Showing posts with label eBooks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label eBooks. Show all posts

Friday, May 3, 2013

Yes, eLibraries are improving

It was about a year ago that I wrote a fairly angry post about the Boston Public Library's general failings as, well, a library. Though it went against all my instincts to criticize any library, I felt as though the BPL and I had reached an impasse - they remained firmly in an old-fashioned, clunky, messy state of mind while I wanted them to move forward. Then, over the past couple of months, as both my other local eLibraries have made the excellent step of adopting Overdrive's new website style (and longer check-out periods as well), I began to think that maybe it was time to write off the BPL for good. Why was I still holding on?

The reason is actually quite simple - content. The BPL has a large, very diverse eBook collection. Even though everything else about their site (and their overall library) is distinctly lesser, there's no way around the fact that they often have access to books and media that smaller libraries don't. And now, despite their instance on sticking to Overdrive's old, clunky site design, the BPL has actually gained back some of my respect.

Why? Because the BPL has the option of recommending eBooks for the library to purchase. And more surprisingly, they actually listen. The day I discovered this rather hidden feature, I recommended five books immediately. When I came to recommend the sixth, I realized there was a limit. A week or two later, this limit was lifted and I was able to recommend another five books. I assumed these recommendations were going to the same place my complaints about the non-electronic library had gone, but I figured I might as well show an interest in these smaller publishers whose books I wanted to read.

The other night just as I was about to go to sleep, I saw a new e-mail from the BPL, informing me that the book I had placed on hold was ready for check out. Then another e-mail came in, and another seven in quick succession. Nine out of my ten requests were now on hold for me. The tenth was a book I had recommended the BPL purchase for the sake of other readers - Brodeck, one of my favorite books from the past few years. It too was suddenly in the library's collection.

eLibraries get a lot (a lot) of flak. Truthfully, most libraries have fairly limited collections and awkward search engines. Most probably do not enable recommendations as easily as the BPL does. Of the two other eLibraries I patron, one has no option to recommend titles, and the other has a much less intuitive recommendation form.

But the fact that the BPL is doing this is tremendous. The fact that recommended books are bought within two weeks is incredible. Digital libraries may still be flawed, but now the heaviest claims are starting to disappear. I love that browsing is improving for some eLibraries. I love that I can recommend the library purchase boatloads of translated fiction, or books from the NYRB or a publisher like Small Beer Press. I love that I recommended the BPL buy Brodeck, a gem of a book, and now within 48 hours of its purchase, it's already been checked out and there are two other people on the hold list. I love that half of the books I requested already have others clamoring to check them out. Most of the books in the BPL's digital catalog are mass-market romances, or thrillers, or books that simply don't interest me. But now there are ten more interesting, diverse, and somewhat unexpected books within the BPL's collection. More on the way, with the books I requested today. And I'm looking forward to reading them.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Library eBook lending - revisited

A couple months ago, I posted about what I saw as the strange phenomenon of readers avoiding a convenient and free method of acquiring eBooks - library eBook lending programs. In the post, I raised some of the issues with the current eLibrary models, and comments backed up these negative claims, rightly pointing out how cumbersome and often clumsy the current library systems are. Unlike me, for whom the prospect of acquiring new books in English from halfway across the world is a huge advantage, most readers saw the messiness and limited quality of these eLibraries as making it rather worthless.

So today, I'm pleased to announce (somewhat belatedly) that at least one of the three eLibraries I patron (don't judge me...) has made a tremendous step in the right direction. And surprisingly, it's the one that until now was the messiest, the most cumbersome, and the least cooperative. Northern California Digital Library, I commend you.

Up until just a couple months ago, NCDL's site was cramped, uncomfortable and extremely difficult to maneuver. This is the eLibrary I frequented least often, in large part because I could never seem to find the books I was looking for. Their search bar was practically unusable, their collection seemed mostly comprised of travel books, and all in all, it was a nightmare to use the site. So, like many readers pointed out in the comments, I just didn't.

Now as you can see (if you clicked the link...), the site is much more modern, much more clean. It's a little hard to compare without the previous look and feel (I found only two small, blurry screenshots that don't accurately portray how annoying the site used to look), but regardless: the NCDL's new site is nice. But more than just the general aesthetics, the site now has a much smoother functionality. Most importantly, it also has an excellent browsing method because for the first time, one of these three eLibraries I patron has figured out how to use filters.

This seems like the most obvious thing on the planet, right? I mean, search engines have had filters for so long now, it seems somewhat absurd that a site like an eLibrary wouldn't. And yet they don't seem to see the direct correlation between how easily patrons can find books and how much they'll, you know, check them out. The relatively limited collection is still a problem, but with these simple, easy filters, I can find those few, good books I want quickly, easily and without any unnecessary headaches. I've already seen hints on another library's site that they're going to upgrade to a similar style; here's to hoping the others follow in the NCDL's footsteps soon.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Library eBook lending

This article over at NPR about eBooks and libraries echoes a lot of issues with the current eLibrary models being used: the limited scope of offered books, publishers' instance on bizarre "26 circulations" limitations, and the surprisingly low percentage of readers even using this digital option. This is a fairly good introduction to the problems surrounding eBook lending, but I think it missed part of its own point. The article opens with a sly reference to how few people check books out through these digital catalogs, yet the readers themselves are mostly absent from the article. So, to fill in the blanks, my own take.

I've been checking eBooks out from my local libraries since the day I bought my first eReader. Literally; the evening I bought Artemis, I tested out downloads from three sources: Gutenberg, Overdrive, and Scribd. The Overdrive book was the second eBook I ever read, and I have not stopped using their services since. But I know that I'm in the minority. Not only do digital databases hold an incredible advantage for me over physical ones (after all, I don't have much access to books in English here in the non-Anglo world...), but I also have a fierce resistance to paying for eBooks, and as such prefer any method of getting them for free. The ability to check eBooks out of the library was what drove me to buy a Sony Reader back in the day (over the Kindle, then the only serious competition); it's the same consideration that keeps me using my newer Seshat to this day.

But why is this so rare? I know of countless bloggers who have eReaders, as well as many other friends and family who read digital books in some form or other. These are voracious readers, many of whom hardly read physical books anymore... why aren't they taking advantage of this wonderful system?

Some of the answers are what I mentioned earlier. When you have so few options of books to check out, is it even worth it? Not to mention the fact that finding a book in these databases can be nearly impossible (not what I would call the best search engines). But I don't think all the blame should fall on Overdrive and the other eBook providers. I think some of it has to do with the fact that many readers maybe just prefer getting books in other ways - the convenience of buying a digital edition instantaneously, or even receiving a free eARC. Then there's probably the fact that these sites were at first closed to Kindle books, and have only recently started providing Kindle files for check-out.

I don't know why other readers haven't opted for checking out more library eBooks. I really don't. While it's far from a perfect system (again, NPR's article is quite good at explaining why), it's still something... and something quite incredible. Thoughts?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Death of the dedicated eReader? I think not...

This is an interesting and vaguely weird article about the potential death of the eReader. Yes, you read that correctly - now we speculate as to when eInk technology will become obsolete because of tablets and alternative eReading devices. To which I say the same thing I say every time someone freaks about the impending death of the book: um... no? Or rather, I suppose: probably not?

The reason I am fairly confident that dedicated eReaders will survive (in some form) is similar enough to the reason I think that print books will survive. While there are relatively few people in the world who are considered dedicated readers, there is still a fairly large global market for people who read enough to justify buying an eReader. Some will prefer the shift to digital, true, but not all digital is made equal. I cannot see someone like my aunt - who now reads exclusively off her Kindle - making the move towards an iPad or any other tablet computer. It's just not the same. Every time I've tried to read off tablets, I've found that it's a little more distracting than my Sony Reader. The reason I like my Reader is because it mimics the traditional reading experience incredibly well (while also giving me a few bonuses, like internet access). A device as glossy as my laptop? Not quite as appealing.

What I find especially interesting about this article, though, is that it establishes eInk devices as part of our general reading history. By attempting to spell its doom, Jeremy Wagstaff is essentially acknowledging eInk's position as a legitimate reading form. And like with the case of critics crying about the demise of the printed word, I get the feeling that this article will only emphasize just how wrong it's assessment is...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday links

  • I'm not exactly a Lev Grossman fan, but his post about what characters in fantasy novels should do more often is spot-on and quite hilarious (via Tor.com).
  • John Green emphasizes his opinion that books belong to their readers.
  • Reading Rainbow returns, as an iPad app subscription. LeVar Burton on publishing:
    "I'm sure you're aware, there's been a real nervousness in the publishing universe about this necessary conversion from print to digital, and we saw that there was an opportunity for us to be a solution, really, for publishers in terms of conversion - taking their titles and bringing them to a platform that worked - but also discovery."
  • Finally, an interesting article on the cost of eBooks that, while shedding light on publisher expenses, completely fails to understand the real reasons behind consumers' demands regarding eBooks prices (i.e. resale).

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Getting rid of DRM

Finally, a major publisher is moving in the absolutely right direction: Tor books has decided to go DRM-free, sparking a sudden boom in the eBook DRM discussion. It's about time. Of the slew of articles on the subject, few are as in-depth and on-topic as Cory Doctorow's post at the Guardian:
[Avid] readers are also the ones most likely to run up against the limits of DRM. They're the customers who amass large libraries from lots of suppliers, and who value their books as long-term assets that they expect to access until they die. They may have the chance to change their ebook reading platform every year or two (the most common platform being a mobile phone, and many people get a new phone with each contract renewal). They want to be sure that their books travel with them. When their books don't, they'll be alienated, frustrated and will likely seek out unauthorised ways to get books in future. No one wants to be punished for their honesty.
Tor's move, as well as J.K Rowling's equally excellent recent decision to sell Harry Potter in all formats, DRM-free through her website, show that things are beginning to change. DRM places serious restraints on book-buyers and comes coupled with the publishing industry's backwards approach to the modern era. Hopefully the market will begin to discard the shackles of DRM, finally advancing and not just sticking to a failing status quo...

Friday, March 30, 2012

Ursula K. Le Guin on eBooks

While I don't necessarily agree with everything she says about eBooks, this is still a very interesting post by the ever-brilliant Ursula K. Le Guin about the "death" of the book:
When we hear about the death of the book, it might be a good idea to ask what “the book” is. Are we talking about people ceasing to read books, or about what they read the books on — paper or a screen?

Reading on a screen is certainly different from reading a page. I don’t think we yet understand what the differences are. They may be considerable, but I doubt that they’re so great as to justify giving the two kinds of reading different names, or saying that an ebook isn’t a book at all.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jumbled thoughts on eBook annotations

This at-first unremarkable-seeming Guardian article about the rise of eBook annotations and note-taking immediately reminded me of a conversation I had a couple weeks ago. While speaking with two prolific margin-scribblers, I admitted my own inability to write within the margins of a book. The topic wound its way to the point at which I remarked that I found writing in the margins of an eBook entirely problem-free (perhaps because of how easy it is to hide the notes...?) and the realization that in this regard, for myself, eBooks surpassed print books.

Reading the Guardian's short blurb on the matter, however, I'm struck more by the last paragraph than any of their comments on the nature of eBook annotations:
In response, several publishers have sought to restrict the way their books can be annotated. The Kindle, for example, allows the publisher to limit how much of a book can be shared online, to allay fears of piracy. While it's just about possible to imagine texts being reassembled this way, the more likely result is to frustrate assiduous ebook annotators. Whether the coming years will see a new efflorescence of marginalia – or a readers' revolt over fair use – remains to be seen.
I'm not sure what to make of that. As I do not own a Kindle, I'm not always up-to-speed on the latest shenanigans, however I find it hard to believe that publishers are honestly concerned about how much a reader can annotate a book they paid for. The chutzpah would be astounding. While the background concern is semi-legitimate, if publishers have indeed taken these steps (and I'm not entirely sure that this is a "thing", as no source is mentioned in the article and I don't recall coming across this tidbit anywhere else...) then our situation is worse than I thought... and I've been pretty pessimistic until now.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A few places around the web


  • From a comment on this Guardian article on foreign fiction translations: "There's one great plus about being brought up in a minority language and that is it forces you to explore literature from other countries." The truth is that it will take us many more years to begin to approach the diversity in world fiction many other countries have. The comments give rise to many different approaches to translations (from those who avoid them to those who embrace them), and make for very interesting reading.
  • The last remaining hope for eBook library lending has decided that it's going to go the jerk route. Great to see Random House understands the importance of libraries and has decided that instead of making its book freely and cheaply available to the same institutions that greatly encourage reading and book-buying, they're going to up the price...
  • ...which leads us to a nicely concise post from a while back about the recent publishing trends and the eMess*. Almost everything I've ever wanted to say (and have been unable to phrase) about publishing can be found in that post.
  • To end on a slightly cheerier note, I am quite impressed with this concept of a picture book library for small children. What better way to get these kids to love reading, if not give them a wonderful place to fall in love?


* I realize this is not an official term to describe the publishing industry's problems with ePublishing, but it fits nicely in this case...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The hook - free eBooks, publishers and readers

I have a pretty simple rule regarding eBooks: I don't pay for them. This typically means I scour the internet for free downloads, worship sites like gutenberg.org, and will actively seek out publisher eBook giveaways. Back in the early days of my eBook downloading, when I was just beginning my searches, I realized that a few publishers offered excerpts (and occasionally whole novels) online for free download. About once every six months or so, I remember to check these various sites - Scribd, the Baen Free library, and others - to see what new offers they might have.

So it came to be that the other day I went on a short downloading spree, hitting various publishers' Scribd accounts. And there, on Harper's page, I had the opportunity to read the first few pages of Greg Olear's brilliantly titled novel Father-mucker. I'd managed to hear about the book here and there through the bookish-internet grapevine, but was put off by the witty title. It seemed like the type of book that might try too hard to be witty and clever but then fall flat. Yet when offered the chance to read the first few pages for free in a convenient manner, not through any browser but on my own time, I decided to take it.

See, publishers may always worry about offering books for free online and may worry about piracy, but there's really no need. Free downloads, teasers and offers of this kind serve only as an advertising tool for publishers. I wasn't planning on reading Father-mucker last week. Now I can't wait to finish it. If I had the ability to buy it on the spot, I probably would (unfortunately for publishers and luckily for my wallet, I live abroad). Harper - by offering a teaser download for the book - convinced even a jaded reader like myself to pick the book up.

And though I don't remember where I downloaded it from originally, what about Perdido Street Station? It was offered for free for about a month back in 2009 and served as a pretty good hook - I now have a copy of Miéville's Embassytown on my shelves. I'm certain I would never have bought one Miéville's books just like that, but after reading Perdido Street Station (and later The City & The City, also not purchased), I realized I liked Miéville as an author and wanted to support him. So I bought Embassytown. Hardcover*.

It's like Neil Gaiman said back in the day: "Nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free." Most people are introduced to their favorite authors through different means - a friend lends them the book, they check it out of the library, or in this day and age download it. Many readers will also feel as I do, that buy paying for a book they're supporting the author for writing something good. The amount of times I've bought a book after reading it for free via the public library is... high. Maybe it'll work better if we change our approach to supporting authors and publishing, but I think that publishers can do wonders to promote their authors and books by offering free eBook downloads for limited periods. It's the kind of hook that will work again and again, at least on readers like me.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to see how I can get a hold of Father-mucker.

* Okay, okay, it was at Border's going-out-of-business sale so it wasn't full price. But it was still pretty expensive, so I think it counts.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why I still have hopes for Sony - eReader updates and other things

It's well documented that I like Artemis, my Sony Touch Reader. Certain features - like double-tapping an unfamiliar word - have become so engrained in my mind that I sometimes try to double-tap print words. I love that it's a touch screen, I love that I can take notes, I love that I use it as a notepad when I don't have any pens nearby, and I love that it gives me access to hundreds of free books I might otherwise not be able to get my hands on.

It's also pretty well documented that I don't really like the Kindle. I don't like Amazon's business approach, I don't like DRM, I don't like the sticky-fingers attitude Amazon adopts, and I don't like the bloated eBook prices in relation to paperbacks (a statement against all eBooks, actually, but Amazon is king of the hill in this case so they can suffer my wrath).

Glaring, glare-y Artemis
Since I bought my Artemis, the eReader world has seen a few drastic changes. At the time my model (the PRS-600 Touch Edition) came out, the Kindle 2 already had 3G internet. No wi-fi. The Nook was only a rumor. Tablets weren't being marketed as potential eReaders. And most important of all: they were expensive. My 6", internet-free, somewhat glare-y little device cost $300. Granted, it quickly paid itself off. But compared to the $150 we see today for comparable models... that's one serious price cut. The only eReaders that cost upwards of $200 until now were the tablets (which aren't really eReaders anyways), Sony's high-end 3G model, and the Kindle DX (which is still the most expensive mainstream eReader out there, bizarrely priced at $379, much higher than similar models). Basically, eReaders got a lot cheaper.

New products joined the game. The Nook is a spiffy eReader but perhaps because I'm used to Sony's interface, I couldn't quite get used to it. Particularly noteworthy is the Nook Touch, again - a  worthwhile device, but one that feels to me like a cheaper version of the Sonys (no stylus, less convenient interface, smaller, awkward page-flip buttons...). All the Nook owners I've met have been immensely satisfied (like most eReader owners). The Kobo came out as well, consistently marketed as a small-brand, slightly cheaper alternative to the other eReaders.

Then there's the Kindle 3, and though it's a good product, I personally dislike it. I don't like the structure (the bulky keyboard still seems so out of place) and I don't like Amazon's business approach. But again, technically speaking, it's an almost ideal eReader. Still problematic to share eBooks, still problematic to check eBooks out of the library, still the DRM thing... but if none of these things bother you (and they don't seem to bother most people...) then the Kindle is a satisfactory plug-and-play eReader. Meanwhile, there are the tablets (any of 'em), which aren't actually eReaders, but a lot of people use them for that purpose.

All this time, people laughed at me. "You have a Sony?" a wannabe eReader developer mocked me a year ago (it should be noted that his product never actually materialized in the market... and probably won't). A colleague with a Nook teased me as well: "No internet, glare, and super expensive... boy, were you gypped!" All along, I defended my choice and Sony as well, wondering why they took such a lackluster approach to their marketing. It's lazy marketing, pure and simple - nobody ever even heard about the price cuts or about the new models. Why would they? Kindle! Nook! Kobo! Overpriced and lacking internet, the Sonys just couldn't compete.

The new Sony Reader Wi-Fi - drool-worthy
But holy cow does this new Sony model bring it. I mean, bring it. Glareless touchscreen (but stylus included, unlike the Nook), wi-fi, ePub-friendly, eBookstore access and library check-out access. At the end of the day I bought Artemis for the library option, for the ability to check books out straight to my Reader without having to be in the same county/country as the library. It's been Artemis' most wonderful asset. Being able to check books out directly through the wi-fi--that's a drool-worthy notion in its own right; toss in the ability to use Wikipedia on any word or phrase and I'm halfway to my wallet.

So, I still have hopes for Sony. The Reader Wi-Fi (as it's called) looks awesome and I can't wait to play with it once it comes out. The only real downside is that my Reader is still wonderfully alive and kicking at 2 years of age; I somehow don't think Artemis will be as excited by the Reader Wi-Fi as I am.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Do you like your eReader?

In the past several months, it seems like everyone's gotten an eReader. If in the days of the book blogger survey only around 30% of bloggers used any kind of eReader, I'm sure the result today would be very different. Everybody chooses their own eReader based on their own personal reasoning but here's the thing: almost nobody seems to actively hate the eReader they already have. In fact, whether or not they wanted one, most people seem to like them.

I spoke to a colleague a few days ago about eReaders, mentioning that I had one. She responded by saying (with a slight shudder) that she could never have an eReader. "I like the feel and the smell of a book way too much," she confided in me. She seemed surprised that I, being such an avid and devoted reader, owned one myself. I was reminded of Trish the Book Lady, who recently wrote about her decision to get an eReader. She wrote how having an eReader changed the way she read, but not necessarily in a negative way.

It's true. One of my aunts declared several months ago that she didn't want an eReader. But a stubborn daughter bought one for her mother anyways and today ask my aunt and she'll tell you how much she loves her Kindle. "It's so convenient," she tells me. The lightweight, wireless device makes for comfortable reading. For me, Artemis represents a completley different kind of reading. Not because of internet access (which I don't have), not because I necessarily find it to be more attractive and stylish than a book, but because of the wealth of free books (more on this later this week). Furthermore, Artemis gives me the option of reading multiple books at once. These days, I read one print book, one classic eBook and one more modern eBook. That, at the end of the day, changes the way I read.

So why is it that readers love these devices? Why is it that we all hesitate jumping on the bandwagon at first, but over the course of two or so years, we've gradually accepted eReading into our daily cultures? And the fact is: have we really forsaken "real" print books, to be replaced by digital copies?

Like with all technology, eReaders aren't to everyone's taste. And perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps many have found their reading unchanged by their Kindle, or Nook or iPad. For me, at least, the change has been clear. And, for the most part, positive. What about you?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free."


Neil Gaiman is not my favorite author. He's good, he's someone I like to read and though I know of many readers who like him a great deal, I don't follow him consistently. Still, when he goes out and says some wonderfully apt, eloquent words about books, free books and the internet, I really have nothing but respect for the guy (via A Momentary Taste of Being - thanks!).

Gaiman's message, other than being in tune with a lot of what I've claimed over the past few years, is ultimately that offering free material on the internet does not hurt publishing and book sales (as we're led to believe - "piracy is evil!"), but does so much for getting the author's name out there and getting his/her writing into the readers' hands.
"I started asking audiences to just raise their hands for one question. I say: okay, do you have a favorite author? And they say: yes. And I say: good. What I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book, put up your hand. And then anybody who discovered your favorite author by walking into a bookstore and buying a book, raise your hand. And it's probably about 5-10%, if that. [...] They were lent [the book], the were given it, they did not pay for it. And that's how they found their favorite author."
It's more than just a calm realization of the nature of favorite authors (though it's certainly a lovely image). Gaiman nails the fact that profit - real literary profit, the clean and honest kind that we all would like to believe in - comes from returning readers. Readers want to support authors they like. When I read a book from the library (I obviously have not paid for it) and really like it, I very well may buy it. Why? 1. To have the book in my collection, and 2. To support the author. As a reader, the very best thing I can do to show an author that I like him/her is to buy his/her books. A new book comes out? I'll get it. I'll write reviews recommending their works. I'll lend the books out to my friends so that they might buy them too.

How can I be certain that this will work through the internet? Downloading a book isn't like borrowing a book. It's permanent, right? But I've done it. I've stumbled across promotions that offered free eBooks, read them, liked them and gone out to find more by the author. Gaiman is dead-on in this video. Offering your writing freely gets you readers and fans, increases your exposure and boosts sales. I hope more authors and publishers take note.

For an additional video Neil Gaiman made for the Open Rights Group, here's the link to his own journal post.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The internet, touch screens, and personal preference

A couple weeks ago, I got a phone call from a relative asking me about eReaders. The relative, knowing my interest in the matter, wanted to know if it was worth it getting a Kindle. Then, a few days ago, I found myself discussing the matter again, looking at the development of the market over the past year. Finally, later that evening I saw this article detailing the price drops in Sony Readers (I own a Sony PRS-600; now known, I suppose, as an "old Sony Touch Edition"). So now, a recap of the last year in eReaders.

Since I purchased my Sony Touch Edition a year ago, the eReader market has changed drastically. The day following my purchase saw price drops in Kindles, from the then-standard $300 to $260-$280. The Nook followed suit, and by March 2010, most eReader prices hovered around the $250 mark. April saw the launch of the iPad, which had for so long captivated the minds of tech enthusiasts, as well as eReader junkies. The iPad proved to be a very different product, though, far more multi-purpose than the single-track eInk eReaders many found to be so useful. And far more expensive, at around $500. Still, following the release of the iPad, eReaders went through another few sets of changes - a few more eReaders on the market, significant price cuts, and a couple months ago prices stood at around $150-$200 for standard eReaders (Sony's Daily Edition remained more expensive). Then the Kindle "3" came out, and now a new set of Sonys. So where do we stand?

Simple. It all depends on your needs, and while eReaders these days are significantly better (and better priced) than they were one year ago when I made my purchase, the products are still far from perfect and each of the major eReaders has its flaws.

Amazon Kindle 3 - The most popular eReader by far (thanks in part to Amazon's ubiquity as an online bookseller, as well as aggressive marketing), the Kindle 3 is a good product alone (internet access, note-taking ability, convenience), but falls short on several counts. First is Amazon's closed format and the refusal to move to the popular, open ePub format. This places a lot of books and digital libraries out of Kindle users' reach, though they for the most part don't know it. Problematic, too, is Amazon's "sticky finger" issue - the ability to wipe books from devices, to keep track of notes made in the margins, etc. The somewhat bulkier design (and difficulty in actually taking notes) adds to a device that is very good, but technologically frustrating.

Barnes & Noble Nook - The Nook gets a lot of press but doesn't actually seem to be that common or popular. As a device, it comes off as a bit awkward - two screens: one for reading, and a touch screen for maneuvering - and also as somewhat simple. It has internet access as well, but reviews indicate that it's clumsy and somewhat slow. I don't know as much about it, but it benefits from having friendlier eBook rules - the ability to lend books, ePub, etc. The Nook costs about as much as the Kindle.

Sony Readers - Sony is still sort of out of the loop. Coming as the only major (if you can even call it that...) eReaders to offer touch screens, it falls short on other counts. The two new updates of the Touch and Pocket Editions leave out internet access (silly, in my mind, if they already have the technology...) but updates screens and maintains the incredibly comfortable note-taking abilities that make the Touch Edition very useful and convenient (hopefully reduce the slight glare as well). Sony continues to embrace ePub and the Overdrive Digital Library, leading the way in digital lending (and thus leading the way in free eBooks!), even as their digital store is awkward and disorganized. Sonys still cost more, but their prices too have dropped significantly over the past year and will likely return to market levels within the next few months.

Apple iPad - Not a real eReader. Used as one, but it still doesn't really qualify. I recent read an article (I can't find it now...) that suggested that the year long price drops in eReaders were as a result of the iPad. While I'm certain the iPad helped, I find myself again needing to point out that the devices aim to do completely different things. People haven't stopped buying eInk eReaders because they can get tablets. I think all that's been said until now proves this.

The gist - As I told my relative (and now you, dear readers), it all depends on what you need and what you want. For readers like myself who refuse to buy eBooks due to ridiculously high costs, the Sonys are still good, even if they annoyingly don't offer internet and demand a higher price (overall it pays off, by the way). Sony's point seems to be that a touch screen is the replaceable equivalent of internet, but they're wrong. The ability to access 3G or wireless internet makes eReaders convenient on a very different level. But that's not important for everyone (especially people who don't want internet access guzzling their battery life...). The Nook is also a good choice, even if in this case the inability to take notes evens out with the lack of internet in the Sonys. Then again, someone might want something simple, organized, and cheap. The standard. In which case the Kindle isn't that terrible - it's just not for me. If you don't care about closed formats, the Kindle is clearly a successful and popular product. I don't believe most Kindle owners actively dislike their Kindles. Then again, I don't believe most eReader owners actively dislike any of their eReaders. I certainly like mine.

Touch screens, open format, internet, price... Buying an eReader today means taking into account many different variables, far more than a year ago. Today would I be so quick to buy an eReader? No. But it's an interesting, growing market. And that, I think, is worth something in itself.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Numerical update

Almost a year after purchasing my Sony Reader, I have read over 30 digital books thanks to the device. And this not counting essays, poems, short stories, assignments, proofreads, textbooks, newspapers, magazines, etc. All for free.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Explain this

Explain this to me, please. In the past couple of months, I have heard endlessly of the battle between the iPad and the Kindle, Apple and Amazon, the death of eReaders, the survival of eReaders, the Kobo, the Libre... everything. And yet this surprising piece of news somehow eluded me: Sony Readers have dropped in price. Quite significantly. Sure, there's a sale going on making each Reader $50 cheaper than even the lowered price, but until it ends (tomorrow, if I'm not mistaken), that's a $100 drop from the still quoted numbers of $300 for the Touch Edition and $400 for the Daily Edition. It's possible, of course, that I simply haven't noticed this change, but once again I find it strange that everywhere I turn I see articles about the iPad and Amazon, yet a pretty relevant piece of news like this has been glossed over...

It's been this way for months, essentially. Even long before the iPad came out, there was always buzz surrounding "New! Exciting! Kindle-Killer! Apple-Eater!" eReaders. Buzz that almost immediately faded. Recall the initial glow surrounding the release of the Nook. There's still some buzz, yes, but it's subdued, gentle now. And the COOL-ER? Do you hear of that one any more? Same for Sony Readers, almost always ignored because they don't seem to mesh well with views on where eReaders will go (which always leads back to... Apple!).

I've complained about this in the past, and I realize that the free market/press is as it is, but there's something so grossly unfair that every little blip written by any random journalist about the future of eReaders (whether positive or negative) gets blown way out of proportion, but legitimate eReader news - price updates, actual market changes (not just speculation) - just isn't published...

And for the record, I found out about the price drops by visiting the Sony website. I've yet to find any news links to it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Side-by-side

“Tablets currently focus on the web-surfing experience,”
This is a key sentence in the great Wired article about Tablets versus eReaders, which suggests that the two can (and perhaps should) coexist. It points out that Tablets are great for textbooks and magazines but not so much for fiction (it also puts non-fiction with that group but I'm not certain I agree - more on that later). The article rightly explains that eReaders are great because of their battery life and screen quality, while Tablets are awesome because of everything else.

E Ink screens aren’t particularly good at anything other than books, leaving newspapers and magazines out in the cold. That’s where tablets could step in, says James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research. [...] But it will be a battle that could take a toll on e-paper based displays, he says.

“For people who read more of those media than they do books, tablets will be an ideal device and can easily take some wind out of E Ink sales, once we get beyond the fourth of the population that really enjoys reading books,” says McQuivey.

Still, tablets won’t immediately supplant lower-priced electronic paper-based e-readers, he notes. “The first thing you need to consider is whether tablets will actually be as good for book reading as the E Ink readers are,” says McQuivey. “Having a two-week battery life and a device that’s comfortable to stare at for hours at a stretch without strain (as with e-paper based e-readers) is hard to beat.”

Indeed. There's the price issue too and with this Tablet vs. eReader split, eReaders will probably need to become cheaper. It's an interesting article, raising several ideas I'd never thought of before (and am still not certain I agree with). It's one of the better roundups I've encountered on the matter - those curious about the impact Tablets might have on the eReader market should certainly read it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Calibre convert

I'm not very good at technology. If programs get to be too complicated, I raise my arms in defeat and forget about it. I like simplicity in the use of technology, complexity in its quality. I am that spawn of the internet age - at once lazy and inquisitive.

On the one hand, this trait made me fairly pleased with Sony's Reader Library when I first started using it. Moving files to my PRS-600 was so simple, downloading and viewing files even more so, and arranging them in bookshelves proved to be surprisingly convenient once I started amassing books. And taking notes on my computer? A cinch. But it's an annoying, frustrating program too. The inability to adjust metadata means that many of the files I've acquired have bizarre/inaccurate titles and authors, making it incredibly difficult to keep track of where my books are at, once on the Reader. I started searching for ways to change the settings, certain there must be some simple solution. Instead, I kept coming across the name Calibre again and again. I finally downloaded it, after using a computer for a couple of weeks that seemed unable to use Sony's program (it turned out the problem was that the Reader Library had been installed on an external drive to the computer that was no longer there...). The results? Calm, blissful, and altogether impressive. I am now a Calibre convert. Sort of.

Calibre doesn't resemble Sony's iTunes-esque library at all. On the one hand, it's simpler, with large, easily recognizable buttons along the top displaying the many available options. On the other hand, it's more complex, because -- it has buttons along the top displaying the many available options. I don't mean the option of "change author", "change title", etc. No, it's "edit metadata" and "convert format", both of which lead to new and seemingly complicated screens. Except there's really nothing to it. Within seconds, I'd managed to figure out how to maneuver Calibre's basic options, even picking up the quick keyboard commands (they're entirely intuitive - v for view, e for edit, c for convert, etc.).

There are two main features that make Calibre worth your while, no matter what eReader program you use otherwise. The first is the ability to convert files. Almost every format can be converted to something else (I think .doc is the exception), so if you've found a great book in PDF but don't like how it looks, hit a couple of keys and bam--ePub it is. I'm not sure if it works for .azw (Kindle) files, but the open screen indicates that it's a Kindle compatible program too (through .mobi, I think). For the rest of us, though, it works like a charm, even if converting PDFs reveals funny glitches like page numbers in the middle of the screen.

The second interesting feature is "Fetch news". Upon command, Calibre connects to the internet and downloads the most recent newspaper or magazine from a multitude of sources (in a multitude of languages), making it possible to read The New England Journal of Medicine and then getting updated with The Chicago Tribune. For those with Kindles who pay for some papers, this feature may seem silly (particularly since one needs to connect the machine and the fact that often the papers are incomplete without a subscription...) but in all honesty it's great for me. I recently took a flight across the Atlantic and instead of buying my typical Economist magazine, I downloaded the free (and mostly complete) version to my Sony and enjoyed it on the flight for no extra charge. Calibre automatically downloads the papers into the suitable format for your device (specified upon installation), complete with internal links to specific articles, to menus and the black-and-white pictures.

It's not a perfect program. Far from it. It's slow, somewhat unorganized at times, and cannot actually be used alongside Sony's Reader Library. Technically. In reality, it's possible to use both by taking advantage of Calibre's useful features and avoiding letting it come into contact with the actual eReader. Still, it's an added step and an added hassle. But for the ability to fix those pesky PDF files that come with crazy metadata (by converting them to ePub with the proper info, or self converting to PDF, as strange as it sounds), for the newspaper feature, and for the ease with which I figured out theoretically complex stuff, I give Calibre my stamp of approval.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Paying it off

When I got my Sony Reader PRS-600, I knew I wasn't going to be spending money on eBooks. The device was to be used exclusively for free reading material. Meant to reduce the costs of my reading habits, it was hoped that the device would "pay itself off" within a reasonable lifespan.

Assume all books cost $12. They don't, but go with it. The device costs $300 (it seemed so much cheaper back in October, but now Sony is much more expensive than competitors... that should change). 300 divided by 12 equals 25. Now look at books costing $15 (close to reality). Now the number is 20. Basically, somewhere between 20-25 free books read on the device "pays it off". And so my silver Sony has given me my money back. Cool.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

And so it begins

Okay Amazon. I know everyone's excited (or not) about the iPad (and unnecessarily so, or do I need to explain for the thousandth time that this isn't an eReader?), but acting like a little annoying kid is only going to make your parents angry. Your parents in this case are probably folks who like buying books from you and don't give a hoot (yet) about eBooks. You guys do realize that you're screwing over your customers, right?

If you're wondering what Amazon's latest drama is, check this out: Amazon has decided to stop selling books by a publisher that went with Apple. And I don't mean they stopped selling Kindle editions, I mean they stopped selling books. Want to laugh especially hard? They haven't stopped selling the Kindle editions (for Wolf Hall, at least). So you know what, Amazon? Now I'm angry because you're screwing me over.

The story is as follows. Publishers don't like Amazon's $9.99 eBook policy. Neither do I, but that's because $10 for less than 1Mb of information is absolute stupidity and incredibly expensive. More on that another time. Point is, publishers think Amazon's prices are unfair, claiming that the downward trend is ruining publishing, blah blah, no money for us, blah, you're paying for content not for format, blah diblah blah. Publishers have jumped at the idea of the "magical" iPad because they think that Apple will fix everything. This is because Apple has consented to sell higher priced eBooks, meaning more money gets back to the publishers. Publishers hope that the saying that "consumers will do what Apple tells them to" will stand here too (and yes, I did just make that up).

Clearly, Amazon is worried. Otherwise, would they really remove titles to "express disappointment" (or disagreement)? Amazon has convinced consumers that it's all right to pay incredible sums of money for eBooks, publishers think even that's not enough, and consumers are taking it lying down (again, more on this later). Now Amazon is acting like they're the victims of some strange nefarious scheme (if someone understands this comment as something else, please let me know and explain it to me - I'm honestly completely baffled), saying that $14 is too expensive for an eBook (which is absolutely true), saying "Oh, well I have to sell it like this because that's what makes me money but not money the way I'd like it but hey I'm getting more money out of it are you confused yet?".

There are other sides to the story as well. Read this account from an author whose book was temporarily removed too - it looks at this whole issue from a different angle that may, given time, make me more sympathetic towards publishers. Regardless, this whole affair is turning out to be exhausting. One conclusion is that Apple's iPad isn't the eReader to solve our problems, but rather is apparently going to cause a furor or two just because of pettiness. These fights will do no one good - Amazon, because of the bad publicity, and the publishers, because of the decrease in sales and old-fashioned mindset - most of all hurting consumers. In the meantime, I'll happily read free literature on my Sony and go shop at the Book Depository*.

*And complete a book blogger survey. Only a few days left!