Posted tagged ‘ebooks’

Digital ephemera?

September 18, 2012

Although we now clearly live in a digital age, we are often still very hesitant about accepting its robustness. In fact, though I am an enthusiastic user of every digital device and all electronic media, even I can be uncertain about their durability. A couple of years ago I was asked by a group of schoolchildren to advise them what format to use for electronic data they wanted to put in a time capsule, to be opened in 100 years. Paper, I said without hesitation. I could not be sure that a disk, or a memory stick, or a DVD would still be readable in 100 years time, or indeed that they would not have degraded in the interim.

So what does that mean? Should we assume that what we consume in digital format is for the moment only? This question has been raised on some occasions in relation to ebooks: is reading literature (or anything else) in this format the same as reading a paper-based book, or is it in some way different? The author Jonathan Franzen has recently suggested that the ‘impermanence’ of ebooks makes them unsuitable for serious reading. This becomes an issue in universities when the prospect arises of distributing course materials entirely in digital format, so-called ‘etexts’. Some argue in favour of using these, others are more cautious; but the early evidence is that they can be very effective educational tools.

Personally, I am willing to read pretty much anything in ebook format, though if I believe that I will want to read the book again and may want to reference it in future, I’ll buy a paper copy. But textbooks are different anyway. Most students dispose of them after they have completed their studies. There is therefore little reason to conclude that having etexts is somehow worse than having traditional books; indeed the use of etexts may provide lecturers with an opportunity to use innovative pedagogy.

I still do not know how the digital world will develop, and I am absolutely ready to believe that what we use now in electronic format will not be useable in 30 years time. But I do believe that the principle of electronic reading will continue to be adopted, and the technology will eventually produce more durable products; and I see no evidence of any pedagogical disadvantage. We must continue to innovate, even if the books on my bookshelves will remain also.


It is written …

December 4, 2010

For the month of November, I read a total of four ebooks. I didn’t read any book printed on paper, at all, and that marks a first for me. Nevertheless, before I get too carried away I might remind myself that I own somewhere in the region of 5,000 hard copy books, and maybe 25 ebooks. I am not about to become an electronic-only reader.

The fact that this is still very much an emerging market is made clear by the fact that US publisher Simon & Schuster recently stated that 7 per cent of its book sales are now ebook versions. That may not sound much, but five years ago the figure would have been zero. I would guess that by 2020 it will be well over 50 per cent.

Apart from the obvious questions about habit and taste that will determine how fast the ebook spreads, we should also be asking how publication will work in future. As you and I can now publish for free whatever we want on a huge number of blogs and other websites, will that be the model for book publishing – or will we need a more traditional type publisher to promote and market our work?

Books contain the narrative of our society and our world. They are a distinct source of knowledge, distinguishable from newspapers and magazines. They have a sense of shape, both physically and intellectually. Can this be maintained in electronic format?

As ebook reader devices become ever more sophisticated, I am willing to bet that this is the future of authoring and reading. However, I will also bet that in 10 years I will still on occasion take a leather-bound volume off the shelf and settle down to read it. If I’m spared.

More and more ebook readers

August 1, 2010

The ambiguity in the title of this post is deliberate: only just over two years since the first generation of the Amazon Kindle went on sale in the United States (only), ebook devices have become more and more popular, and people who favour this particular form of reading have become more and more numerous. For those who are serious about ebooks, the choice is now between the Kindle itself (now about to go into the third generation), the Sony Reader, the iLiad, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, and of course the Apple iPad (though this is more than an ebook reader). In addition, the associated ebook stores of some of these devices also offer software (‘apps’) that simulate the devices on the iPad: so for example, as an iPad owner you can download the Kindle app and then use the iPad as a Kindle, including the facility for direct downloads of Amazon Kindle ebooks.

So now the question is beginning to arise as to whether ebooks will become the standard format for reading, and what impact this will have on paper or hard copy versions. I don’t know if I am at all typical, but right now I am purchasing and reading lots of ebooks; if on reading a book I feel that I may want to read it again I buy the paper version as well. I don’t think that bookshelves will disappear; but it is possible that sales will decline for a while before becoming stable at a lower figure.

Gadget time: the Kindle 2

March 5, 2009

As I had announced in an earlier post, I have acquired (and have now taken delivery of) the second generation Kindle, the e-book reader sold by Amazon. It’s too early to offer any very detailed review, but first impressions are good. It is actually slightly larger in terms of footprint than the original Kindle, but the screen is the same size. But critically, the device is much thinner, and aesthetically rather more attractive. The buttons have changed, both in terms of their functionality and in terms of how you press them. You still ‘turn the page’ by pressing pretty much where you did so before, but the key is pressed differently, and this took a little getting used to. The screen display looks (to me at least) much like before, and is easy on the eye. A little innovation is that when you switch the device off, you are left with a picture of a famous writer on the screen.

There is now a combined charging and data transfer cable, slotting into the USB port on your computer. The downside is that this is a unique cable, not the standard USB one that was used for data transfer on the first Kindle. And if you want a spare or additional one, get ready to be charged rather more for this.

Overall: so far I like it. But I’ll need to review that when I have spent a little more time reading.

And for those who have no idea what I am talking about: the Kindle allows you to store electronic versions of books (which can be bought on Amazon) on the device, and then read them there. The appearance of the page on the device is intended to look as nearly as possible as it would on paper, and the advantage of the device is that, on one bit of equipment the size of a very thin book,  you can actually take with you a whole collection of books, dozens of them. I don’t think this will replace ‘real’ books, but it’s a useful substitute when travelling and in similar situations. Apart from Amazon’s Kindle, there are also other devices, including one from Sony.

Gadgets, gadgets – the new Kindle

February 10, 2009

Today I received an email from Amazon telling me that they are releasing the second generation Kindle later this month, and offering me, as a ‘valued customer’, the opportunity to get into the line early. And of course I can never see a gadget without wanting it, even if I already have the thing; and so I duly placed my order for the Kindle 2. I tell myself that it’s worth it because I have someone willing to take the original Kindle off my hands for a small amount of money.

Since I have never seen or held the Kindle 2, I cannot tell whether this is worth the money. But it is, according to the specifications, much thinner, with better screen definition, much more disk space and longer battery life. As I did find the original Kindle just a tiny bit bulky, this seems good to me. I shall offer a review when I have received it towards the end of this month.

Once again, this is for the US market only. I get round this by having it sent to a US address. Also, I imagine it won’t let me connect wirelessly from Ireland (though it’s now running on G3, so it’s a theoretical possibility); I’ll have to download to my computer and transfer the books from there.

On various Kindle-related discussion lists, a large number of users are expressing anger at the new release, as they feel they should have been told when they bought the original Kindle. That seems to me to be naive; of course there was going to be a new model.

Will I use this gadget? Well, I certainly have been using the first one. Not as a substitute for paper books, but as a replacement mainly when travelling. Which is why the bulk and weight matters. And the battery life.

More on all this when I have it. And this being a recession and we all having to tighten belts and all that, let’s hope there isn’t going to be any other enticing gadget for a while.

The future of books

July 22, 2008

I confess I am a gadget freak. If there’s a new gadget, I feel I absolutely need it. Put an iPhone on sale, and I’m in the line to get it. New and better satellite navigation? Let me have it! An electronic corkscrew? Absolutely! So for a while I have been eyeing up e-book readers, and oddly enough I still haven’t made a purchase, despite on the whole wanting to. How convenient to be able to bring the entire collection of Dickens novels, Shakespeare plays, books on university leadership and poetry anthologies on to the plane with me!

So I look at eBay offers, Amazon reviews of the Kindle (not yet for sale in these parts anyway), Sony devices and so forth. But I don’t buy. Even for me, there is something about books in their paper version that still attracts me. There is something satisfying about putting the paper bookmark in the pages as you close the book, that even the best electronic memory cannot match. And if you’re that way inclined, something beautiful and sensual about a leather cover of an antique book.

Sooner or later I know I shall buy an e-book reader. But I bet any amount of money that, in 10 years time, I shall still be buying paper-based books, admiring them, and reading them. Even in this age of fast-paced technology, some things will stay the same.