Tag Archives: to ebook or not to ebook

Thoughts on the Apple iPad

Since I’m somewhat interested in technology and have a blog, I am obviously compelled to give my expert analysis of the new Apple iPad.  If you have somehow missed everything about the iPad, try Gizmodo and Engadget since they’re pretty good at consolidating information about the newest gadgets.

Basically I agree with Gizmodo’s 8 Things That Suck About the iPad.  I just don’t think it offers enough for people who have actually already bought one or several gadgets that offer portability; as someone who has a Kindle, a netbook, a Blackberry, and an iPod Touch, there’s nothing new the iPad has to offer me.  Also, how in the world are you supposed to type on it?  Do you hold it up and type with your thumbs?  I’m not sure I can reach that far with my thumbs.  Or do you put it down each time to type properly?  (Not to mention I’m atrocious at typing on touch screens.  I just can’t get it right.)

And since this is a literary blog, and pretty much the only thing I care about is books, I have to comment on the iBooks app.  I certainly think it looks wonderful, but I don’t think we know enough about it yet to really jump ship.  The top publishing companies are working with Apple, but I firmly stand by Amazon’s bookstore; it’s amazing.  It has had almost every book I wanted, with the only exceptions being where the author explicitly refused (ahem, J.K. Rowling!)  We also know nothing about any of iBooks’ features.  I definitely don’t think it’s a Kindle-killer: I really think that people who want/have a Kindle are looking for a reading device which has an extensive library and which doesn’t give you a headache after several hours.  I’ve read on my iPod Touch some and I can’t stand it.  It’s not the size of the screen – I sometimes read on the Kindle with the biggest font size and there are about 60 words per page (bad eyesight + no contact lenses!) – it’s the backlit LCD screen.  I just can’t handle it for more than a few pages.  E-ink still wins on the extensive reading front.

So for me, the iPad just doesn’t cut it.  (Plus, Amazon is launching a Kindle app store.  I’m not sure if I really want any apps on my Kindle, but at least they’re addressing the Apple threat.)

Oh, and it’s pretty damn expensive.  I already pay $30 a month for my Blackberry plan, no thanks.


Please don’t hit me, Sherman Alexie.

At a panel of authors speaking mainly to independent booksellers, Sherman Alexie, the National Book Award-winning author of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” said he refused to allow his novels to be made available in digital form. He called the expensive reading devices “elitist” and declared that when he saw a woman sitting on the plane with a Kindle on his flight to New York, “I wanted to hit her.” (Motoko Rich, NY Times)

I have to be honest, I’m appalled at his statement.  Sure, you can call the Kindle “elitist”.  It might be, but I think the iPod and the idea of laptops for everyone in the household are too.  Or maybe I should also feel bad that the house I live in has running water when my mother grew up walking to a community well every day.  Now I’m glad he clarified some of his ideas, because I suppose his greatest concern is that the literacy/educational gap will widen even further.  But can we really place that burden on Jeff Bezos?  One man?  I know we as a society feel like we can call upon political and business leaders to correct all of the world’s problems, but I feel like this is a tall order for one company.  I’m not saying that I condone the lack of corporate social responsibility, but I also don’t believe in forcing businesses to suffer losses on purpose or to act counter to their self-interest.  And does Alexie have a plan for Amazon to singlehandedly fix the problem of illiteracy among the lower classes and in developing nations?  It sounds like he faults Bezos for trying to innovate without handing out coupons to everyone who can’t afford innovation immediately.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always been a champion of the impoverished.  I, like Alexie, come from an impoverished background, from a largely agrarian country where 45% of the population lives on under $2 a day (UNDP).  And coming to America, my father gave up his career to work minimum wage in food retail.  I remember wearing hand-me-downs (and worse, I only had older brothers!) and getting “reduced-price” lunches at school.  But the idea that Bezos is at fault for not taking care of the entire world is ludicrous.

“How does he plan to change the way that poor kids read books? How does he plan to make sure that poor kids have access to the technology? Poor kids all over the country don’t have access to current textbooks, so will they have access to Kindle?”

Of course I think it’s horrible and cause for action that illiteracy and access to education is a world-wide and even U.S. concern.  But I certainly don’t expect one business to suffer losses just because no one else wants to shoulder the burden.

P.S. “I wanted to hit her.”  Does he really hate a person for owning a Kindle?  Is that how he judges people?  He wants to cause physical harm to a person for what she owns?  Let’s fight evil corporations for not solving all the world’s problems, but let’s also speak words of violence towards others for having material possessions!  I’m absolutely offended by that statement.

Edited to Add: When Kevin read this post, he was more than mildly incensed. It warranted a post of his own. (Warning: If you’re on Alexie’s side on this, you won’t like Kevin’s post either.)

Textbook rentals for you college types

Rent a textbook?  Isn’t spending a thousand dollars a year on textbooks part of the college rite of passage?!  I always felt bad for the science and law majors that I saw carrying stacks of books in the school bookstore paying upwards of $700 in one go!  Lucky for me, there aren’t too many “International Relations” textbooks per se, but I did grudgingly pay $110 for my International Law casebook, and nearly cried when my French textbook + workbook was $170.  I’ve been reading that e-textbooks are cropping up nowadays but I checked a few sites (textbooks.com, for one) and I didn’t find any of the textbooks that I had to buy in the last four years.

I think textbook rentals might just turn out to be a valid market.  Isn’t that what we basically do anyway?  We buy a textbook – even used it might still be $80 – with no intention of keeping it, and we post it on half.com or find a thrifty underclassman to sell to for $70 at semester’s end.  Sure, there are a few books you might want to keep – again, science and law majors come to mind – but as a recent college graduate, I still have plenty of textbooks sitting around, none of which I want, and I haven’t been able to sell them yet.  (Ahem, my books are for sale here….)

Anyway, it’s nice to see that it’s actually a big publisher that’s trying this out: the Follett Higher Education Group manages my alma mater’s bookstore.  According to the NY Times (linked at the beginning of the post), “The stores will offer about 20 percent of their titles for rent, charging 42.5 percent of the purchase price.”  Now 42.5% isn’t a huge discount for something you’re not going to own… you could buy a DVD for $25 or rent it for $5 or less – that’s an 80% discount.  But for me what’s really appealing is the guarantee that you can send the book away when you’re done with the class!  I’ve mentioned this before: I share a bedroom (and city people might agree with me on this): space is absolutely precious!  I think this might also be important for people who live far away from college too – you don’t want to bother with carting your textbooks back via plane, and we all know how valuable every pound is.  It’s vastly more convenient to be able to sell them off to an underclassmen, even if you won’t make as much as you might selling online.

Whatever you do, don’t sell back to the bookstore!  If your bookstore is anything like mine was, you’re lucky to get $10 for a book you paid $75 for.  My first semester, I stupidly sold all my textbooks back to the bookstore.  What I had paid probably $300 for yielded me about $50 in return.  Stupid freshman.

Personally, I can’t afford (nor do I want to deal with) having unwanted textbooks lying around, so for some people renting textbooks might actually be a viable option.

Let me know if any of you try it out!  (Because, well, I’m perfectly happy to not have to think about buying/renting/reading a textbook for a very long time indeed!)

E-Book competition

Unless you haven’t been on the Internet for about nine months (and if that’s true, why are you reading my blog? Don’t you have slightly better things to do, like catch up on lolcats?) you’ve probably heard a lot of talk about the e-book industry.  If you haven’t noticed I’m pretty invested in the Amazon Kindle 2 since I’ve had it for about six months now.

David Pogue compared the new Barnes & Noble e-book program to that of Amazon and quite clearly concluded that Amazon is the much better deal, what with the much better selection of books, overall better pricing, and the fact that Amazon actually has a dedicated reader device out on the market right now.  Barnes & Noble, on the other hand, just now re-emerged in the e-book market and still hasn’t put out their device, the Plastic Logic reader.  Also, according to Pogue, B&N’s reading software (for BlackBerry, iPod/Touch, or PC/Mac) is confusing and difficult to navigate.  I haven’t used it so I can’t comment on it, but I’ve always loved how the Kindle is so easy to use.

To be fair, Amazon doesn’t have everything I want to read.  Prime example: the Harry Potter series.  I read the series at least once a year and it’d be nice to have my hardcovers in pristine condition on my bookshelf.  See? – I’d even pay to have the hardcovers AND e-book format.  Other books that are notably missing as of today: Catch-22, The World According to Garp, most of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works as well as those of Umberto Eco, all of Rand except for Anthem, and most of Orson Scott Card.  In some cases (such as Harry Potter), the author/publisher has outright refused to allow his/her/its works to be available in e-book format – and there’s not much we can do about that except continue to buy e-books in hopes that they’ll realize they’re losing sales.  In others, it’s simply a matter of ironing out the details and getting the rights worked out – for example, Tolkien’s works just became available for the Amazon Kindle a few months ago.  (It was April – I remember because I blogged about it.)

And of course there’s the issue of DRM restrictions.  So far Amazon has been a champion of it.  For the most part I haven’t had any strong opinions – if I had been one of the people who’d had 1984 deleted remotely from my Kindle, I’d probably be somewhat pleased because I’d have a refund to spend on another book – or to buy 1984 from a legitimate source!  And to be quite honest, I’m kind of siding with Amazon on this one, since it turns out the publisher that sold the redacted copies was never authorized to do so and was selling them illegally.

However, DRM-free literature (and other media) is undoubtedly important to a lot of people.  I figure I might one day want the ability to read my library on several different devices without having to buy the books in several different formats.  There is also a limit to the number of devices to which you can download the works you’ve purchased – n.b. not the number of times downloaded, but the number of devices.  So I suppose it means you can delete works off your Kindle and re-download indefinitely, but you can’t have 6 Kindles on an account (or several Kindles and some Kindle iPhone apps) and use them to share all the same books.  One guy found out the hard way, but at least we all know now.  It does suck, though, that he had to find out through what seems to be a difficult and stressful process.

Finally, there’s the idea that you can’t share your library.  Personally, I don’t share my library that much, except for a few romantic bestsellers with my mom.  I do think, though, that pretty soon Amazon will at least start to lift their restrictions, much like Apple eventually had to (let’s hope it happens faster this time though).  I think it’s much more an issue that Amazon insists on selling their books in the proprietary .azw format, which is only supported by the Kindle or the iPhone Kindle app.  In the last few days it’s come out that Sony is going to offer their books in the open ePub format, which is readable on most other e-book readers out there (but not the Kindle, if I understand correctly.) It’s also rumoured that Sony is coming out with a wireless capable device by year’s end – that’ll be interesting to see because one of Amazon’s biggest selling points for the Kindle (hey, it worked on me) was the ability to purchase books anywhere, instantly.

My guess is that Amazon will fold under pressure and offer books in an open format/without DRM, or they’ll come out with programs for more devices, such as the BlackBerry and PC/Mac.  It looks like the trend is really leaning towards more open formats – if we can learn from The People vs. The Music Industry.

B&N Has Free Wi-Fi

I feel like this is big news: Barnes & Noble stores now have free Wi-Fi! I remember how frustrated I used to get trying to work on papers at B&N and wanting to look something up on the Internet but hesitating to pay by the minute. I think this is quite exciting, especially because of the proper bookstores, I’ve always preferred B&N to Borders – better selection (in stores and online), better member incentives, better coupons, better store layout, better coffee (very important), and much more.

The only thing that grievously offends me is that their new ebook program, which sounds exciting enough, is only available for the iPhone/iPod Touch, Blackberry, or PC/Mac. I’m not sure if it’s Amazon or B&N that’s being all elitist about it (I’m guessing both), but I’d love it if I could get ebooks for my Kindle from more than one source. I love B&N and would love to patronize them if I occasionally find better prices there. I imagine that sometime down the road more ebook readers will be cross-compatible but I guess this is all just part of the hazards of being an early adopter.

Help us, Adam Smith!


If your goal is to read more, get a Kindle! My goal used to be 50 books a year, and I usually reached around 48 or 49 in the last three years that I’ve been keeping track.

I’m at 50 1 now, barely halfway through the year!

I give owning a Kindle about 90% of the credit (the other 10% being out of school and mostly unemployed). I’ve found that I’m able to read the Kindle even while standing on a subway clutching desperately to the overheard rails which honestly are just a few inches too high for me to feel comfortably stabilized. I also find it much easier to read a book while lying on my back because heavy books tend to wear my wrists out or sometimes, if I lose my grip, fall onto my face! I’m also able to start reading another book immediately, which is a great improvement because I don’t often get to go to a bookstore or the library. (Wow, the Kindle is a great friend for the vehicle-less!) And best of all, I can read after I’ve taken my contacts out and properly read until I fall asleep.

I swear, the Kindle has changed my literary life.

1 That’s 50 whenever I finish Stranger in a Strange Land. I think I’m about halfway done.

Online Kindle Notes & Highlights

I woke up to a sweet little email about Kindle’s new online feature. Now you can access all your notes & highlights by simply logging in on your Amazon account at http://kindle.amazon.com. All your purchased content (so nothing from Feedbooks or anything you made yourself, just your Kindle store purchases) are listed. You just click on each book and all of your notes & highlights are there, with locations and everything.

While it’s not terribly useful to me, I think that on the rare occasion that I quote something from a book it’ll be so much more convenient than having to hook up the device to my computer, open up the txt file “My Clippings” and scroll down until I find the quotation I wanted. (Actually it would have been useful while I was writing my thesis and using Kindle books for sources… but I’m done and won’t really be writing papers for a while now.) Or perhaps since it’s so much easier I might start posting quotes more often!

Like this lovely one from Atonement!

Finally he spoke the three simple words that no amount of bad art or bad faith can ever quite cheapen. She repeated them, with exactly the same slight emphasis on the second word, as though she had been the one to say them first. He had no religious belief, but it was impossible not to think of an invisible presence or witness in the room, and that these words spoken aloud were like signatures on an unseen contract.
(Location 1892)

Yes, I think I like it! New goal: post more quotations!