“Lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food.”
September 18, 2014 7:48 AM   Subscribe

International Read an E-Book Day:
The new holday -- "holiday"? -- is the brainchild of OverDrive, a major e-book distributor. OverDrive is the country's largest provider of e-books to libraries; it handles e-books from 5,000 publishers, including major Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Perseus, Wiley, and Harlequin. If you've ever checked an e-book out from the L.A. Public Library, it was provided by OverDrive. To celebrate International Read an E-book Day, Overdrive will be giving away tablets and e-reading devices at the readanebookday.com website and through social media. Readers are asked to "tell their story of what eBooks mean to them" and use the hashtag #eBookDay to be eligible.
via: L.A. Times
posted by Fizz (87 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
“Lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food.”

I love ebooks and ereaders for their own goodness (searchability, being able to carry lots at once, reading at night), but trying to pretend books and ebooks are exactly the same is to confuse a plate of food and a glow-in-the-dark styrofoam container of food that can be taken away from you at any instant by a huge multinational corporation because reasons.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:52 AM on September 18, 2014 [27 favorites]


I'm celebrating Read Like a Pirate Day today and tomorrow.
posted by kozad at 7:57 AM on September 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Am I blind, where are the giveaways?
posted by entropicamericana at 7:57 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've become a huge fan of e-books. I have hundreds I am reading/have read on my Kindle.

Oh, also I haven't paid a cent for any of them nor have anything to do with big publishers. I'm not a thief. It's called public domain.

Making my way through Edgar Wallace mysteries right now.
posted by vacapinta at 7:58 AM on September 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


I've eaten great food off a paper plate and out of a tin cup. But there's something to be said for sitting down to a setting of fine china. After all, presentation is a big part of what makes a high-end restaurant successful. I'll agree that the content is the most important part. Even so, the e-book and the printed book offer two different tactile and visual experiences. Pick whichever you prefer, or enjoy both if you are able.
posted by Longtime Listener at 7:59 AM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I consider myself a textual omnivore. I consume both digital and physical books. So much to read, why limit myself to any particular style of consumption. Some times you want a small digital snack in the middle of the night, other times you want a large heavy hardback on a sunny afternoon.
posted by Fizz at 8:03 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I read both e-books and print books all the time, and I've noticed that I retain information better from print books than from e-books. It's stunningly naïve to say that there is no difference between the methods of reading. I actually noticed that my old e-ink Kindle 2 was substantially better for reading than the Kindle Fire I no longer use, or my iPad, although I wind up using the latter simply because it's always handy. Unfortunately the navigation on the Kindle 2 was atrocious.
posted by graymouser at 8:08 AM on September 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


What are they getting at with "holday -- 'holiday'?" in the L.A. Times story?
posted by gubo at 8:13 AM on September 18, 2014


Printed books just sound better.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:14 AM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Related:

“Of all the literary genres, poetry has proved the most resistant to digital technology, not for stodgy cultural reasons but for tricky mechanical ones.” Looks like that might be changing, however, as Open Road releases Flow Chart, Your Name Here and 15 other John Ashbery digital poetry collections. via: The Millions
posted by Fizz at 8:17 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love eBooks because, assuming you know how to Google, they are virtually ALL free.
posted by spock at 8:20 AM on September 18, 2014


I like food, and I like well-crafted plates. I also like hand-woven rugs, but you won't find me trying to put food on them. Paintings are cool too.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 8:30 AM on September 18, 2014


Where do I go to register an "International Buy My Product Day"?
posted by I-Write-Essays at 8:36 AM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


assuming you know how to Google, they are virtually ALL free

Hooray for piracy, because getting a paycheck makes creatives feel like total sellouts. Or lets them pay the rent. One or the other, I always forget.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:37 AM on September 18, 2014 [11 favorites]


I love eBooks because, assuming you know how to Google, they are virtually ALL free.
posted by spock at 10:20 AM on September 18 [1 favorite +] [!]


To knowingly undermine the source of one's chosen means of entertainment, thereby threatening its ultimate sustainability, is illogical.
posted by General Tonic at 8:41 AM on September 18, 2014 [13 favorites]


Well I don't see things like House of Leaves, or S. working very well as e-books (and seriously? an audiobook for S.?! No idea how that would work). A big problem, as graymouser mentioned, is that the screens on the newer devices really suck for reading. I love the convenience of e-books, and I have purchased a fair number for my old e-ink Kindle, but reading on a computer screen, ipad, iphone, or fire is a nightmare.
posted by thewalledcity at 8:53 AM on September 18, 2014


reading on a computer screen, ipad, iphone, or fire is a nightmare.

Yeah, I wanted to read an e-book from the library recently, and the Kindle had disappeared somewhere in the house (since located, thankfully), so I read it on the iPad, and the experience was fairly unpleasant. Hard on the eyes, too much glare, too heavy. I do really enjoy reading on the Kindle (Paperwhite), though.

I do have a slight preference for paper books--especially since I frequently choose books based on their spines on the library shelf--but if the library had e-books of all their volumes available, I'd probably choose the e-book most of the time.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:58 AM on September 18, 2014


I found ebooks slightly harder at first, but many years later I have been known to grumble at physical books because their pages aren't lit why aren't the pages lit?
posted by jeather at 9:00 AM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Hard on the eyes, too much glare, too heavy.

Nothing works for everybody, but have you tried white lettering on a black background on the iPad? I find it pretty easy to read. Won't make it lighter, of course.
posted by yoink at 9:02 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Urgh book snobbery.

I love ebooks: they allow me access to tons of books that would otherwise be inaccessible to me due to censorship or cost. And I'm not talking piracy: I mean being able to buy the same book for $10 on Amazon when the paper version in Australia costs 2.5x because you're paying for its airfare.

I am a super voracious reader, always have been. Ebooks are a boon because i could move on to other books or even switch books whenever I want, without needing a heavy bag.

And this books-are-fine-China metaphor: how do you feel about books that are dogeared and written on?
posted by divabat at 9:02 AM on September 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Dog-eared is OK. Most of my books are library discards, so compare them to fine china purchased piecemeal from thrift shops. I try to avoid books someone has marked up. It really gets in the way of enjoying the text.
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:08 AM on September 18, 2014


What are they getting at with "holday -- 'holiday'?" in the L.A. Times story?
posted by gubo at 8:13 AM on September 18 [+] [!]


I wondered about that too but after spending way too much time on it, I came to the conclusion "holday" is a typo. I think they meant to write

the new holiday--"holiday"?--is the brainchild of Overdrive

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:09 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The reasons I won't pay to license e-books have nothing to with the (admittedly pleasant) experience of physical books. It's all down to that word license. My office is about as far from a manor house library as you can get, but the shelves behind me have at least five generation's worth of inherited book purchases. There's a small stack of new loans from an old friend in a grocery sack on the floor. And I just gave away number of old pulps novels for a coworker's kid who will LOVE them.

If those were e-books, without a proper right of first sale, the recipients of those books would have no more right to them than if they'd been downloaded from the Pirate Bay. To me that's disgusting. Every time I look into "buying" an e-book I start seeing words like "exclusive" and "non-transferable" that are utterly antithetical to the culture of people who care about books.

And bluntly, once the publishers decided to strip away all the rights that we, as readers, used to have, I think gave up a lot of moral claim to their own (once carefully-limited) legislated monopoly: The first time I discover something I want to read that I can't find on paper will be the first time that I become an--absolutely unrepentant--book pirate.
posted by CHoldredge at 9:14 AM on September 18, 2014 [8 favorites]


I love eBooks because, assuming you know how to Google and have no scruples, they are virtually ALL free.

Fixed that for you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love ebooks. Advantages include instant vocabulary and foreign phrase lookup and easy highlighting and notetaking. I love books, old and new, paperback and hardcover. Advantages include the ability to just immerse without any distractions or electronic temptations. I love audiobooks. Advantages include gifted narrators who bring voices and accents to vivid life.

I also love being able to check out books from the public library electronically.

But I'm still not much of a fan of Overdrive, a very clunky piece of softwear.
posted by bearwife at 9:26 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love e-books because they have turned my wife with her not-so-good eyes into a reader.

On the other hand, I won't read 'em. I'm not a snob. It's just that you can't teach an old man new books, as the saying goes. I like turning a new leaf every couple of minutes.
posted by kozad at 9:26 AM on September 18, 2014


CHoldredge - I agree with you completely that a licensing model is disgusting for books. But there is a step you can take before resorting to outright piracy. Nerds who also care about this have developed some pretty great (and easy to use) tools for stripping the digital rights management from books.

That way you can buy the ebook and give the author their fair payment and then make it your own by removing that licensing mandated DRM. All the thrills of illegally sticking it to the man without screwing the artist!
posted by boubelium at 9:29 AM on September 18, 2014 [8 favorites]


Is this where we get to grouse about the lack of a large (A4-sized or bigger) and affordable (less than 200 bux) color e-ink reader? 'Cause I have opinions on this issue. And with my pony I want the subsystem to run linux and I want drivers for the IR touchscreen to be open and I want the company to have a friendly and supportive presence on mobileread.com and I want the battery to be removable/replaceable and the board to be accessible via a screwed-in backplate so you don't have to pry anything apart to get to the TF card inside which holds the OS and is totally hackable. For starters.

OK, really I just want a good, big, color e-ink tablet, though I do love my Kobo.
posted by eclectist at 9:30 AM on September 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


“Lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food.”

What's always been asinine about this sort of attitude is it's—intentional or ignorant—dismissal of material design. The material design of a physical book is not only aesthetically pleasing to many people, it conveys meaning in and of itself. Now it's perfectly possible for codices and e-books to co-exist, each responding to different needs. But to suggest that they are the same is not like confusing the plate for the food, it's like confusing solid food with nutritionally complete mush. Sure, the latter might be tasty; it might even be preferable in some circumstances. But no one could honestly suggest that they are the same.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:30 AM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've only recently started reading ebooks, as taking lunch and multiple books and a laptop in one small backpack makes for an annoying bike commute. For the new Peter Watts novel, Echopraxia, I bought a new hard back and torrented the ebook. Its the first time I've directly compared both editions, and I have to say that the ebook leaves a lot to be desired in terms of typesetting and general presentation. It just seems ephemeral, having the typesetting change drastically depending on what screen you're using. I don't mind it when reading MEfi comment threads but in a novel or an essay it feels weird and changes the way I read.

On the other hand I wish there was a hypertext edition of Dhalgren, so I could easier compare and contrast different editions, look at footnotes without losing my place, etc. I'm sure there are amazing elctronic editions of, say, Ulysess or Gravity's Rainbow or The Bible.
posted by kittensofthenight at 9:36 AM on September 18, 2014


Am I blind, where are the giveaways?

Apparently you are entered if you use their hashtag on Twitter or FaceBook, or type a little comment into their home page.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:36 AM on September 18, 2014


As crazy as it may sound, there's actually a ton of ebooks I want to read that I can't find on file-sharing sites let alone by legitimate means. Sure, if I wanted to read renowned author Dan Brown's latest complete waste of time, it's out there in a number of forms. But I've found that basically anything from 1995 or earlier that isn't currently in physical print is totally off the radar as far as e-books are concerned. Even stuff that purely caters to the true believers in the print-is-dead mantra (like mid-80s cyberpunk anthologies) is weirdly absent. Am I just looking in the wrong places?
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:43 AM on September 18, 2014 [9 favorites]


boubelium - Sure, that's possible. But the way this new market's been arranged, it's just as illegal as more obvious copyright violation. It's trivially easy of course, and undetectable, just like moving your ebooks from a a kindle to an iThing, but then so's "piracy", and they're all equally disallowed. If the publishers don't want to draw any distinctions between these actions, I'm not convinced that I should.

If the market shifts further to e-books, so that I can't truly buy a book at all, I suspect I'll start finding ways to anonymous cash directly to authors. Let them decide what to do with it. Very few of them have any voice at all in this dreadful new marketplace we're building. And the publishers who'd be cut out? Well, they're the ones who are designing this scheme and fighting the court cases and lobbying for the laws. To hell with 'em.

And as for e-book analytics, a.k.a sticking your company's prod nose into the very words I read? Fuck. That. Noise
posted by CHoldredge at 9:54 AM on September 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


The material design of a physical book is not only aesthetically pleasing to many people, it conveys meaning in and of itself.

Perhaps so, but that meaning is not, to me, part of what I'm referring to when I refer to "that book by so-and-so" (unless we're talking about the very rare case--as in William Blake's books, for example--where the material design was also the work of the author). If I refer to Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, then it's the "same" book to me whether I'm reading it in a cheap paperback with tiny margins or reading it in a special slipcase edition from some luxury press--or, indeed, on a Kindle. I'll get the same meanings and the same pleasure from it no matter what the format--so long as I find it readable.

And that's the sense in which the line about mistaking the plate for the food makes perfect sense to me. It's not that nice plates aren't nice. But they're not the same thing as the food. They're an additional pleasure, certainly, but they neither increase nor detract from the pleasure provided by the food (unless we're comparing them to plates which actually impart some noxious flavor to the food, for example--but that's another case). It's also nice to read a book in a nice room, with a nice view out the window and with good music on the stereo and wearing comfortable clothes etc. etc. etc.--all those things are pleasant. But they're not "the book." Anyone who insists that they'll "never read a book on an e-reader, because that's not real reading" (or what have you) strikes me as making a statement that is as absurd as saying "I'd never read a book in a room I didn't find attractive, or if I didn't have a nice view to look at when I lifted my eyes from the book, or if there wasn't nice music playing in the background, or if I didn't have a pleasant incense burning in the room" or what have you. Those are all things you might, or might not, find to be additional pleasures (just like a well-designed book), but they're not "the novel" (or "the poems" or "the play" or "the essay" or whatever it is you're reading), and refusing to enjoy the one when you can't simultaneously enjoy the other seems, to me, absurd.
posted by yoink at 9:54 AM on September 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


For me ebooks are a way to preserve and present to a crazily wide potential audience books that are too rare, or too fragile, to lend or even exhibit. The benefits to the research community of digitizing and making available to scholars and lay readers alike texts that are in grave danger of disappearing forever seems like a massive and massively underexploited realm of pursuit.

Unfortunately ebook publishers and ereader manufacturers don't see the profit in that, so we'll get yet another version of <bog-standard summer read> because woohoo monetizable copyright.

But for the reading I do (and I do quite a bit across a range of genres), give me a physical book every time.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:59 AM on September 18, 2014


I'm all for people reading more in whatever form they prefer and I think Read an eBook Day is a cool idea, but since we're having this discussion, allow me to rave for a minute about the merits of the book as physical object. I was just reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki this morning on the bus, and stopping every few pages to just sort of enjoy the feel of it in my hands--it's got this odd, squat, thick sort of shape that's just very pleasing to hold. I had already freaked when I got my physical copy and saw how beautiful and clever the jacket and cover design was, and how the interior design echoed it perfectly. I work at a book publisher and know a bit of what goes into that; for some of our more high-profile books we'll have endless debates with production about using die-cuts in the cover design, before (in all but a very few cases) ultimately concluding that it's too expensive to justify. Of course Haruki Murakami gets a die-cut cover that opens up to reveal colored lines on a subway map.

So, there are these subway lines (red, blue, white, black). I just finished the first chapter where we're introduced to the main character's high school friends, who all have a color in their Japanese names: red, blue, white, black. The front endsheet is red and blue and the back is white and black. While not really a part of the book in the way that (on preview) yoink talks about above, it all interacts with the text in a lovely way. I noticed that the page number/folio on page 4 was white on gray while all the others were black on gray, and was pleased with myself for having spotted a mistake, until I realized that all the numeral "4"s appeared in white, on pages 14, 24, 34, 40, and so on, and now I can't wait to see what that signifies in the story. Of course very few books do this, but a lot of thought really does go into choosing a typeface, setting text, designing and positioning folios and chapter openers and running heads or feet, etc, and for me, reading everything on the default Kindle settings does take something away from the experience. I can totally see both sides of this plate metaphor debate thing we are having--these are just my own feelings, as someone whose job it is to care about those things.

ALSO! I actually clicked on the link (probably should have done that first) and see that I proofread the print edition of one of the books under Recommended Reads! I won't say which one, but I clicked on the eBook preview and the rag (the right edge of the text) is making me absolutely crazy. So there's that. The design is still very nice though.
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:01 AM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


I move nearly every year, ebooks allowed me to dump about 60lbs of books and not lose access to that media. Maybe not the same for everyone, but I certainly don't miss paper that badly.
posted by Ferreous at 10:03 AM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


But the one whole extra trip you make with the rental car's rear seat taken out and books piled in the trunk, the rear and the passenger sides, all the way up to the point that they don't obscure you're rearview is the best part of the move!
posted by eclectist at 10:10 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, I do both. The Kindle gets the technical work, periodicals, and pulp omnibus editions that I'd probably pick up on sale in cheap, disposable binding. Similarly, I started collecting comics in DRM-free digital downloads, because I'm 40-something and was sick of recycling or bagging and boxing issues that I didn't think were worth holding on to.

On the other, I do appreciate good typography, binding, and page design, which has been a part of the literary experience since Alexandria. It's not a surprise to me how many religious traditions treat the written word as a precious thing. Bound volumes make up my lunch reading, because I had a Kindle vanish from work, and also make up the the bulk of my gift-giving.

It's not surprising to me that poetry doesn't fare well because most of my digital copies of poetic works really suck in terms of typesetting. One of my recent reads was the bilingual Heaney Beowulf, which ran the Old English text alongside the Heaney text in a way that my reader could not accommodate. I don't really have the Old English chops to read it fluently, but it was interesting to me to make rough comparisons of meter and flow between the two.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:13 AM on September 18, 2014


I got all of my favorite authors to sign their eBooks but now my Kindle is unreadable. :(
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:15 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


But I'm still not much of a fan of Overdrive, a very clunky piece of softwear.

Which has actually gotten worse over time.

Am I just looking in the wrong places?

Maybe. Give me some examples.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:16 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I agree that many physical books have design that is aesthetically pleasing and meaningful, many have ones where the design is pleasing but not meaningful, or ones where the design is actively not pleasant. And there are aspects of an ereader -- the weight, the one handedness, the evenly lit screen -- that are more pleasant than a physical book. Which isn't to say I dislike physical books -- I buy favourite books in both formats -- just to say that I wouldn't call the vast majority of physical books a 5 star meal while ebooks are nutritional mush.
posted by jeather at 10:18 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


dismissal of material design. The material design of a physical book is not only aesthetically pleasing to many people, it conveys meaning in and of itself.

No. There are certainly books for which the material design matters and is an integral part, but if most of your reading is paperbacks where the publisher shoehorns their books into the same print template for cheap mass-production, you are missing out on precisely nothing by reading the book in a more convenient format.
posted by anonymisc at 10:43 AM on September 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


I've got a Kindle 2 that gets heavy use; I think I've got somewhere around 1200 titles on there now, and I dread the day it'll need to be replaced --- I like not having it backlit. As much as I adore paper books, the Kindle has a massive benefit in being a lightweight and portable way to haul along my daily reading, plus it doesn't add even more to the humongous mounds of paper books I live with. I fought against e-readers when they first came out: "I'll never use one of those things, I read real books!" Hah: fooled me, it did.

I like how e-books have made it easier for unknown authors to be published; on the other hand, the biggest drawback is also those unknown authors: is proofreading a lost art, people?!? The amount of twisted grammar, awful spelling and punctuation, missing and/or extra words & phrases, duplicated paragraphs, stray sentences from who-knows-where, people called by completely different names & titles, etc. etc. etc. can set your head spinning. I've actually contacted a couple of authors just to beg them to hire a proofreader (don't just ask your mom or your spouse to do it!), because otherwise I won't be reading anything else they might write.
posted by easily confused at 10:47 AM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


The first time I discover something I want to read that I can't find on paper will be the first time that I become an--absolutely unrepentant--book pirate.

this is me in a nutshell, and the same applies to pretty much all media.

It's not that I can't see a future where physical books, records, movies, whatever are no longer necessary (such a future would definitely be better for our planet and its finite resources), it's just that I don't even begin to trust ANY of the current corporate heavyweights who are jockeying to be the ones to provide this future.

I don't particularly trust the so-called pirates either, but then they're pirates. They're not pretending to be my friends.
posted by philip-random at 10:48 AM on September 18, 2014


The e-ink reader is one of the great single purpose gadgets. If it's public domain, available from the library, or ~500+ pages I'll go for the ebook. I'm not a fast reader, nor do I aspire to be one, but consistency of lighting, line height, font-size and margins make me a better reader. Despite my deep appreciation for design masterpieces such as The Tunnel, I see the stripping of material design as a useful feature. What made me a devotee though is tap-to-define. Do I really know what this word means? What are the shades of meaning between despondent, churlish, doleful and morose?

On the other hand, if I put myself in the position of an author, pondering the physical object, the exact form in which the reader will first encounter their work, it's easy to understand how this discussion takes on moral, even religious undertones, and why there are so many holdouts and unavailable titles.
posted by Lorin at 10:54 AM on September 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's amazing to me how alarmed people get that I like to do some things away from a screen, after spending all day at work on one, and a lot of my time off, too. I read e-books when I want to, like on my phone when out, and I read books when I want to. What's the problem with that?

I've loved books since I was a child. Why would I stop doing that? I actually don't give a shit if someone else doesn't like this, or is so sunk in a neophilic fantasy where the only value in things comes from their association with "technology" that they think there's some weird moral imperative to abandon all older media forms.
posted by thelonius at 11:03 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


It is pretty darn miraculous that I can use Overdrive to access my city public library from halfway around the world. The selection of available books is limited though, and it turns out that I'm competing for them with the entire state.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:10 AM on September 18, 2014


and it turns out that I'm competing for them with the entire state.

TLC presents Library Wars!
posted by Fizz at 11:13 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's amazing to me how alarmed people get that I like to do some things away from a screen

I don't think I've ever seen anyone argue that reading print books is a Bad Thing and that you Shouldn't Do It. I've only ever seen those claims made about e-readers. I think you're mistaking defenses of e-readers for attacks on print books. The claim that the e-reader is a perfectly decent medium for reading books is not a claim that print books are bad or that you should feel bad for liking them.
posted by yoink at 11:14 AM on September 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


There are plenty of reasons to like paper, but I've noticed that active dislike for e-books tends to come from people who associate e-books with screens because they're not very familiar with e-ink paper. That's a frustrating misunderstanding that leads into that defensive arguing where both people feel like their choices are being criticized by the other when both are simply misunderstanding where the other is coming from.
posted by anonymisc at 11:23 AM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


There always seems to be a contingent of people that assume the existence of e-readers is an assault on all printed media. More than anything it's an assault on the thousands of pounds of paperback romance/sci-fi/western/fantasy books that are thrown into dumpsters with their covers ripped off every week at large bookstores. I'm okay with that practice being ended.
posted by Ferreous at 11:46 AM on September 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm soooo looking forward to the day where we can finally grasp that books and e-reading devices are not mutually exclusive.

Bikes/cars

elevators/stairs

hurf/durf
posted by ikahime at 12:18 PM on September 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


I love eBooks because, assuming you know how to Google, they are virtually ALL free.

Hardcovers at Barnes & Noble are also free if you walk out of the store with one without paying.
posted by Asparagus at 12:37 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Strange Interlude: As crazy as it may sound, there's actually a ton of ebooks I want to read that I can't find on file-sharing sites let alone by legitimate means. Sure, if I wanted to read renowned author Dan Brown's latest complete waste of time, it's out there in a number of forms. But I've found that basically anything from 1995 or earlier that isn't currently in physical print is totally off the radar as far as e-books are concerned. Even stuff that purely caters to the true believers in the print-is-dead mantra (like mid-80s cyberpunk anthologies) is weirdly absent. Am I just looking in the wrong places?

It relates to the original contracts between the authors and publishers, how ebooks are made, and the likelihood that the books will sell. First, contracts need to be re-negotiated to re-publish the book in a new format. Once that is done, the editors need to have digital files to format to work as ebooks, and finally the companies need to make money to keep digitizing old books. I'm guessing that if there's a market for the books, publishers will go through the hassles of part 1 & 2.

But if the book is out of copyright, any lazy fool (or publishing company) can scan the book and toss it into an eBook format and try to make a few bucks off of it, no worries about the contract.

You really have to dig, but there are a number of places where people trade digitized books, some doing decent work with checking the OCR work, or even transcribing the books by hand (that's the old style, I'm pretty sure, which resulted in lengthy .TXT files).
posted by filthy light thief at 12:38 PM on September 18, 2014


That brings me to a topic I've thought about for a while: is there any moral justification for buying a second-hand book versus getting a digital copy, when the work is out of print and you can't support the author and the publisher by buying the original work new? It's great to keep second hand book stores in business, but beyond that, what's the difference between a second-hand OOP book and a digital copy? The scarcity of the good?
posted by filthy light thief at 12:40 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's because there's a contingent that keeps prophesying the paperless future, which I suspect is around the same corner as the end of cable, the Linux desktop, meal-in-a-pill, and the jetpack.

E-ink screens are nice, and on a good day I spend at least an hour reading from one in the evening, but they seem to be in a design limbo. They (mostly) work for the kind of copy that gets rolled into mass-market pulp paperbacks, but I've yet to get anything graphical, tabular, typographic or poetic to be reasonably readable. One bad example of this was the free release of Bujold's back catalog. The omnibus editions included a timeline of the Vorkosigan stories, rendered as a series of unreadable, pixelated gifs.

With the transformation of ebook formats from a niche market to a largely automated sausage byproduct of the publishing process, it's not even getting the same attention to fluid, multi-platform design as Android and iOS. Instead of rising to the challenge of creating great design and illustration in B&W like prior generations of illustrators, photographers, and designers, we're stuck with muddy conversions or cut content. Which admittedly doesn't matter for 9/10 works but sometimes it does.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:55 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I guess I'm weird in that I don't mind paying for ebooks. But I get a bit annoyed when I pay close to paperback prices for something that looks like the partially de-fatted beef fatty tissue byproduct of paperback publishing.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:12 PM on September 18, 2014


If I refer to Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, then it's the "same" book to me whether I'm reading it in a cheap paperback with tiny margins or reading it in a special slipcase edition from some luxury press--or, indeed, on a Kindle.

Well, no it isn't the "same" book. It may be the same text—if the text hasn't been garbled in transmission or badly edited—but it isn't the same "book" any more than the cheap paperback is the same book as a first in parts. There's the size of the page, the design of the page, the layout of the text, the fonts, the recto and verso structure, the design and composition of the binding and cover, etc. That's all meaningful; it all conveys information about that book as a material object and about that iteration of the text.

Now none of this may interest some particular reader. Which is fine. But absence is different from a lack of interest and the confusion lies in conflating the two, not the other way around. Physical texts and e-texts are not perfectly fungible. Materiality isn't just disposable decoration. That's my only point.

you are missing out on precisely nothing by reading the book in a more convenient format.

Maybe you aren't. And as I made clear, there's no reason why you or anyone else shouldn't have the e-books they wish. But to insist that there's no difference or that no one's "missing out" is simply false.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:15 PM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


One reason I prefer ebooks to print books that I've never really seen anyone else say - I like them because it's very hard to tell how far along you are in it.

If I have a very thick paper book that I'm reading, it can be discouraging to look at where my bookmark is in it - only 1/8" of the way through that 4" tome? Ugh! I'll never finish it. But when every page is presented as a new screen, and you can set it so that you can't tell what page you're on, that doesn't happen.

(I also prefer ebooks because I do a lot of reading at night after my husband's gone to sleep.)
posted by Lucinda at 1:19 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


"you can only truly appreciate books with their margins and layouts as originally published" is our generations "you can only really appreciate music on vinyl"
posted by Ferreous at 1:24 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


"you can only truly appreciate books with their margins and layouts as originally published"

It's possible that someone somewhere is saying that, but you'll note that isn't what I'm saying.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:28 PM on September 18, 2014


Hardcovers at Barnes & Noble are also free if you walk out of the store with one without paying.

Or better yet, just walk buy the tables of cheap books in front of B&N that are practically begging to be stolen, or at least casually read without paying for them, as the tables of books are next to nice seating and plenty of shade.


One reason I prefer ebooks to print books that I've never really seen anyone else say - I like them because it's very hard to tell how far along you are in it.

Many eBooks have some way of indicating progress, either as a little bar showing you are this far along, or as a percentage of progress you have made through the entire book. The Kindle Fire does the latter, and it's terribly de-motivating while reading the 5 book combined version of Game of Thrones, as I've been reading for months, and I'm only 50% of the way through. Even worse, there are no chapter numbers, so I can't even tell you which of the books I'm reading now. But at least it's easy enough to carry all 5 at once, versus the huge amount of space and weight that is the physical copy of the paperbacks with 5,216 pages.


"you can only truly appreciate books with their margins and layouts as originally published" is our generations "you can only really appreciate music on vinyl"

I think you mean the book snob's version of the music snob's comment. Vinyl snobbery is still very much in fashion.

Speaking of margins, I bought something, I think it was a Richard Kadrey novel, which had HUGE margins in the eBook. Worse, even if you increased the font size, the huge margins remained. I wanted to change the margins and was tempted to do so (after all, ePubs are just fancy packaged XHTML), but I was worried I'd botch something up. It looks like I could have just modified a CSS file and been done.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:36 PM on September 18, 2014


Ebooks make every book large print!

More than that, they make a book large-print so I can read it on the exercise-bike (where my head isn't still and the bookrest is further away), then the same book instantly transforms back to finer text when I move to the couch or the bed to read. It's not large-print, it's every-print, any time! :)
posted by anonymisc at 2:52 PM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Most books I read aren't novels and the e-readers get in the way. Also I tend to recall where information is in a book, not the phrases exactly but the concepts, whether it was on the left or right hand page, approximately how far into the book it was, what else was being discussed at the time. So I tend to grab a book and flip backwards and forwards, rifling through the pages. You can't do that with an e-reader even with word searching.
posted by lilburne at 2:59 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Poetry really throws ereaders for a loop. It's not possible to guarantee the line breaks and readability on every potential display device. Line breaks are at the very center of what the poem is as a form, so it's not a trivial problem.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:20 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The materiality of "A Tale of Two Cities" is a disposable footnote. Sure books are interesting, but for that matter so are plates. What percentage of the discussion, of the cultural impact, of the thought that surrounds A Tale of Two Cities is about anything other than the text?

Can you share an interesting discussion you or anyone else has had about the "size of the page, the design of the page, the layout of the text, the fonts, the recto and verso structure, the design and composition of the binding and cover, etc" of A Tale of Two Cities?

These things exist but they are the tail not the dog.

To suggest that an author's choice to publish an e-book only means they're free game for piracy is just gross.
posted by Wood at 4:57 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's positively wonderful that we now have both printed books, which a minority of people have enjoyed for centuries, and ebooks, that visually-impaired/physically-impaired/impoverished/rural/elderly/third-world/dyslexic readers can also enjoy with equal facility.
posted by nev at 5:56 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ebooks make every book large print!

Last week, I accidentally ordered the large print edition of Murakami's new novel released in English. Either that or I missed the small text on Amazon.

THE TYPE IS SO LARGE, I am reminded of reading a children's book.
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:17 PM on September 18, 2014




I love ebooks because I can adjust the type size. Among other things.

And, I am solidly in the "buy it from Amazon and rip the DRM the hell out of it" school. Because Amazon will not take my books away from me.
posted by lhauser at 7:53 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Poetry really throws ereaders for a loop. It's not possible to guarantee the line breaks and readability on every potential display device. Line breaks are at the very center of what the poem is as a form, so it's not a trivial problem.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:20 PM on September 18


This is true. I publish poetry (ebook and print) and have to spend a lot of time explaining to poets (many of whom have never used an ereader or think how it looks on their kindle is how it will look everywhere) that there is no "page" with an ereader. Every device is different. I have all my books set to indicate through the hanging indent that the line has wrapped, of course, and I spend a lot of time hand-coding every line to optimize its presentation, to get it as close as possible to the poet's vision, but it's impossible to make it look the same everywhere.

I actually think that there's an opportunity for poets here to play with line breaks and indents to make poems that look different on purpose, in ways that purposefully play with meaning, but although I'm a poet, at 41 I guess my mind isn't plastic enough to translate my theory about this into my poetry.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:06 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've given up on print and just started putting all my poems into songs now...
posted by saulgoodman at 8:51 PM on September 18, 2014


Honestly, if you're reading A Tale of Two Cities in anything other than a weekly literary magazine then I have no time for you.
posted by ODiV at 9:17 PM on September 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm currently living in SF, and right now, I vastly prefer physical books. My Kindle (touchscreen, no backlight) is a pain in the ass to charge -- I usually forget, and even if I remember, it takes ages. I'm sure there is a logical reason behind this, and I'm sure it could be fixed with research and buying a new cable or something, but it's still just a pain. And then I'm left on Muni without anything to read.

I also get really overwhelmed by the choice on my Kindle. First world problems, I KNOW, but I can never decide what to read, and the Kindle's title/author search interface is so terrible that I can never find what I want without scrolling through pages and pages of things I don't want. I just prefer the physicality, the low-techness, and honestly the sentimentality of a printed book, which I know is not true for everyone.

And then I think about how I lived in India for two years recently, and how my Kindle was a godsend there. Here in SF, we're blessed with so many great indie bookstores, and if they don't carry or won't order what I want, Amazon will have it here in two days. In India, English-language bookstores are surprisingly common (colonialism!), and they usually have a better selection of non-American authors. But I wasn't earning very much, and who has the time to go to Khan Market after work, and if they didn't have what I wanted, it was probably impossible to find even online, and I had pirated loads of books before leaving (yes, yes, wag your finger at me, it was mostly things like Game of Thrones), and besides, you try moving boxes upon boxes of books to your new apartment, up three flights of narrow, spiral iron stairs in the blistering Delhi heat.

It wasn't perfect. Electricity is not a given in India anywhere, even in major cities, but especially in the remote villages where I usually did fieldwork -- and on the trains I took to get there. Also, reading on my Kindle in public was usually an invitation for even more stares than usual, and it made me feel like a target (i.e. I was flaunting my wealth). So when I was traveling, I usually opted for a printed book, the irony of which is not lost on me.

And those bookstores I mentioned? Some were really good. I bought the first two volumes of The Sandman there, and I still have them. I love printed books, and sometimes I couldn't resist.

But those long, humid, mosquito-laden Bangalore evenings spent reading G.R.R. Martin's latest escapism on my Kindle? They saved my sanity at a time when my personal and professional lives felt like they were falling apart. The world of choice that I dread here in SF was so very treasured when I was in India. Those evenings were perfect, and I wouldn't trade them for the world.
posted by Ragini at 9:20 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


IDK. I have had an unwieldy amount of (physical) books since I learned to read and had Scholastic Book Club. There still may be a dozen cartons in a Milwaukee friend's mother's attic, from my first move as a 19-year-old. I know all about binding, and signatures, and uncut pages, andsoforth--I love books as objects.

And.

When I pack up my backpack for the bike ride to the train ride, and I have the choice between this nice, cellophane-encased volume from the library, or the e-book that's on my phone, the e-book usually wins. With my nose pressed into other commuters' armpits, it's just physically easier to manage. It enables me to read more.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:33 PM on September 18, 2014


Well, no it isn't the "same" book. It may be the same text—if the text hasn't been garbled in transmission or badly edited—but it isn't the same "book" any more than the cheap paperback is the same book as a first in parts. There's the size of the page, the design of the page, the layout of the text, the fonts, the recto and verso structure, the design and composition of the binding and cover, etc. That's all meaningful

In almost no case that any of us typically encounter are any of those elements things over which the author had any say whatsoever. Therefore, while they might, in fact, have some effect on my understanding of the story (though that is here asserted but unproved), to the extent that they do they are noise--they are distracting me from those aspects of the text over which the author did, in fact, have control.

When I read A Tale of Two Cities what I want to retain from my experience is what Dickens wrote. If the design obtrudes to the point where it is making my experience of the book fundamentally different from other occasions on which I've read it that may be an interesting hybrid work of art (something like Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead), but it is clearly not the same thing as "reading Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities."

If, on the other hand, you are willing to retract the extreme claim that the design actually impinges upon and deforms our understanding of the book, then you also have to agree it's simply an ancillary pleasure. That pleasure may be very great. I may treasure a beautifully designed book by an author I despise. I won't read the text, but I'll marvel at the beauty of the object. But it is not one that is fundamental to my enjoyment of the text I have chosen to read.

(This, of course, is laying aside--as I explicitly did earlier--the case where the text is so poorly formatted or so unclear or illegible that it actually prevents or hampers my ability to understand the text. But that, clearly, is a different case. Where that occurs--either in the case of cheap smudgy printing on paper or in the case of poorly formatted or poorly scanned e-books--then there is no argument to be made.)
posted by yoink at 9:45 PM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


I really prefer printed books but many things I've wanted to read over the past few years haven't been published in decades, aren't classics, and neither the local libraries or bookstores have them. Overdrive has often been my only option. I find it curious though how many relatively current books my local digital library doesn't have available in ebook or audiobook format. It seems odd to me that the print edition is often the only option when so many library patrons seem to be moving to ereaders, tablets, etc.
posted by fuse theorem at 10:51 PM on September 18, 2014


anonymisc: "More than that, they make a book large-print so I can read it on the exercise-bike (where my head isn't still and the bookrest is further away), then the same book instantly transforms back to finer text when I move to the couch or the bed to read. It's not large-print, it's every-print, any time! :)"

And not only do they make all books every-print but they allow me to change the text and background colour depending on the context in which I'm reading! On the tube I have black text on a white background, large print, easy to read; on the sofa in the evening I have dark brown text on a sepia background, small print, easy on the eyes; in bed I have light grey text on a black background or black text on a dark red background, depending on how quickly I want to fall asleep.

I also have shit hands and can't hold regular books, so the apparent crunchy and just plain more authentic charm of paper is totally lost on me anyway.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:50 AM on September 19, 2014


I've read some things on my computer, my android phone, and on an iPad. I do mind the DRMing of ebooks, because I love used books, lending and borrowing books, etc. I read MeFi on the computer, so, obviously, it's something I feel comfortable with. I'm in the middle of a Kindle ebook right now. But I really strongly prefer paper. I like browsing in a bookstore and finding a great author by the interesting cover or because they're next to an author I was looking for. In 25 years, when used books may not be much of a thing, I don't how people will feed their love of books and discovering books, but they probably will.

Also, I can't imagine tucking my grandson into bed with the electronic device and Where the Wild Things Are.
posted by theora55 at 9:38 AM on September 19, 2014


I'll also add that e-readers with limited memory are not great for reference books.

If you need to have quick access to a number of points in a book that are largely random (ie you can't bookmark them in advance), then a codex can't be beat. However, if you're doing translating work and you need dictionaries and grammars and thesauri and wordlists and the Lexicon Abbreviaturarum and all that, you can at least keep some texts on the e-reader and use reference codices and save at least that much room in your bag. I guess that I'll add that to my wishlist from above. This mythical e-reader from paradise should also have upgradeable memory. Hell, while we're at it, why not an upgradeable cpu? Why stop at ponies? I want a unicorn!

... is there any moral justification for buying a second-hand book versus getting a digital copy, when the work is out of print and you can't support the author and the publisher by buying the original work new?

No. None. I had a copy of a work from the 19th C that hadn't been reprinted in fifty years, and I would've been up the creek save for the work of some kindly Russian soul (at least the notes were in Russian) who had pdf'd a photocopy of the work. It was a godsend, but became such a grind to reference the pdf copy (see the above for the reason) that I actually had Lulu.com print up a hardbacked copy for me. Now I have an 'edition of one' that has several generations of notes (some in Russian!) in it, and regular black circles where the photocopy was in a three ring binder. I love it. Every time I look at it, I think about very young me in the local library, realizing the power of knowledge and the written word and wanting the endless book from the infinite library. Now, thanks to the internet and technology, I have it - it reminds me of how much the world has changed in my lifetime.
posted by eclectist at 9:58 AM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


That brings me to a topic I've thought about for a while: is there any moral justification for buying a second-hand book versus getting a digital copy, when the work is out of print and you can't support the author and the publisher by buying the original work new? It's great to keep second hand book stores in business, but beyond that, what's the difference between a second-hand OOP book and a digital copy? The scarcity of the good?
That's the licensing model, and it was in place in the UK at some point. But a book as a physical object can be considered a thing to be sold. Most physical artworks are sold as a physical object that can be sold again. The traditional publihsing model is that a publisher pays an advance. The author earns royalties on sales, and if they earn more than the advance, the publisher pays them. The royalties are 12 - 15% of the cover price.
posted by theora55 at 10:15 AM on September 19, 2014


The publishers would have more success if they just dropped the hugely expensive (for them) and cumbersome (for consumers) DRM bullsh*t. The barriers to borrowing an e-book from a library or trying to get the right format to work on a given device even when PAYING for the produce are HUGE. There is large portion of the public who are not interested and not capable of dealing with all the trouble.

Overdrive is a product that is needlessly complicated. In an ideal world book publishers would have learned from the music industries failures with DRM and the rootkit fiasco. However, it seems that they refuse to see the light.
posted by Gor-ella at 11:00 AM on September 19, 2014


The barriers to borrowing an e-book from a library or trying to get the right format to work on a given device even when PAYING for the produce are HUGE.

Calibre + DeDRM (+KindleUnpack if you're dealing with AZW4 format files) All free and fast.

As always, pirates are the least inconvienced by these schemes.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:33 AM on September 19, 2014


... is there any moral justification for buying a second-hand book versus getting a digital copy, when the work is out of print and you can't support the author and the publisher by buying the original work new?

There's a thrift economy around buying, selling, and trading used volumes, which gets books into the hands of people who ordinarily can't afford them. There was a period of my life where everything came either from a library or second-hand (the latter often with deep discounts from traded volumes.)

To respond to another point, my rural poor grandmother didn't have central heat and a reliable landline, much less portable electronics. She did have rotating stacks of paperbacks plundered for nickles and dimes from yard sales and thrift stores.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:11 PM on September 19, 2014


In an ideal world book publishers would have learned from the music industries failures with DRM and the rootkit fiasco. However, it seems that they refuse to see the light.

For the community-minded, DIY Bookscanning is a thing that has it's own growing and enthusiastic community. It's not that complex and it's really not that expensive (you need two cameras to devote to the project, and the camera most often suggested is going for less than 35 bux on ebay as of now). This will get you good, big, .jpg files that you can then feed into cuneiform or tesseract or any number of other OCR programs that can digitize the text. Or, you can just stitch them all together as image pdfs*. Either way, you've just contributed a tiny bit bit to the solution, rather than being part of the problem of continuing DRM madness.

As always, pirates are the least inconvienced by these schemes.

The scheme I outlined above is totally defensible under the law - sharing the file you've created is where you run afoul of authorities. But a work that is not in print? I realize that it's legally not kosher to take an out-of-print book, scan it, digitize the scan, then distribute it. But the reason that it's out-of-print is that the owner of the rights felt that it wasn't worth the effort to print, that demand didn't justify the outlay of funds. Yet they retain the rights to this work that they're just sitting on**. It feels, to me, like someone that puts something in the dumpster and then tries to convince authorities that it was 'stolen' by dumpster-divers. You've given up on the work - why not let someone else have a chance at making it useful?

*please don't do this
**this is, of course only for works not in the public domain - which alot of these out-of-print books are
posted by eclectist at 1:22 PM on September 19, 2014


It seems odd to me that the print edition is often the only option when so many library patrons seem to be moving to ereaders, tablets, etc.

That is odd considering that many (though obviously not all) library patrons tend to be older. eReaders, tablets, etc. are great for people who are often older and frequently have problems with their vision as they can increase the text size and magnification for the books they want to read.
posted by Fizz at 3:40 PM on September 19, 2014


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