Archive for July, 2008|Monthly archive page

New York Times on Reading

Quick weekend link to a New York Times piece debating the merits of reading books vs reading online:

As teenagers’ scores on standardized reading tests have declined or stagnated, some argue that the hours spent prowling the Internet are the enemy of reading — diminishing literacy, wrecking attention spans and destroying a precious common culture that exists only through the reading of books.

But others say the Internet has created a new kind of reading, one that schools and society should not discount. The Web inspires a teenager like Nadia, who might otherwise spend most of her leisure time watching television, to read and write.

Some interesting discussion, but the piece fails to address that fundamental question about the definition of a book. Whilst it teases out some interesting web-based writing (such as fanfiction.net), those examples and those used as contrasts (Harry Potter and Ayn Rand) are by no means definitive. Indeed, there’s some muddle-headed thinking which seems to argue for a weirdly fundamentalist media specificity:

Clearly, reading in print and on the Internet are different. On paper, text has a predetermined beginning, middle and end, where readers focus for a sustained period on one author’s vision. On the Internet, readers skate through cyberspace at will and, in effect, compose their own beginnings, middles and ends.

Clearly, it’s not that clear. After all, the article itself has a predetermined text, and whilst I’m happy commenting on it, I’m not imposing my own beginning, middle or end. I’m reading the article online, but I’m assuming it’s the same in the dead tree version of the paper. 

The internet does not make demands of its content – it *can* be understood as a medium for transmission – and there’s no reason why what the article’s author thinks of as books can’t be distributed on line.

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Tor’s giveaway

For a hile now, Tor (the sci-fi publishers) have been giving away a free e-book each week to people subscribed to their e-mail service. To bring the experiment to a close, there’ll having a last week giveaway where everything can be downloaded from their website:

At any rate, now that the life of our doughty little holding page is drawing to a close (shed a tear), we thought we’d make everything we gave away there–all the novels, all of the desktop wallpaper–available for one additional week, starting today and running through Sunday, July 27. 

eReader for iPhone Review

Not from me – the hack to upgrade my first-gen iphone is out, but I’m being a little cautious and waiting for others to try it first. So here’s a Salon review:

It was only a matter of time before e-books would show up on the iPhone. It took a year, but it was worth the wait.

Unlike Palm or BlackBerry or Nokia smart phones, the iPhone’s screen is comparatively gargantuan. No, not as large as the Kindle’s with its nice wide margins that add to the illusion of actual ink on paper, but wonderfully white and bright with beautiful contrast.

Once I finish the book I’m reading the old James Bond fan in me once to check out Sebastian Faulk’s 007 effort. And what better way to do it than on the iphone. I’ll keep you posted.

Lookybook

A quick weekend link for those of us with young kiddies:

Lookybook allows you to look at picture books in their entirety—from cover to cover, at your own pace. We know that nothing will replace the magic of reading a book with your child at bedtime, but we aim to replace the overwhelming and frustrating process of finding the right books for parents and their kids.

At the moment, a flash-driven marketing exercise, but yet another service that points the way to what *could* be a future of book publishing…

2 iphone or not?

The iphone debate hots up. Given that there’s millions of the things out there, an app store with a fictionwise (ereader) client and a perfectly readable screen, many are either (1) declaring the death of kindle or (2) bemoaning the lack of publisher interest in what appears to be the hottest portable computer device around. Not that we’re there yet. I had a quick look at the ereader client on an ipod touch and it’s a good start but needs more development. Better integration for buying titles and a press to turn (rather than a swipe to turn) interface would help.

I’m assuming that better ebook apps will come though (whether from fictionwise or somewhere else) – and critical mass of users might attract the publishers (look at Pandora’s iphone stats for some insight into what’s happening). In the meantime, it’s funny to read the iphone naysayers who try to defend telco walled gardens or suggest that it’s just a phone. Like it or not, the bloody thing represents thinking 1.0 in a paradigm shift that points the way to our future portable computing usage. It’s the next step in personal computing, and whether or not the iphone itself is the future is really moot. What matters is what it represents. Simply put, it’s the first truly portable convergence device that ordinary folk are happy to use. A convergence device that is with us 24/7 – where we’re doing our music listening, video watching, web surfing, phone calling, game playing – and book reading. 

In the meantime, Teleread has a terrific summary of the “iphone or not” discourse. Go read.

eReader for iPhone

And it’s out:

eReader Pro for iPhone and iPod touch
JUST RELEASED! eReader Pro for iPhone and iPod touch is an award-winning application used to read eReader eBooks on your Apple iPhone or iPod touch

Haven’t looked into this closely yet, but it looks like I’m going to have to buy a iPhone 3G if the hacks for my old faithful don’t materialise soon…

Neil Gaiman’s ‘results of free’

Neil Gaiman posted the results of his experiment in making American Gods available free electronically. An interesting read with some pertinent comments about the online browsing experience and this conclusion:

Given that Harper Collins sold a lot more of all my books while the free American Gods was out there, with sales of all my titles up 40% through independent bookshops, I think I can safely say that we’ll be doing it — or rather, something similar — again. And that the 56% of people who didn’t enjoy the online reading experience may be a lot happier with how we do it next time out.

They’re Coming…

The iphone app store for iphone 2.0 firmware should be opening real soon now, and already there’s a bunch of e-book solutions lined up at the starting gate. Check out Legends and Stanza for a start. Hopefully the existing players will come out with their offerings soon too. Of course what we really want is amazon to let us read kindle titles on the iphone – so we can access that library of titles. Not holding breath 🙂

Nick Hornby’s Take on eBooks

Over on the Penguin blog, author Nick Hornby writes of his encounter with an iliad in Borders:

It was a quiet Monday morning, and there didn’t seem to be too much interest in the four hundred quid e-book reader; what was striking, though, was that there didn’t seem to be too much interest in the four quid books, either. Attempting to sell people something for four hundred pounds that merely enables them to read something that they won’t buy at one hundredth of the price seems to me a thankless task.

He goes on to dismiss e-books, not because the technology ain’t good enough, but with a few points about (yep you guessed it) our cultural habits. And finishes with what he sees as the key problem:

But – and this is the most depressing reason – the truth is that people don’t like reading books much anyway…

Of course, all of his arguments go away if we can introduce e-books by slealth. Those people that won’t drop 400 quid on an iliad are literally lining up for iphones. Maybe there’s a chance that they’ll start reading books on them, given the right incentives. Which is something that has to be figured out. And unlike keitai novels in the east, it’s early days for that in the west.

Napster Deja Vu

I’ve always maintained that the e-book piracy scene is relatively small, although (as David Pogue suggested recently) it can be significant in certain market segments. One of those is textbooks, which students are often compelled to buy for relatively high prices. It seems that this opportunity for sharing has been embraced by some – a Chronicle of higher Ed piece details a mob by the name of textbook torrents that’s doing the biz:

One Web site, called Textbook Torrents, promises more than 5,000 textbooks for download in PDF format, complete with the original textbook layout and full-color illustrations. Users must simply set up a free account and download a free software program that uses a popular peer-to-peer system called BitTorrent. Other textbook-download sites are even easier to use, offering digital books at the click of a mouse.

What’s interesting is the response from authors and publishers, whose intent (if not deed) to date mirrors the Music Industry circa Napster (wow has it been almost a decade already!) :

So far the publishing group has not sought to take legal action against individual student downloaders, as the Recording Industry Association of America has done in its campaign to stamp out the illegal trading of music at colleges. The book-publishing group has not sought to shut down entire Web sites that offer downloads either, said Mr. McCoyd. Instead, officials are doing research on the extent of the problem and asking Web-site owners to remove individual files. “We’ve just tried to keep sweeping away these infringements as they continue to come online,” he said.

Far be it for me to suggest that the *desire* for students to access ebooks is an opportunity, not a crisis – and that a co-ordinated, affordable program of electronic textbook availability might actually be a good thing for all concerned (with an emphasis on affordable). I’ve had issues of supply with printed textbooks (nobody’s fault because course numbers can jump dramatically just prior to semester commencement dates) and I emphasise with students who have to jump through the hurdles of long lines outside the bookshop (yes, even in the 21st century), high prices and inconsistent usage of texts. 

 

(via Slashdot)