How E-Books Will Change Reading and Writing

Change must be coming!

On December 30th, NPR's Morning Edition had a five-minute segment on about electronic literature. The segment covered twitter novels (well, just Rick Moody's failed attempt), phone novels from Japan and e-readers. What really turned me off from the segment was this quote from Nicholas Carr:
"Over the last couple of years, I've really noticed if I sit down with a book, after a few paragraphs, I'll say, 'You know, where's the links? Where's the e-mail? Where's all the stuff going on?' " says writer Nicholas Carr. "And it's kind of sad."

I assume he's being tongue-in-cheek here, but I still find it misdirected. It's another example of how mainstream media and our cultural critics have decided to ignore some of the foundations of information literacy and equate all formats as one.

The rest of the segment isn't any better. Rick Moody and Lev Grossman both look at new technology (twitter and mobile phones) and basically point out thier short-comings to the novel. Apples and oranges. When are we going to start hearing from people who are actually creating unique and powerful material on these new formats rather than traditional crafters who are comfortable with old media and are hesitant to really experiment. (How do you have a conversation in twitter? Easy. Two accounts and use the reply function.) At least the segment didn't end pointing to e-readers as the great innovation in this field. It just ended with the stock "woe is the novel, who knows if it will survive this latest change and still be the major cultural center it has been for the past 500 years."



Who buys books on Christmas Day?

I've tried to ignore the articles for the past few days but now that academics have started to send this around en masse to their associates (and I'm sure to see this a few more times once winter break is over), I want to point out a few things about this news story from the Guardian.

  • Who is on the computer buying books from Amazon on Christmas Day?

  • There's not much to do with a Kindle after buying it other than adding books. And since you can do it on the machine, there's no need to go to the computer and isolate yourself from the family.

  • This article's only source of information on this is a press release Amazon sent.

  • Amazon isn't releasing hard data, just a statement that this happened. I would like to see the sales figures and maybe have some investigative reporting rather than reiteration from a company touting it's device.

  • This passes for journalism today?

To confuse things a little bit more, they waste space with descriptions that have absolutely no bearing on the story. Check out the last paragraph:

The Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury made the 2009 Wisden Cricketers' Almanack available as an e-book for the first time this year, while Penguin has been selling a range of its classics in electronic form with extra features such as contemporary recipes.

Unless Bloomsbury has changed their name to "Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury," I have no idea why they mention a series that isn't available in e-book format (and may never be) in a sentence about an almanack. Unless the journalist thought a reference to Harry Potter would add punch to the item. Also can't wait for those recipes that come with "The Picture of Dorian Gray", A Clockwork Orange, and On the Road (Chris Croissant of Penguin Digital's three favorite Penguin Classics according to the Penguin Classics UK book shop).

It's going to be an interesting year on the e-book front.



Google Codex Project?

Found while reading James O'Donnell's Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace. This from Nicholas of Tyre, writing in the 14th C. on those blasted printed books that were starting to be in vogue:

They have chopped up the text into so many small parts, and brought forth so many concordant passages to suit their own purpose that to some degree they confuse both the mind and the memory of the reader and distract it from understanding the literal meaning of text.

The irony is that I wanted to copy this quote and went to Google Books to highlight it and copy it but was blocked and could only see a small part of the text, so I had to pull my dead tree copy out as well to make sure I had the whole passage.

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Free baby, but not open source

So, someone shared a link with me for Richard Laermer's new book, 2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade. It mentioned that McGraw-Hill was offering a free copy of the e-book. Intrigued, I went to freebabyfree and found this posted on the site:
Just fill in the form below and you'll get a link to the e-book. The whole book. Not excerpts. There are 77 chapters ~ bound to be something you love~!~

No tricks, no gimmicks, no spam. In 2008, this is the way to publish a groundbreaking book about the future.

Fill in below. We are being as open-source as possible here. Oh and to buy this book as a hardback then log on to Laermer.com.

In order to gain access to the book, you need to provide an e-mail address and they will send you the link to access the book (not necessarily a trick, but why aren't you just providing online access to the thing directly? Why do you need my e-mail address?), so I did so, I got the link e-mailed to me and. . . . the experience was horrible. Why?

Let me count the ways:
  1. I have limited access to the book. Sure I can read the whole book- as long as I do it in a week in their format. (I would define this as a trick).
  2. I need to read the book on the site so I'm stuck reading it on my computer screen thanks to the hosting by zmags.
  3. The page layout make the book unreadable unless you zoom in.
  4. The zoom is so sensitive as to make you feel sick.
  5. The scroll wheel is used to zoom in and out and it's always active. In other words, you can't use a scroll wheel to scroll down a page.
  6. I feel duped because some marketeer misused the term open source to describe the material (Open source means you're giving everyone access to the material in a format that is open for them to manipulate. You want to offer this material locked down in a specific format, fine, it's a valid method of providing access, but don't call it open source).

Did anyone do any usability on this e-book to see what the actual experience of reading it?

I would like to ask Cory Doctorow, Suze Orman, Charles Bock and the various groups working on the epub standard if this is indeed "the way to publish a groundbreaking book about the future" because I certainly thought the rest of the world was getting rid of DRM and freely sharing content with others.

If you want an example of a publishing company really publishing for today, check out Joe Wikert's entry on Thomas Nelson.