Archive for October, 2008|Monthly archive page

This Could be Big

I missed it yesterday in my jet-lagged frenzy of a day, but it appears that we’re taking another small step towards some kind of ‘heavenly library’. From Ars technica (and a thousand other places I’m sure) comes news that google has settles its lawsuit with book publishers:

Google’s long-running legal battle with the US publishing industry came to an unexpected screeching halt this morning, as the parties announced a settlement that, pending approval by a US District Court, will see the two sides cooperate on online access to copyrighted books.

There’s quite a lot to it, and I’ll read it over the next couple of days and post again, but here’s the bottom line:

But the most striking aspect of the agreement is that it turns Google into a bookseller, peddling online access to out-of-print, but still-in-copyright works.

The devil’s in the details, but we just took another step on that journey of a thousand miles…

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Blogging about the Sony Reader from 38000 Feet

OK. It’s not often I say something nice about American Airlines – especially since they now charge for everything from checked baggage to a crappy sandwich over and above the ticket price. But being able to surf from up here *is* pretty cool. I’m on AA75 from Dulles to LAX if you must know 🙂

This post does have something to do with e-books though. Because I was going to spend this flight getting up close and personal with the Sony Reader. I spent half an hour on purchase day setting it up. Out of the box, it needed a battery top up. (It doesn’t come with a charger, which is fine – because the voltage would have been wrong anyway, so charges via USB) Twenty minutes did it which was time enough to sort things out Mac-side. 

As we all know, the Reader is ostensibly PC only. And ostensibly US only as far as content is concerned. But I’d done some digging before commiting my hard earned (and at 62 cents to the Aussie dollar, it hurts rather a lot at the moment.) I’d already downloaded Calibre and lo and behold once the little Sony was charged, it showed up as an icon in the Calibre window. I’d also found some lrf files on the darknet somewhere and it took about five minutes to get a Jack Reacher novel transferred to the Reader. Yes, my choice of in-flight reading is limited to crappy thrillers from a single author 🙂

Anyhow, I had a quick browse and my first impressions were

1. It’s physically very nice. Not ugly at all, and much much slimmer than I expected. It slips into my computer bag and seems to take up much less space than a boxed DVD. (I don’t have a boxed DVD with me so I can’t say for sure)

2. The screen looks pretty average in low light – but get it under a good reading light (as if you were reading a printed book) and it’s very very good. Sunlight seemed to work well too.

3. The interface is slow and clunky. I said the same thing about the iliad – but the iphone has spoiled everything else. Friends who were with me when I bought it couldn’t get their brains around the lack of a touchscreen and the slow responses of the physical buttons. The PRS-700 seems a lot better.

4. The flash between page turns is pretty annoying. Hard to tell how annoying after only a quick ‘read test’ – and that was going to be what *this* flight was for. Sidetracked by the net instead!!

Once I’ve read a whole book on the Sony, I’ll post more comments. But it seems like a pretty cool toy so far. (And there’s *plenty* at the Borders in Silver Spring if you’re taking this as a recommendation!!)

Sony Style

Killing time in a shopping mall before flying home, and I came across a Sonystyle store. And on the Reader display they have a ‘not for sale’ PRS700 reader on demo. A wee bit bigger than the one I bought two days ago. The screen’s much the same (hard to tell if the refresh is faster or not). But the touchscreen interface is *much* nicer. I’d have it over the 550 except that it’s not for sale for a couple of weeks. As an aside, the rep in the store was explaining the Reader to a potential customer – who said that he already had lots of books on his iPod. ‘Aah’ says the salesman, ‘the technlogy is exactly the same.’

Yeah right.

The *real* Digital Divide

I went to the Book Conference in 2004 – and noted a clear divide between traditional book-people, the print on paper romantics and the rest of us. Well, nothing’s changed. There’s a trope here (Book Conference 2008) that’s still arguing that the new media is the death of the intellect. Some bloke even complained about people using *gasp* word processors to write. And there’s the usual bumpf about the awfulness of the web. Still, there’s room for some hearty debates 🙂

I bought a Sony Reader

OK. In Borders in Silver Spring, Washington DC last night, and did the deed. First impressions are positive. More soon.

Blogging from The Book Conference

Greetings from Washington DC and the 6th International Conference of the Book. Just had a interesting session from John Willinksy from Standford, who shares my thoughts about the demise of the book, albeit in the specialist area of the academic monograph. Drawing on his previous work in the Public Knowledge project, working on academic journals, he’s proposing an “Open Monograph” system designed to revitalise a moribund sector. Might work as a model for the wider industry as well…

Another imperfect analogy

In the process of drafting a conference paper, I wonder if another imperfect analogy for the print to e-book transition is movies in the home. I haven’t thought it all the way through, so bear with me here… Movies were cinema-only for years, but some bright sparks figured that there might be people who wanted to watch them at home. And there was a little bit of activity in home movie projectors (albeit mostly for domestic home movies rather than cinema releases). At the same time, there was this thing called television – which started as kind of radio with pictures, but then evolved. They started showing movies on TV, then video players brought a new distribution method, followed by DVDs and a startling rush of what people began to call home theatre technologies (big screens, surround sound etc). Until today, movies at home is a totally legitimate alternative to movies in the cinema. 

Replace cinema with print, and movies in the home with e-books and bingo, an imperfect analogy. I guess one thought to derive from it is that home cinema didn’t come about from people creating cinemas in the home fifty years ago. Instead, it emerged from a television culture over a period of social, cultural and technological change – influenced by a number of factors. Anyhow, you get the picture 🙂

In with the new…

Whilst we’re *still* waiting for some kind of Apple iTablet for ereading, the rest of the world moves on. A couple of US links worth a look. Firstly, a post in the LATimes looking at Club Penguin, Disney’s virtual world, populated by 12 million kids – especially its online newspaper. The piece suggests that the newspaper industry look and see what Disney might doing right:

The newspaper industry is constantly bewailing its need for a new economic model, as the Internet upends the old one. Maybe it could take a page from the Club Penguin Times.

The Club Penguin Times, after all, is more widely read than New York’s Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, or The Dallas Morning News. And it’s not even 3 years old.

Link number two is from the NYTimes which looks at how Newsweek is combining some of its political articles together into electronic anthologies, available only for the kindle:

This week, Newsweek will publish four books, one about each of the major presidential and vice presidential candidates — Senators John McCain,Barack Obama and Joseph Biden, and Gov. Sarah Palin — books that will not appear in print but will be available only as e-books from Amazon.com for download to Amazon’s Kindle device.

And finally, today’s Sydney Morning Herald turned over its opinion pages to its CEO, giving him space to staunchly defend the activities at Fairfax. In a rebuke to the Roy Greenslades of the world, he summarises:

Ten years ago, the internet was in its infancy and Google did not exist. AOL offered dial-up walled gardens, and broadband was a pipedream. So it is hard to forecast what will be by 2020. But my belief is that, in large cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, there is a vigorous and profitable market among the educated and higher-income audiences we primarily attract for a quality broadsheet newspaper.

I’ve argued long and hard about this type of position. The *idea* of a newspaper (with its commitment to quality journalism, identity-building, and democracy enhancing activities) will not go away. Just like the *idea* of books. There are enough people kicking around who want what those things. But confusing the *idea* with the delivery mechanism ignores the possibilities of the new media forms. There’s no reason why the SMH online can’t be everything that the SMH on paper is, once we figure out the (nontrivial) problem of how to pay for it. 🙂

Which in an unplanned moment of closure brings us back to Disney!

Sunday thoughts…

So, we got back from Tokyo last week – and the trip was a bit of a test case in a couple of ways. As well as checking out the keitai novel scene, it was probably the first overseas flight I’ve been on (ever?) where I didn’t take a printed book. In the past, I’d always had a backup airport blockbuster in the backpack. This time though, the shortness of the flight, the expectation of decent video on demand (and the night-before packing regime) saw me at the airport loaded only with iphone and laptop.

Now’s the time to point out that JAL’s flights from Sydney to Tokyo (and back) are efficient and comfortable but the food is barely food and the “Magic 2” Entertainment is neither Magic nor ‘2’. Unless the 2 refers to 1992. A mere dozen or so channels of looping videos. No video on demand and an overall unconvincing experience. 

So I spent 6-7 hours reading on the iphone – probably the longest continuous stint I’ve done – and it was fine! In keeping with the state of the brain 30,000 feet up, this was no high-literature, but a page-turning saga featuring the cliched activities of one Jack Reacher. But I digress. In between meals and kid-wrangling, I read the whole thing, and the only time I remembered it wasn’t a paperback was when I could slip the iphone into my shirt pocket rather than trying to cram it into the overstuffed seat pocket (why do airlines insist of giving you printed drinks menus, shopping guides, entertainment guides etc – leaving no room for the stuff you really *need*). And by keeping my screen brightness low (but still plenty bright enough in the half-light of a plane cabin), the battery was still two-thirds charged on arrival.

Score one for e-books.

And then yesterday, the seven year old ran out of Famous Five books (we only had the first three in hard copy) but refused to leave the house to go to the library or bookstore. (If you have young kids, you know that getting them out of the house on weekends can be impossible). Couldn’t find Enid Blyton at ereader.com, so I spent half an hour trawling the net, and found the complete famous five in lrf format – which she stared reading using the Calibre reader on ‘her’ hand-me-down powerbook. A little later, some torrented text files finished downloading (I didn’t figure out a way to convert lrf to txt), and my old 2G iphone (yes I’ve upgraded, so sue me) was a library of Famous Five courtesy of Stanza.

Score two for e-books.

Yes I know the estate of Enid Blyton may not be totally happy with me, but as my mate in Tokyo suggested when I helped him torrent some tunes not available on the itunes Japan store, “it’s not about the price, it’s about the availability.” And he’s a director for a major multinational content company. Besides, if we wanted to go back to the Statue of Anne, the Famous Five would be in the public domain by now 🙂

A couple of final observations – apart from the odd typo which she gleefully pointed out to me (and which I blamed on crappy scanning), the seven year old had no problem reading a book on the powerbook, but has actually yet to pick up the iphone to finish off the series. Probably because she got a little distracted by Nintendogs on the DS. Go figure.

The Cost of Paper

O’Reilly Radar has a piece from guest blogger, Nick Bilton, who works for the New York Times R&D Lab. In it, he canvasses some of the usual arguments that point to the eventual demise of paper. He’s most concerned with newspapers (of course) and I like the economic arguments he makes – which have more than some relevance to the book trade:

The cost of printing a national newspaper like the Wall Street Journal is close to $150k a day. That’s just for the newsprint. When you factor in printing plant rental or ownership fees, machine maintenance, shipping, and wages for plant employees, drivers, and packers, the final cost is hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Now if you have an average of 1,000,000 subscribers to the newspaper on a daily basis (this is a rounded-down average of a few top papers) and you stopped printing the paper, but instead gave your readers an eReader at $200 apiece, it would take fewer than six months for you to recoup your costs.

He doesn’t ignore books either, going on to suggest that:

 If you factor back in books and magazines, people who read more than one newspaper a day, and throw in the odd journal or two, you’ve got a multi-billion dollar industry that could collectively save billions of dollars a year by moving away from ink on paper.

Glad I’m not the only one thinking that way 🙂