Category Archives: e-books

Wanted: Better Cliches to Describe the Kindle

kindle paperwhiteCracking open a book is a familiar phrase that describes reading a text for the first time, but cracking open a Kindle (or iPad) is an alarming turn of events that will surely turn a good day into a bad day filled with customer-service phone calls.

Advancements in technology are great, but what happens when advancements in descriptive cliches don’t keep pace?

OK, so you know I’m just having fun with doomsday rhetorical questions, but in all seriousness, I find myself searching for non-robotic ways to describe reading an e-book. Can’t crack it open, can’t dog-ear it, can’t turn pages, can’t describe the pages as well-worn. You can sort-of judge an e-book by its cover, even though you don’t see the cover other than when buying it. Continue reading

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Study Says E-Books Take Longer to Read

CNN recently outlined an interesting study on the speed of reading e-books versus printed books. Sure, the study has a relatively small sample size of 24 and gives some disclaimers about differences in reading speed not being statistically significant, but the general idea strikes me as significant.

So here’s what the study says: compared to reading a conventional printed book, people using e-readers read at speeds between 6.2 and 10.5 percent slower on the iPad and Kindle.

I’m actually surprised that the iPad boasted the “faster” designation of 6.2 percent, as I expected the e-ink of the Kindle to put it ahead of the glowy iPad screen. However, the iPad seems to switch pages faster than the Kindle, and its page switch is less distracting, so maybe that’s the golden ticket.

Personally, I still can’t grapple with the idea of giving up printed books for their cooler, electronic brethren. I’ve only used the iPad and Kindle at the mall/friend’s houses, but I’ve had no urge to ditch print. Along with other reasons, I just think print is a richer, more immersive experience. Apparently it’s more efficient too.

Still, in the end, I’ll put my betting money on overall convenience winning out and e-books dominating the marketplace. No one really wants to lug heavy backpacks of textbooks or cart around hardcovers in their carry-on luggage, and the study reports that ratings for the overall experience of reading on devices versus print were extremely close. As for me–my personal, book-buying money will still go towards pulpy paper and dog-eared pages.

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The Trade-Off and E-Books

The Trade-Off by Kevin Maney talks about the convenience of a product versus its fidelity, aka its special aura or experience.  E-books are a new product, and currently there’s no break-out product for history to declare the winner.  The Kindle has made some headway, and the iPad has the potential to revolutionize, but we’re not there quite ready to name the Betamax.

Maney puts in plain terms what many consumers have already concluded.  E-books just aren’t as treasured right now as real books.  Real books, he argues, have fidelity.  Real books can be displayed on a shelf to impress your friends, noted with your name, and kept forever.  That fidelity can’t be replicated by an e-book, which offers a more transient experience.  Your e-book exists in the ether, never truly yours to own in the way as a nice hardcover.

An e-book is potentially more convenient though.  You press a button and poof!  Instant book.  No trip to the store or agonizing wait for the UPS man.  No heavy backpack to lug around.  But, even though it all sounds good in theory, right now e-books just aren’t that convenient.  You have to buy an expensive device, buy expensive books, and deal with some less than ideal design issues.

So, right now, e-books aren’t particularly convenient, and they’re not offering a high fidelity experience either (must restrain from John Cusak joke).  Maney says this puts them in the “fidelity belly,” that no-mans land between the two extremes, and this isn’t a good place for a product seeking success.  E-books could break out of this trench, though, by becoming super convenient.  I think Maney is on to something here.

Amazon or Apple or another e-book player could pour money into development and unveil a ridiculously convenient e-reader.  This e-reader would be cheaper, have a more intuitive design, allow users to truly own books without pesky DRM, and more closely simulate the experience of reading a real book.  When that mythical e-reader debuts, the real revolution in written media will begin.  Until then, I’m sticking with Amazon supersaver shipping, Barnes and Noble, and my trusty public library.

I do think it’s only a matter of time before this ideal e-reader is created.  The promise of technology is there, and we’ve seen super convenience revolutionize other fields like music and television.  When the platform is right, e-books will fly off the shelves, and physical books might no longer be there…

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The Google Book Scanning Monster

I wonder if Google will ever use the gaping monster mouth with waggling tongue as one of its ever-changing logos?  The image above was created by Asuf Hanuka for a magazine article about the implications of Google’s ambitious book scanning project.  Google, of course, prefers to think of itself as forward-thinking, benevolent, altruistic.  The company’s slogan is “Don’t be evil.”  This attitude, according to the article in California Lawyer, is what separates Google from the easy to hate Goliath of the 90’s, Microsoft.

Google fervently believes in its mission to digitize books.  Trust us, it says, our digital library will benefit everyone.  And, at first, everyone agreed.  The book scanning project began back in 2002 and has been humming along nicely since, digitizing 12 million books and counting.  We’re on the way to having all of humanity’s knowledge at our fingertips, immortalized in bits and bytes.  How could that be bad?

Well, for starters, Google doesn’t run the public library down the street.  Books, as repositories of knowledge, have a hallowed position in society.  You don’t burn books, and you’d feel guilty even chucking a used one in the recycling bin.  You buy books and support authors, but you also check them out for free at libraries.  Few other things in society have that cachet.  You don’t see a “library” of snowman nic-nacs for people to borrow, or a “library” of used kitchen utensils.  Books are special.  Underlying books is the assumption that knowledge is egalitarian, theoretically the sacred right of everyone.

So, what happens if a private entity, a corporation, now has exclusive control over all the world’s digitized books?  Google says they won’t be evil, but can we stake the future of digital books on a slogan and good intentions?  I grant that Google might not actually have nefarious intentions… now.  But what happens 25 years from now, when the founders and current CEO step down?

I equate trusting Google with trusting a benevolent dictator.  Sure, Julius Caesar was good, but not so much that Nero guy.  What happens if Google’s revenues falter?  What happens if some of the digitized books are somehow offensive to Google’s mission?  Do those books disappear?  Do charges and tiers of service start appearing?

We don’t know.  And that presents a potentially huge problem.  After the initial euphoric enthusiasm for Google’s book scanning project, backlash occurred.  The CLL article goes into more detail, but in a nutshell legal concerns over copyright violations and anti-trust regulations have surfaced.  Google settled once, was sued, and settled again.  Some of Google’s detractors formed the Open Book Alliance, and they weren’t entirely happy with the second settlement either.  This February, the Justice Department signaled that it agreed, and that Google’s book scanning project could overlap with its search business, fostering a monopoly.

The Open Book Alliance proposed a solution that I totally support.  Instead of a corporate, private digital library, let’s emulate our current open, free, unbiased public libraries.  Let’s establish a non-profit to lead the charge in book scanning, or let’s have the government do it. The future of books is digital, but we shouldn’t ditch models that have worked in the past.  And public libraries work.

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Pricing e-books

I don’t own an e-book reader currently, and have no plans to buy one in the near future.  Still, I’m assuming that just as I eventually bought an iPod, I’ll eventually do most of my reading with some e-book reader.

I do know, though, that if e-books cost nearly as much as regular books, I’ll stick with the good old binded paper versions until they’re pried out of my paper-cut hands.  Regardless of publishers’ profitability justifications, my gut says that it’s silly for solid objects and virtual objects to cost the same. 

Some might argue that the instantaneous service and portability aspects of e-books justify steeper prices, but I don’t find them particularly convenient.  I’d have to buy an expensive reader first, download fairly expensive books, and deal with digital rights management.  My book wouldn’t really belong to me; it would belong to Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, or whoever else beamed it to my reader.  And I don’t like that.  I want to truly own books that I buy.  I want to know they’ll stay there on my shelf forever and that I can lend them to whomever I please.

Right now, I would only buy an e-reader if I were a constant traveler, irked by the burden of a backpack full of books.  The convenience advantage would offset the other issues.  Or, I might consider an e-book reader if e-books were priced cheaply.  The DRM would still be bothersome, but I could justify putting up with it for a lower priced book. 

Alas, prices don’t seem to be headed that way right now.  But that’s okay.  I enjoy sitting in Barnes and Noble with my steaming cup of coffee, running my hands over the glossy covers of newly printed books.  There are advantages to the current system, and I’ll enjoy them while I can.

Check out this article from the New York Times for more thoughts on e-books, and the latest in the pricing wars.

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