What Is the Essence of "BOOK?"

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Wed Nov 28, 2007 2:13 pm Post

I don't want to hustle for Amazon (among other reasons, because I neglected to buy Amazon stock a dozen years ago when I was sure it was going to succeed), but the big A has the latest entry in the "artificial book" technology race. It's called, strangely enough, KINDLE. (http://www.amazon.com/) It doesn't look or operate any more like a book than any of its predecessors, as nearly as one can determine from the write-up. Yet it's slightly seductive, and a viable version is inevitable.

Therefore the question: Is a book necessarily a book as we have come to think of it -- those of us of a certain (or uncertain) age -- or is "book," with its attendant grace and power and mythology, essentially an amorphous creature, or even a shape-changer?

Is KINDLE or one of its ilk the future of bookdom? (And how could anyone who's ever heard of book-burning want to use KINDLE to name an ersatz book?)


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Wed Nov 28, 2007 2:26 pm Post

Hmm. I don't like the look of all the buttons on that one. I was part of a beta-trial for an as-yet unreleased ebook-reader three or four years ago, and was surprisingly pleased with it. No real buttons - mostly touch-screen controls. Its gentle backlighting was perfect for reading in bed without waking my long-suffering spouse with lights or noisy page turning. And for sheer portability of reading matter, it would be hard to beat. You can't read it in the bath, though, or in the sauna!

I would quite like an electronic device like this if - and only if - downloads of books were dead cheap (at the discount paperback sort of level). But at the time I was doing the trial thing, the proposed prices were more in line with hardbacks :shock:

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Wed Nov 28, 2007 5:57 pm Post

I've been waiting ages for a decent ebook/pdf reader to come out. Everything I've seen about the Kindle and its ilk so far has been disappointing.

Mainly what I'm after is something that uses the low-power e-ink technology (as Kindle does) but handles PDFs well (which Kindle doesn't).

I have loads of PDF manuals and things that I'd love to be able to read away from the computer but haven't yet seen one that does PDF properly. The Sony's e-book reader only shows PDFs full screen - no zooming, which would make reading A4 pages all but unreadable. If anyone knows of one that does PDF properly PLEASE let me know!

By far the main problem with the Kindle though (IMO) is that it seems it will only be of any use for as long as Amazon chooses to support it.

PDFs and DOC files have to be converted, the only way (as far as I'm aware) to convert them to the native Kindle format is to email them to the device via Amazon, who convert them for you - They won't let you convert files on your own, presumably in a poor attempt to prevent people cracking their DRM scheme.

Ebooks bought from Amazon will have DRM embedded in them which means the e-books you buy from Amazon are basically only rented.

They'll be there for as long as Amazon decides to support the device, but if they decide not to any more that's that.

The only positive thing I can say is that I rather like the clunky, retro, Space 1999 design of the thing. If only they'd made it black and with grey rubber keys it would have been like the early Sinclair Spectrum computers.. ahh sweet memories :)

So yeah, I'm still waiting for the perfect device. In the meantime I'm still reading PDFs on the computer, and sticking to good old paper and ink versions for everything else.

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Wed Nov 28, 2007 9:19 pm Post

This is what I want:


(Except without the need to plug an iPod into it.) Whoever came up with that video had the right idea - something stylish, that opens up so you have facing "pages". Dunno how technically viable or sturdy that would be, mind.

The Kindle is just too ugly, though... And I agree that you need something that reads all of the main text formats really easily - .doc, .rtf, .pdf, .txt etc. And I hate DRM (though I bet Apple would do the same) - if I buy a book, I want to be to know it's there permanently and that I can transfer it to another e-Book reader if I want. (Hmm, I could envisage a time when Scrivener could export to an e-book format so that you could view your work as though it were a novel onscreen...)

The Kindle also fails in certain other areas, too. Ultimately, these are the things I would want on an e-Book reader:

• The ability to thousands of books with no DRM protection.
• The ability to connect to a computer where I could easily transfer files between formats.
• The ability to search.
• A small pen which will allow me to highlight text and make annotations (with a toggle that will determine whether highlights and annotations are displayed or not - much easier for static text than for text that is edited and changed).
• A bookmarks system that can take me to my favourite quotes or passages quickly and easily.
• The text must look as good as the printed page and be easy on the eyes (the Kindle seems to get this right).

The idea of being able to carry around all my favourite books and search for my favourite quotes or anything else is brilliant.

As for whether an e-book reader can really be a "book"... I think so. Before typed books, we had manuscripts written out by scribes, before that we had scrolls, and before that we had the oral tradition, so I think e-books are just the next stage. Only, I hope it is only a parallel stage rather than a complete replacement. You can just imagine the world's power running out one day in the future and suddenly being unable to access the last several centuries' worth of literature...


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Thu Nov 29, 2007 1:18 am Post

The Iliad comes close, Keith, but it's very pricey. The next gen of e-ink displays will probably have the brightness you want, too.

I have a Sony eReader and like it, so I probably won't get a Kindle (or at least the 1st gen one). Since I've been reading ebooks for years, that whole "real vs. electronic" book thing is irrelevant to me.

Yes, I agree - to a point - about DRM. If so many didn't want to, uh, share so much there wouldn't be a need for it. But as an author, I find some sort of restraint needs to be in place. That said, it does sound as if the DRM Amazon has put on the Kindle is pretty draconian. And I really REALLY don't like the idea of sending them my files to have them converted and sent to the Kindle (and never mind that they charge for this).

And, as has been mentioned, the whole PDF thing is just a fiasco. No scaling? What up with that? I would love to be able to read my hundreds of PDF research files on a unit separate from my computer, but until there's a letter-sized screen, or they decide to offer some kind of text/image scaling, it's not going to happen. I do have an older tablet pc that I use for that, but frankly it's pretty clumsy, not to mention it weighs a ton.

I hear that Bookeen (they make the Cybook Gen3 ereader) may come out with an A4/USLtr sized reader next year, though it's probably going to be marketed to businesses rather than individuals. (Which is pretty much what the folks who make the Iliad do, too.)

I think the Kindle is a good starting place for many new to ebooks, though it is, as many many have said, incredibly ugly. :(

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Thu Nov 29, 2007 5:51 am Post

I guess I am still old fashioned. After four years of college and nine years of post-grad education, except my last thesis everything I wrote was done using a manual typewriter (electronic typewriters were new-fangled things ;) ). Thus, all resources/references that I used were hard copy. I still like the feel of a book in my hand; I enjoy examining books at the library. Even the quality of the type is important to me, especially as I am getting up in years.

from an old(er) codger :D

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Thu Nov 29, 2007 9:50 am Post

Studio717 wrote:And I really REALLY don't like the idea of sending them my files to have them converted and sent to the Kindle (and never mind that they charge for this).


They (or some, ugh, federal institution with a name three characters long) will set up a whole department scanning these emails to make good use of the informations they gather this way...

And if you're lucky, soon after you've mailed the first draft of your novel to your KINDLE, you'll get an offer from a publisher without even having sent anything to them!

(If you're not so lucky, your novel will get published under someone else's name...)

8) 8) 8)

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Thu Nov 29, 2007 9:51 am Post

I will always prefer a book made of paper. But I don't think the future of books is a screen reader. I think it's more likely to be audio - podcasts, and the like. And given the scary literacy debate on Channel 4 recently, suggesting that the average reading age of middle secondary school teenagers is 8, audio may be the only answer.

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Thu Nov 29, 2007 10:48 am Post

I love the idea that they've illustrated for the e-reader/ipod proposal. I think that it would even be something that i'd invest in. Because it would take a very book-like ebook to make me want to switch from paper to an electronic medium. Nothing that I've seen up to this point looks inviting enough.

Even though it seems impractical, I'd want to retain the format of facing pages. I like to read from top to bottom then turn the page - not scroll endlessly. I like to curl up in an armchair, or snuggle lying in bed curled around my book - one page flat, the other upwards and facing with my eye level.

I imagine that a bright screen would feel intrusive, rather than the quiet intimacy of a ivory pages and a bedlight. And if you were reading on the tube or in a bright room, the screen might struggle with glare.

And an ebook wouldn't sit on my bookshelf. I have far more paperbacks (many secondhand) than hardbacks, but I still love the way they look on my shelves. One day I'll have a room with all four walls shelved and filled to the ceiling with my books. I have books in a storage facility in Sydney, because I can't bear to part with them. One day all my books will live in the same place, and I can re-read those books that have been locked up for so long that they are now musty and verging on offensive. My children and grandchildren will think that room is like a treasure trove (i hope!)

I almost hate getting books from the library, since I can't keep them.

i don't think the ebook makers of the world really understand the obsession for having a physical copy of a beloved book that many of us have.

I still buy CDs and then rip them as MP3s, rather than just buying the MP3. Because I like the box, I like the cover, and I like to see it on the shelf.
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Thu Nov 29, 2007 3:31 pm Post

Just read this over on Teleread:

Amazon servers will even save the annotations you make in K books.

Yikes! :shock:

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Sat Dec 01, 2007 4:43 pm Post

I am so depressed about this thread. It's just like all the early customer reviews on Amazon. It's not a discussion of a product people have used, It's a gut-reaction to new technology. And before you get so upset by that statement that you stop reading, give me a chance to tell you why I think that's true.

I have a Kindle. I have been using it for two days. The first few hours were incredibly awkward. I couldn't touch it anywhere without pressing one of the buttons. After that, I learned how to hold it and the buttons aren't a problem. Could the design be refined? Of course, but it's perfectly usable as it is.

The Kindle is a tool. It is not a book, it's a way to read books. And if you're waxing nostalgic about the inherent wonderfulness of printed books, try this experiment. Take 200 sheets of paper and bind them together inside a leather cover. Sit down in your favorite place and start thumbing through them. How pleasurable is this? Where is the magic of the reading experience? The magic is the words. It's not the medium of delivery, it's the words.

Who the Kindle is for (that's today, mind you, not tomorrow):

1. People who read a lot and are running out of space to store physical books.

2. People with enough disposable income to pay $400 up front for a reading device, knowing they'll save that much in 1-2 years because the electronic books are less expensive.

3. Early adopters of new technology.

4. People who want to carry an entire library around in one 10 oz. package.

5. People who care about the environment and the use of resources to print books, transport them across the country, and recycle them once everyone is finished reading them.

6. People who worry their house might burn down and they'll lose all the books they own. Every one of them. Or that they'll be damaged when they fall and the cover or pages bend, or liquids spill on them.

7. People who love the idea of books that never go out of print. The one you read twenty years ago will still be available tomorrow -- and twenty years after that. And not just books you loved, but the books you wrote. You want to be an author? You care about readers? With electronic books, you can have them forever, not just a year or two while your book is in print.

8. Anyone who ever wanted to publish a book and couldn't find a publisher. You can sell your book tomorrow on Amazon, at no cost beyond the price you want to pay an editor or proofreader to make your book better. Does that mean there will be lots of horrible books out there? You bet. Does it mean that some very good ones will get published that otherwise might not? You bet. And how will people find the good ones? They will rate them. Not publishers, not newspaper reviewers -- readers will do the rating.

Here's another interesting experiment. Wait two years and then see what's selling in electronic format and what's selling in printed version. You'll probably see some of the same books at the top of both lists, but a little way down, there will be differences. Right now, people buy books because everyone is buying them. They want to try them too. But the only way to do that (barring libraries or friends who loan them) is to buy the book themselves. Books that sell, sell more copies. Books that don't sell fast disappear.

But something interesting happens with an electronic book. Amazon lets you read a chapter for free. Like it and you can buy the whole book. Decide you don't like it after ten pages and go on to something else. When trying out books is free, people will try more. Lots more. And as people do, they're going to find some (I think many) they might have otherwise overlooked. Those books will sell, other people will notice the sales, and they'll try them out too. The top of the bestseller list many not change, but look one tier down. I think you'll see a lot of differences and they won't be dictated by marketing, they'll be dictated by the real merits and value of a book: what readers who have read it actually think of it.

Okay, I'm ranting. I could go on, but I'll spare you. I'm going back to my Kindle to read. I found the first science fiction book I read for free at Baen in electronic format -- the author let them publish it there. I loved that book. I still love it best of all the science fiction books I have ever read, even though it's not a great book. Actually, it's not very good at all. But I'm reading it again - decades later. It won't fall apart. It won't disappear unless Amazon goes out of business and my Kindle breaks. And it isn't the cover and paper pages I love, it's the words. What's more, the words on the Kindle look just like the words on paper -- the technology is that good -- and I can make them the size that's comfortable for me. Try that with a printed book.

I forgot. There is one more thing. A new business opportunity, actually. Some people will still want real books printed on paper. Someone is going to offer that service. They'll print out physical books on demand, but not just any book -- they'll be the books people like enough to justify the cost of printing. There will be issues to work out about copyrights and fees to pay publishers (and authors), but that can happen if people want it to. Someone could make a good business out of printing those books. Someone will.


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Sat Dec 01, 2007 5:37 pm Post

Margaret: you make some very good points, but there are still two major drawbacks to the current Kindle methodology:

[1] Proprietary DRM, and no iTunes-like facility for copying the books elsewhere. What happens if it flops, and Amazon decides to pull the plug? Where are all your books then?

[2] No facility to somehow import books you already own. The Kindle doesn't get me any shelfspace back; it just saves me having to find more.

Several pundits have suggested that the Kindle should allow you to download (for free) e-versions of books you've already purchased from Amazon, and I think that's a killer idea; the equivalent of iTunes allowing you to rip your existing CDs.

If Amazon fixed both of these issues, I do think they'd have a winner on their hands. But as it stands, I think the Kindle will fail.
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Sat Dec 01, 2007 6:55 pm Post

Hi, Margaret,

My comments were based on years of reading ebooks - on my computer, on my Palm devices (varied over the years), and now on my Sony eReader - so I'm not complaining about the e-reading experience itself at all.

My comments - and complaints - had to do with how Amazon has chosen to implement the e-reading experience. We really don't need yet another ebook format, for one. I can know that without buying the unit. Also, as antony pointed out, previously purchased ebooks can't be transferred to the Kindle (so far as I've read), even Mobipocket ebooks - which Amazon owns!

And it is ugly - but if it had all (or at least some) of the features I'd like, I would buy it regardless of its aesthetics. From the sound of things, the wireless buying is a great feature and I would love to use that, but it's the other issues that keep me from buying a Kindle.

That all said, I do believe that ebooks and ebook readers are still in the early shake-out phase. I have no doubt that over a generation or two, ebooks will replace the easily replaceable books (fiction, non-fiction, manuals, etc.) while a few 'coffee-table books' might hang around for quite a while as well as beautifully-bound special editions. But, as I've said elsewhere, I love the content of the books I read more than the tree-pulp from which they are made.

My disapointment with Amazon is that they just added another lump of coal to the fire (bad pun, I know :wink: ) while, in fact, hindering progress by adding yet another format to the tower-of-babel mess of ebook formats we already have. They could have truly moved ebooks forward.

Perhaps the easy acquisition of books via the wifi will indeed help with a wider acceptance of ebooks. That's what I'm hoping for, anyway. That those who wouldn't buy one of the earlier e-readers might buy a Kindle and read more. I'm all for that!

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Thu Dec 06, 2007 2:22 am Post

`What`, to you, is the essence of of `book`?
As a professional, you, are your one and only asset. Without integrity you are worthless, but with it, you are priceless.

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Thu Dec 06, 2007 4:12 am Post


I just looked over at my bookcases and thought about a culture where a single electronic mellifluous book sat in a holder on the wall. I didn't like the idea no matter how magic the display.

Daily news and drivel crisp and clear on a thin broadsheet you can roll up and put in your pocket? Now you're talking. . . .