Sunday, April 29, 2007

A book is not a piece of music, nor is it a movie

The e-book struggle continues. The Sony e-reader has responded to the complaints that people will not read a book on a computer screen. Now the computer screen looks just like the page of a book, it reacts to light, it's not back-lit, and it's not hard on the eyes. It IS however, hard on the wallet. No one will shell out $350 for an e-book reader, especially if they have to shell out an additional $25 for a book, why not just buy the book? There is something about books that is different from movies and music. In many ways it is easy to define the difference. However, there are many differences that are difficult to explain other than how people act about books.

Two quotes from Lawrence Clark Powell:

" We are the children of a technological age. We have found streamlined ways of doing much of our routine work. Printing is no longer the only way of reproducing books. Reading them, however, has not changed."

Another quote I cannot find and so I probably shouldn't mention it. However, this quote was repeated to be by former University of Arizona School of Information Resources and Library Sciences Dean Brooke Sheldon. It mentioned something about the soul of books and how one could drink from them and find everlasting nourishment. It was a quote she mentioned when recruiting for library school. I signed up soon afterward.

The point being that books cast a magical spell on the reader. Something unexplainable that no technology can ever master or reproduce. It's the reading of the book quietly at night and staying up until 2 in the morning finishing it, satisfied. I think the problem with the internet so often is that there is no end to it, no quiet. It is a constant state of doing something with no accomplishment. Reading a book gives you a story that inspires the soul that lasts forever long after the book has been read. It reminds me of a quote I read about The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

Aimee Bender, author of An Invisible Sign of My Own
The Lovely Bones is the kind of novel that, once you're done, you may go visit while wandering through a bookstore and touch on the binding, just to remember the emotions you felt while reading it.."

It is difficult to explain that emotion. Many publishers and technologists may say, "It's silly that these people go on about you can read the book in bed and you can't share it, its electronic you can put it anywhere, give it to anyone". It seems simple, but it is not the same thing. The feel of the book, to touch the spine, it's something real, tangible, it transforms you to that place in the book, just be feeling the paper, touching the spine. I even like the vinyl cover on library books.

Some posts in the last month have hammered the e-book industry about the systemic problems with e-books. No one will buy an expensive reader AND pay for the book. Especially since they can only use the book on that reader. They can, of course, download from Gutenberg and other free sites. Those are nice for the classics, not very good for current titles.

The most prominent was this post:
Why the commercial ebook market is broken
My take on ebooks is that they are — and should be seen as — the cheapest form of disposable literature. They're not cultural artefacts (pace Cory Doctorow); you don't buy them in signed, slipcased, limited editions. They're like stripped mass market paperbacks without even the value-added of doubling as wood pulp wall insulation once you've read them."


"I don't think most of the ebook sharing subculture is even about reading the books in the first place — it's about collecting, and participating in a gift sub-culture where your kudos is governed by how much stuff you can give away."

Which leads to this quote:
"To be a book-collector is to combine the worst characteristics of a dope fiend with those of a miser. "
Robertson Davies

Which explains the obsessive nature of book collectors, or just readers in general, to collect books. They may have a house full of books, with no room for more, and then they convert their garage. Look at Library Thing!

Then this article from Wired! talking about the problem of digital rights management. Something I talked about in a post a while back.
Wired! article:

"E-books are growing, thanks to the improving simplicity and mobility of acquired content. With the masters of digital music finally relenting and offering DRM-free tracks, it's time to kill e-book rights management once and for all: give us we want, in the file format we want, and you get our money. Once."

Then to add to that, we have very clueless publishers trying to charge PER PAGE! (older article, probably will never materialize)

Random House Announces Ambitious Pay-Per-Page E-Book Project
November 03, 2005
By Max Chafkin
The world’s largest trade publisher will charge websites four cents per page for fiction and narrative nonfiction (a 350-page book would cost $14, for example), ostensibly allowing vendors to determine their own pricing schemes.


Why would I want to pay for one page of a book? Books don't work this way. Music can be broken down to a song, even a favorite part of a song (which ends up on your cellphone), but the same cannot be done for a book. You cannot rip it apart and just read its parts, you need the whole thing. It is not a CD, nor a song, it must be complete.

A few more articles from this week:

Fujitsu to release colour e-book reader

"So, of course, all this is too good to be perfect. The price, for one, is over $1000 per-reader (for ten readers, for testing purposes - presumably the final product will be slightly less expensive), for the small size. The large size more-than-doubles that price. It's also running "Japanese Windows CE 5.0" (apparently something different from Windows Mobile), and will only be available in Japan."

Again, very expensive and a very closed system.

Why e-books are bound to fail
Electronic books pack bleeding-edge technology, too bad they'll never catch on
"People who care enough about books to spend $25 billion on them each year tend to love books and everything about them. They love the look and feel of books. They like touching the paper, and looking at words and illustrations at a resolution no e-book will ever match. They view "curling up with a good book" as an escape from the electronic screens they look at all day. They love to carry them, annotate them, and give them as gifts. Book collecting is one of the biggest hobbies in the world."

I liked this comment on the article as well:
"Perhaps 'e-book reader' is just too misleading a name, as these are at least as well suited - if not better - to non-book written material. I highly doubt the e-book reader will ever disappear, and I honestly believe these could replace everything I noted. References, like encyclopedias, probably in only 5-10 years, and completely replacing newspapers and magazines in, perhaps, 10-15 years."

Another e-book fallout is around the corner. One thing I loved reading over and over again on was how many people use their local library for books. Hey its free, your taxes already pay for it, so why not use it. It certainly makes a lot of sense to me. Think about it this way, you own 100,000 books at your library. Not many people can collect that much AND the more you use it, the more it gets for you. The public library was designed to provide the most money towards the people that use it most. Save $350 or $1000 or even $25 and check out a book. Even some of the e-book vendors aren't pushing as hard as they once did. Music and movies are easy to download since they have always been electronic. Books have never been and it will be difficult to get them there due to proprietary reasons and eyesight annoyances. Until then, you can always get free books at the local library.

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