Books Rant

Earl said:

Generally, I embrace change and scientific progress. But so far, e-books leave me cold. I don’t like their texture, and I don’t like the fact that digital rights management (DRM) software prevents you from truly owning the books you buy. E-readers require power; what do you do if you’re stuck somewhere for hours and you drain your batteries?

I’m sure I’ll get an e-reader eventually, but I hope the e-books of the (near) future are a little more user friendly. If I were to design an e-book, I’d make it something like this:

The FlexBook
The FlexBook will look and feel like an ordinary mass-market paperback, about 200 pages thick. The whole contraption will be made of yet-to-be-invented smart paper with all the texture of real paper but capable of displaying text, images, textures, video, etc. The smart paper will also absorb energy from the sun to keep it powered.

When someone invents an e-reader of this quality and versatility, I’ll buy it. Until then, I’ll stick with my old-fashioned books.

On his blog:

My response:

Wow, Earl, that’s as close to being a luddite as I’ve seen you.

Ebooks are not, and cannot be electronic versions of RL books. No more than the control interface on The Next Generations’ Enterprise is an electronic version of a 19th century locomotive’s controls. And that’s apparently what you are asking for.

In the first place a book is merely a form of a vessel. It’s high time we stopped lumping all content in the same ewer just because ewers are what’s been the best way to carry around wine for the last 1000 years or so. The information itself should dictate the form.

Secondly, the reading experience should be almost 100% of the enjoyability. By limiting the experience to a limited set of conditions you are basically stating that anything outside a limited norm is not longer a pleasurable activity. Try reading the Gutenburg bible with its archaic fonts, the Torah in scroll form or something written in Middle English. All of those factors are going to lessen the reading experience until you get used to them, but soon enough you will adapt and be able to access the information in pleasurable way once again.

And there are good points. My bookmarks synch between my iPad and my iPhone and I can take up wherever I left off. When I close a book halfway through the book remembers where I am and I can pick up and go whenever I get back to it. When I fall asleep at night reading the book remembers where I am and I get right back to reading the next day without wondering where I had left off. I actually look up the occasion word these days right from the ereader. Haven’t you ever wondered exactly what ‘enfilade’ meant when reading the latest military sci-fi blockbuster instead of just imaging you’ve got it right from context? Not exactly earth-shattering selling points but some of the perks an ebook brings to the table.

DRM sucks. Period. I have over 144 Sci-fi and Fantasy books on my reader and not a single one has DRM. It’s something to fight tooth and nail, but if the true core market (readers like you Earl) don’t fight, it’s not a battle we are going to win anytime soon.

Power also sucks. But my watch now runs on a battery and I’ve learned to live with the fact that the battery occasionally dies.. I’m going to guess we are pretty much screwed if and when we blow ourselves up. Until then we just practice safe power usage and have a library of old favourites around to keep us going in a pinch… sort of like candles. I’m not saying I like relying on my own sense of orgaization, but having two ereaders available has ensured I am never without a book to lull myself to sleep.

And what is up with covers, the total lack of back cover copy and the stupid online bookstores themselves. Everything I see proves to me that the industry is trying to hold on to everything about the pre-ebook world regardless of its suitability to a new format and reader (consumer) experience. I lose books in my eReader all the time because I am such a visual person. I actually have to open the ebook and skim a paragraph or two to remind me which book in a series it is. It s freaking idiotic, that’s what it is.

And buying ebooks is painful and I really don’t see the booksellers getting it. Nothing so far has come close to replacing a nice hour or two in the stacks. That’s where the publishers need to be concentrating their efforts. It’s enough to make me want to get back into the book biz, just to give the old guard a real hard shake.

But, as I said, we can change all that. And by we, I again mean you and your ilk. It’s a cultural industry with an emphasis on industry and the publishers will go where the money is. That doesn’t mean you can halt the changes, but it should mean we can participate in inventing something that will satisfy our needs.

Books aren’t going to die. Not all knowledge is useful in an e-format. One of my pet peeves is that software manuals have gone almost exclusively to an electronic format and they suck big time at teaching anything to any one. Until they fix the paradigm I will always go back to the book as the best way to learn and reference features on new software. All information has a format, its just that the book is no longer the ultimate format for all information.

All this to say that I have real hope that the electronic format will be transformative if we embrace it and will be nothing but a long painful and fruitless struggle if we try and oppose it. Around a 1000 years ago the cry was raised “long-live the book and our thanks to the scroll for the all the memories”. I think its time for a new cry… we just need to figure out what it is.

Oddly Enough one of Earl’s commentors “Emily”, posted this link a few minutes after I finished my rant:

Something very important and very weird is happening to the book right now: It’s shedding its papery corpus and transmigrating into a bodiless digital form, right before our eyes. We’re witnessing the bibliographical equivalent of the rapture. If anything we may be lowballing the weirdness of it all.

The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was circa 1450, when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type. But if you go back further there’s a more helpful precedent for what’s going on. Starting in the first century A.D., Western readers discarded the scroll in favor of the codex — the bound book as we know it today.

Ooh… I’m minutes ahead of the curve!

MacBlaze’s Weekly Tweets for 2011-09-25

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No Doubt

Doubt: A Parable is the first show of the Timms season. Apparently is going to be a busy arts season with dance, opera and more.

A few moments in I realized this the play that the Meryl Streep movie of the same name was based on. Strong stuff!


MacBlaze’s Weekly Tweets for 2011-09-18

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How do we know the book is dead?

Because Ikea says so…

According to The Economist, IKEA will release a new version of its classic BILLY bookshelf next month, one that’s focused less on storing books than storing, well, anything and everything else. The company is finding that customers use their shelves increasingly for “ornaments, tchotchkes and the odd coffee-table tome,” and less so for reading material.

They’ve realized we don’t need fixed shelves 12 inches high and 9 inches deep. They’ve realized we’re more comforted by the endless capacity of a millimeters-thin box of transistors. And most importantly, they want us to keep buying their furniture. So by changing the depth and height and adding decorative glass doors to their bookshelves, they’ll ensure that the world will still have a use for their some-assembly-required furniture. Go ahead, store your souvenirs on our bookshelf, they’re saying.

MacBlaze’s Weekly Tweets for 2011-09-11

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MacBlaze’s Weekly Tweets for 2011-09-04

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