Archive for November, 2008|Monthly archive page

A Moment of Doubt

A weekend away cherry picking, so I thought I’d take the Sony Reader instead of the paperback stack. (A wee confession here- it’s been a few weeks of madness and I haven’t used it for a bit. Yes, I know the review is coming. And so is Christmas.)

Anyhow, I hit the switch to see what books are on board and the Reader is as dead as the proverbial. I plug it into the Mac and wait a minute or so, but no response. And I have that moment of ebook doubt, the one where you have a rant about paper never running out of batteries or crashing.

So I take a breath and leave it for an hour. Luckily for my faith, when I go back to the Reader the familiar screen us once more visible and I can again leave the paperbacks behind.

Now, don’t be too concerned, it’ll take more than a hiccup to bring out my inner Luddite – after all this is being posted from my iPhone. But for a brief moment there…

Kindle Gossip

Techcrunch has the latest gossip on a possible new kindle. Apparently it *was* due in October, but was pulled for software reasons and will now ship in the next quarter (after Christmas). But I sort of agree with this Techcrunch thought:

I still think they’d be better off licensing the platformand letting the factories in China iterate more often on the Kindle – from what we hear a bunch of new ebook products are about to hit the market, and some of them may be real competition to Amazon.

Only sort of. I think they’d be better of licensing the library. Kindle software on the iphone and the Sony Reader and the Dell Mini and the whatever with access to an ever expanding Amazon e-book library makes more sense than trying to version 2 of the ugly stick. Then again, Jeff Bezos is worth a helluva lot more than me, so probably knows better when it comes to making money from this stuff 🙂


Another step on the road to the heavenly library was recently launched last week, and promptly crashed due to overwhelming demand. Europeana, an EU project attempting to digitise a range of artefacts from paintings through texts, attracted 10 million hits per hour at launch. According to a Techcrunch article:

Technical challenges included harvesting and normalizing metadata from more than 1,000 different museums and libraries from around Europe. Half of participating cultural heritage institutions so far are French. The Louvre in Paris, the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (which contributed footage shot on French battlefields in 1914) and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are three of the biggest participating museums…

Trying to access Europeana on the day of its launch, though, was akin to navigating the Vatican Museums in the tourist-thick month of August. It was impossible to see anything, as the project’s three servers were totally overwhelmed.

So it seems that the demand is there, just gotta work on the supply-side!

More End of Print Notices

Following on last month’s announcement of the imminent closure of the print version of the Christian Science Monitor comes news that Ziff Davis is to move PCMag to an online only model. Not entirely surprising given the subject matter, but a significant shift from the 80s when it was a mammoth (400+pages) printed publication. Interesting note in the paid content piece covering this story:

… the revenues on the online side have grown an average of 42 percent yearly since 2001; digital is about 70 percent of the revenues for the PCMag brand, and overall is profitable.

So someone’s making money online.

Another bit of the heavenly library

Many of us have some kind of utopian dream of a heavenly library where everything ever published is available for all; a kind of great digital archive of everything, including books. Another step in this journey of a thousand miles came with news that the Life photo library is now available, courtesy of the Big G. From the site:

Search millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretching from the 1750s to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint work of LIFE and Google.

(via Daring Fireball)

The Price of Books

I was having lunch with a friend who works in publishing the other day, and commented that I thought that books were expensive – in comparison to say, big screen televisions. She disagreed and pointed out that the price of books mirrored their competition; things like DVDs and CDs. And she’s probably right. The problem is that a whole bunch of people haven’t bought a DVD or a CD in a very long time and are getting used to a world in which the price of iphones halves every six months or so, and people argue that 99 cents is too much to pay for a game for that device that will entertain you for hours.

It’s in that light that I mention a little teacup storm that has brewed over Borders and Angus and Robertson charging *above* recommended price for books. A Sydney Morning Herald article  details the practice which seems to consist of the big bookstore charging what they can for popular titles and being more generous with others:

In an intensification of a practice now common at Borders and Angus & Robertson, both part of the A&R Whitcoulls Group, a significant proportion of books are about 10 per cent above the recommended retail price, while others are substantially below it.

Terry Pratchett’s The Illustrated Wee Free Men, for instance, is advertised at $49.50, when the RRP is $45. In contrast, Pratchett’s Nation is $32.95, while the RRP is $49.95. Dymocks, like most booksellers, is selling both for the RRP.

Of course, RRP is just that. Recommended. And bookbuyers, like all other actors in this grand capitalist marketplace need to beware. On the other hand, if other industries are anything to go by, booksellers and publishers also need to be careful. Easy, illegitimate distribution might be difficult in a world of print (one reason why digital is resisted) but when it comes, it’ll be the buyers that set the price, not the sellers.

New Sony Reader Review

I promised that I would review the Sony Reader I bought a couple of weeks ago– once I had read an entire book on it. Well, it’s been busy, and out of hours I’ve tended to game rather than read (hmmm…). Besides, the seven year old claimed the Reader for herself for quite some time there. Anyhow, I expect I’ll be in a position to write a proper review soon. Promise. For the moment, here’s a dozen words or so:

The Good: Screen is fantastic; battery life terrific
The Bad: Interface is crap; Mac Support requires third party software; the bookstore is US only (I haven’t checked it out in detail yet) and doesn’t have the selection of kindle
The Ugly: There’s a new one out with a touch screen interface that should be better.  Which is probably shipping about now…

In fact, here’s a review of the new Sony Reader (the PRS700 if you must). 

Don’t you hate it when the reviews of the new one come out before you get a chance to write about the *old* one!

Renting Textbooks?

Techcrunch has a piece on Clegg, a textbook rental service in the US:

Here’s how it works: students find the books they want by searching by ISBN, author, title or keyword. The rental price for the semester or quarter is just 20-30% of the full retail price, and are delivered within eight business days. At the end of the term, the students receive a pre-paid shipping box to return them. Students are even allowed to highlight books (but no writing in them)

Apparently it’s doing OK ($10m in revenues) and getting some investor interest. Personally, I’ve always liked to own my textbooks – I still have a copy of the Stanley Grossman Calculus text from first year university. Of course I never look at it, but it might come in handy when I have to explain differential equations to the five year old 🙂 To me, texts are references that I can go back to.

Renting a printed book means I lose that point of reference. And yes, I’d rather have an e-book I can keep. As it is, my current preferred modus operandi is to try and get everything electronically and keep it on the laptop – which means that in theory, all that I need to know is a simple spotlight search away. In theory. But that’s another story 🙂


For many, the joy of printed books is the shopping experience – the browsing, the serendipity, you know the lines. And there’s been many attempts by online retails to tease out the essential elements of the physical shopping experience and replicate them online. For example, for some folk, amazon’s conducive to searching but not browsing. So here’s Amazon’s Windowshop Beta, an attempt at making the online shopping experience more pleasurable. Whilst tech-purists would argue that appearances mean nothing, there are enough examples which demonstrate the importance of the user experience. First impressions are that it’s kinda fun. Check it out.

Election Eve Post

Without getting politically partisan, I thought that a relevant book-ish link might be in order given tomorrow’s possibly momentous events. At first I thought I’d look at the books that the presidential candidate’s had authored – and I’ve got to say, it’s somewhat comforting to know that both Obama and McCain have written (or at least co-written) tomes of their own. But then, in a pique of honesty, I figured that actually reading those books is probably a pre-requisite for commenting on them 🙂

The Independent to the rescue with a nice piece (albeit brief) doing my job for me. So, on POTUS election eve, I’ll leave you with this quote from that article – which for some might be the best of all recommendations:

Clearly, if Obama hadn’t gone into politics he would have made a fine writer.