone. Why? Because I always have it with me, so using it is the most convenient, plain and simple. Which is basically the point the author was making. Conversely the Kindle is my least favorite. Its non-backlit, non-dynamic screen seems inferior to an actual book for not much advantage. I realize my impressions done necessarily jibe with others'.

At least on three recent occasions, I've bought a traditional book from force of habit, then got tired of carrying it with me, and switched over to the electronic edition.

On the bus I ride in the morning, I've noticed, little by little, increasing numbers of people reading off Kindles, Nooks, and assorted tablets and cellphones. I rarely see anyone with an actual book, much less a newspaper. The transition to e-reading has come, I think, quicker than anyone imagined. Here's where the author was dead wrong. We won't have to wait for the old generation of traditional bookreaders to die out. Just the old generation of bookstores. And except for a few specialty shops, I think they'll all be gone by the middle of the decade.
posted by xigxag at 9:20 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The lovely GF got me a Nook Color for Christmas. The screen is really excellent, and the PDF rendering is very good. PDFs in landscape + fit-to-width are very readable & scrollable.

The UI is a little glitchy, but I'm hoping they'll iron that out in the software over time. So far I've just put free EPUBs and PDFs on it, haven't bought any books for it yet.

I think I would've found the Kindle frustrating for just about everything except reading, and the option to do stuff besides reading is way too much fun. It's now my bedroom computer - I can use it with the lights out, and check my email in the morning without getting out of bed. Admittedly, I still futz with it more than I actually read.
posted by and for no one at 12:36 AM on January 7, 2011


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