The future of reading?
November 18, 2007 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Amazon's Jeff Bezos wants to change the way we read. Amazon's new e-book reader, Kindle, is not just a device, it's a service. With EVDO wireless connectivity you can download content to your Kindle any time any place. "This is not your grandfather’s e-book," said one publishing executive to the New York Times. "If these guys can’t make it work, I see no hope."
posted by sveskemus (132 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, I read last week that they'll debut the Kindle e-book reader tomorrow.
posted by ericb at 12:55 PM on November 18, 2007

"The Kindle photo that's been circulating on the Internet is the same one that made the rounds in 2006 as a prototype. I sure hope they've prettied it up some because I'm underwhelmed. Much more attractive looking is Sony's e-Reader. But the Sony required a download to your PC and then to your e-book reader. Kindle will go direct to download, and, knowing Amazon, purchasing will be a breeze."*
posted by ericb at 1:00 PM on November 18, 2007

Que twenty squintillion boring-ass comments about how the poster will never ever give up paper books not for anything ever.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:00 PM on November 18, 2007 [9 favorites]

So close, but I can't see it. It costs $400, and $400 at Amazon could buy you a truck's worth of used books.

Books will sell for $10. Publishers don't want to go any lower, and they've never had good relations with Amazon. And the last thing they want to happen is an RIAA/Apple relationship.
posted by zabuni at 1:02 PM on November 18, 2007

Not for me, thanks. I like the concept of ebooks, I can't wait to get a nice device, but no way, no how, not ever, will I get one that locks me in to one vendor. Nope.

Not that Bezos has said that his nifty little device is a vendor lock in, but the specs haven't mentioned diddily about books not in Amazon's (doubtless proprietary) format, and I think we can guess what that means.

It took some digging, but I found a portable music player thats UMS and played not just MP3, but also Ogg Vorbis files. The Cowon iAudio 7, if you're wondering. When the price on ebook readers comes down, I'll do the same thing there.

UMS, not MTP. Compatiable with everything, not just one format. Its the only decision that makes sense from a not getting screwed standpoint.
posted by sotonohito at 1:04 PM on November 18, 2007 [5 favorites]

$400? No way. That's still "early adopter" pricing.

If it was $100, then maybe I'd think about it.
posted by mrbill at 1:07 PM on November 18, 2007

I really don't want an ebook that's a "service, not a device". Yeesh. Shades of DIVX.
posted by hattifattener at 1:07 PM on November 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

Also, forgot to mention: $10 per book? Bugger that for a lark. I pay about that for a paperback. Since the ebook requires no paper, no printing cost, no shipping cost, etc, there is no way in hell it makes sense to pay that much for one.

Profit is fine and dandy, but that's frickin excessive.
posted by sotonohito at 1:10 PM on November 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

Needs more porn.

Seriously, I download ebooks fine over EVDO to my Windows Mobile phone. Each 4GB card holds something ten zillion books anyway but it's nice to be able to hit one up if it's not on a card - a download from the server takes around 5-10 seconds. However, selling it as a service with lock-in? I wonder if libraries can use this to e-lend books. Kind of back to where's foiled plan.
posted by meehawl at 1:18 PM on November 18, 2007

Yeah, I don't see this as being very successful. DRM stuff never will be.

On the other hand, if this is going to be online all the time, why use it for reading books? Surely it would be a great way to surf the web on the train or bus or whatever.

It also needs to be cheaper.
posted by delmoi at 1:24 PM on November 18, 2007

As for the pricing, they should look at the way Baen's WebScriptions does stuff. Ebook versions (in multiple non-DRM formats) of their titles for around $6.

I've bought the last three "Kildar"-series books by John Ringo from WebScriptions, because I can convert them to whatever format I want and put them on any device I own (iPhone, desktop, etc).

Baen usually puts an author's back-list up for free download at the Baen Free Library in hopes that if you like an author's work, you'll go buy a paper copy (as I did with some earlier Ringo novels).

They occasionally distribute portions of the Library on CD-ROM bound into their hardback titles, and encourage free distribution of the CD-ROM contents. One site has put all eighteeen CDs up for download.
posted by mrbill at 1:25 PM on November 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

I love the feel of books. I love being able to spread three different programming books out in order to coble together a solution to a problem. I love finding people's notes in old books.

That said, there is one thing that would make an e-reader appeal to me some day. It would be nice not to have five bookcases.

One downside for the e-reader though is that there probably wouldn't be a market of used titles like there is with print books. That might not be a big deal with paperback fiction, but used technical books puts some knowledge within the reach of more people.
posted by drezdn at 1:29 PM on November 18, 2007

It would be nice not to have five bookcases.

Minimalist, ey? Five bookshelves can also be viewed as merely a good start.

Kindlings do not furnish a room.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:38 PM on November 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I love books. I regularly cart around five-ten pounds of books in a big old Timbuk2 backpack. But the more I read about e-books, the more I doubt I'll ever own one. An amazon deal that includes e-book access for a slight surcharge, and then mails me the physical copy in a slightly-less timely fashion, is as close as I can imagine coming to that. But we're gonna need a lot more inflation before $10 seems like a reasonable fee purely intellectual property.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:40 PM on November 18, 2007

Well, I doubt very seriously you would want to read a Kindled tome in the bathtub.
posted by konolia at 1:41 PM on November 18, 2007

Personally, I'm glad people are continuing to look for consumer-friendly paperless novel options. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of holding a book in my hand, but I also love the idea of living in a world where trees still exist.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 1:42 PM on November 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

First, fuck Amazon for this:

...Amazon is using a proprietary e-book format from Mobipocket, a French company that Amazon bought in 2005, instead of supporting the open e-book standard backed by most major publishers and high-tech companies like Adobe.

Second, this is interesting stuff, particularly the Newseek piece, which covers a lot of ground. Funny, though, that neither article seriously addresses something that's surely a major consumer concern - namely, how the Kindle handles ownership issues. When you download the text, do you own your copy for good? What happens when your Kindle fills up its memory card? Can you get another one and keep the books you already have? Or do you have to replace one book you've bought with the next one? And if so, when you want to reread a book you've previously bought will you have to buy it again?

To me, those are important questions, but aside from this brief mention no one addresses them:

Bezos explains that it's only fair to charge less for e-books because you can't give them as gifts, and due to restrictive antipiracy software, you can't lend them out or resell them. (Libraries, though, have developed lending procedures for previous versions of e-books—like the tape in "Mission: Impossible," they evaporate after the loan period—and Bezos says that he's open to the idea of eventually doing that with the Kindle.)

And I just love this:

"Today it doesn't make sense to put ads in books, because of the unpredictable timing and readership," says Bill McCoy, Adobe's general manager of e-publishing. "That changes with digital distribution."

Uh-huh. Ads in e-books. Can't wait for the crowds to line up for that one.

Anyway, I was intrigued at the end of page 5 of the Newsweek aritlce, which points to a more fluid and public process of writing that could result from easily modified e-book files. It's true we're already in a more collaborative world, but there's still an awful lot of dumb hype being tossed around. "The possibility of interaction will redefine authorship"? Oh, please. Collaboration and interaction with the audience have always been part of publishing. This speeds the process up, sure, but the drooling futurist scenarios are hilarious. Call me luddite if you must, but there's not a publisher in the world that's gonna publish an Ann Coulter e-book with liberal annotations inside.
posted by mediareport at 1:42 PM on November 18, 2007 [6 favorites]

Minimalist, ey? Five bookshelves can also be viewed as merely a good start.

Kindlings do not furnish a room.

Ah, but five bookshelves of 'bound paper' provide much needed 'kindling' when one loses power and heat in the middle of a nuclear winter! ; )
posted by ericb at 1:43 PM on November 18, 2007

$10 per book?

The article mentions $1.99 for a classic like Bleak House. The Penguin rep's response to selling new bestsellers for $10 isn't promising, though:

Publishers are resisting the idea of charging less for e-books. "I'm not going along with it," says Penguin's Peter Shanks of Amazon's low price for best sellers.
posted by mediareport at 1:45 PM on November 18, 2007

I'm definitely looking forward to a good e-reader. Not that it will put a dent in my book-collecting obsession, but ideally it would allow me to travel with a variety of books (which I do already, and it's a pain), not to mention keeping stuff like O'Reilly's reference books handy, and maybe down the line get some of my magazine subscriptions electronically.

Of course, I won't purchase anything that prevents me from reading pdf & txt (at the very least) formats. Ideally, the reader would work much like the iPod - offer a large library of stuff that can be purchased/downloaded to the reader, but also allow for adding my own (unlocked) content. It should be more than obvious that any reader completely locked by DRM will absolutely fail in the marketplace. People simply will not spend $400 for a device that only allows them to spend more money.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 1:47 PM on November 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

As far as bathtubs go, I've never read a normal book in the bath, I understand some people do, but its always been baffling to me how they do so. I mean you either have to never put your hands into the water, or dry them off every time you want to touch the book, or let the book get soaking wet from your hands, right?
posted by sotonohito at 1:52 PM on November 18, 2007 [5 favorites]

That's what I want, an expensive deice I can loose, or break.
A device I can't use for used books... Heck, will used books exist?
A device that can lose power.
posted by cccorlew at 1:57 PM on November 18, 2007

I still own (and regularly use) my original Rocket eBook. It's amazing that Amazon hasn't learned any of the lessons than Nuvomedia, Gemstar and finally Franklin took to their graves -- people will not pay the same price for eBooks that they pay for paper books. Any kind of justification ("convenience", "a library in your pocket", "instant content") is pure bullshit next to "I get a book" vs. "I get some bits wrapped up in DRM that I need to use a locked down device to read." This is exactly the same model that killed the Rocket, and while I doubt that it will kill Amazon, it will certainly taint eBook readers in the cultural mindset for the next decade.

Book publishers need to wake the fuck up; in many respects, they're even further behind the curve of cultural reality than the RIAA is.

Thank god for Baen, and thank god for project Gutenberg.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:58 PM on November 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

Wow, ericb, that image is seriously harrogotha. I read the entire, photoless Newsweek article conjuring up my own notion of what such a device would look like, and I can assure you it was nothing like a late 80's fax machine crossed with Speak-and-Spell. It looks like a $10 Personal Electronic Organizer™ that'd you'd find in a flea market of the saddest Christmas gifts ever. $400? With DRM? This can't be it, can it? I mean, honestly, the only thing that's going to sell an overpriced, restrictive service like that is some sexy, and there's none of it there.
posted by mumkin at 1:58 PM on November 18, 2007

I'm curious. But $400 is a lot for this kind of thing.

I'm interested in reading classics on it, but only if they're at fair prices. I love well designed books that are meant to last, but paperbacks of classic novels often aren't--also, I'd rather have a portable electronic version of Richardson's Clarissa (for example) than the unwieldy, expensive and easily damaged paperback.

But at $10 for an e-book, most of which would be pure profit (that will likely find its way to the publisher and not the writer), I'd buy the physical paperback out of spite.
posted by Prospero at 2:00 PM on November 18, 2007

Some people do read ebooks in the tub (or shower!) on a Palm or similar touchscreen device by putting it in a ziplock bag. They say it works pretty well.
posted by hattifattener at 2:03 PM on November 18, 2007

I've rented and bought a number of movies from amazon.unbox, and I really dig their system. Under that regime, the movies are DRM'ed, but they keep your ownership in a kind of digital locker so you can download things again as needed. Since Amazon is a big-ass company, I feel comfortable with them maintaining my copy of CB4, but I dunno if I'd move exclusively to just getting movies through them.

This system pretty much works for me since there are limited number of places I'm going to play a movie, and most of the time, I just rent 'em, so I've got a specific target platform in mind when I hit checkout.

So... I'll be curious to see what amazon comes up with for ebooks. If it's executed well, it could really be awesome. Obviously, the ability to add your own content is a must if it's like $400... I mean, $400 is a lotta used or paperback books, especially when there's a library around.
posted by ph00dz at 2:04 PM on November 18, 2007

Hm. I may be wrong, but it doesn't appear to very clearly address which formats it will _read_ (as opposed to which Amazon will sell in).

One of the articles mentions:
f you or a friend sends a word document or PDF file to your private Kindle e-mail address, it appears in your Kindle library, just as a book does.

How will it handle .pdf resizing? If it'll read Word documents and will make PDFs readable on a small screen, between those I can wedge in the Gutenberg stuff and all the Google Books copyright free PDFs. That's a mighty big library right there.
posted by LucretiusJones at 2:07 PM on November 18, 2007

Wasn't Intel or someone going to give us digital ink that could be manipulated on electronic "paper," thus giving us a book with pages that could be changed via a USB port? Or something?
maybe i just dreamed this.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 2:12 PM on November 18, 2007

I never quite get who this stuff is marketed to.

Apparently, you can successfully base an entire industry on the 'occasional user'. I'm thinking of the kid who downloads a couple hundred CDs' worh of music, or who takes the occasional snapshot, or somebody who doesn't bat an eye at paying $10 for an occasional airplane book (as cited in the article). People seem to cheerfully line up for all this new-fangled stuff.

But those of us who are Heavy Consumers can't begin to imagine paying $10 a book (...OR $1 a track).

$400 for a reader, and then $10 per download on top of that? No, sorry, wake me when the price-point comes down by an order of magnitude or so.

Your $10 download isn't just competing with the $25 dead-trees version - it's competing with a few thousand $2 used books, each of which has a nearly-equal claim on my attention.

There's also the factor that I've had enough hardware failures in my life to still not be comforable with the whole idea of virtual media. A book or a CD or an envelope of negatives might take up shelf space, but at least they're still there when your cheap crappy reader dies on you.

So, yeah - it's not that I would never switch to digital, it's that we're nothing like being there yet.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 2:17 PM on November 18, 2007

Also, from the article in ericb's post: $400 cost, and a kludgy reading lamp attachment instead of a backlight?
posted by Prospero at 2:19 PM on November 18, 2007

it doesn't appear to very clearly address which formats it will _read_

Amazon's Mobipocket on my phone reads:
PRC - its "native" format

It's quite fussy about the formats of PDBs and PRCs, however, and will frequently refuse to open some saying they are "corrupt" when they open fine in, say, μBook.
posted by meehawl at 2:23 PM on November 18, 2007

Here's a Kindle forum.
posted by meehawl at 2:29 PM on November 18, 2007

Consumers are going to win this one, even though they may not yet be aware of it, because Jeff Bezos is holding one of the worst losing hands in the history of bookselling: he doesn't want 'to change the way we read books' so much as he must change the way he gets books into our hands-- ~$100/bbl oil has disemboweled his business model with sharp increases in delivery costs, and that will probably only get worse soon.
posted by jamjam at 2:32 PM on November 18, 2007

that image is seriously harrogotha

Congrats, I believe this is the first successful use in the blue, now waiting for it to appear in a FPP.

-- --

I use which has the copyright DRM stuff and it is not a problem since as ph00dz says, they hold a copy for you which can be downloaded at any time, no need to archive and store it locally (unless you cancel service, after a time it expires).

-- --

Publishers are resisting the idea of charging less for e-books. "I'm not going along with it," says Penguin's Peter Shanks

This is the big problem, it's the same thing with the music industry, they will be dragged kicking and screaming into it, but not before we get to see illegal books, and book piracy and banned books, like the good old days. Ahh the 'Age of Prohibition' is indeed upon us.
posted by stbalbach at 2:35 PM on November 18, 2007

I wish this FPP had waited until the product was announced - I want to discuss it, but now the audience will be smaller since it will be an old post
posted by stbalbach at 2:38 PM on November 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Arrgh, that Newsweek article reminded me of why I don't read Newsweek (et al). It seems perfectly obvious to me that by selling this device's books only in their store, and only in their format, Amazon is hoping to, eventually, cut out the publisher middle man. In the unlikely event that this device succeeds, its hard to say what value the publishers will be adding to the product. By funneling all user activity through their website and keeping all user data, Amazon will be able to perform promotional activities much more effectively, copyeditors are cheap, and the screening of good submissions from bad that publishers say they perform results from the upfront costs of printing (and Amazon can duplicate it cheaply with their own reviewers or their strong user feedback system). The publishers know this, which is why they hate offering eBooks at a competitive price, just as the music industry (now) hates the $0.99 iTunes pricing. Yet article author Stephen Levy discusses none of this, and blithely suggests that the publishers "should loosen up."
posted by gsteff at 2:40 PM on November 18, 2007

Agreed AsYouKnow Bob. I even agree with buying iTunes tracks, and this is a bit too much.

Amazon is competing with itself. Used books go for $5 dollars or less. A 50% reduction in price is something I'm willing to wait for. Add the massive starting price for being able to participate, and no thanks.
posted by zabuni at 2:46 PM on November 18, 2007

Wasn't Intel or someone going to give us digital ink that could be manipulated on electronic "paper," thus giving us a book with pages that could be changed via a USB port? Or something?

Well there is E-Ink and other EPD/ electronic paper companies working towards such a goal.
posted by ericb at 2:48 PM on November 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

pepsi blue?
posted by yonation at 2:48 PM on November 18, 2007

Good going mumkin, until now this AskMe thread was a Googlewhack for "harrogotha" . . . but once they update their cache that moment will be over. Enjoy it while you can.
posted by donovan at 2:49 PM on November 18, 2007

[this is wacky]
posted by blue_beetle at 2:53 PM on November 18, 2007

The price seems way too high, and new books will be too expensive. The thing that really gets me though is why on earth anyone would buy one sight unseen.

It's not going to be in any store and I don't know anyone that is clamoring for such a device, so unless I see one in person and it looks incredibly amazing and as sharp as paper, I won't even consider getting one. And I'm saying that as a guy that buys gadgets by the truckload.
posted by mathowie at 2:54 PM on November 18, 2007

I don't know anyone that is clamoring for such a device

That's really the key for me: there's no widespread dissatisfaction with, you know, actual books. The reports touch on that, but really don't explore the ramifications of the fact that books aren't broken. Yeah sure, being able to do a "find" for a phrase in Moby Dick in a portable ebook reader would be nice, but not *that* nice.
posted by mediareport at 3:07 PM on November 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Amazon's is offering is not just dead, it's undead, a corpse resurrected from the dead devices left behind by Nuvomedia, Sony, and Microsoft. Technology already exists to produce machine-readable and editable text. My particular solution (for now) is PDF.

All my research now exists as a database that can be annotated, searched, and extended, and PDFs (of books, journal articles, magazine articles, etc.) form the core of this database. (What I'm calling a "database" is actually an XML document I manage with Tinderbox, EndNote, and BBEdit.)

My department provides a copier that produces multi-page OCRed PDFs and uploads them to a network account I can access from anywhere I can get an Internet connection. That database lives on a 160GB music device and is easy to carry and remember. My library subscribes to scholarly databases that provide most scholarly journals in the form of PDFs. At my request, my library will transform articles which exist only in paper print into digital print (i.e. PDF).

If I ever need a paper copy, I can send a page (or 100) to a laser printer.

Basically, ripping paper print is a bit of a hassle, but totally doable. The beauty part is being able to travel for a few weeks with, literally, a few hundred articles and several dozen books without having a suitcase that I have to check in.

Oh, and being able to do searches for exact phrases on material I've read and to organize that material in arbitrary ways.

People value paper primarily for sentimental reasons (e.g. "I like curling up with books.") but those reasons do not jive with the fact that given the right environment and devices, digital print is often equally serviceable.

When a device that is about the size of a thin trade paperback is available that can provide unencumbered (no DRM) access to digital print and that device can allow for annotations and transfer of files to more flexible computing devices (including computers)—that will be the day that traffickers of paper print will be relegated to a niche category.

Paper print won't ever completely die. It will just become an even more rarefied experience, reserved for books that can benefit from physical existence, which basically rules out most books including many novels, volumes of poetry, plays, histories, biographies, manuals, you-name-it.

Damn, how did I get on my hobby horse? My apologies for so malformed a post.
posted by mistersquid at 3:33 PM on November 18, 2007 [6 favorites]

"If these guys can’t make it work, I see no hope."

Dude, can I have your library? 'Cause, yah, there's no hope, then.

For the past few years the majority of my book reading has been free stuff from the likes of and elsewhere on a superannuated Palm V, which has a beautiful cool blue green backlit night display. The device cost $20 on eBay five years ago.

Upthread someone remarked that they were using a Rocket device. I see that they are going for $100-$50 this month, which seems still too expensive for a single-purpose device.

The SF guys, logically enough, appear to be leading the way on digital distro, and frankly, I can't see how it will be possible to support the free-distro model without ads in-book.

/spits, still doesn't buy as many books as he once did
posted by mwhybark at 3:46 PM on November 18, 2007

e-books will one day be common for lots of people.
This device brings that day not a moment closer.
I read a lot of e-books on my old Palm. It holds dozens or hundreds.
I even paid for some years ago, but now just read free stuff like Baen, Gutenburg and the odd things given away free on the web (if you like sci-fi each year the Hugo award short stories and novellas are published on the web) from people like Cory Doctorow.
It fills a niche for reading in a 10-minute slot on the bus or - horror- when I finish my book and have nothing else.
It is especially good to take on holidays when I can take dozens of books with me for 100 grams, again as a supplement to the couple of heavy tomes of main reading.
I would like, and would pay a little, for a better ergonomic reading device, ideally with flash memory and AA batteries.
I've got no reason to pay $$$ for a reader that has expensive titles and presumably DRM hoops that restrict your ownership rights.
So, like Mathowie, I couldn't imagine wanting one of these.
Now if the gadget buyers spurn it, and people like me who actually read e-books without turning up my nose at the paperless format don't want it, who are they going to sell it too?
posted by bystander at 3:48 PM on November 18, 2007

I've been looking at ebook readers over the past couple of years. I've read a couple full length books from Project Gutenberg on my Palm but the font/screen sizes are just not pleasant. I read in three places; in bed, transit and the plane. I'd like a paperback sized reader that has either a backlight or clipon light to keep it dim enough so I don't keep my wife awake.

I'm also sick of dragging heavy books with me on work trips "just in case" either never to read them or to read 2 pages.

I saw a guy with a recent Sony ebook reader on the subway the other day. It was jammed packed and you could hardly move, but he had his arm wrapped around a pole using his thumb to push the next page button. I asked him how he liked it, he said he loved it, esp since it was so much easier to read on the train than ever a paperback.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:48 PM on November 18, 2007

Also, the whole drive for these devices seems predicated on iTunes. The book retailers hope to find a way to sell more titles , and would dearly love to sell titles a repeat time like when music went from records to CDs.
Books are different. It may be nifty to carry around 100 books on an e-reader, but there isn't the same demand for variety that drove MP3s to have your whole music collection on tap.
Technical users like mistersquid have an application for this, but the mass market doesn't.
They read one book at a time. I read a *lot*, even the shampoo bottle ingredients when I am in the shower, but I don't have a need for more than four or five books at once.
posted by bystander at 3:55 PM on November 18, 2007

I thought I wouldn't like the ebook reading thing, but as my book collection became increasingly burdensome during long moves I began to be converted. Orb makes it trivial to download a book from the home server, and it's also a handy way to read in bed beside someone else in almost total darkness. And as mentioned, for research, the annotation and search facilities are great... except that PDF is almost the worst possible interface for anything complex here. DJVu works much better than PDF for scanned material, and most of the software book readers kill PDFs for flexibility of resizing, notes, speed, etc.

I do think the entire idea of a single-use device for ebook reading is a dead-end. Last year, the standard resolution for smartphone screens was 320x240. Then iphone doubled that to 320x480. Then came the new Toshiba/Samsung/HTCs phones with the 800x400 resolution. I know the iphone doesn't actually have any real ebook readers but that's surely just a matter of time. The new EEE-class devices look good too. When everyone has high-res screen upon which to read, why spend so much to fill another pocket with a gadget?

Phone/PDA batteries do tend to run down a lot quicker than dedicated ebook readers. My HTC is lucky if it gets 6 hours contiunual reading before recharging. This about doubles if I use a profile that turns off the backlight - and more if I turn off the 3G and phone radio. I think that some of the non-LCD techs might reduce the delta between phone/PDAs and dedicated ebook readers even more.
posted by meehawl at 4:03 PM on November 18, 2007

I will never ever give up paper books not for anything ever.
posted by The Deej at 4:28 PM on November 18, 2007

“This is not your grandfather’s e-book”

This is the dumbest fucking thing I've read all week.
posted by dhammond at 4:49 PM on November 18, 2007 [5 favorites]

Well, I've got a Sony Reader and I'll say the software sucks. And the DRM sucks. But, the display technology is awesome awesome. And I'll say that all Sony cares about is having a vertically complete business model with their incredibly sucky "connect" service, and they (like everyone else) are terribly jealous of the iPod and iTunes.

If it weren't for the astute volunteers hanging out at the mobileread forums it would be a bad deal. But they are there, and everything has been hacked. I even installed a Japanese language pack on the device. Now I've rigged it with flash cards for studying, and of course you can pull down anything from project Gutenberg absolutely free and legal, or any other text conglomerator for that matter.

If you're in a place where English language books are rare and pricey, you could do much worse. But the Sony (or anyone else's) proprietary scheme is terrible. Whoever makes the most open reader, I think, will be the winner.
posted by damo at 5:06 PM on November 18, 2007

I'll look into this "innovation" after I read the ~35 books I can get instead of Kindle. Don't hold your breath.
posted by ersatz at 5:19 PM on November 18, 2007

Publishers are resisting the idea of charging less for e-books. "I'm not going along with it," says Penguin's Peter Shanks...

... as he rode his pet dinosaur off into the sunset.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:23 PM on November 18, 2007

Like the Segway, this will change everything.
posted by tkchrist at 5:52 PM on November 18, 2007

I love paper books for so many reasons.
I am also a nerd who spends way too much time on the "tubes".
Paper wins.
posted by davebarnes at 6:10 PM on November 18, 2007

Copy editing isn't cheap, actually. Neither is page design, or typesetting, when done well. On either dead trees or a display.

But 10$, I suppose it depends on the content.

Putting it on a mobile, not a bad idea. See also, iPhone and gPhone.

Proprietary? Dumb. But don't assume that it always will be.

Penguin has their doubts. How brave. Considering their entire classics list is public domain material and any title on it can be found for free in less than a minute.

This whole reading from the net thing is just a fad. Books will be around forever.

**returns to front page, clicks next link, reads another 5K words**
posted by Toekneesan at 6:12 PM on November 18, 2007

I was listening to Cory Doctorow talk about the e-book phenomenon, and he makes a really interesting point: why would anyone buy an exclusive e-book reader, when you can just buy a palm or tablet computer or cellphone which could easily have an e-book function? Given the choice, there's no way a person with at least a room-temperature IQ would choose a gadget that can you can only read text on.

Okay, so if you've got your multi-function computer in your pocket, and you can do anything with it, so are you going to read books on it, or are you going to watch YouTube videos of monkeys picking their butt?

I have a PSP with a reader program on it, so I can store and read a plethora of books on it...but I don't. Not very often. Because it's kind of work to get back to where you were before. With a physical book, just dog-ear it and you're back to where you were.
posted by zardoz at 6:22 PM on November 18, 2007

it's kind of work to get back to where you were before. With a physical book, just dog-ear it and you're back to where you were.

I've yet to find dedicated ebook software on Windows phones that doesn't bookmark automatically and restore upon startup or book opening. I actually like some of the systems that operate a stack and named bookmark approach, so you can jump back to certain points automatically, and can also make named bookmarks for random access and reference.
posted by meehawl at 6:28 PM on November 18, 2007

Charlie Stross has been doing good writeups about book readers for a while now.
posted by meehawl at 6:32 PM on November 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

Version 2.0 of this product will have the following:

1. A backlight
2. Ability to read almost every known format
3. A $149 price point.

Then, maybe, it might be a moderately successful niche product.
posted by Ynoxas at 6:35 PM on November 18, 2007

Your grandfather's ebook reader.
posted by saysthis at 6:38 PM on November 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Given the choice, there's no way a person with at least a room-temperature IQ would choose a gadget that can you can only read text on.

That's like saying why buy a single knife when you could get a swiss-army knife that also has a corkscrew, a nail file and a screwdriver on it?

It depends how much you read, how important the reading experience is to you, and what a specialty device could give you as opposed to an all-purpose device.

I want an e-book reader with e-ink or some other technology that makes the print look like print in a paper book; I want one that I can hold and operate with one hand, so that when I'm on the subway, I can hold onto a pole with one hand and completely operate the book with the other hand; I want an instant-on devise that, when I press a button, will display the page I was last reading; etc. etc. etc.

If I can get all this on a PDA or phone or whatever, great. But I think there's always room for single-function devices. They have a different philosophy and use than multi-function devices.

I can also see why someone who isn't a HUGE bookworm might not care about all these specialty features. But I don't think the fact that I do care means I have a below-room-temperature IQ.
posted by grumblebee at 6:40 PM on November 18, 2007

a person with at least a room-temperature IQ would choose a gadget that can you can only read text on...

Uh-oh ... maybe you want this thread. Perhaps? ; )
posted by ericb at 6:40 PM on November 18, 2007

I use a service, not a device, called the library. It r0xx0rz!
posted by Artw at 6:46 PM on November 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

there's no way a person with at least a room-temperature IQ

Can you even measure 25 IQ?
posted by meehawl at 6:49 PM on November 18, 2007

As a long-time reader of ebooks on Palms and Nokias and the occasional laptop, I can definitely see the appeal for this. I'd have to agree though that $400 is a tad too much. The logical next step for this is the use of E-Ink on a smartphone (which means you would have to forgo video for now). I'd be more than happy to give up pics and videos on phone if I could have a better reading experience.

I am also surprised at all the e-book backlash from so-called book lovers: books are a terrible, terrible delivery device for the written word: they are expensive, heavy to ship around and bulky. Books are the prototypical inefficient supply chain: booksellers have limited shelf-space which means that any title that may not be come a hit, will sooner-or-later be pushed off the shelf (Bezos did not pick books by chance to base Amazon on: book retailers have some of the hardest supply chain issues). And that's just the economics side of things, never mind the technological superiority of digital devices.
posted by costas at 6:51 PM on November 18, 2007 [4 favorites]

This will fail.

Why can I be so certain?

Because the entire system is designed for Amazon's benefit, not mine. They get to charge a lot more, give me less, and pay less to their suppliers. This isn't for my benefit. I'm about as geeky as customers get, and if it's not a benefit for even me, it's totally not going to fly with the general public.

You can't charge customers more money for less product when the alternative is still on the market.
posted by Malor at 6:57 PM on November 18, 2007

I should add.... I read and enjoyed a number of books on my Palm 3, so it's not just technophobia. My objection isn't because books are 'better' (although they are, in this limited case). Rather, my objection is that this is a ripoff, top to bottom.
posted by Malor at 7:00 PM on November 18, 2007

I am legally rejoined from offering an opinion on the reader itself, at least until it actually goes on sale, but I'm not worried for the immediate future of the book... Down the road, well... the publishing industry is suffering as it is and, still, there is more involved than just printing and shipping books. The company I work for acts much more like a "filter' (hmmm), selecting and funding good work, than just being a conduit for printing and distributing. Certainly print on demand technology is now advanced to the point where the average author of a text only book really doesn't need a publisher as much as they need 3 to 5 grand to run off a touring sales stash of books and some publicity copies, if that were all the publisher had to offer (as opposed to editors, publicists, marketing, sales, sales operations, sub-rights and accounting people) .

Certain kinds of books, especially technical manuals and medical references are perfect for the e-book. Personally I love the printed book too much to ever abandon it, but the world moves on. I imagine I'll be long gone from the publishing world when this kind of thing becomes a bigger issue than the fact that the market for new books (esp. literature and non-specialty non-fiction) has been shrinking year over year for the last little while.

Thanks for that by the way, you morons.. Maybe not so much Metafilter users in general, but maybe you can thank a local moron for me when you see one.

In the end people like me that work mostly in operations and sales and infrastructure might get pushed out of the book business, but there will always be a place for the publisher, even if that place becomes more based on reputation, rather than financial strength and the function is more curatorial than one that affects distribution. Might not be such a bad thing, but I bet we're still a little ways off from the death of the book. I'm going down swinging in any event

The nice thing about that Newsweek article is that it proves that apes can be taught to write basic, treacly, unambitious prose, who knows what they'll be capable of in a hundred years? Perhaps a solid mystery novel involving a cat detective or a sassy old lady.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:04 PM on November 18, 2007

I meant "enjoined" up there, I swear I typed it as well. Rejoined, fucking hell, I might as well get a job in television.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:07 PM on November 18, 2007

You know what I'd like to do...big font books on my TV. I'm gonna jump in with the crowd and say that pulp isn't the best text delivery system. It's not backlit. I'd much, much, much rather have an LED reader, and when I'm at home, I'd like my book to take up half the wall. Hell, I'll take it on the ceiling. I want it projectable and movable. That's my ideal reader.

I can dream.
posted by saysthis at 7:10 PM on November 18, 2007

Sony's e-ink reader (and the newer 2nd gen, nonetheless) can be had for $300. I ran across a Sony refurb for ~$170.

It's unfortunate that they aren't available in Canada (so I can drop into a Sony store and try it out myself).

MobiReader isn't that bad. I have the (free and only) version installed on my Sony Clie Palm OS5 NX70/v (I love the jog wheel). There's also a free conversion/creation utility from Mobi, too (for Project Gutenberg and Baen Free library and stuff).

I can read one handed while standing in a crowded bus on my PDA (which I can't do with a pocket book, less a tome like Stephenson's Quicksilver) - these e-ink readers look a little too bulky and damn that prototype is fugly. The Sony reader looks a little better, but it lacks elegance.

If there was an e-ink device readable with one hand, though, I'm all over it (my PDA only has 6 hours of continuous use on the lowest backlight setting with a new 1400mA battery).
posted by porpoise at 7:46 PM on November 18, 2007

stbalbach I use which has the copyright DRM stuff and it is not a problem since as ph00dz says, they hold a copy for you which can be downloaded at any time, no need to archive and store it locally (unless you cancel service, after a time it expires).

You know there is an easy way to remove that DRM? :)
posted by so_ at 7:47 PM on November 18, 2007

When the original iPod came out it too cost $400, and it sold really pretty well for a product that only worked on recent Macs and lasted barely eight hours on a charge. It did that because there was just a monumental amount of desire for such a thing: even if most people didn't realise it, they wanted to carry all their music with them.

There isn't anything like that untapped market waiting here. Sure, there is a number of folks around that would like to carry one of these instead of the tons of books they carry, but that's vanishingly small compared to folk who were sick of carting 10 CDs to school.

Without that groundswell it will never get past the "too expensive, too limited" inital release, in the way the iPod did. Unless Amazon just sinks cash into it, forever.
posted by bonaldi at 8:32 PM on November 18, 2007

I am also surprised at all the e-book backlash from so-called book lovers

Just to be clear, I have no problem with e-books; like I said above, I find the possibilities discussed in the Newsweek article intriguing. I'm just highly skeptical of the hype which comes with every lame attempt at making it work, think this version is clearly moving in the wrong direction, and agree with Malor that its advances seem designed to most benefit the distributor rather than the consumer.

books are a terrible, terrible delivery device for the written word

Now you're just being loony. I'll bet consumer interest in print-on-demand technology that would allow an instant hard copy from a kiosk or something is currently *much* higher than consumer interest in ebook readers. That may change, sure, but just because publishing has supply chain issues doesn't mean books are "terrible, terrible" delivery devices. People like books for a reason - they rock for portable info delivery.
posted by mediareport at 9:28 PM on November 18, 2007

When the original iPod came out it too cost $400, and it sold really pretty well for a product that only worked on recent Macs and lasted barely eight hours on a charge ... There isn't anything like that untapped market waiting here ...

Good point. It's not about price and features, it's about value and benefit.

The iPod added a huge benefit to peoples' lives at what was seen to be a good value.
posted by The Deej at 9:54 PM on November 18, 2007

I buy lotsa books, and I treat most of them as disposable. I read them, then sell them to the used paperback store or donate them to the shelter, or give them to my favorite bar, which has a lending library.

Anything I want to buy for reference or for the permanent collection I purchase as a hard-bound volume on acid-free paper. Anything I want to buy for entertainment has to fit in a pocket, cost less than $20, and be able to withstand a beating. Like a marinara sauce spattering, a few sneezes, or a demolished spine because I long ago decided that I could keep books nice or I could read long books.

I would love to have an e-book reader that really, really works right. But this isn't it.

I think the other end of the e-book market hasn't been exploited. I like shopping in bookstores. I don't like book shopping online. I like the serendipity, the random find, the conviviality of hanging out in a place that's about books. If I could go to a bookstore and pick up a hard copy of something I wanted and have it zapped to my device simultaneously, I might pay $5 more for that. If I could get a deal on e-copies of Dashiell Hammett while buying the new Ian Rankin I might fall for that. If I could buy a magazine featuring an interview with an interesting author and get a discount on his e-book, I might fall for that.

But this seems like a solution looking for a problem.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:58 PM on November 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

To relate BitterOldPunk's talking about booksstores: an analogy is home movies vs. theater. The act of going to the movie theater has been hit with blow after blow since the popularity of television in the 1950s. Then came cable TV in the 70s and people said the theater was dead. Then came VHS in the 80s and people said theater was really dead this time around, and then came Laserdisk, DVD, a resurgence of television, and High definition video, and guess what? People are still going out to the theaters, more than ever.

I, too, love going to a bookstore and spending hours there, if not reading books then simply browsing through everything I can. Walking around massive used bookstore (like Powell's in Portland, OR) is a great way to spend an afternoon. Barnes and Noble's have become a kind of social space in America, replacing the library for a lot of people. I don't think the brick and mortar stores are in trouble just yet, not until a really, really, really good e-reader is available.
posted by zardoz at 11:06 PM on November 18, 2007

I hope the image in ericb's link isn't actually the final design. I mean, did their original designer die in 1992 and they kept it looking like that in her/his memory? Bleh.
posted by kosher_jenny at 11:12 PM on November 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Damnit, I clicked into the Newsweek article all excited, but this effort by Amazon looks/sounds pretty average. I can't wait to not have to lug large tomes to and from work everyday, but need a good, non eye-straining screen so phones, mp3 players, etc, need not apply. Hopefully, Amazon will at least increase the chances of a good device being released in the future.
posted by Onanist at 3:11 AM on November 19, 2007

I read books on my (hacked out) iPod touch in my bathtub every day after work. It works pretty well, but the screen is kinda bright. As soon as that e-ink can display in color and achieve a refresh rate high enough to be used in iPod screens, it's all over.
posted by donkeymon at 3:35 AM on November 19, 2007

The page is up at Amazon.

The design is the same as the leaked image. I cannot fathom why it needs all those buttons.
posted by smackfu at 6:42 AM on November 19, 2007

(The Wikipedia support is pretty neat though.)
posted by smackfu at 6:44 AM on November 19, 2007

Good god, it's ugly.
posted by porpoise at 7:39 AM on November 19, 2007

What's with the random design on the back?
posted by drezdn at 7:55 AM on November 19, 2007

I watched the Flash demo on the Amazon page. It doesn't look like there's enough contrast between the text and the background.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:01 AM on November 19, 2007

I like it.

I'm a cheapskate and unlikely to drop $400 on it right away. I'd love to get one in my hands and play with it. Are they going to be in stores at all?

I'm not sure that Amazon knows what they're doing with the subscription fees. You can email content to it, which I assume is free. Or you can 'subscribe' to a 'blog' for 'as little as' 99 cents a month. I'm pretty sure there are free RSS-to-email services out there, or if not, it's easy enough to do yourself. Maybe the formatting and ease-of-use would be worth a buck a month... And it doesn't support PDF?

On the other hand, I pay for paper versions of the NYT and magazines to come to my house. I'd be happy to be rid of that paper and would continue to pay something. Especially if I was a subway commuter instead of working from home.

Have there been any other big devices that use a cell provider's network and DON'T have a monthly fee? I think that's a pretty big deal. Imagine if an iPod Touch had that capability.

Hopefully it's successful enough to put some pressure into the Sony Reader/iPhone market, at least.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:02 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I love the idea of holding a book in my hand, but I also love the idea of living in a world where trees still exist.

The U.S. forest industry plants more trees than it cuts down. Trees aren't non-renewable like fossil fuel. As long as there's a demand for lumber and paper, trees are in no danger of going extinct.
posted by designbot at 8:11 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

metafilter meet slashdot

Between the community predication for Android and the collective beard yammering here, I think you all are completely divorced from reality.

But, this is mostly a post so later on I can link to it and do a "I told you so"

posted by PissOnYourParade at 8:52 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ok, I've read through the specs and watched the videos from smackfu's link above.

1. The design is terrible.
2. The screen is the same as on the Sony Libre first released over 4 years ago. Nothing new or innovative.
3. The wireless connection and online store is revolutionary.
4. The $10 price for best-selling books is revolutionary.

In short, the device itself is poor but the service is really something new and revolutionary.

I'll wait for gen2 or gen3 device that has a bigger screen, better fonts and color.
posted by stbalbach at 9:11 AM on November 19, 2007

OTOH, the Sony Libre wasn't released in the US until this time last year. Nicer design though.
posted by smackfu at 9:24 AM on November 19, 2007

"My grandfather's e-book"? They wre both gone before the personal desktop computer became widely known, let alone the Internet. I guess Bezos is trying some comic irony on for size, or something.
posted by pax digita at 9:36 AM on November 19, 2007

Needs more porn

Needs more spam. Somrthing like this could never turn into a marketing advertising platform? NO.


and thereby concludes my contribution to 20 squintillion cmments saying nothing will ever drag me a way from books. Fuck I hate this idea so much I kinda want some of the hundreds of bucks I've spent at Amazon back...
posted by Skygazer at 10:00 AM on November 19, 2007

I'll wait for gen2 or gen3 device that has a bigger screen, better fonts and color.

Umm...that's already here friend. It's called a book.
posted by Skygazer at 10:02 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seth Godin has a pretty good post about this. Why didn't Amazon toss in say 50-100 classic (ie. public domain) books in with the purchase of the reader. It would have cost them little if anything to do and would have made the device more appealing.
posted by drezdn at 10:12 AM on November 19, 2007

Man, it's so ugly...
posted by leahwrenn at 10:18 AM on November 19, 2007

Are they going to be in stores at all?

Probably not. Amazon has to be very careful about distributing physical product through stores, for tax reasons. Also, most of the book stores and electronics stores that could sell these are Amazon competitors who have no interest in seeing them succeed.

BTW, I work for one of those competitors, and the only part of this that gives me pause is the whispernet bit. That is neat. The machine, the cost per "book", the ridiculous hoop jumping to get documents on the device from one's PC, the crappy format's not terribly threatening. We're still quite a few steps away from e-books done right.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:22 AM on November 19, 2007

Why didn't Amazon toss in say 50-100 classic (ie. public domain) books in with the purchase of the reader. It would have cost them little if anything to do and would have made the device more appealing.
posted by drezdn at 10:12 AM on November 19

I'm guessing Penguin and other publishers of "classic" books wouldn't have been too happy about that. Which, if true, raises more questions about whether this is or is not a good thing...
posted by vacapinta at 11:28 AM on November 19, 2007

I'm guessing Penguin and other publishers of "classic" books wouldn't have been too happy about that.

I think that's entirely possible, but the big chains already sell their own copies of classic books (Barnes and Noble has several series).

My theory is that Amazon is looking at it backwards. Since their original business was book sales, so they look at this e-reader as an opportunity to sell more books. Which is a bit different from the Apple model, where Apple first made the money on hardware sales.

It would be interesting if an e-reader manufacturer would have followed the original record player company, where record player makers (or record player cabinet makers) included records to encourage more people to buy their player.

As an aside, Penguin lost a big bit of respect from me when they backed out of selling audio books through eMusic because of the lack of DRM.
posted by drezdn at 11:37 AM on November 19, 2007

Personally, I am not interested. Books are a great technology for me-- portable, look good on shelves, flexible, light-weight, and most of all easy to read. I usually read one or maybe two books at a time, I have no need to carry around 100 or even 20 books with me.

Textbooks, now there's another story. A kindle for students with all their textbooks for $10 each, plus updates from their teachers and integration with other services? Gold.
posted by cell divide at 11:59 AM on November 19, 2007

Man, this would be almost perfect for me. I live in China, where there's precious little access to English-language reading material that isn't old or expensive, and the thought of being able to load up on stuff, even at ten bucks a pop, is totally appealing. I'm not even opposed to e-books in principle, so long as they're done right.

If only the thing didn't suck. The whispernet that everyone's talking about here is mighty cool indeed, but it makes the thing a brick in areas where Sprint doesn't have coverage. The lack of PDF support means that I won't be able to use all of the e-books that I already have, and I bet this thing doesn't support Chinese text either. Plus it's uglier than a Soviet-designed shoebox.
posted by bokane at 12:10 PM on November 19, 2007

From the kindle user guide:
Tip: Mobipocket files must have no Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection applied to be readable on your Kindle. If you purchased a Mobipocket file from a Mobipocket retailer, you will not be able to open the file on your Kindle.
Amazon bought mobipocket, and uses some version of their format over the openbook format.
Then there is this disturbing quote 5:10 into the video
If you have personal documents you want to read on your kindle, like Microsoft Word files, you can just email them to your account. for just a small charge , Amazon will convert the document and deliver it wirelessly.
Has anyone found out the amount of this charge? I don't see any mention of in the support pages . DRM books that can only be read on this device is less than wonderful, but to charge you to put your own content on to the device seems ridiculous.
posted by lucidprose at 12:31 PM on November 19, 2007

Books are a great technology for me

Yeah, books are great, no question. Electronic books are available instantaneously for browsing - look at Google Books or Internet Archive for example. They have more books than most libraries - the joy of browsing library stacks and discovering new things - browsing through books - anywhere anytime. That is an entirely different experience than reading a book cover to cover. I know I have learned a lot simply by skimming through new books on Internet Archive (they add up to a few thousand new each day).
posted by stbalbach at 12:51 PM on November 19, 2007

"Collective beard yammering"? Good thing I wasn't actually drinking my coffee when I read that one!

Uh-huh. Ads in e-books. Can't wait for the crowds to line up for that one.

Oh, you'd be surprised.

I'm coming at this from my position as an author of 10+ major-publisher craft-related books. I can see plenty of genres, my own among them, not only using ad placement to generate extra revenue and possibly cut book prices, but also as a *useful* and helpful means of adding wanted content to the book.

For example: I write a book with 20 patterns in it. Of those 20 patterns, at least 5 of them will use yarn that will no longer be available in a year. The average knit-book consumer is not comfortable with substituting yarns, and so all of a sudden, 25% of their book is no longer usable for them. Or, the suggested yarn is too expensive but they're not comfortable substituting. (Etc etc).

Enter the internet-enabled reading device.

In the materials list, "2 skeins Cascade 220, 440 yds" is hyperlinked to or the like, so you can find 30+ suitable substitute yarn suggestions. No muss. no fuss and you don't even have to bring 8 lbs of knitting books to the yarn store with you when you go shopping for your next project.

The publisher suddenly has an incentive to sell advertising to the companies whose products I use in the pages. Buy the "sponsored by Cascade" e-edition for $3 off? Yeah. Knitters'd be all over that.

The ability to change text sizes on the book without goofing around with a photocopier? Perfect for the visually-impaired knitters.

Drop the price a little bit and improve the look of it (what, Amazon? you can't lure away some of Apple's designers?) and this device could be a major player.

From the this-is-how-I-make-my-living perspective, I'd rather get any royalty, even a slightly lower one, from the digital edition than get nothing when my books are resold used on Amazon.

And this is just one book genre... I think this would be AMAZING for textbooks.
posted by at 1:16 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have a Sony Reader and love it. The new 505 model is even better. However, there's no way I would spend full price for it. Earlier this year Sony and Visa ran a special, sign up for a new credit card and get a Reader for $50.

What made it usable is the active community of developers writing conversion software for the reader. I can grab a book of Project Gutenberg, convert it to lrf and I'm good to go.

It will never replace my books, but it does complement it. It works great if I want to grab something of the net to read or if I'll be traveling and can't take a bag of books.

That said, aside from the books I bought with the $50 credit that came with the book I'll probably never buy more ebooks as long as they are locked with DRM to a single device. Somebody is going to come out with a better device one day and I'll want to be able to move my ebooks to it.
posted by beowulf573 at 1:40 PM on November 19, 2007

I think this would be AMAZING for textbooks.

Like most other people, my initial reaction was, "Holy shit. What year was that designed in?" Epcot Center Future(tm) indeed.

But the above in particular seems like one of the more promising applications for the thing... Pity I gradumated a couple years ago!

For general reading purposes... Blech. It's very vaguely a step in the right direction, but there's enough wrong here that I wonder how successful it'll be even with early adopter types.

As my magic 8-ball sez: Reply hazy, try again.
posted by sparkletone at 1:47 PM on November 19, 2007

My wife bought me a Sony eReader for my birthday. Though it hasn't arrived yet, I'm pretty excited about it. But it's just the excitement of a geek about to get a new toy. Assuming I like the thing and use it often, I'll probably quit caring about it -- much as I don't care about forks (useful as they are). To me, it's the masked potatoes that are exciting, not the forks I eat them with. To me, the medium is not the message; the message is the message.

I have many romantic associations with printed books, and I own shelves and shelves of them. I love their smell, the feel of their pages, etc. But if someone took them all away and gave them back to me in digital form (assuming that the new form was convenient to read), I think I'd get over the loss.

All that romantic stuff is important, but what's WAY more important than the covers is what's between them. Books have already morphed from being written on clay to be being written on scrolls to being printed on bound paper. eBooks probably aren't the last stop on that journey. But there are constants: words, sentences, paragraphs. I'm betting Plato's "Republic" doesn't feel more authentic if you read it in scroll form.

So I expect that I'll start by saying, "I wish I was reading 'The Great Gatsby' on paper instead of on this machine!" But a few pages later, I'll be hoping that Daisy will show up at one of Gatsby's parties.

I'm not saying that technology never has an effect. My iPod has profoundly affected the way I listen to music. But that's because songs are relatively short. And with my iPod, I can carry a ton of these short songs with me everywhere and listen to them in all sorts of funky orders that would have been difficult in the LP and CD days. And I listen to all sorts of new things, like audiobooks and podcasts.

But once I get past clicking buttons instead of flipping pages, I expect to interact with eBooks much the same way as I do with paper ones: one word at a time.

It's interesting to me that most eBook debates center around DRM, which is a very important issue, but it's not an issue that touches the real-time experience act of reading. Or discussions focus on books as objects (the feel of paper in one's hands, etc.) rather than as holders of information. Or they focus on the small details of particular devices ("the power switch is poorly placed"). All this stuff is useful to talk about, but it feels transitory to me. Whereas words endure.
posted by grumblebee at 1:50 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

lucidprose, the charge is 10 cents per document. The price is on the main page, but very hard to find.
They also mention on the page that you can expand the memory via SD card, but don't say whether you can copy files directly to the card. Likewise, Audible files can only be copied to the device via USB, but they don't say whether or not you can copy books the same way.
I've been reading books off my Blackberry for years now. I've been very interested in moving to a dedicated reader, but nothing out there grabs my fancy. Still hoping for something better. Maybe an iPhone when they finally open it up to 3rd party apps.
posted by Eddie Mars at 1:50 PM on November 19, 2007

Have there been any other big devices that use a cell provider's network and DON'T have a monthly fee?

There's lots for GSM.The newest with the best resolution is the Toshiba G900. It's a PocketPC phone with 800x400 colour screen. Because US carriers are loathe to offer any advanced phones besides Apple's, it doesn't seem to be subsidised. Google says it costs $600-$800 unlocked. There's a couple of HTC smartphones Athena, (640x480, $900!) or Universal (640x480, $200-$600 on eBay). The Universal has a lot of different OEM names. HTC also makes all the Palms and Blackberries.
posted by meehawl at 2:25 PM on November 19, 2007

"makes all" should read "makes some". Quanta, CCI, FIH, IAC, PiTech and Asustek also ODM some mobiles as well.
posted by meehawl at 2:29 PM on November 19, 2007

Ahh thanks Eddie Mars. Though 10c is small, it still discourages play on the device. I feel that the type of person that reads enough to justify $400 for a single purpose reading device is also likely a person that really enjoys reading paper books. That price needs to come down. I'm with those who say they should bundle the ebook with physical book purchases. Add $2 to the price and you have a copy you can start reading now while you wait for the book to ship.

For $400, I'd rather splurge on on iphone. I'm excited about the February release of a iphone SDK. There is a clear design for a ebook reader on the iphone that would be compelling (no vertical scrolling!). The kindle device's lack of a touch screen makes some of the UI awkward (e.g. looking up a word definition). I just hope that Apple does not screw it up (glad there is pressure from google android project to make a non-crippled SDK).
posted by lucidprose at 2:58 PM on November 19, 2007

Am I the only one who dislikes the idea of e-books simply and solely because reading things on a screen hurts my eyes, and reading things on a page, in general, does not? Is there anyone else who has this problem, or just me?

Until it's solved, I cannot see myself getting fired up about these.
posted by kyrademon at 3:13 PM on November 19, 2007

Ugly, and in a bad way. Not ugly in the unusual, weird, quirky way. I can imagine the laughter over at apple.

I vote DOA also. Even though I would love a well designed reader.
posted by R. Mutt at 3:41 PM on November 19, 2007

Having asked about the USB download, and read the manual closely, it looks as thought the .10 fee applies only if the content is delivered wirelessly.

You should be able to read unlocked mobipocket books, text files, and word docs on the thing, and load 'em via the USB or card.

There are good converters for word and html to mobipocket files, and pretty doubtful converters for PDFs as well.

My guess is that converted .pdfs will be mostly unreadable, but that other non-proprietary formats should be convertible if you want to read forums, download shaky software, and the like.
posted by LucretiusJones at 3:45 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Am I the only one who dislikes the idea of e-books simply and solely because reading things on a screen hurts my eyes ...

No, and that's the current problem with using a multifunction device (PDA, laptop, etc) for ebooks. I use my Windows Mobile cell phone for ebooks occasionally, and the combination of the brightness and tiny screen size makes it a bit less than optimal.

However, devices like the Sony Reader are much more readable - sharper and less bright at the same time. In the next few years, better screen technology will arrive in multifunction devices, and I predict that's when ebooks will take off.
posted by me & my monkey at 3:46 PM on November 19, 2007

I am also surprised at all the e-book backlash from so-called book lovers: books are a terrible, terrible delivery device for the written word

Why are you surprised that book lovers love books? When the equivalent of the iPod (or even something passable like Rio) comes around I'll buy it. Till then I'm not surprised that book lovers don't necessarily coincide with e-book lovers.
posted by ersatz at 4:30 PM on November 19, 2007

books are a terrible, terrible delivery device for the written word

Exactly. Book readers of the past 555 years agree. Print on paper -- it's SUXXOR!!1!!
posted by ericb at 5:10 PM on November 19, 2007

A 2-bit display at 167ppi? Do not want. If it had about 5 times more pixel density, the experience might be remotely similar to real paper.
posted by ijoshua at 5:24 PM on November 19, 2007

The newest with the best resolution is the Toshiba G900. It's a PocketPC phone with 800x400 colour screen.

But it's still a smartphone, right? So you have a monthly cell contract to use the data service. As opposed to this Amazon thingie, which has no contract and the data is free.
posted by smackfu at 6:07 PM on November 19, 2007

So you have a monthly cell contract to use the data service.

When you find a broadband wireless service that doesn't charge in some way to use its (invisible) tubes please tell me. My carrier charges me $30/month all in for voice and all-you-can-eat data and I needed a phone anyway so it seems reasonable. If I don't want to go on paying then I can still use it as a WiFi handheld without the 3G. However, I took the question to mean was there a way to use a reader that didn't require an additional monthly subscription to enable its reading function.

If you restrict yourself to non-carriers, and want to leech off WiFi, why not just get an EEE or a Nokia tablet? Cheaper, better screen than most phones, and more flexible.
posted by meehawl at 7:00 PM on November 19, 2007

Fonts, kerning, hyphenation, line breaks, and page breaks, are important for reading comfort. I hope that Kindle incorporates some the things that TeX got right 25 years ago; it's frustrating that basic word processing formats like .doc get it wrong still. Information on the .mobi format seems pretty scarce, does anybody know if it incorporates typesetting or layout?

If the old metaphors still hold, one can't judge a book reader by its casing, but when the design of the outside seems so unpolished I would think that the text rendering will also be primitive.
posted by Llama-Lime at 9:03 PM on November 19, 2007

Mark Pilgrim has a cute response to Amazon's Kindle: The Future of Reading (A Play in Six Acts).
posted by RichardP at 9:21 PM on November 19, 2007

Mark Pilgrim's post is pretty good. I also liked John Gruber's less cutesy response:
So the Kindle proposition is this: You pay for downloadable books that can’t be printed, can’t be shared, and can’t be displayed on any device other than Amazon’s own $400 reader — and whether they’re readable at all in the future is solely at Amazon’s discretion. That’s no way to build a library.
posted by sveskemus at 1:40 AM on November 20, 2007

There is two reasons I definitely don't think this will be the next ipod.

1) Apple had a built in following of first adopters who were willing to give the ipod a try. They had an established hardware brand. While there may be people who absolutely love buying books from Amazon, no one thinks of them as a hardware company.

2) With the iPod there were a decent number of people excited about it (as there is with nearly everything Apple). Judging from the net reaction (on Amazon, it seems the only positives are coming from people who live in Seattle).

Additionally, in books, the average buyer is usually not a technophile. After all, 21% of all books purchased are romance titles.
posted by drezdn at 6:46 AM on November 20, 2007

Imagine if this was targeted at romance readers, though, and for $60/year you could get two dozen new Harlequin titles? Probably not, with the $400 initial outlay, but maybe someday. Romance books are the ultimate in disposable, if my visits to used book stores say anything.

Regarding my earlier question about free wireless - I know you can buy smart phones and a service plan, I was asking specifically about devices like this that promise unlimited 'free' access to a wireless network. (Now it looks like it's not very free at all...)
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:34 AM on November 20, 2007

What do you do if you lose the reader with the card that has hundreds of books on it? Do you have a backup somewhere?
posted by zorro astor at 8:47 AM on November 20, 2007

Apparently it comes with access to Amazon's NowNow answer service.
posted by dmd at 9:16 AM on November 20, 2007

For some, annual book-burning festivals have become a tad more expensive....
posted by samsara at 2:07 PM on November 20, 2007

What do you do if you lose the reader with the card that has hundreds of books on it? Do you have a backup somewhere?

Apparently Amazon lets you re-download any e-book you've bought. So yes, you do have a backup.
posted by sveskemus at 2:56 PM on November 20, 2007

Occasionally, conversion of that content for reading on Kindle may require modification of content, layout, or format, including the omission of some images and tables and in this case footnotes.
posted by sveskemus at 1:29 AM on December 17, 2007

« Older I was cheering for Lost Pig, too.   |   Chuck Norris doesn't endorse. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments