I buy 100% of my non-fiction as paper books and about half of my fiction as ebooks. This is because, when it comes to non-fiction, device makers have yet to consistently deliver a reading experience that comes close to paper when reading charts, graphs, maps, highlighting, writing in margins, etc.
I wanted to share this 16-second video as an example. I took it at a B&N while checking out the largest most expensive nook HD they had on display. So here I am flipping through their sample ebook of The Hobbit, viewing an inline graphic:
Do you know how frustrating that is? The screen actually goes black. . . every. . . time. Imagine what it’d be like trying to view a business book (logging 15 seconds just to see an image) with a gazillion charts or a travel guide with detailed neighborhood maps!? I know everyone is moving at a break neck speed and trying to keep up with formats, devices, standards, unlocking content, etc. but we’re all killing the book if we’re not openly honest about on which devices ebooks fail and where they work.
I bet publishers never thought they’d see themselves in the “customer service” field. But I know they’re getting more and more calls/emails from upset customers because their “book doesn’t look right”. Trust me when I say that reading a travel guide, a Kindle Fire customer will have a totally different experience from a Kindle Paperwhite customer. But the book gets a bad review all the same, even when it’s the device’s limitations. Someone should have helped that customer understand what they were getting when they bought the device as well as when they bought the book.
I hope publishers, device makers and device sellers will be more honest and open about what the eReaders and eBooks are good for and when a pound of paper yields the better user experience. No one wins when the reader is frustrated.
Over the past couple of days it has become apparent that the folks running GoodReads are hiding some book reviews. While this initially sounds really really bad, it seems to be an effort to help their members “play nice”. It’s the classic story of a few bad apples ruining it for everyone else. I’m not going to link specifically to all the posts, forums, blogs, etc. that spawned all of this, as I don’t want to join the flame wars, but I do think it’s important that we all know what and how GoodReads is changing.
The impetus for the changes in policy has to do with GoodReads allowing both authors and readers to be active on the site. Authors get blogs. Readers don’t. Readers can leave reviews. Author’s can’t (but they can have secondary “personal” accounts to do reviews with, but that’s another issue). So what’s been happening with a few passionate (and not so mature) authors is:
1. A reader pans a book on GoodReads, gives it a one star rating and maybe adds it to their “Readers to Avoid” shelf.
2. The author stumbles upon this and blogs about the negative review on their GoodReads blog, often making observations of the reviewer’s “lack of a brain”.
3. The author’s fans see this post and flock to the reviewer’s profile spewing forth bad stuff.
4. The reviewer’s friends start reviewing the author and the author’s fans’ activities (rather than reviewing the books), and things escalate.
5. The reviewer and a couple of friends get fed up and quit using GoodReads.
So what GoodReads has started doing is letting users know that their review has been hidden, if it doesn’t meet GoodReads criteria of a book review. So now, if you bash an author for their stance on importing bananas from Brazil, your review will show on your profile page and in your shelves, but not on the curated community book page, because your ‘review’ had nothing to do with the book. Also, your GoodReads friends will be able to see it, but that’s it.
This seems to ‘kind of’ fix the problem as it removes the match strike that sets these immature authors and fans off. But there is really nothing to stop these bad apples from harassing readers. I am not sure if more changes are on the way or not. We’ll have to see how all of this evolves.
I dabble on GoodReads (if you want to say ‘hi’ please do, it’s always fun chatting with other readers). But I check in on LibraryThing every day, so come join the fun over there if you haven’t already.
This came across Twitter the other day and is so very true:
My fear is that publishers will use the reader data they collect from eReaders the same way that Hollywood uses focus groups to make movies.
— Andy Woodworth (@wawoodworth) July 5, 2012
It’s no secret that some publishers are closely watching the reports of “most highlighted passage”, “most shared photos” and “where people quit reading the book”. Lots of good stuff to learn there.
But, there is a reason that the world is awash in too many books, crappy TV and weak movies. . . the people in charge of cranking out books, tv and movies are courting the largest mass of consumers they can. And for mass appeal you make something that equals the lowest common denominator (at worst) or is simply a novelty (at best).
Let’s hope that book publishers have a sense of all of these lessons and can do a fair job of making contributions to their readers’ lives and not just spewing books filled with the most profitable sentences their algorithms said they could string together
A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to see what all of the John Carter fuss was about. So I went looking for the first book in the series. Which, after a few Google searches, told me was A Princess of Mars. The problem was I didn’t know if I’d like it, so I didn’t want a new copy. I checked two local used-book spots and struck out. There is also a waiting list to get one of the library copies, so I turned to eBooks. I didn’t originally start here as I like old vintage sci-fi artwork and I was hoping to get something along those lines (still am).
I knew that Edgar Rice Burroughs penned the Barsoom series books a long time ago and that they would be in the public domain, so I went to Project Gutenberg first. And there it was. In eight different formats. So I grabbed a .prc file and loaded it on my device, via email. I have to say that it’s great fun so far. If you like Golden Age-styled science fiction you should check it out.
Here are links and screenshots of the various online services. It’s interesting to see them all side-by-side so you can note the similarities and differences between them.
Since the book is public domain all of the platforms should have copies. I have no idea if these files differ, but Kindle, Nook and Google all have free e-book versions. In fact, Kindle, Google and Project Gutenberg all allow onine in-browser reading. Something that the nook service lacks. Plus, the Kindle, Nook and Google platforms all have syncing. So if you are on page 52 on your kindle and then run an errand, you can pull out your phone app and it will sync to the right place.
I’m waiting to see how this book ends before deciding if I’m going to complete the series. Have any of you read through the series?
In 1860, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville was a typesetter (and possibly a bookseller) in Paris. He also liked to tinker, which lead him down the path of making the world’s first audio recording, using his printing tools and knowledge.
Printing and imprinting is something Scott understood very well. Capturing the song in 10 second visually-printed snippets must not have been too difficult, once he figured it out. The problem was he didn’t know how to play back what he’d recorded!
He printed all of the “grooves”, using his phonautograph on rag paper, but no phonautograph-reader has been found.
So modern-day scientists had to cook up a way to sight-read the recordings, to what I think are pretty nifty (and spooky) sounding results.
This scenario doesn’t sound too different from today as people in the music, movie, book, web and mobile fields are crossing lines, mashing up tools and pushing boundaries to make new books and products. I just think it’s neat that the first audio recording ever made was actually printed on paper.
The folks over at We Love Typography are mobilizing the world’s font faithful in a very cool new project mapping cool fonts around the world. To participate all you have to do is have the iOS Instagram app installed, have geotagging turned ‘on’, snap a pic and upload it with the tag #wlt or #welovetype. Then the crawlers will grab it an place it on the correct place on this Google Map.
No doubt it’s going to get crowded fast. But it’s a great idea.
There are also two new FREE iOS apps for font and type geeks:
Fontli, has an Instagram-feel, and is trying to build a social network around fonts. The idea being that you could submit a snap shot of some type and your virtual rolodex of font-ish friends could help you identify it. Also, there is…
Fontmaker, which lets you create your own font variations to use in text messaging and emails sent from your mobile device. Not super-useful, but I could see where some would get a kick out of throwing in some random ligatures and letter forms.
Google has launched a new digital content portal called Google Play. As part of the launch they are offering an ebook for 25 cents, every day. They are calling it their “Play of the Day”. Today, it’s Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Not to be outdone, Amazon is mimicking every price move that Google is making this week. So today folks with Kindles can get Fight Club for only 25 cents. I’m not sure what they will offer tomorrow or how long these promotional cheap e-books will last.
This is Economics 101. While two big monolith companies duke it out over readers’ attention and try to one-up each other on price… the consumer wins. For the short term anyway. The long term game is a whole other sport, which is why Amazon and Google are paying so much attention to books this week. Competition is a good thing.
Apple announced a new iPad today, available March 16th. Prices start at $499 for wifi-only and $629 for 4G model. But does any of this matter for book readers? As a reader, it’s not enough for me to update my first-gen iPad, but let me tell you why publishers should be very excited about the capabilities of Apple’s new device:
- Hi-res screen: I mean VERY high-resolution. It’s first tablet that actually rivals print when it comes to resolution. I work for a travel publisher and we’ve always had issues with our maps on eReaders. Print books have always been better. No eReader device could rival the detail of a paper book. And that matters when you are looking at maps, topo lines and map keys. Well now there is a device that can support the level of detail and zoom book readers need and deserve.
- 4G connection speed: Again I am looking at this from a travel publishing perspective. This over-the-air speed is capable (but not very likely while you are out and about) of being faster than some hom wifi connections. That’s huge for publishers pushing content to book readers as they move about. Expecially for travel publishers selling updates and maps as readers are out on their adventures.
- Battery life: It’s nine hours with the 4G turned on. That’s a long road trip or a hike from sun-up to sundown. That’s a lot of reading and book referencing. Our customers/users/readers need to be happy, whether on a digital device or holding the print product. Big battery life is a step in this direction.
If publishers are doing their jobs the put A LOT of work into making unique quality content. It’s nice when device makers do their best to support this content. Now, having said all that, there are still many issues I have with reading non-fiction on eReaders. I’ll have to post about that later this week.
Yesterday Apple announced their latest plans for the iBooks platform. The event focused on textbooks and education. There were three main takeaways. All of which have their pluses and minuses.
First, there is a new iBooks app for iOS devices. It looks slick with video, sound and other rich media embedded in the books. It’s inline with where ePub3 and HTML5 are going. But it’s still not available on the desktop, just iOS. I was dissappointed in this. I do have a few reference books that I like to look things up in. If I am working on the desktop it is sooooo much easier to just open the Kindle reader or Nook reader apps and find what I need, rather than having my iPad next to me. And isn’t this what textbooks are used for? Reference? Looking things up? Multi-tasking and note taking aren’t strong points of having a tablet. So rather than have the one device we’re back to two devices. Not cool.
Second, there is the partnership with textbook publishers coupled with the efforts to make textbooks available at the $15 price point. That sounds good to me. If anyone needs a price break, it’s students. My fear here is that it could be a “Netflix-like” situation, where if a publisher doesn’t like the revenue flow situation or wants to renegotiate terms and Apple digs its heels in… where does that leave all the students, their notes, school libraries, etc.? Which brings us to the third takeaway…
the new iBooks authoring tool. It sounds pretty easy to use and the seamless integration is cool, but there are so many other limits and ramifications. Liz Castro did a good list on the concerns around the authoring tool. My big concern is that whatever you make in this tool Apple will not let you sell anywhere else. I was so excited when Apple embraced the ePub format with the rest of the world. But now it seems they have taken a page from Amazon’s playbook (or maybe the iTunes .m4a strategy) and will start building their own walled .ibook garden. It’s a shame. Because these strategies are not about creating the best user experience (which I do believe has been a driving force at Apple), but it’s about controlling parts of the supply between content creation and the reader.
I’m signed up and ready to go! Wordcamp Birmingham 2012 is January 14-15. WordPress is the software platform that this site (and a gazillion others) run on. It looks like they have a great line up this year, with three tracks offered. So regardless of where you are with your skills, you will learn something and meet some cool folks along the way. At a minimum you’ll walk out with a grocery list of killer plug-ins that you didn’t know existed. At least that’s what always happens to me.
So go check out the tracks and sign up, I’d love to meet some of you out there. Saturday takes place at the BJCC and teh Sunday line-up is at Samford. The WordPress faithful here in Birmingham really is a neat crew. I’m thankful for these annual events where I can soak in some new things.
Also, during the year, they have some WordPress meet-ups with most updates going out with #wpbham on Twitter. I haven’t been able to make one in a loooooooong time, but they always sound like fun. So check those out too.
Hope to see you in a week!
Blogs I Like
- B’ham Public Library
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- Oh My Godwin!
- Reed Next’s Next Read
- Turn the Page
- AL.com Books
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- Alabama Center for the Book
- Alabama Writers' Forum
- Bham Wiki
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- Menasha Ridge Press
- The Literacy Council
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