Archive for September, 2008|Monthly archive page

Greetings from Tokyo

So I’m in the Japanese capital for a few days, checking out keitai culture and hopefully meeting some folk who know more about it than me. On my subway rides to date, I’ve noticed that the phones are generally bigger than at home- the screens are larger which probably allows a greater range of uses. So maybe people are happy to pocket a bigger device if it lets them do more. And surprisingly, there were still people Reading newspapers on the train 🙂

(as an aside, the iPhone served as a perfect ereader on the 9 hour flight over – once I convinced the hostess that it was in flight mode…)

Updated Iliad reviewed

Ed Baig in USA Today has a look at an updated Iliad reader. Similar to the device sold at Dymocks for AUD$899, the new machine appears a little sleeker as it hits the US market for the first time. Baig is unimpressed though. Whilst he likes the screen (bigger than kindle or Sony), he’s scathing about the software:

But the system is slow to boot up, and the interface is unattractive and unintuitive. If I turned the machine on when the SD card (with content) was inserted, the first and only thing visible on the home screen is an icon for settings.

Icons for documents, inbox and help showed up only if I inserted the SD card after the machine was turned on. An oddly labeled “up a level” icon on the home screen is a dead giveaway that iRex could use a lesson in designing far-friendlier software.

By summoning a main menu, you can rotate the display, add bookmarks, find words and look up dictionary definitions. But the only way to turn the device off is to summon that menu again and tap or navigate to a turn-off-device icon.

I’ll make certain allowances for a beta device. But I’m hard-pressed to recommend something this expensive and this much of a kludge.

Some of us have been spoilt by well-designed and integrated consumer electronic products (yes, I’m talking about the ipod and the  iphone) and have come to the conclusion that hardware is almost a commodity now (although amazon’s industrial design proves that hardware isn’t easy either); Bottom line is “it’s the software, stupid.”  

An iPhone only magazine…

Apple’s iphone has provoked much discussion (some of it here) about its role as a possible replacement for print on paper. The iTunes app store already hosts ereader and stanza software, which allow the reading of downloadable books both commercial and public domain; as well as bundled stand-alone books that range from repackaged Project Gutenberg titles to original self-published tomes. In the magazine realm, zinio.com allows iphone users to browse freely from a range of magazines from its digital newsstand. Now comes news of a bi-monthly fashion mag from New York social photographer Patrick McMullan. Called PMc, it’s available for 99 cents from the itunes app store. New Yorker magazine has a brief article quoting McMullan which gestures towards his motivation and mindset towards print:

“I shouldn’t say this,” McMullan continued, after a minute. “But I don’t have an iPhone.” (He uses an iPod to listen to music; he makes calls on a BlackBerry.) “But VogueVanity Fair—I can’t carry them with me anymore. They’re like books. Even the Times is easier to read on the computer.”

The End (according to New York Magazine)

Long piece in New York magazine dissecting the state of the book publishing industry. Title says it all – 

Sales at the five big publishers were up 0.5 percent in the first half of this year, bookstore sales tanked in June, and a full-year decline is expected. But pretty much every aspect of the business seems to be in turmoil. There’s the floundering of the few remaining semi-independent midsize publishers; the ouster of two powerful CEOs—one who inspired editors and one who at least let them be; the desperate race to evolve into e-book producers; the dire state of Borders, the only real competitor to Barnes & Noble; the feeling that outrageous money is being wasted on mediocre books; and Amazon .com, which many publishers look upon as a power-hungry monster bent on cornering the whole business.

 

via Boing Boing

The Future of Magazines?

Hot on the heels of Zinio, which offers free browsing for iphone users (so go check out an iphone user agent plug-in for Firefox), news of Coverleaf, a similar digital newstand. Reserving judgement on whether these ideas are more useful than, say, a magazine website. Partly because I’m uncertain about the need to replicate the look and feel of printed pages in the digital realm – after all e-books are much easier to read when the text can be re-flowed to suit your reading device. But there’s no denying the visceral appeal of a beautifully designed magazine page. Maybe one day we’ll have the screens to do them justice 🙂

POD @ A&R

Jason Epstein argues that Print on Demand is a more likely scenario than e-books, and it appears that some booksellers agree. Here in Oz, Dymocks has gone the ebook route, and its big chain rival has zagged the other way, embracing the Espresso POD machine:

Angus & Robertson today became the first Australian book chain to install the Espresso Book Machine (EBM), capable of printing, trimming and binding a paperback book on demand within minutes.

Shoppers will initially be able to choose from several hundred out-of-print or difficult to get hold of books, but Angus & Robertson said the range would expand daily, reaching 10,000 within 18 months. They would cost the same as the current shelf price of paperbacks or less, the retailer said.

And in a final damning with faint praise aside, the SMH piece suggests that:

Dymocks had sold only about 10,000 ebooks and many hundreds of reading devices

The Sony Reader’s new Target

The problem (well one of them) with eBooks is they’re actually not on many people’s radar. A book, to most folk, is print on paper. Part of that is the invisibility of eBook devices (particularly in Australia!!). Anyhow, the Sony Reader, previously available only at Sony store, Borders and online is making a mass-market move – and is now available at Target. We’ll see if that raises its profile…

More on Plastic Logic

Following up on the last post on the Plastic Logic ereader, Gizmodo has more info, pics and links to a TGDaily piece with a video. Looks like it’s significantly bigger than kindle or Sony, but they’re aiming at a completely different, corporate market:

Plastic Logic’s Senior Director of Product Marketing, Maureen Mellon, told us the reader isn’t really competing with the Kindle because they are aiming for the mobile business professional or “someone with a lot of documents already.”  For consumers, it comes down to a choice between a device that gets almost all of its content from Amazon, or to something with a huge screen that easily handles user-generated documents.

Of course, the street finds its own use for things, and if the price was right and the device could read the right file formats, then who knows. An iphone/Plastic Logic double act might suit many better than a kindle… We might have to wait awhile though:

Unfortunately, Mellon couldn’t tell us how much the reader would cost and everything is still in very early stages.  Another rep said, “It’s too early, we’re still changing stuff.”  He added that there isn’t even a data sheet yet on the reader.

A dedicated e-newspaper

Following in the footsteps of Sony’s Reader and Amazon’s Kindle (with its NYT subscriptions), a company called Plastic Logic has announced a device with a bigger screen designed to cope better with newspaper layouts:

Richard Archuleta, the chief executive of Plastic Logic, said the display was big enough to provide a newspaperlike layout. “Even though we have positioned this for business documents, newspapers is what everyone asks for,” Mr. Archuleta said.

Another use for unwanted books

The last time I did the rounds of the second-hand bookshops trying to whittle down the collection, not only was the monetary return scant, but they didn’t want half of books, even for free. Whilst that something about my reading tastes, there *are* lots of books out there doing not very much at all. So, how about this from Boing Boing

Designer Laura Cahill wanted to make art without wasting new material. She did a bunch of research, and found out that used books are the most common unwanted objects… 

So she took her second-hand book collection and turned it into beautiful pieces of furniture.