iPad reading

Let me begin by saying that I am a devoted fan of the old fashioned, hard-copy book made from the remains of dead trees. I love the feel of them. I love the whole tactile experience of holding them. And yes, I love the smell of them (both the musty old book smell and the first-opened new book smell). But I recently used an iPad for some reading. So, of course, here I am telling you about it.

iPad

I have not had any great desire to move into the digital realm for my reading pleasure. I do enough onscreen reading on my laptop for research. But…

Last Christmas we bought an iPad as a family present — mostly because my daughters have been wanting one ever since they played some games on one at a friend’s place. In the months since our acquisition of this device — this handy-dandy, compact marvel of technology — it has been mostly used for game-playing by my daughters and Pinteresting by my wife. Although I’ve occasionally used it to IMDB an actor while watching television, or even play the odd game of Chicken Invaders (Yes, there really is a game called Chicken Invaders… go look it up. It’s rather awesome!), I’ve done little else with the device.

And then, last month a friend sent me a PDF of his upcoming book, asking if I would consider reading it and providing a back cover quote (I’ll blog about this when the book has been released). I decided this was the time to finally make proper use of the iPad. I put the PDF onto the device and off I went… reading!

So… what was my first iPad reading experience like? It was okay.

On the positive side —

  • I didn’t have to bother with print-outs.
  • It remembered where I was up to each time I picked it up.
  • I didn’t need to use my newly acquired reading glasses (yes folks… I’m getting old).

On the negative side —

  • It was heavier and more cumbersome than a paperback (not wonderfully comfortable for reading in bed).
  • The backlit screen was not as comfortable to read as print on paper.
  • And, of course, it didn’t feel or smell like a proper book.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, the iPad reading experience felt more like work than pleasure. I realise that this is due to my own subconscious associations — that is:

Computer screen = work

Print book = pleasure

This is something that will, undoubtedly, change over time. Apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks… it just takes longer.

IMG_1478Overall, I was not emotionally scarred by the experience as I initially feared I might be. And, in fact, I went back for more. When my publisher sent me a PDF proof of my upcoming novel (Gamers’ Rebellion — out in June. Remember to buy a copy!), I immediately stuck it onto the iPad rather than printing it out. It turned out to be a good way of proof-reading it.

So, I guess there is hope for me in the world of digital reading. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll even buy an eReader.

Catch ya later,  George

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Hello ereading

Given that most of my work is digitally based, most people are surprised to find out I don’t yet own an ereader. It’s not because I’m dinosauring it up, dragging my heels and wailing that nothing will ever replace the smell of books (then sniffing physical books in a slightly creepy way). It’s just that I’ve been waiting for the format wars to end and for someone to release the ereader I’m after.

And by ‘someone’, I mean Apple. I’m actually ashamed to admit this, but I’m such a staunch Apple supporter and such an it’s-not-pretty-enough snob that I’ve turned my nose up at the previously released devices from other suppliers that have come close but not close enough.

I’ve resolutely steered clear of Amazon’s Kindle for reasons that I realise could just as easily be levelled at Apple itself: with their device and their one-of-a-kind file type, Amazon try to lock you in to their store.

Besides, Kindles utilise the nostalgic Etch-a-Sketch magnetic filings and they-used-to-be-handy rocker button technology, but deep down I’ve always known that LCD touch screens were the way of the future.

Combine those issues with region restrictions and the fact that Kindles aren’t the ugliest device ever but that certainly aren’t the prettiest and, well, despite desperately wanting to get in on the ereading world, I’ve been sitting, arms crossed, on the fence line.

Until now.

After weeks of others predicting it (it truly was one of the worst kept secrets in the company’s recent history), Apple released the iPad Mini. Despite Steve Jobs’ now-wrong prediction that no one needed a device sized in between the iPhone and the iPad (yep, even the best don’t always predict it right), the company’s relented and I’m, frankly, fist-pumping euphoric.

The iPad’s always been too large to be an ereader and it’s roughly the same size as my 13” laptop, making it a little redundant (and back-straining) to carry around both. But the just-over-seven-inch iPad Mini is, as Goldilocks would say, just right.

I will concede that this inaugural iPad Mini edition isn’t as speccy as it should be—with technology matching the now outdated iPad 2, it’s lacking such improvements as retina display.

But I also know I’ve held out on investing in an ereading device for too long to hold out even longer for Version 2. Besides, close inspection of the iPad Mini evokes in me words (superficial as they admittedly are) I’ve not been able to coo about any ereaders preceding it: ‘It’s so pretty’.

One of the things I find most interesting about the whole ereading and ereader world is that the content and devices through which to devour them are controlled not by publishers but by companies whose primary businesses include retail (Kindle), hardware (Apple), and advertising (Google).

That speaks volumes about publishers’ tech-unsavvy heel dragging and missed opportunities, although it arguably also says much about ones emerging from out-of-the-box thinking by publishing non-experts.

Likewise I’m intrigued that although everyone originally complained about backlit screens hurting the eye, that’s all but disappeared with the release of retina display. We may have unknowingly been complaining about the wrong thing (and yes, I realise that retina display absence is yet another reason why I should wait until the next iPad Mini version comes out … but won’t).

I’m also unsurprised but happy nonetheless that people with ereaders both purchase and read more books rather than the feared fewer (cheap prices combined with ease of purchase combined with not seeing the money disappear from their credit cards should never be underestimated).

And, as this infographic shows, ebook revenue is only on the up too, with ebooks now making up more than 10% of 36% of publishers’ revenue. Ebook sales are also starting to outstrip physical book sales, with that much-touted figure that Amazon sells 114 ebooks for every 100 physical books it sells. Imagine if publishers embraced the opportunities and got themselves across the technology, eh?

The infographic is a few months old, though, and I wonder how the iPad Mini will change its data. The graphic shows that Amazon owns the content corner, but people prefer reading on the iPad.

With the more portable, more manageable iPad Mini on the market, this market share will likely go up. Sure, it’s one behemoth stealing market share from another, but it’s a behemoth with a better looking device. I’ll let you know how I go with the iPad Mini (I’m thinking of getting the white one—what do you think?) once I’ve had a chance to properly road test it.

The night my iPad attacked

The moo cow Tabcoosh.

The other night, around 10pm, my iPad nearly broke my nose. I was lying in bed watching a Cherry Healey doco about freegans on ABC iView (taking a break from my pilgrimage through the five existing Game of Thrones books, but that’s another blog post). The iPad was sitting on its folded over cover on my chest … until it fell forward and whacked me on the nose.

It’s fallen before, but usually I’ve managed to catch it, or it’s landed gently. On this occasion, I was genuinely concerned for the integrity of my bone structure. I checked to see whether there was any bleeding (none, and bones were intact, phew), then decided it was high time I joined my toddler son as the owner of a Tabcoosh.
Continue reading The night my iPad attacked

Farewell, my little pixels, iPad 3 is here

Australians will be able to order the third generation iPad from today (or queue up for one on March 16 when it ships). They’ll do this because it offers retina-ish display (try a million more pixels than HDTV, at four times as many pixels per inch as the previous model) and a vastly improved camera (5 megapixels, in line with that of the current model iPhone).

At 9.4mm thick and 680g, it’s a similar size but a little heavier than the last model – in fact back to around the weight of the launch iPad. Pricing starts at $539 (the base model iPad 2 moves down to $429).

Apple says it sold 15.4 million iPads in the last quarter … that’s a nation-full of people who may be wishing they’d waited till this week.

When uBookish checked at 6am, orders were yet to open as the Australian version of Apple’s online store was closed. “We’ll be back soon … we’re busy updating the store for you and will be back shortly.” At 7am, the site crashed altogether. My browser offered this message: “The site could be temporarily unavailable or too busy”. (Update: By 8am the site was live for pre-orders)

The 4G-ready device (though there has been no announcement about 4G connectivity for the iPad in Australia) comes in black and white, like the iPad 2.

The camera and the 2047 x 1536 display (iPad 2 has 1024×768) are the reasons for this.

The retinal screen will display a million more pixels than HDTV, according to Apple, which also claims it’ll offer 264 pixels per inch and 44pc better colour saturation.

So from 15 inches, you won’t be able to distinguish a pixel, Gizmodo reports. It’s not quite as brilliant as the latest model iPhone display, which offers 326 pixels per inch for optimised viewing at 10 inches.

For readers, this is great news. The crystal clear rendering of text on the iPhone 4 makes for magical reading – better than on the printed page were it not for the screen size. App publishers will now rush to update existing and upcoming titles to make the most of the new display.

If only Apple would reconsider and launch a 7-inch model for ereading … the iPad really is too heavy to carry everywhere, leaving many ebook fans stuck with a Kindle, Sony Reader or Kobo as well.

As for the camera, its specs are on par with the latest iPhone at 5-megapixels with side-illuminated sensor, 5-element lens, infrared filter, auto-exposure, auto-focus, auto-face detection and HD video recording.

The device will sport an A5X chip with quad core graphics.

It’ll cost $539 including GST for the 16GB model, $649 for the 32GB and $759 for the 64GB. The Wi-Fi + 4G will start at $679 for the 16GB model, rising to $789 for the 32GB model and $899 for the 64GB.

Apple also announced that there are now more than 200,000 native iPad apps.

A new version of its Apple TV gadget is available for order now and will ship the same day as the iPad. It will cost $109.

It offers an updated user interface and improved program availability (the day after broadcast TV has its turn).

For a full wrap and a blow-by-blow look at this morning’s launch, check out Gizmodo.com.

Please note, this post was originally published at 7am AEST on March 8. This version is unchanged but was reinstated on March 12 following a server outage.

Innovative Vox worth a look

I so wanted to love the Kobo Vox, but it hasn’t quite won me over.

As a colour ereading device, it’s got a lot going for it. The market is, I reckon, ripe for a 7″ colour ereader like the Kindle Fire, which is not available here in Australia, or the occasionally rumoured iPad Nano, which would be my dream device. The ReadCloud-powered indie booksellers’ Cumulus is an option, especially for those who want to support our literary culture, but it’s cheaper for a reason (see my earlier post).

The Vox is brought to us by multinational ebook retailer Kobo, which partners in this country with Collins and what remains of REDgroup (the Borders and Angus & Robertson digital businesses) as well as retailing direct via its own website and apps.

Kobo is an ereading innovator. For most of its titles it uses the industry standard ePub format, meaning they can be read on any ereading device. In turn, if you buy a Kobo e-ink ereader, like the Kobo Touch, you can read ePub books purchased from other stores, including Booku.com.

It’s greatest strength, though, is found in its apps for Apple and Android gadgets (the Vox is customised version of the latter). Kobo customers reading via these apps can distract themselves with all sorts of nifty social media and award add-ons. Kobo Pulse allows you to see at a glance how many other Kobo users are reading a particular book and page at the same time as you. Swiping the pulsating semi-circle indicator takes you away from the narrative and immerses you in all sorts of data on the book and its readers – how many are reading it now, how many have read it, what they thought of it, and which of your Facebook friends have read it. You can select text extracts to share via Twitter or Facebook too.

For further distracting ereading interactivity, close a book and check out Kobo’s Reading Life. This section of the Kobo app is a personalised hub of information about you and your books. See a book cover mosaic of all your library titles. See which awards you’ve won (and isn’t it about time we grown-ups were given some recognition for starting a new book, for reading all night long, for using the in-built dictionary, and for finishing a title). Check out stats on your reading habits: what time of day do you do most of your reading? How many pages do you read an hour? How many hours per book?

It’s all very cute and intriguing, but did I mention distracting? And if I posted on Facebook every time I won an award my friends would rapidly get sick of hearing about it, I’m sure. Also, most of the reader comments I’ve seen while using the Kobo app have been a waste of space. I reckon this is a technology whose time has not quite come.

Still, the Kobo Vox makes the most of social reading. When you switch it on, it takes you straight into the Kobo app (the first time via a groovy welcome to Kobo animation/jingle). If you’re a big Kobo fan, and happy to stick with Kobo from now to eternity, that might be a good thing. There’s an intro video clip, and a quick set-up wizard, both of which appear as soon as the device is switched on. It takes a couple of minutes to be up and reading (you can sign in via an existing Kobo password or via Facebook).

The Vox comes in a range of colours, and while it’s a little bulky compared to its e-ink siblings (two heavy for one-handed reading), looks pretty racy. Its colour screen is bright and clear – images sparkle. Other pluses include its built-in WiFi for instant book downloading and size and weight (much smaller and lighter than the iPad). Kobo provides some full colour children’s, travel and cookery titles to make the most of this. These are fairly standard and PDF-like in appearance. We also bought another, a Peppa Pig story, for my toddler son. He was surprised that he couldn’t click on the words or pictures to hear sounds or inspire movement. Apple still owns the children’s book space with clever interactive apps like Nosy Crow’s Cinderella, Hairy Maclary and Paddington Bear.

But if you want to be able to easily buy and read ebooks from other retailers, like Booku.com, Google eBooks or one of the ReadCloud-powered independents, that’ll be trickier. To read an ebook I’d borrowed from my local library, I had to download the Overdrive app (not available in the device’s limited appstore, but via the Overdrive website), connect the device to my desktop computer and fiddle around for ages to transfer it across. I was unable to open some of the other ePubs in my library, and couldn’t find any simple explanation in the instruction manual or online. No doubt there would be a way, but after spending three or four hours trying, I gave up and went back to my Sony Reader and iPad.

That said, Booki.sh books (Booki.sh powers Gleebooks and Readings ebookstores among others), look terrific on the Vox. Being browser-based, they’re easy to import onto the device.

The lack of the standard Android appstore is a disappointment. The selection of apps in the onboard appstore is poor, and finding the apps via the web browser and downloading that way clunky. If you’re primarily after a tablet for email, internet and social media, I’d go for a standard Android tablet or an iPad.

The Vox currently retails for $269.99 and comes with 8GB of storage. It offers no camera. In contrast, the bottom of the range iPad 2 is $579, but comes with 16GB of storage and a built-in camera. The iPad is the only device that allows you to read ebooks from just about anywhere: Apple’s own iBookstore, Booku.com and your local library via the Overdrive app, Amazon via the Kindle app, Kobo, Google and ReadCloud via their apps, and finally, from Booki.sh, using the web browser. If you want it all, I’d save up the extra $300, and hold out till March, when we’re likely to see the iPad 3.

If you want a no-frills option with some flexibility (ie not the locked-into-buying-from-Amazon Kindle), the e-ink touchscreen devices like the Sony Reader ($178 – my review is still coming, but in short, I’m loving it) and Kobo Touch ($129-$150) are great. They support all ePub formats, are easy on the eye and handbag, and are suitable for poolside reading in bright sunlight.

If you’re enticed by the combination of Kobo’s social reading technology and a colour tablet, but don’t want to fork out for an iPad, then consider the Vox. You never know, while you ponder your options, they might even drop the price some more (it originally launched here at $299, and retails for $199 in the US).

Please don’t buy a Kindle this Christmas

I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with the Kindle. It’s a nice gadget, and I like nice gadgets. But Amazon makes it hard for Australians to buy the model of their choice (the white Kindle 3 wasn’t available here, the Kindle Fire isn’t available here, the Kindle Touch isn’t available here).

In my view, as such they treat rest of the world non-American customers as second class citizens.

And once I actually got my hands on the model I wanted after a friend visited the US last year, I found the buttons clunky, the shape unwieldy for handbag carrying, and the lack of Australian content infuriating. I sold it on eBay two weeks later.

This Christmas, my feelings have swung further to the negative, so far, in fact, that I can’t see any way back.

When I discovered that my film director and academic sister, who loves indie bookshops nearly as much as I do, had bought her second Kindle, I felt the muscles in my shoulders tense.

When I learned that the communications director of a nearby not-for-profit writers centre had bought a Kindle for her partner for Christmas, I scolded her publicly.

But when I saw that the Copyright Agency Limited was giving away five free Kindles to entice members to fill out a survey, I was livid. Furious. Incredulous. I mean, seriously. As far as I’m concerned, the non-profit rights management organisation giving away Kindles is like the Slow Food Movement giving away McDonald’s vouchers.

After learning that Amazon has some 60 per cent of the US ebook market and perhaps a similar stake here, I decided the time had come to take anti-multinational giant action, so here I am, imploring you to reconsider your ebook and ereader buying plans.

Sure, Amazon’s books are cheap, but are you willing to sacrifice the livelihood of all our indie booksellers for the sake of a few bucks? When did you last attend a book launch, with free wine and cheese, in an Amazon store? And do you really want to own an ereader that locks you in, preventing you from buying and reading ebooks from other retailers like Booku.com, Gleebooks, Readings, Pages & Pages, Avid Reader, Shearers, Books for Cooks, Kobo, Apple and Google?

Can’t you see that it is the people behind our indies that promote great Australian writing? When did you last receive and act on a personal recommendation on an Aussie novel from an Amazon staff member?

I’m hoping you’re keen to buy books from a variety of sources, to support diversity in bookselling and in our literary culture. And I’m imploring you this Christmas to consider an iPad, an Android tablet, a Sony Reader or a Kobo instead.

There’s a red Sony Reader in my Christmas stocking, and it’s lighter and better looking than the Kindle (review coming soon). I’m just about to unwrap the Kobo Vox, which looks like a great low-cost tablet option too (review coming soon too).

A very appy bear called Paddington

Nostalgia reigned as I first shared the new iPad app edition of the 1958 children’s classic Paddington Bear with my son.

I suspect the same would be true for most of you.

A copy of follow-up title Paddington in the Garden is among the favourite children’s books to have survived on my shelves for decades, having inspired me to take ownership of my own little corner of the garden as a child.

The next generation will be no different. I bought a little Paddington toy a year ago for my son, and was touched to find upon reaching my desk one morning that at age 15 months, he’d thoughtfully popped it into my handbag to take to work.

HarperCollins Children’s Books (UK) is the publisher of the new iPad edition of Paddington Bear ($A1.99 from iTunes), having partnered with youth digital specialist Bold Creative on the software, and a fine job they’ve done in putting it together too.

The design is stunning. The digitised RW Alley illustrations are crystal clear, with bright colours and plenty of white space to boost their impact.

There are lots of in-app options: to buy the printed version, to appear in a portrait with Paddington, to record your own reading of the story, to send a message to author Michael Bond (who lives near Paddington Station in London himself, these days), to share news of the app’s arrival via email, Facebook or Twitter, and to be read to or read on your own.

The text appears on each page in a horizontal box that can be dragged off, to leave the illustrations in full view.

The app is full of very cute, yet simple, interactive animations. Touch a pigeon to giggle as it defecates on the footpath. Tap your finger on Paddington as he sits on a cafe table, and watch him fall over on, thus covering himself with, cake. Readers can tap on a London bus to hear a bell, or on a black cab to hear its horn toot.

My son loved all of this, but especially the pigeon animation, which he takes much delight in activating over and over again.

Watching him play with these elements reminded me of the fun he had with books like Spot’s Noisy Car – before he tore the flaps off and wore out the horn button.

The iPad can never replicate the fun of little fingers poking their way through the holes in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but it has other benefits Eric Carle may never have imagined.

All I want for Xmas is iPlayer (+ related books!)

What’s your favourite television show of all time?

Mine would be a toss up between Pride & Prejudice and Spooks – both of which are available if you subscribe to the BBC’s iPlayer app, which is now in the AppStore for the iPad (with other platforms to come, I gather) in Australia.

Of course, uBookish always reads the book before watching a film or television adaptation (well, I try to, at least), and recommends you do too (I’ve linked through to some of the book versions I’ve read further on).

When Pride & Prejudice first aired in the early ’90s, a group of us would get together in an inner Sydney share flat each week to watch it.

Later, I had a very sensible lawyer boyfriend who would stay home on Saturday nights to watch The Bill. BORING, I thought at the time. A few years later I was an addict, one who cried when the final episode aired.

During my three-year stint in Hong Kong a decade or so ago, I regularly joined a group of expats for champagne and DVD marathons: Cold Feet and Sex & The City (which was censored on HKTV) were favourites.

These days I’m into Monroe, The Slap, The Hamster Wheel, Miranda, Offspring, Downton Abbey, Covert Affairs and Crownies.

Other previous favourites have included Alias, To Play the King, Doc Martin, Cranford, Absolutely Fabulous, Mistresses, Cutting It, Silent Witness, This Life and Lark Rise to Candleford.

As a child, I loved watching Fawlty Towers, Yes Minister, To The Manor Born and The Good Life with my parents.

Oh, and I’m something of an addict of just about any period drama, especially those based on favourite books. Jane Eyre, Emma, Brideshead Revisited and Little Dorrit spring to mind.

But I don’t watch actual free-to-air or pay television anymore.

I never seem to be at home or awake or available when favourite programs actually air.

I was never very good at setting VCRs so I’m glad that’s over. I wasn’t keen on the idea of illegal downloads for obvious reasons either.

So I’m very happy about free catch-up TV and individual episode downloads on iTunes.

I watch Channel Ten programs I’ve missed via their iPhone app. Seven doesn’t have an app, but we have its catch-up service, and SBS’s, on our Sony Bravia internet TV. I haven’t needed to catch up on anything on Nine (what does that tell you?), but I gather they do have browser-based catch-up service.

My all time favourite app, though, is ABC iView. I get my regular fix of MediaWatch and Q&A, as well as a couple of hours of quality drama and comedy, via iView on my iPad every week. The Slap while I eat my lunch at work, The Hamster Wheel or Miranda in bed late at night (stifling giggles to avoid waking anyone else up).

My son is regularly glued to Fireman Sam, Peppa Pig, Grandpa in My Pocket, Mister Maker and Bananas in Pyjamas on iView’s ABC4Kids section too.

My husband switches between nature documentaries and current affairs.

He’d still like to subscribe to Foxtel for the AFL next season, but I’d rather receive a year’s subscription to iPlayer. It costs $89.99 for a year, or $9.49 for a month.

We’re only the second region in the world (after Europe), to gain access to this tablet treasure trove of archived video-on-demand (it’s not catch-up here because so many of the BBC’s current programs are already airing on different networks in Australia – rights are a tricky business).

If I were lucky enough to become a subscriber this Christmas, I’d probably then have to divide my summer holiday time between reading (or rereading) works by Flora Thompson, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Shelley and Henry James and watching the television versions. It’d be a tough few weeks, but I reckon I’d cope.

Steve Jobs was Just My Type

Simon Garfield’s 2010 Profile Books title Just My Type: A book about fonts (which, incidentally, I downloaded from the iTunes store as an app for my iPad) opens with an introduction quoting Steve Jobs.

Which is appropriate, really, because Jobs is the father of digital type.

The quote is taken from Jobs’s 2005 Stanford speech, which you can watch on YouTube in full. I recommend it. It was the first thing I did after learning of Jobs’s death last week. In it he speaks candidly about confronting death after his initial cancer diagnosis, of his adoption, of dropping out of college, his sacking from his beloved Apple, falling in love with his wife (and while we ponder the great innovator’s legacy, spare a thought for her and his three children), and his passion for fonts.

“Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country,” Jobs told the Stanford graduates. “Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. ”

What an achievement. If that was all Jobs had achieved, aside from being a father and a husband, in his lifetime, it’d be enough to give him guru status.

The impact those fonts had on the publishing industry was profound. Desktop publishing led to professional looking uni newspapers (we used a program called Ready Set Go for the Mac at Woroni, the ANU paper, in 1990) and zines, streamlined production processes for books, magazines and newspapers (many of which have been produced using Quark Xpress, Illustrator and more recently InDesign, among other programs for the Mac). Later, the rise of the internet and html allowed us to publish websites and blogs featuring all manner of fonts. Today, publishers produce ebooks in ePub format, and ereading software and devices allow the consumer to choose their own font style and size.

My first computer was an Apple IIc. We’d had a groovy electronic typewriter before that that allowed you to edit a sentence or two back. For a passionate 12-year-old reader and writer, the introduction to word processing that personal computing brought with it was life changing. I was equally beguiled by the file and program structure of Apple’s first portable computer (we used to take it down to the beach with us – well, the beach house, at least), and spent the first few weeks reading all the manuals from cover to cover. I remember struggling to tear the hole-filled borders off the dot matrix printer paper without ripping final pages of essays and creative writing assignments for school. I remember floppy disks. And I remember playing Lode Runner and Lemonade Stand with my younger brother and sister on rainy days on the NSW South Coast.

Some family friends bought a Macintosh a few months later and invited me over to have a look at it (as you do). Their 13-year-old son showed me how it worked. I confess I had a crush on him (as well as the Mac) for years afterwards. Unlike my Apple love, that flirtation finally resolved itself on the other side of the world sometime early this century.

My first PowerBook.
At uni, I used one of the early PowerBooks (pictured in my somewhat alarmingly floral first group house bedroom). I remember feeling as though I were a pianist, creating beautiful music, as I tapped out Linguistics essays and on it. It was on one of these grey gadgets that I first experienced email and the web, in greyscale, but mind-blowing nonetheless. The PowerBook’s trackball was replaced in later models (one of which found its way onto my desk) with a trackpad.

The mid-90s belonged to Microsoft and particularly Windows. It might’ve been that in my first job as a tech journalist, I was busy reviewing laptops (and mobile phones – back when Nokia was king) from all the major computer brands (Olivetti had a gorgeous terracotta notebook, I remember, and the IBM ThinkPad was my favourite), and so had no need to be faithful to one brand.

To be completely honest, I didn’t really like the brash design of the iBook (I wish that name had been saved up for the iPad) and first iMacs.

It wasn’t until the MacBook arrived that I rejoined the fold. Sleek, white and slimline, it brought me back to Mac. Were I have stayed since, adding essential gadgets to the mix as Jobs and his magicians created them.

The iPod was clever, but from the minute I heard that Apple was working on a mobile phone, I knew that true handheld computing was finally on the way.

It was on my iPhone that I became a social media junkie, first read an ebook, finally learnt to budget via the Spend app, kept my to do lists in order via Things, replaced my audio recorder for interviews (with the SpeakEasy app), embraced cloud computing (with My Writing Spot and Dropbox), really began to use email on the go, gave up using our old stereo system (TuneIn Radio rocks), ditched my Filofax for Contacts and Calendar, gave up the Gregory’s for Maps and moved from restaurant guidebooks to Urbanspoon. With the 4 I’ve given up using a separate camera as well.

Don’t get me started on the iPad. If any one inanimate and inedible object has changed my life more, I can’t think of what it is offhand. Books, magazines, newspapers, television, film, writing, PDF annotation, Skype, photo viewing and video editing … and that’s just for starters.

What a legacy for individuals who have used his creations. What an inspiration for creative types everywhere. Thanks Steve, we’ll miss you.

This post was written on my iPad and MacBook and posted on my iMac.

Do you need the new iPhone 4s?

Phew, contract safe, no iPhone 5 announcement this morning.

Instead, Apple has previewed the iPhone4s, a zippier version of the existing model, with a better camera, faster chip, two antennas and in-built voice recognition/dictation software called Siri.

Australians will be able to pre-order the 4s from October 7 for delivery from October 14 (the same schedule as the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany and Japan – yay for us!). It’ll be available in Australian Apple stores (and presumably in small numbers via other retailers) from 8am on October 14. We’ll be able to buy the bottom of the range model outright for $A799.

Newsstand is among the built in apps.
On the outside, in black or white, iPhone 4s is the same as the 4, so if you hold off for the 5 and keep your two-year contract intact, no one will know you’ve got the older version at first glance.

But if you haven’t opted for an iPhone thus far, now would be a very smart time to do so.

The A5 chip means it’s twice as fast as the 4, and dual-core graphics are said to be seven times faster.

Intelligent switching between the two antennas means dropouts will be much less likely.

It supports both GSM and CDMA.

The camera is 8 megapixels (3264 x 2448) to iPhone 4’s 5 megapixels. It offers something called backside illumination (sounds dangerous but actually just lets in 73 per cent more light). Image capture is 33 per cent faster. A hybrid IR filter offers better colour accuracy and colour uniformity.

A five element lens means images are 30 per cent sharper. The all-new image signal processor enables face detection and 26 per cent better white balance.

In terms of video recording, the iPhone4s offers 1080p, video image stabilisation and temporal noise reduction.

For many of us, the previous two paragraphs potentially put an end to any need for separate cameras in our lives.

Then there’s wireless mirroring, which I hope means I’ll be able to stream anything I’m viewing on the phone (and later my iPad) direct to my TV. It’d be great for presentations, and has to be better than the fiddly process required to watch ABC iView on my Sony Bravia. Will need to test this one out.

The killer app for the 4s, according to Apple, is Siri. They’re calling it “Your intelligent assistant that helps you get things done just by asking”.

During the launch earlier this morning, attendees watched a video demonstration in which a jogger tried to book a meeting without breaking stride. Siri told him there was a clash with another diary entry, so he moved it to another time and confirmed via text, all via voice recognition.

I like the idea of dictating blog posts while driving (and more practically, asking for and receiving directions from point to point without looking at the screen).

I’d love it if it would read me the next chapter of the book I’m engrossed in no matter which app I’m using, but suspect this function would only work for iBooks. If you do buy an iPhone 4s and try this out, let us know.

The announcement this morning also covered updates to the iPod range, details of iCloud’s launch (October 12, can’t wait to be able to access and sort all my photos from any of my devices, annoyed that I will only be able to store and access iTunes downloaded music via iCloud – iCloud Match, a $24.99 a year subscription service that allows you to scan and match your entire song library, is only available in the US initially), and confirmed that iOS 5 will also be available for download from October 12.

iOS 5 offers plenty of cool new features, like a Safari Reader for storing links to read later, tabbed browsing, use of external volume up button to take photos, iMessage (free messaging between iOS devices), Twitter integration, Newsstand (though I’m not sure what Australian content will be available there), Find My Friends (possibly useful, possibly stalker-ish, though there are lots of parental controls etc, apparently).

Also coming soon is the Cards app (you choose a picture, Apple creates a physical card and mails it via snail mail anywhere in the world for $4.99).

CEO Tim Cook started the event with an update of Apple stats. You can skim through his presentation on Engadget’s live blog.

Here are some of them:

  • MacBook Pro and iMac are the number one selling notebook and desktop in the US.
  • The Mac platform has grown by 23 per cent since last year to the PC’s 4 per cent.
  • There are some 58 million Mac users worldwide.
  • The iPod has 78% of the portable music player market, and over 300 million iPods have been sold. Engadget reports that it took Sony 30 years to sell 220,000 Walkman tape players.
  • There are some 20 million songs on iTunes, and 16 billion have been downloaded so far.
  • Three quarters of all tablets sold are iPads.
  • More than 250 million iOS devices (iPads/iPhones/iPod touches) sold so far.
  • More than 500,000 apps in the AppStore, including 140,000 specifically for the iPad.
  • 18 billion apps downloaded so far – more than a billion per month.
  • Apple has paid out $3 billion to developers.

So, will you be meeting Siri, soon? Or holding out for iPhone 5?

Infuriating Amazon spurns us again

International customers are furious with Amazon this morning, because neither the new Kindle Fire, a $US199 7-inch tablet, nor the e-ink Kindle Touch, a $US99-189 6-inch keyboard-free ereader, will be available outside the US in the foreseeable future.

There had been an Apple-like build-up based on rumour and hype in the lead-up to Amazon’s Kindle Fire announcement overnight.

Some of us had been hoping that, as Apple, Kobo and Sony do, Amazon would schedule an international rollout for its new gadgets that would include Australia.

Instead, there was no mention of timing.
We’ll have to be content with the $US79-109 (prices for all e-ink models vary depending on whether you are prepared to wear special offers and sponsored screensavers, and for the Touch models, on whether you choose wifi or 3G) “all-new Kindle”, which is wifi-only and has a 5-way controller rather than a multi-touch screen, or one of the older models with the clunky keyboard. Thank God that’s on the way out.

Shoppers on Kindle’s UK website vented their anger after the launch, but those posts have mysteriously since disappeared.

Here in Australia, we’re used to being treated as second-class citizens by Amazon. The previous Kindle was available in graphite or white in the US and certain other markets, but only graphite in Australia (the new price for this soon-to-be obsolete model is $US99-189).

I got round that by ordering a white one to be sent to my stepbrother in New York. He handed it on to my father who delivered it after a US trip a couple of weeks later.

It felt like Christmas for a day or two, until I realised that most of the books I wanted to read weren’t available via Amazon, and that fruitless hunting for them using the appalling keyboard was infuriating.
I couldn’t transfer my existing non-Kindle ebook library to the device (not easily, anyway, there are workarounds, but I’m looking for a seamless, one device solution for ereading).

Because the Kindle lacked email, video, diary, Australian newspapers and social media, I found I had to carry my iPad with me as well.

So I sold it, and said good riddance.

Am I considering ordering a Kindle Fire or Touch the same way I did the last model?

No. And nor should you.

The Kindle Fire, like all the Kindles, is largely locked into Amazon’s content line.

Amazon has not yet got to the stage where they’ll allow you to easily read books bought from Booku or any other retailer on their devices.
Amazon’s cloud storage, a key feature of the Fire, is not available outside the US. Nor is Amazon Prime, the retail giant’s movie and TV streaming service.

While the device is based on Google’s mobile operating system, Android, it’s a tweaked version, so there are no guarantees existing Android apps will work on the device.

There’s a dedicated Amazon Appstore, but again, it’s unlikely its contents will be available to Australian customers without complex workarounds.

In any case, for the foreseeable future the iPad is the way to go if you want access to all ebookstores and existing libraries, the best apps and dedicated Australian content. You won’t be able to watch ABC iView on the Fire.

As for e-ink, given the Kindle walled garden, you would be better off looking at the new Kobo eReader Touch, due in Australia next month, or the next generation Sony Readers, which offer wifi and touch screens and are available for pre-order now from Sony’s Australian website (I note with some sadness that they’ve discontinued the cute little silver PRS350SC, which was the 5-inch model, though – probably because at that screen size, we may as well read on our smartphone).

Speaking of smartphones, stay tuned for the iPhone 5 launch at 4am on Wednesday (10am Tuesday, California time). I’ll be blogging about it early that morning.

Charlotte’s posts on books, digital publishing and social media also appear on Twitter (@ebookish), Facebook (www.facebook.com/ebookish) and at ebookish.com.au.

Here an iPad, there an iPad, everywhere an iPad

The iPad featured heavily in my Facebook feed this morning, and one of the posts was a timely reminder (for me) that we’re all at different stages of embracing digital reading – and that Apple’s ubergadget is taking over our lives.

The first message came from a former editor of Australian homemaker and women’s magazines now working as a blogger and ebook publisher in the US: “If you were wondering just how dead paper-made magazines are, I sat in my hairdresser in Soho [New York] reading magazines from the comp iPad that is attached to every chair. Yep, that dead.”

The iPad is infiltrating our lives.
I tend to agree with her. It’s only a matter of time before we’re all reading much shinier and more readily available versions of our favourite magazines. I love Zinio and PressReader and already read most of my newspapers and magazines this way. Our home is much less cluttered as a result.

The second ebookish Facebook post came from a newspaper cartoonist friend who is often to be seen drawing on his Mac with iPod headphones to block out the newsroom buzz.

“Arrrgghh. I’ve just ‘swiped’ a piece of paper to turn the page I’m reading. I’ve obviously spent far too much time reading on the iPad.”

Oops. Have to confess I’ve done the same thing more than once, and I’m sure we’re not alone.

The third message that struck me as I thumbed through the feed was from one of my oldest and best friends who has worked as a lawyer, English teacher and book editor, and has limited time to devote to her bookish passion given she has four young children.

“Wow! I have just logged onto FB on my new iPad (oh, the joy!) after months in the communications wilderness, and have discovered all these lovely birthday messages. Thanks so much! X”

This last poster is not completely new to digital reading – she received a Kobo last birthday and immediately put me to shame by reading War and Peace on it. I think my first Kobo book was a Sophie Kinsella.

Indeed, she’s a lot more savvy in such matters than another magazine publisher I spoke to yesterday who didn’t know what an ebook was and had never heard of a Kindle.

So, it’s not safe to assume to everyone out there knows what I’m talking about when I drop Google+, iView, TuneIn Radio, QR codes, Calibre, GoodReads, TweetDeck, Things, DropBox, UrbanSpoon, Sony Reader, Android or even Booku into a conversation.

If some or any of those words are gobbledegook to you, stay tuned for upcoming posts that will make sense of them all.

Can’t wait? Try looking them up on Wikipedia.

Douglas Adams, the Rocket and me

When US book industry blogger Kassia Kroszer told me she’d been writing about digital publishing since 1998, I got to thinking about when I’d first contemplated, and written about, the ebook concept.

Reading the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as a teenager no doubt helped my thinking on the subject along. What a tragedy that its Mac-mad author, Douglas Adams, wasn’t around to see Steve Jobs launch the iPad. He would have been beside himself (like Zaphod Beeblebrox) with excitement.

I interviewed Adams in April 1998 for The Sydney Morning Herald’s Icon section. He came to Australia to promote his Starship Titanic computer game at that year’s Sydney Writers Festival. Our discussion inevitably came around to the future of the book.

I asked Adams whether he thought the book was under threat from new media.

“No. No more than it was from films, TV and radio. Each of these had an impact on the book, and indeed on each other, but it’s mostly a question of adjustment,” he said.

“Each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. I’d be interested to know how many books will still be printed on paper in 10 years’ time and how many will be printed electronically.

“But the idea of the book, in its form if you like, in other words 100,000 words arranged into a story, will persist, whatever other forms come to exist alongside it.”

Adams died three years later, but his predictions have played out. By 2008, major publishers’ titles were available (in the US at least, it was later here and in the UK) for the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader among other devices. In Australia, as many as 5 per cent of book sales are now digital, but we trail the UK (11 per cent) and US (20 per cent).

What do you think he would’ve made of the iPhone and iPad? I suspect he’d have started an app business, creating enhanced ebooks that would have made our minds boggle.

I wish for his sake and for ours that he’d lived on to be a part of all this.

That profile wasn’t my first writing on the ebook.

There was plenty of talk (and writing) on ebooks in the late 1990s.
In October 1997, Icon’s editor, Tony Sarno, published a joint print and digital project called The Online Book Fair. As Icon’s web site producer, I helped coordinate the online publication of extracts from 15 new Australian books (including a couple by authors who became all time favourites: Madeleine St John and Linda Jaivin), and an interactive online novella started by Bryce Courtenay with contributions by our readers. I interviewed Jaivin and two more of the authors, Emma Tom and Richard Ryan, on camera to produce short video clips for Icon’s Net TV section.

I remember being incredibly jealous of my colleague Sue Lowe, who wrote the main feature for the print edition. She interviewed local and international booksellers, who were just starting to sell their physical books online; authors who were thrilled at the prospect of their work reaching new audiences via the web; and publishers who even then were wrangling with the complex issues around digital publication.

Lowe spoke to Allen & Unwin publisher Elizabeth Weiss, who remains one of industry experts on digital in Australia, for the 1997 story. Weiss said Allen & Unwin was hoping to start publishing online late in 1998, allowing sections of text to be downloaded and charged for separately.

“We’re not talking about entire novels, but [a service for] people who want a single chapter of a book and are willing to pay to have it immediately available at home,” she said.

Back then, the online experiments were limited because people didn’t want to read large amounts of text on computer screens, which were tiring on the eyes and not portable.

Fast forward to 2011, and readers are increasingly taking advantage of “chunking” to buy novellas, individual short stories and long form journalism in ebook form on their handheld smartphones, ereaders and tablets.

Lowe’s piece ended with a reference to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology experiment in ereader production. Their prototype of a leather-bound book with electronic pages would allow its users to “be alerted the day the manuscript is finished and download it from the publisher – or even the author. No printing, distribution, no territorial licensing, no expensive inventory and no returns”.

These were more predictions that have proven to be spot on, then, particularly the move to self-publishing for authors, though territorial rights continue to exist and confound in our 2011 ebook world, and few are publishing raw, unedited manuscripts.

By 1999, when Penguin published my little green book about the Internet, Weird Wild Web, online bookshopping was such a big deal I devoted two pages to it. The last couple of lines?

“Eventually, of course, you’ll be able to download novels to groovy little electronic book viewers, like the Rocket eBook (check out www.nuvomedia.com for more).”

I had forgotten all about the Rocket until I thumbed through the book last week, and that link no longer exists because NuvoMedia has long since been swallowed by a bigger fish, but here’s some info on the device from a press release on launch that same year:

“The Rocket eBook and future Rocket eBook-enabled readers will allow users to easily carry a small library with them, wherever they go. This 22-oz. (627 grams) hand-held information appliance can hold at least 4,000 pages (about 10 novels) of text and graphics at a time. Its user interface is designed for reading with optimised screen technology that is easy to read in all lighting situations. A battery life of 17 hours with the backlight on and 33 hours with the backlight off will provide users uninterrupted reading whether in the office, at home or on the go. Being digital, books read on the Rocket eBook can be browsed, searched, annotated, highlighted, bookmarked, linked and indexed in ways impossible with a paper book.”

Ten novels, eh? Compare that to the 1000+ books we can load onto an e-ink reader these days and it’s no wonder the Rocket didn’t take off.

Charlotte’s posts on books, digital publishing and social media also appear on Twitter (@ebookish), Facebook (www.facebook.com/ebookish) and at ebookish.com.au.

News Round-up: The Go the F**k to Sleep Edition

Lots happening around the ebook traps this week and last. You’d have to be living in a ditch not to have at least heard someone mention Go the Fuck to Sleep, a humorous children’s book that has gone viral on the internet. What’s interesting about this particular development is that the full colour, full text PDF of the book has been circulating via email and is freely available on the internet, yet that has not stopped the book from going to number one on Amazon. Now seems to be the perfect time to re-link to this post and re-iterate the argument I made therein: if your book has been pirated 500,000 times, you are not in danger of never making any money from it.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon has basically come out and said that the company will be making a tablet this year, and rumours are flying that they’re not making one tablet but several (or at least two), with different screen sizes and processor speeds. Their product codenames are “Coyote” and “Hollywood”, proving that no matter how cool the news gets, codenames will always be cooler. And if that news didn’t convince you that Amazon is trying to take over the world, then check this out. If they don’t own your soul yet, they soon will.

More news on the Apple 30% vig stories. The app (and store) iFlow Reader has decided to close its doors due to Apple’s policy. In case you don’t remember me writing about this earlier, Apple has introduced a policy (or, more accurately, begun enforcing an old policy) whereby digital content apps, including all book reading apps, must go through Apple’s in-app purchasing system in order to on-sell their content. Apple’s in-app system skims 30% off the top of all sales, making it impossible for smaller businesses (like iFlow) to make the numbers work. Apple will begin enforcing this policy from June 1, so there’s likely to be a bit of news about this in the coming week.

Despite this, other rumours have emerged that there is a loophole to this rule – companies that would like to allow their content to be read on iOS devices but not purchased need only remove any link to their store. So, for example, those of you who have used the Kindle app on their iPhone or iPad will likely see a little “Kindle Store” icon in the top-right hand corner of the main screen. Using the new loophole, Amazon would only need to remove this link in order to make the app compliant. I guess you could argue this is a good thing, but you have to wonder who this is really hurting. Are Kindle shoppers really going to stop buying Kindle books because the link is no longer inside the app? No, probably not. But smaller indie publishers and retailers with extremely low margins and non-existent brand recognition will likely close down or labour in obscurity until they fail. This move by Apple is anti-competitive, anti-user and ultimately bad for everyone except Apple. If you’d like to complain, you can do so here.

Easter Round-up

Easter has come and gone, and big things have happened in the world of ebooks! Sorry about that, couldn’t help it. That really is a big creme egg. Apologies for my lack of posts the last week or so, the unholy trinity of Easter, moving house and my special lady friend leaving the country for two months has left me with little time to keep you up to date. But rest assured, I’ve been keeping up to date – so I can hopefully fill you all in on the interesting tidbits that have been floating around the ebook blogosphere of late.

Amazon still doesn’t have a tablet but everything indicates it is on its way – perhaps even as early as this year. Quanta, a Taiwanese notebook manufacturer, has reportedly received an order for between 700,000-800,000 tablets that have been traced back to Amazon for delivery in the second half of 2011. Now, don’t take this too seriously just yet, these kinds of rumours are rife when it comes to companies like Amazon and Apple. However, there is other evidence. E Ink, the company behind the technology that powers the Kindle, Sony and Kobo readers, has announced that there will be no improved displays this year, which suggests that Amazon may not launch an update to last year’s Kindle 3. Amazon has also taken a commanding position in the Android operating system community (the OS that runs on the majority of modern smartphones manufactured today) by releasing their own version of an app store for Android devices. Unlike Apple’s iOS devices (iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads), any company can set-up shop on Android. Amazon are pitching their marketplace as a more curated (read: Apple-like) alternative to Google’s in-built and often chaotic Android Marketplace. Like Apple, Amazon has access to millions of credit cards and a very slick one-click ordering system. Along with the Kindle app, this puts them in an excellent position to launch a reader-centric easy-to-use tablet for readers who aren’t swayed by the single-function Kindle readers (but who don’t want to buy an iPad). Stay tuned for more news on this topic – definitely something to keep your eye on.

Apple seems to have relaxed their grip on the reins just a tad in their own App Store. News surfaced this week that Apple has struck a deal with Time in which they will allow use of their in-app subscription service (i.e. magazines that auto subscribe to new content) for free to existing Time magazine subscribers (that covers Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and others). Previously Apple had forced magazine publishers to charge a separate subscription for iPad readers, thus ensuring they were the ones to collect precious subscriber information and a 30% slice of the revenue. It’s too early to tell if this reflects on a general loosening of the restrictions on content publishers in the App Store – but we should all keep our fingers crossed.

The Association of American Publishers released figures suggesting that of all trade books sold in February 2011, ebooks were the highest sellers. The surge has been attributed to recipients of Christmas e-readers stocking up on reading material, but it’s still a great result for ebook enthusiasts. Regardless of how the AAP reached this figure, it’s now impossible to deny that ebook sales are moving faster than most industry insiders had estimated (at least in the US). This was followed by the announcement by Hachette (one of the oft mentioned Big Six US publishers) that ebooks now account for 22% of the US arm of the company’s revenue.

Closer to home, our very own Booku has announced that despite expectations that they would lose money in the first twelve months they already have a positive cash flow. Ebook sales are startlingly good for a new start-up in this space – proving that there is an appetite for ebooks sold by Australian retailers.

Well, that about covers the major developments of the last couple of weeks. Stay tuned for more regular posts. Same bat-time (or a series of other similar times), same bat channel.

How to Organise and Convert Your Ebooks with Calibre

If you’re reading this blog then you’ve probably got an interest in ebooks. If you do, then you may have already heard about Calibre. Calibre is a free, open source, cross-platform (Windows, Mac and Linux) ebook reader, organiser and converter. If you’ve ever listened to music you downloaded from the internet, then you’ll probably be familiar with iTunes. Calibre is just like iTunes, but for ebooks, and not owned, locked in and operated by Apple. Did I mention it’s free? Download it here.

It’s a pretty big download, so it might take a while. Also, if you’re trying to install it on your work computer, you’ll probably want to get in touch with your IT department, because you need admin privileges to install it. If you’re at home, then fire away.

 

Installed? Great. The first step you’ll be confronted with once Calibre is installed and you open it for the first time is the wizard.

This is not the wizard you’re looking for.

This is the wizard

You’ll be asked to find a place on your computer to store your ebook files, and to determine what kind of e-reader device you use. Calibre supports a broad variety of e-readers, including the Kindle, Sony and iPad. If you use more than one kind of device, then don’t worry – Calibre supports more than one.

Look! It’s John Birmingham’s latest book: After America

The next window should be relatively familiar to anyone who has used iTunes. It has a library where you can filter your ebooks by author, title, series, publisher or rating. You can also search for keywords. All of those search functions will be pretty useless to you right now, though, because you haven’t added any books.

To add a book, hit the ‘add’ button, and find your ebook file. Calibre supports virtually every format you can imagine for an ebook, though you should keep in mind that if you bought that ebook from a store (like Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or even Booku) it’s likely it will be protected by DRM (digital rights management), which will stop you messing around with it. Never fear, though! Calibre still allows you to import books with DRM, organise them and load them quickly and easily onto your ebook reader (you just can’t convert it to another format or read it from within Calibre).

Also, strangely, Calibre does not support Microsoft Word format – so if you want to read something you only have as a Word file, open that sucker up in Word first and save it as RTF. Then add it.

There are plenty of places you can buy ebooks from that don’t have DRM, and there are plenty of places you can download ebooks from for free as well. You can find a few of them in the resources at Booku. For those ebooks, Calibre really comes into its own.

Calibre can automatically download the cover, publisher, publication date and blurb for your ebooks from the internet. You can save ratings and tag your books for easier searching.

Calibre will also convert your non-DRM ebooks from one format to another. Say you have a free ePub book, but you want to read it on your Kindle. By hitting ‘convert e-books’ in Calibre, you can easily and automatically convert your ebooks from ePub to Kindle’s Mobi format. Then to send it to your Kindle, all you need to do is hit ‘Send to Device’, and Calibre will automatically email the file to your Kindle (though you will need to tell Calibre your Kindle’s email address in ‘Settings’ first). If you want to send a book to your Sony reader, just plug it in and Calibre will automatically copy the book you select onto your reader. Calibre will even send your book via iTunes (or email) to your iPad or iPhone. It’s very versatile, and once you get the hang of it, it’s very easy to use.

Calibre can do a lot more than convert and organise your ebooks. It can automatically download news from your favourite blogs and news outlets, package them up and send them to your e-reader. If you’re a self-published author trying to convert your own ebook, it can pull apart ebook files so you can iron out the bugs. And it can do much much more. But those are topics for another blog post, and you don’t need to be interested in any of that to get some use out of Calibre. If you have any questions about Calibre, or any of the topics raised in this post, feel free to post them below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

iPad 2 Sells Out in the US: Should You Buy One?

 

As some of you may already know, the iPad 2 was announced on 2 March, and released on Friday in the US to much fanfare. News has officially surfaced about the tablet sales over the weekend and it seems overwhelmingly good (for Apple, at least): the iPad 2 has completely sold out, and sold more than half as many again as the original iPad. What does this mean for Australians – and more importantly, what does it mean for you?

The answer? Not much. Going by the early reviews of the second iteration, your decision to get an iPad should not be much different from when the first one was launched last year. If you were waiting for Apple to iron out the bugs for the second version, then wait no more – the iPad is ready. If you were dubious about the iPad the first time around, then it’s likely you’ll feel exactly the same way now.

Almost a year on from getting my iPad, I realise that although it’s a desirable product, it is something I found a use for rather than found useful in and of itself. It is a gadget, and as a gadget lover it is a beautiful thing. As an editor, I’ve found the iPad far more useful than I thought it would be. It’s versatile enough to read any manuscript you can throw at it, and as a device for editing it is as good or better than a laptop. As an avid reader of websites, blogs and other social media, it is a device that fits somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop. It’s also fantastic for travelling – ten hours of battery life takes you a good long way into a long haul plane trip. It is not ideal for writing – the on-screen keyboard is great for short bursts of text but for the most part it is inferior to a laptop.

For most casual users of a computer who are not yet in the habit of checking social media sites or email every hour or so, it is less useful than a laptop, and not as specialised as an e-reader in either battery life, screen quality or heft. And that means it falls between use cases. I am not an average user, and the iPad is not an average gadget.

For the most part, people still don’t really know why they want an iPad (or any tablet for that matter). Apple seems to be adjusting their own expectations as well. The original iPad was launched with a keyboard dock and a suite of Office-like apps. The iPad 2 has dropped the keyboard dock and is now concentrating almost entirely on casual media creation – it sports new video editing and music mixing apps, as well as a photo booth app for taking and editing photos.

Having said all that, if you’re still entranced by the shiny new iPad 2, and you have the money, then you should get it. This is a purpose-defining gadget – something you will use once you own, because it is a pleasure to use. If you’re a reader of ebooks, despite all my reservations about the direction Apple is going in, it is still more open and more versatile than a Kindle (or any other straight e-reader).

 

GIVEAWAY WINNER

It’s my pleasure to announce the winner for my last post’s giveaway. Congratulations to Melinda! I’ll be in touch with Melinda by email this evening to arrange the $100 worth of Booku Bucks.

How-to: Buy and Read an Ebook from Booku Pt 2

This is a two-part post. To read part one, please click here.

 

Reading Using Overdrive

Booku ebooks are compatible with any reader that’s can read Adobe Digital Editions DRM. That means you can use it with a Sony eReader, a Kobo eReader or any other (and cheaper) brand that is compatible with Adobe’s DRM (most e-readers are compatible with this, with the exception of the walled-garden Kindle). For a refresher on DRM (Digital Rights Management software) click here. The Overdrive app on Apple’s iOS devices means you can also read them on the go (read: on the toilet) from a device that can fit in your pocket.

The Overdrive app is a pretty barebones affair at the moment. As far as I could see there was no dictionary, search or annotation functions, but we can expect the reader to improve over time. There is a bookmarking function, and you can use the table of contents to flip through chapters. Overdrive is also the supplier for most library ebook selections, so once you’re all set up it’s worth getting in touch with your local library to see if they offer any ebooks for loan (which will be absolutely free). Overdrive also supplies digital audiobooks, so I’m hoping for a homegrown competitor to Audible as soon as possible.

 

Giveaway

To celebrate the move of Smell of Books to this shiny new location, I’m giving away $100 worth of Booku Bucks credit in the new store. To enter the draw, just leave a comment below or send me a direct message on Twitter. Tell me something you’d like to read about at the new Smell of Books location – questions, criticisms and commentary are all welcome. Alternatively, if you run a blog or other website, link to the Smell of Books and I’ll also put you in the running. I’ll draw the winner from one of these sources (randomly, not based on some kind of qualitative analysis, so don’t be shy!), and will announce it in the next week or so.

How-to: Buy and Read an Ebook from Booku

 

Welcome to the new location for the Smell of Books. From now on you’ll find the blog over here at Booku. To celebrate the launch of the site at the new location, I’ll be giving away $100 credit in Booku Bucks. Read on to find out how.

 

What You’ll Need

To buy a book from Booku (pronounced, if you’re curious, as BOOK-OO, not BOOK-YOU) you’ll first need a couple of things.

  • Download the Overdrive Media Console app from the App Store on your iThing (skip if you use a Sony or other e-reader)
  • Sign up for Adobe ID by clicking here
  • Sign up for a Booku account here
  • Enter your Adobe ID in the Overdrive Media Console app by hitting ‘Get Books+’ then ‘Settings’ then ‘Authorize with Adobe ID’

 

Buying an Ebook

Once you’re all set up, buying a book from Booku is easy. For the purposes of this guide I’m going to buy a copy of The Finkler Question the winner of last year’s Man Booker Prize.

Many bestsellers are available on the front page of the site, but if you’re looking for a specific title, use the search function to put in the title, author or keyword.

Once you’ve found the book, hit the green ‘Buy Now’ button and follow the prompts to buy the book using a credit card or PayPal. You can do this via your computer or your iThing. To download the book to your iThing, however, you have to log in to your Booku Shelf, by going to: http://www.booku.com/member/myProfile.cfm

Once there you can hit ‘Download’ and your book will open up in the Overdrive Media Console app ready for reading.

To load your book onto your Sony or other e-reader, check your manual to see how to load Adobe DRM ebooks. It’s usually pretty straightforward, but each reader is different. If you want some help with this, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to walk you through it.

 

This is a two-part post. To read part two, please click here.

What Do You Want From Your E-reader?

Has the focus on reading – and reading anything you want – been swept aside in order to make it easier to buy content? Until very recently, relatively speaking, e-reading was all about what digital text you could get your hands on. Most of it was free, out-of-copyright stuff from the web. Some of it came via longform journalism (also on the web). And some of it, yes, came from piracy. Although nowadays content can be purchased easily from multiple sources, I would argue the e-reading experience as a whole has not improved as much as Apple, Amazon, Google and their ilk would have us believe.

I first started reading ebooks and other digital content on a Palm Zire in 2003. It had a tiny screen, no wireless capabilities, and the only two stores you could buy content from were Mobipocket and eReader (both of which have since been bought out and absorbed by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, respectively). At the time there were virtually no books available on these stores that I actually wanted to read, so my reading was heavily supplemented by free material from elsewhere. To add my own reading material, I had to convert the files manually, plug the device into my computer and transfer them across. Although wireless and screen technology are light years ahead of my old Palm Zire, the process of reading non-standard material  has not really changed dramatically since then.

At the time I owned the Zire, I also had a first generation iPod, which seemed to me to be the most amazing piece of technology ever. Just plug it in and fill it up with music. Conversion and transfer was all handled through iTunes, which could also organise your music library and play your music for you when you were at your computer. People have had their share of complaints about iTunes, and I certainly have issues with it in its current incarnation, but to begin with it was an incredibly freeing experience. The iPod was portable digital music. To your iPod, the music you got from a CD (or free off the web) was no different to the stuff you could buy (much later) from iTunes itself.

So where was the iPod moment for e-reading? It has never come. Although the Kindle ecosystem has come the closest to recreating the ease of use of the iPod it’s still not there yet, and may never be. Primarily it is a device intended to be used with purchased content – and that content has to come from the Kindle store. Can you imagine if you were only able to load songs onto your iPod if you’d bought it from Apple first? The iPod would never have achieved such a dominant position with such a narrow focus.

Where is the device out there that puts the act of reading at the centre of the experience? Where is the device that doesn’t care where your text comes from, but just wants you to read? My list of demands is not unachievable. Completely wireless loading and conversion of any piece of text I’d like to read; a built-in dictionary; highlighting and annotation (and wireless export of these annotations); Bookmark syncing between devices; and, of course, the sharing of passages and annotations through social networks. Most of these features are available to readers if you buy your books through Amazon or Apple and only read on a Kindle or an iPad – but what about other content? Reading has never been just about blindly buying what’s served up to you in a store – it’s an organic, social experience. And none of the major reading platforms cater to that.

My ideal reading platform has not been created yet. All the major players are far more interested in locking you into the device they make and the content they provide than wanting you to have an ideal reading experience. But I suspect that when that platform comes along, there will be another iPod moment. And the way things are going I very much doubt it’s going to be Apple or Amazon.

What do you think? What do you want from your e-reader? Are you happy with what’s already out there? Or do you think I’m just being a giant early-adopting whiner? Sound off in the comments.

Review: The Daily Pt 2

READ PART 1 OF THIS POST

Having said all that, what The Daily does not do is shift the pendulum back towards news as a single portal paradigm – and that is its ultimate downfall (and possibly the downfall of all printed newspapers and magazines). Nowadays when I read news, it isn’t through a single organisation’s curated (or created) window. It’s by flicking between links shared on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s a process frequently interrupted by sharing things I read with other people I trust.

Which is not to say The Daily doesn’t at least try to interact with Facebook and Twitter. It really does, and it does so in a way that makes it unique to paywalled news – you can share almost every article in The Daily, and people can read it through a web browser – it just isn’t as compellingly interactive as it is on the iPad, and you can’t browse the entire issue except in the paid app. But that isn’t to say that the process of sharing articles is easy.

What you get when you try and share an article from The Daily is a carefully crafted advertisement for The Daily. The link is still there, but this isn’t a click and go process, and that rather misses the point of the modern news sharing paradigm. News isn’t about where it comes from, it’s about who it comes from, what it is and who you trust. If I wanted a curated news experience on the iPad, I’d just use Flipboard and my Twitter stream. And that may not be the average news reader’s experience, but that is where it’s heading – and trying to dam the river with an app like this isn’t going to stop it.

That’s something that any digital industry can learn from The Daily. Digitising content isn’t just about making it available digitally – it’s about hooking into the new ways people have of finding, sharing and consuming content. Now we’ve just got to find a way to get people to pay for it – and that’s one experiment The Daily is pioneering that I suspect will be very interesting indeed.

Review: The Daily

There is no shortage of comparisons between the book industry and the music industry, despite their obvious differences. However, book publishers are loathe to compare the digitisation of books to the digitisation of newspapers and magazines. And that’s mostly because paper and mag publishing is (arguably) facing off against far bigger problems than the book trade. Chief of those problems is how to get consumers to pay for content. And that’s where The Daily comes in.

The Daily is Rupert Murdoch’s tilt at making paid newspaper and magazine content work online. For the moment it exists exclusively on the iPad, and it’s the first iPad app to leverage Apple’s contentious new subscription system. And it’s a good deal too. At the moment The Daily‘s content is free to try, but when subscriptions start rolling out in a couple of weeks, it’ll cost just $0.99 per week (and there’s an entirely new issue every day, with updates throughout the day).

Click on any of the images in this post to see them full-size.

So what’s the app like? I guess you could say it’s slick. If I were the kind of person who read a newspaper from cover to cover, I’d say it gave me almost everything a paper gives you and more: all the regular sections of a daily paper (arts and lifestyle, gossip, politics, technology, opinion and business), comprehensive (American) sports coverage, sudoku and crossword puzzles (which can be linked through Apple’s Game Centre to compete against friends) and much more.

The app’s interactive elements definitely have a bit of a wow factor – not because they’ve never been done before, but because the content is so fresh. This isn’t just a one-off app like an iPad book, or the gorgeous interactive table of elements app. This is immersive daily news. It’s a format I could get used to. There are photos with zoomed in hotspots, 360-degree photos, live polls, animated elements; not to mention most articles have an audio version (read out by a real person), and there’s a video that gives the highlights of each issue that can be interrupted at any time to go to the full story being talked about. You can ‘shuffle’ The Daily to take you to a random section of the issue you haven’t read yet, and flick through individual pages like you would in a physical paper or magazine.

Having said all that, what The Daily does not do is shift the pendulum back towards news as a single portal paradigm – and that is its ultimate downfall (and possibly the downfall of all printed newspapers and magazines). Nowadays when I read news, it isn’t through a single organisation’s curated (or created) window. It’s by flicking between links shared on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s a process frequently interrupted by sharing things I read with other people I trust.

READ PART 2 OF THIS POST

Apple Screws the Pooch Pt 2

It was either ‘Apple Jumps the Shark’ or ‘Apple Screws the Pooch’. But which do you prefer – the scary apple or the adorable puppy?

This is the second part of a two-part article. To read the first part, click here.

Here’s where Apple made even me suspicious. In its clarification yesterday, Apple said that it isn’t only in-app transactions that it is forcing onto its system, but any transaction. To use Apple’s own words:

We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.

This great big steaming pile of crap basically means that any platform that wants to make an app for the iPad or iPhone to sell and/or read books has to at the very least give their customers an option to buy books through the Apple-sanctioned method – which gives Apple 30% of the profit. And it’s not just the profit. It’s the transaction – which means Apple can leverage the data collected (who bought the book, when they bought the book, how often they buy books and from which apps) to optimise their own book store – and they get that information for doing absolutely nothing. There’s also a massive doubling up of energy and effort here: Amazon, Google, Kobo, Overdrive and every other book reading app that offers a store already has a store. Apple skimming 30% off the top is nothing but pure greed. And if they stick with it, they will fail. And here is why.

Those who know me well (or know me at all) are probably acquainted with my pile of Apple gadgets and my willingness to justify spending vast amounts of money on the latest and greatest from Cupertino. That’s because despite every anti-competitive, backwards-thinking, mean-spirited thing they do on the iTunes or App stores they still make pretty things. Very pretty things. In fact, they make billions of dollars from selling pretty things for exorbitant prices. Just a small example of this: it was announced today that despite having only having 4% of the global smartphone market share, Apple still makes 50% of the profit from sales of the iPhone. That means there are a lot of people out there who are willing to spend a lot of money on Apple hardware.

And that’s because they make good hardware. It was the reason the iTunes store and the App Store were created. To sell more hardware. Apple may have revolutionised music sales, and made a killing doing it, but they did it by selling iPods – not by selling music. If they try and take complete control of ebooks on iOS (the iPhone and iPad operating system) in this way, then all it will mean is that ebooks will fail on iOS. Books are not like music. There are already quite a few established sellers of ebooks with more market share than Apple. And books are already too expensive, and too unprofitable for Apple to skim yet another 30% off the top.

So Apple have screwed the pooch. What are they going to do about it? The views on this story seems to be entirely negative. Will they try to spin it into something positive for consumers? Or will the famed Apple marketing machine fail? Only time will tell, but unless Apple rolls over on this issue it will be a bad thing for books in general.

Apple Screws the Pooch Pt 1

News has surfaced in the last couple of days about Apple and how they’re once again ruining it for everyone. Why, Apple, why? I didn’t want to believe it myself at first, but now Apple have clarified. Yup, definitely evil. But it’s not just evil – it’s really stupid. And here’s why.

To summarise: two days ago, The New York Times reported that Apple had some made some changes to the App Store rules which meant that Sony could no longer sell ebooks through their reading app on the iPhone. Instead, Apple would force Sony to use a system called “in-app purchasing” – which means that every transaction made within an iPad or iPhone app goes through Apple and the iTunes store. That means 30% of every book sold goes to Apple. There was a massive (I argued) overreaction to this, as every man and his dog predicted that Apple was being evil and trying to take over ebooks. I thought they were evil, but I thought they were being evil in the same way they always are. Apple have always had it in for software developers trying to sell things directly through their apps. This is why Kindle’s iPhone and iPad apps force you to go to the browser to buy a book, but Apple’s own iBooks app lets you do it without going to the web browser.

I thought (wrongly as it turns out) that this meant apps like Kindle and Overdrive wouldn’t have to change, because all of their transactions take place on the open web. If you don’t know what that means, let me explain: I open the Kindle app on my iPad; I want to buy a book; I click a button in the app which takes me to the Amazon website; I buy my book; the Kindle app re-opens and I can start reading. In Apple’s iBooks app, on the other hand, I press a special button inside the app; there’s a fancy-pants animation that turns my bookshelf into a secret rotating door; I buy my book; the secret rotating door rotates again and I can start reading. In other words, there’s not that big a difference, save for the magic rotating door.

This is the first part of a two-part article. To read the second part, click here.

Ebook News Christmas Wrap-up

So the silly season has come and gone, bringing with it what is most likely the biggest shift in consumer behaviour in regards to ebooks that has ever occurred. As I’ve been saying for the past six months – the future isn’t just coming sometime soon, it’s already here. Here’s a wrap-up of the ebook news over the past couple of weeks that you might find useful.

As predicted, Amazon made great strides this Christmas into the ebook space. They announced that the Kindle is now their best-selling product of all time. This means it has outsold the final Harry Potter book, so we are talking millions of Kindles out there over the Christmas period. And due to the instantaneous nature of ebook purchasing, we’re quite likely to see a spike in ebook sales over the few days of the Christmas period – though we’ll likely have to wait a while before anyone releases those figures. Guestimates so far have pegged the number of books sold as close to 3 million, which is damned impressive.

A poll has shown that almost a third of internet users say they already have a Kindle or plan on buying one in the next year, and that 40% of iPad owners already have a Kindle or are planning to buy one – which seems to support the assertions of Jeff Bezos (Amazon’s CEO) that the Kindle and the iPad are not in direct competition.

All in all this has been a superb holiday period for Amazon’s Kindle – all the more reason to hope they don’t do anything (else) evil in 2011.

Google has hinted at a timetable for the Australian launch of the Google eBookstore initiative, indicating they may launch early this year.

The Borders/Kobo tagteam appears to be coming apart at the seams – at least one major publisher in the US has halted shipments to the embattled chain and Hachette are considering doing the same. This is bad news for Kobo, which has tied itself quite closely to Borders in the US and here in Australia (Australia’s REDgroup – which includes Angus & Robertson and Borders – has been considering cuts and facing disappointing sales for months).

Choice magazine has named the Sony Touch the best ereading device, which is good news for the ereader (and for the potential fortunes of other independent ereading devices that aren’t chained to a single retailer).

Forecasts are showing that tablet sales will more than double this year in the US, which is great news for Apple and the iPad, which will likely snap up a big chunk of that.

2011 is shaping up to be the biggest year yet for digital reading. Thanks for reading in 2010, and I look forward to your comments and support if you decide to stick around this year. If there’s anything you’d like to see covered or analysed in more detail – let loose in the comments or get in touch on Twitter.

How To: Edit on an iPad

The iPad has been hailed as a boon to readers of books, newspapers and the web since its release at the beginning of the year. And it’s a great device for passive consumption of multimedia content and for sharing – but what about working? Well, having tried to use it for writing, I’d say its potential for writers is limited. But what about for editing?

Unlike editing on a traditional computer, the iPad provides a more paper-like electronic editing experience. It’s still not perfect, but for less mark-up heavy edits (like proofreads, light copyedits and report-based structural edits), it’s excellent.

iAnnotate

I’ve tried a bunch of different PDF editing apps on the iPad, but the standout is iAnnotate by Aji. It sells in the App Store for about $12.99, which is a bit pricey for an iPad app. However, if you’re an editor and you already have an iPad, it’s definitely worth it. You might also want to invest in a stylus for the iPad if you foresee using it for editing on a regular basis. Although the device is optimised for a finger (and in fact doesn’t work with a normal touchscreen stylus), for fine-level work and writing freehand it’s easier to use a stylus. Aji has a deal with a company called brvsh to provide discounts, so it’s worth checking it out (under the help menu after purchasing iAnnotate).

Mark-up

The easiest way to load a PDF into iAnnotate is by email. Email yourself the PDF you want to edit, and you can easily open it up in iAnnotate. The app takes a little while to index the PDF, making it possible to search and annotate the text. If email doesn’t suit you, or the PDF to be used is too big to email, you can also load PDFs into the app via iTunes or by downloading a PDF from a website directly.

There are a bunch of different ways to mark up the PDF itself, but the main ones – crossing out text, underlining, highlighting, commenting and so on can be accessed on the customisable right-hand side palette. There is a similar toolbar at the bottom of the page used for navigating the document – searching, flipping pages, going to a particular page number or accessing and jumping straight to existing annotations.

One useful tip for editors is the ‘stamp’ function. Using this tool, you can save any single piece of mark-up (such as the delete mark, as above – click to enlarge) as a stamp, which can then be accessed on the palette. This means you don’t have to physically draw each piece of repetitive mark-up, it can be inserted into the document at the tap of a finger.

All mark-up, once inserted, can easily be moved around, deleted or changed. The page can be zoomed in (using the iPad’s pinch to zoom multitouch movement) so any fine editing can be easily done on spacing or punctuation (without straining your eyes).

Exporting

When you’ve finished editing and the time comes to get your document back onto your computer (or directly to the author or typesetter), there are a few options. Using iAnnotate’s sharing feature, you can choose to email the entire PDF, a textual summary of the corrections or both. If you choose to send the PDF itself, you can send just the pages that have mark-up, or the entire PDF. You also have the option (shown above) of exporting the annotations in full (so they can be edited using Adobe Acrobat software on a computer by the author or another editor), as flattened mark-up(which means the annotations can’t be modified, but can be viewed with any computer or printed instantly) or the unedited, unannotated version of the PDF (which iAnnotate preserves). This gives you lots of options to send corrections to the typesetter or back to an author to check.

What’s Missing?

Although iAnnotate is the most full featured PDF editor on the iPad, there are still a few annoyances. Chief among these is the search function, which doesn’t seem to recognise spaces. This means you can search for individual words in a document, but if you’re looking for a few words or a phrase – too bad. Another missing feature is the ability to use the keyboard to write in-line notes directly onto the PDF (like the Typewriter feature on Adobe Acrobat). However, these are small annoyances, and it’s likely Aji will address these in future updates.

Questions?

Editing is a big subject, and using the iPad is another big one – so if there’s anything I haven’t covered (or haven’t been clear about), please let me know in the comments below and I will update this post.

The Tyranny of the Digital

News surfaced this week of Rupert Murdoch’s plans to launch a newspaper exclusively on tablet devices. It’s the kind of plan that sounds great in a press release. Murdoch knows how to put a newspaper together – The Daily, as it will be called, will be housed in a real office, with real journalists, but it will not have a print or web edition. The only edition, which will be released seven days a week for 99c, will be available solely on the iPad. Murdoch, I fear, has finally jumped the shark.

It’s not that a new newspaper (can you even call it that if it’s not printed on paper at all?) is something to sneer at. Or that newspapers don’t need to experiment with new models to succeed. But the distribution model – locked to a single kind of device and behind a paywall – fails to acknowledge that people who read the news no longer do so in isolation. A huge proportion of digital natives rarely, if ever, get their news from a single paper delivered to their front door; news comes piecemeal from diverse sources like Facebook, Twitter and from multiple websites, RSS feeds and email. Most importantly, news comes from trusted colleagues, friends and family members – through connections that are more important than loyalty to a brand of news. Murdoch’s The Daily will not be able to join in on this participatory news experience, which is increasingly becoming the norm. It will be edged out by content that is more easily shared. In essence, like many follies in the digital era, Murdoch is trying to replace the analogue experience of a newspaper with a digital facsimile, and it is not going to work.

It’s a similar story with ebooks. Publishers would much prefer it if ebooks were just like real books, only digital. The problem is, they are most emphatically not. Digital content is completely different – it can be easily shared, copied and moved around. These things are all good things; they’re what make ebooks cheaper to produce, easier to carry and faster to buy. They are why ebook readers buy more books than regular dead tree book readers. But ebooks could be more successful than they are, and the reason they are not is that publishers (and retailers) are still trying to control the content in a way that is even more restrictive than the dead tree books they are trying to emulate.

Why, to pick just one example, are ebook loaning rights so restrictive? Barnes & Noble’s Nook already has the ability to lend books, and the Kindle is soon to join it. However, owners of digital books will only be allowed to lend a book once for a period of two weeks. Does anyone in their right mind really think that the book business is going to be sunk by giving ebook readers the ability to loan out their books to a single person at a time for as long as they want as many times as they like? This is a basic feature of any dead tree book, and the benefits to the book industry are obvious. Anyone in publishing will tell you that the basic problem with selling books to people is getting people to read books. To paraphrase Tim O’Reilly, obscurity is a far greater threat to the book than piracy. It’s why publishers give away paper books to drum up interest in it. It’s one of the cheapest ways to market a book. Why not harness the word-of-mouth power of social networks to get books out there to at least as many people as it was already getting out there with the paper edition?

But no. Where producers are able to restrict, they restrict. What producers of content are not doing is working backwards from what their consumers want. Consumers want fast, cheap, easy access. Producers of content want to be paid enough to keep doing what they’re doing. There is a compromise position between these two points that allows both to be achieved. But it won’t happen when producers are sticking their heads in the sand and trying to recreate the analogue in an increasingly digital world.

Macbook Air Review

On this blog I’ve reviewed a few dedicated ereaders, as well as the iPad, but I’m yet to look at a single one of the most popular digital reading devices out there – the modern personal computer. PCs probably provide the worst digital reading experience, yet most people still do the bulk of their digital reading on a computer of some kind. Not just that, but the vast majority of novels are written on computers. And seeing as this is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I thought I’d take the opportunity to review one of the latest laptops available: the Macbook Air.

Conversations about what kind of computer you use are kind of like political discussions – generally only interesting if you agree. Otherwise everything that comes out of the other person’s mouth sounds like absolute twaddle, and you can’t find common ground. So for those people out there who hate everything to do with Apple, it may do you good to read no further.

Nonetheless, let me say what a delight this laptop is to use. The model I’m reviewing is the 11.6″ Macbook Air. As far as pure grunt goes, it’s a complete lightweight. It has only a 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor with only 2GB of RAM, both of which are upgradeable at purchase time (but not after, as everything is soldered to the board). Plus it only has a 128GB hard drive. But this computer does not feel like a lightweight. The hard drive is an SSD (solid state drive), which is the kind of memory those USB sticks have inside them. In other words, they don’t spin like optical hard drives (making the Air completely silent), and they’re very fast and small. The SSD makes the Macbook Air feel much faster than its specs would have you believe (if specs are something that have you believe anything, that is). I’ve been using a 2007 model Macbook for years, which had upgraded RAM and a faster processor than the Air, and it feels horribly sluggish in comparison. Applications like Word and iTunes, which take several seconds to load on a normal computer open instantly on the Air. It wakes from sleep instantly, and boots up in 14 seconds. Not that you really need to shut it down, as it boasts a deep sleep mode that can apparently conserve the battery for up to 30 days on standby. Although from the numbers alone it should seem like an expensive, underpowered machine, the Air does not feel at all slow.

Where the Air comes into its own is its size. Having a full size keyboard and very decent screen means that you get the same experience writing (or reading on the web) on the Air as you would on a much bigger laptop, except it weighs only a little more than an iPad, and is only a couple of inches longer. Unlike an iPad, you don’t need a heavy or bulky case, either, as it’s made of solid aluminium. I’ve now written a few thousand words on this thing, and it’s a beautiful experience. It’s so light it doesn’t feel like there’s anything on your lap, and it doesn’t heat up more than a couple of degrees even after hours of use.

When I first used an iPad, I thought it could completely replace my laptop for almost everything. That turned out to be not so true. The iPad is an excellent device for consuming content (with the notable exception of flash video) – be it on the web or through an app to read books and PDFs. It also has a ten-hour battery life, which blows the Macbook Air’s five hours out of the water. But the iPad falls down when it comes to content creation. I’ve tried writing on an iPad, even with an external keyboard, and it’s a pain in the arse. The touchscreen interface is not ideal for writing or editing text.

If you’re considering going digital when it comes to reading, then the Macbook Air, or something like it, should be a consideration. If you’re someone who writes for a living and likes to read, I’d recommend the Macbook Air and a dedicated (and far cheaper) ereader like the Kindle. If you’re someone who mostly consumes content and writes the occasional email, then an iPad with a cheaper, bigger and faster computer is a great combination to cover your digital reading needs.

Booki.sh: A Potential Australian Alternative

Widely reported in Australian book news over the past couple of days is the decision by Melbourne indie bookstore Readings to use a new Australian start-up’s web technology to launch an ebook initiative. This is big news for essentially everyone in the trade in Australia, not because the offering is especially mindblowing, but because of the relief we all felt on reading this that at least this particular piece of news had nothing to do with Amazon.

The new start-up is called Booki.sh and is a Google Editions-esque web-based ebook platform. Essentially what this means is that instead of using an app (like the iBooks or Kindle app on the iPad and iPhone), or a dedicated reading device (like the Kobo, Sony or Kindle reader), you access your books directly from your web browser. The service uses HTML5 technology, the newest implementation of the programming code that underpins the web.

A significant feature of HTML5 is that it allows websites to store files on your device. This means that when you first buy a book on Booki.sh through the website, your web browser downloads the book files in the background, so that even when you’re not connected to the internet, you can still read that book through your browser: on the iPad and iPhone, you can even add the book to your homescreen and access the book whenever you want to read it. The service even works with the Kindle 3; I tried the demo through the browser on my Kindle 3 and although it wasn’t quite as smooth as reading a native Kindle book, it was nothing like viewing a web page through the Kindle’s terrible browser – it even utilises the Kindle’s turn page buttons!

The demo service that Book.ish has made available is not without its kinks. Although it’s fairly slick, it’s not quite as slick as using an app or a dedicated reading device to read your ebooks. It’s also missing some pretty key features that I have started to rely on – like an in-built dictionary, annotation and highlighting. It’s also missing bookmark syncing, though you have to assume that when an account system is built in it will include this fairly obvious feature (ie if the book is already on the web, you may as well be able to sync bookmarks across every device that accesses it). It’s also not clear just yet whether readers will be able to use their own documents on Booki.sh, like the Kindle Personal Documents service.

Nonetheless, this is a very promising proof-of-concept that could become something quite interesting with the support of indie booksellers and a bit more development. Whether they’ll be able to compete with the likes of Google Editions, once Editions launches, is another thing entirely – but we have to hope that the little guys like this still have a chance. There’s also the concern I’ve raised in an earlier post about cloud-based services, and whether readers will be OK with not owning a ‘thing’ when it comes to reading – but rather access to a thing. Either way, this is one to watch.

Review: Kindle 3

I’ve been using the new Kindle 3 for a couple of weeks now, and I think this is the first ereader device I’ve used that gets almost everything right. I’ve been using my iPad for months now to read books, and while the experience reading on the iPad is great, my attention span is often tempted out of the reading apps into checking email or Twitter when I should be absorbed in a book. It’s great, but it’s not as absorbing as reading from a paper book. My previous Kindle (the Kindle 2), was an excellent reading device, but the screen on the new one is far sharper, with better contrast, and the other extras make it an all round better experience.

Screen comparison. The contrast on the Kindle 3 is much higher.

I have the version with WiFi and 3G wireless, so this is the first Kindle I’ve used that you can transfer personal documents wirelessly without paying a fee (if you use the 3G connection, Amazon charges a nominal fee of a dollar or two, depending on the size of the book. Books you buy from the Amazon store are transferred free). In some ways this even trumps the iPad, which can’t accept ePub books in the native iBooks app unless you plug the thing in. The wireless connection doesn’t just give you access to books though. You can use the built-in sharing feature to immediately share a quote from a book you’re reading on Facebook and Twitter. This might sound like the last thing on your mind, but if you’re a compulsive social networker, sometimes you can’t help but want to share the perfect line from a book with your 300 closest friends.

The Kindle 3 is also lighter and smaller than its predecessor, which was already pretty small. With the case it feels a bit like a B-format hardback book to hold in your hands, which is just about my favourite book size to read. The new cover I got with it (people with Kindle 2s beware – your old cover will not fit), has an integrated light that runs off the battery of the Kindle, something version 2.0 couldn’t do as far as I know.

The keyboard, like the old Kindle, is not great, but that’s hardly a massive issue, as if you were buying something like a Kindle to do a mass of typing, you’d have bigger issues. Along with the new price drop, I’d have to say this represents the best value single purpose ereader on the market at the moment bar none. Having said that, it’s almost certain that the price will drop further and the next version will be even better – so if you’re not sure it would still pay to wait.

Three Ways to Deal with Ebooks and Airplanes

Anyone who has ever read an ebook and flown on a plane (or perhaps just sat next to me on a plane) will know that you can’t read ebooks on a plane during the crucial moments of take off and landing. To anyone with the attention span of a baby monkey (like me), these moments of dead time can leave you shivering with lack of stimulation. What makes it worse is that the reasons for these restrictions are half-baked, like a lot of airline policy, and I’ve always thought it’s geared around shoring up the authority of the flight attendants rather than the actual safety of the plane. After all, newer ebook readers that use e-ink, like the Kindle, Kobo and Sony readers, emit about as much power as a digital watch – so unless every electronic object on the plane could cause it to drop out of the sky it seems pretty arbitrary.

Nonetheless, this rule is still enforced, ignorant or not, so what can the discerning reader of ebooks do about it? In this post I run through three potential options for dealing with this most horrible of first world problems.

1) Lie and Cheat

As I’ve demonstrated in previous posts, I’m flexible when it comes to rules. And in this case, breaking the rules won’t hurt anybody. The best way to conceal a Kindle or other ereader is in a cover that looks like a book. Failing that, you can usually slip it into the inflight magazine and hold it upright whenever the attendant walks by. Be careful not to appear too interested – nobody really likes those magazines, so you don’t want to give yourself away. If you’re travelling alone, ensure the person next to you isn’t crazy or a Federal policeman so you don’t get dobbed in.

2) Wait for an Official Solution

As Diana Dilworth pointed out on eBooknewser this week, it’s really only a matter of time until airlines begin integrating ebook reading into the inflight entertainment system. Kindle, Nook and iPad owners already enjoy the ability to sync whatever they’re reading between whatever device they happen to be reading on, so it would be a cinch to have whatever book you happen to be reading pop up on the screen in front of you for you to read without even using the batteries of the iPad/laptop/e-ink reader in your bag.

3) Take a Boat

If all else fails, take alternative transport. Today’s e-ink devices have a battery life of over two weeks, so you can probably go for a pretty long boat voyage before you run out of something to read. This plan is pretty failsafe, but does require some forward planning.

So there you have it, three ways you can avoid dead time on a plane. Sound off in the comments if you have any further suggestions, but please don’t waste our time by pointing out that I could just sit quietly and look out the window for twenty minutes. That is simply not an option.


New Australian Ebook Reader

Australian-based IT and consumer electronics accessories company LASER Corporation has launched a new ebook reader, priced at $149.95. The company said ebook files and content on the EB101 ereader ‘can be shared with friends, rather than having to continuously download from the web’ because its Digital Rights Management (DRM) functionality ensured ‘access to supported content for playback’. I confess that I don’t really know what that means. Spokesperson Christine Kardashian (no relation) told the Weekly Book Newsletter that, ‘Non copy-protected ebook files … can be shared between users – just like you would with music files.’

There is no DRM format that I know of (other than the heavily gimped Nook) that supports the sharing of copyrighted books … so I’m not quite sure what the former statement might mean, but I’d jump at the chance to take a look on behalf of readers. The EB101 is LASER’s first ebook reader and supports a range of formats including ePub and PDF. ‘With MP4 capabilities, the lightweight, portable EB101 is fitted with a 5-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) screen and unlike many other [ebook readers] on the market, allows users to store and view photos, watch video and movies in full colour, as well as listening to music – even while reading,’ said the company in a statement.

LASER managing director Chris Lau said the ereader, which weighs ‘no more than 300gms in total’, was ‘like having a large MP4 player – you can comfortably read books, watch video in full colour and listen to music, along with sharing content with friends’.

This new reader is one of many products capitalising on the ebook/tablet market that has been opened up with Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad. My suspicion is that the EB101 isn’t on the same level as either of these products, but I also doubt they’re attempting to compete with these two massive companies directly. The biggest selling point is the price – which is low, even for a product without e-ink. The specifications include a 6-hour battery life, an SD card reader and a 5-inch screen. Six hours battery life is negligible, especially in comparison to e-ink devices like the Kindle – but then again, the Kindle can’t play movies. The iPad has a 10-hour battery life, and can play movies, but it costs closer to $700.

Without having actually seen this new product, I’d say it’s biggest potential drawback is its patchy support of ‘DRM’. From the marketing bumf I surmise that it supports Adobe’s DRM scheme, a format sold through a number of Australian publishers and e-tailers (including ebooks.com and Dymocks). However, it’s not going to be compatible with the massive Kindle library. Nonetheless, I congratulate the manufacturer on taking a punt and getting an Australian product out into what is shaping up to be a bit of a crowded market.

Kindle Sales Outstrip Dead Tree Books: Nobody Makes Money

Amazon announced this week that for the first time sales of Kindle ebooks have outstripped the sales of hardcover books. Is this a surprise? Not particularly. Amazon have been flogging their ebooks to death since the release of the Kindle, they’ve done a fantastic job getting publishers on board, and have the biggest range of ebooks of any store on the web. If it was going to happen to someone, it was going to happen to them. However, the news comes with some pretty massive provisos.

Firstly, the question of how much money is being made here is completely opaque. I know it’s gauche to wonder about the money – but for there to be a future to this ebook game (or any book industry at all) we need to know if there’s money and how much of it is being made and for whom. Amazon has been incredibly tight-lipped about sales of both the Kindle reader and ebooks. They’ve reported that the Kindle itself is now the single highest selling item on Amazon, but that doesn’t give us a clear idea of whether they’re making money from it. The prices for the readers are dropping, but all this proves is that Amazon is getting increased competition from Barnes & Noble’s Nook and to a lesser extent from Apple’s iPad. Despite the shift to the agency model, many publishers are still selling their books for the $9.99 price that Amazon set for Kindle books more than a year ago. What this shows is that, just as they did for selling dead tree books online way back at the beginning of the decade, Amazon are willing to be loss leaders to capture market share. As I’ve mentioned before, maintaining a profitable industry is a mug’s game when it comes to technology – market share is where it’s at. The fact of the matter is, if Amazon were making truckloads of cash on ebooks and Kindles, they would be reporting that, not the proviso-riddled fact that they have sold 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardbacks.

So is this announcement, as the New York Times said, ‘one for the history books – if those will even exist in the future’? Not quite yet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s quite impressive that Amazon have managed to increase sales of ebooks to such a huge extent so quickly. But this isn’t the death knell of the dead tree book – or even of the hardback. Until someone starts making a lot of money from ebooks – and can show that the money will keep flowing – the ebook will remain the poor second-cousin of the mighty hardback*.

*Australian readers can feel free to substitue trade paperback for hardback here, but it doesn’t sound as good to say ‘mighty trade paperback’.

Microsoft Turns Over an Old Leaf

News circulated around the web last week that Microsoft has filed a patent application for the visual look of the page turn on touchscreen devices. According to the NY Times:

The patent application states that when “one or more pages are displayed on a touch display” a “virtual page turn curls a lifted portion of the page to progressively reveal a back side of the page while progressively revealing a front side of a subsequent page.” Just like real pages in a paper book.

The application was apparently filed back in 2009, when work on Microsoft’s Courier tablet was still going (the device’s development was cancelled in April this year). What’s odd is not that Microsoft had the temerity to patent something that a few other companies had already implemented in their touchscreen applications (the Classics app on the iPhone was one, and the iPad’s iBooks app uses the same visual effect now). It’s not even particularly odd that a tech company can patent something that is so blatantly silly. There are some extremely weird software patents already floating about: Microsoft patented that creepy paperclip with eyes and no legs that used to ask you if you needed help writing a letter, and Facebook has a patent for the newsfeed (a concept which clearly derives from multiple other sources). No, the odd thing about this patent is that the technology itself seems so … unnecessary.

I mean, I’ve shown quite a few people the page turning animation in iBooks, and they have ooh’d and aah’d  as you might expect. It’s a very pretty animation. But having now used the iBooks application to actually read books, the animation is kind of a pain in the arse. It’s nice for showing off the touchscreen technology, and for making iBooks look more like a real book. But it offers no other functionality. For someone who is already used to reading ebooks, it is a superfluous, annoying bit of frippery. Most of us are already used to scrolling to read text, and if the page metaphor is important to the idea of the book, then nothing’s stopping an instant flick that changes the page. Why the extra trouble to make it look like paper? It reminds me of a learn-to-type program I used as a kid that made every key press sound like the a typewriter key, and every press of the ‘return’ key like an actual carriage return. It was absolutely maddening. Surely the noise was the worst thing about the typewriter? And surely the pages in a book are – if not actually annoying – then superfluous to requirements? What do you think? Are you so wedded to the dead tree format that even an ebook should have pages that can be turned? Or do you just want to get at the content? Sound off in the comments.

Speed Demon

A recent study by Useit.com has concluded that reading on an e-reading device is, on average, slower than reading a traditional book. The study used a Kindle, an iPad, a book and a PC for the study. The participants were given a comprehension test at the end to make sure all readers were understanding what they read, but were apparently no differences between formats for comprehension. Snip:

The iPad measured at 6.2% lower reading speed than the printed book, whereas the Kindle measured at 10.7% slower than print … Users felt that reading the printed book was more relaxing than using electronic devices. And they felt uncomfortable with the PC because it reminded them of work.

Aside from the fact that the study was only conducted on 24 people, and reasonable margins of error mean that they can’t say for sure which device is faster, what does a study of this kind mean for readers? Is the speed at which we read actually important to our choice of format? Personally, when I’m reading for relaxation, I don’t care how quickly or slowly I get through a book. But reading is kind of like chocolate cake. It’s excellent when you get to decide how much you eat, even if you sometimes overindulge and give yourself a stomach ache. However, if you were forced to eat six chocolate cakes in a row the experience is not as much of a treat. When I read for work I sometimes need to get through books as fast as humanly possible – without sacrificing my ability to understand what’s happening or work out whether what I’m reading is any good.

It’s a difficult balance to strike. I’m naturally a very slow reader, and tend to slow down the more absorbed I am. To get through something quickly, I need to constantly tell myself to move faster. It’s not a very pleasant experience. Nonetheless, it’s an experience that many people are looking for – sometimes we just need to absorb information as quickly as possible. As a format agnostic, I’ve looked at many ways to speed up my reading. The fastest I’ve found is to use a speed reading program. There are a number of paid software packages, but I prefer the web-based solutions, as you can get to them anywhere, and add any text you like by just copying and pasting in a web browser. Two good examples of this kind of thing are Zap Reader and Spreeder. Using these sites, I’ve sometimes reached speeds of around 700-800 words per minute reading, which is almost triple the average reading speed (most people read around 250-300 wpm). I can get through an average length book in an afternoon. However, there is a terrifying, brain-bending element to reading in this fashion. It feels a bit like downloading a new skill in The Matrix, and tends to give me a massive headache.

I know kung fu.

So, in the hunt for the fastest reading experience, in my next post I’ll be road testing a number of reading technologies  to see if I can balance speed with enjoyment. In the meantime, sound off in the comments and let me know whether you think speed is a plus or minus for you when it comes to reading a book.

The Tower of eBabel

The problem with new technology is that it costs a lot of money. Technology companies frequently spend years and years without making a profit, shaping their business model, trying to ‘monetise’ their creation. Amazon, for example, was launched in 1997, but didn’t become profitable until 2002. Facebook only became profitable last year, and Twitter still doesn’t make money, despite all the people that use it. Nonetheless, when these technologies take off they often make a lot of money.

Most big technology companies have become massive by creating platforms that have ended up being the de facto standard. A platform, in the technology sense of the word (rather than a raised piece of floor), is the system used to manage certain kinds of content. Facebook, for example, is a social media platform. The iTunes Music Store is a platform for music. Amazon’s Kindle is a platform for digital books. The most useful outcome for consumers is that a single platform ends up delivering a single type of content. In the days of physical media platforms – CDs, DVDs, audio cassettes – there was a certain amount of disconnect between the company that owned the rights to the platform and the people who sold the content.

Digital media has changed this. Nowadays, the iPod and the iTunes Music Store are synonymous with buying music digitally. Amazon would like to make the Kindle synonymous with ebooks. Apple would probably like to do the same with their iBooks software on the iPad (and as of this week, the iPhone and iPod Touch too). People in the industry call this eBabel – as each new company enters the fray, they bring with them a different format with a unique type of DRM. This situation is absolutely horrible for consumers. People are locked into a single platform with their purchases because digital media cannot be transferred between competing platforms. I’m not going to try and stretch this into an awkward physical media metaphor – there is no equivalent. It’s just bad – frustrating, confusing and annoying for readers.

It’s easy to argue that a single format will win out in the end – it’s what has tended to happen with physical media (we have Bluray instead of HD-DVD, and had VHS instead of Betamax), but with digital media the result of a single format ‘winning out’ is dramatically different. The only settled digital format so far (digital video is still up in the air, as is the format for ebooks) is Apple’s iTunes platform. This model has succeeded by Apple being in complete control of the platform and the content delivery. In order to use the iTunes Music Store and the iTunes platform, you need to use an iPod. In order to use an iPod, you need to use the iTunes Music Store.

In the future, it’s easy to foresee a company like Apple or Amazon being the only place you can buy ebooks from. They control the hardware and the software – the platform and the content. Is this what we want for ebooks? I think the answer is an emphatic no (though by all means, please disagree in the comments!). Unfortunately there is no clear solution to this problem. Getting rid of DRM would be a nice start, but publishers are very unlikely to stop using it – even though it demonstrably benefits technology companies far more than it does content providers. I’d love to hear what you guys think – sound off in the comments if you have an idea or even just an opinon. How do you want to get your books in the future?

Brown paper bags and iPads – disguising less literary moments

I’m not an ardent Apple lover and haven’t blasted through this month’s food money to buy an iPad, but I can see a useful application for it already.

I’m not going to go through the technical ins-and-outs of the iPad reading experience (if you have a hankering for that sort of thing, I suggest popping over to the Smell of Books, where Joel has already covered it nicely) but state one simple fact – reading through an iPad means that you’ll never again have to put up with people judging you by your book’s cover.

While what you enjoy reading should be a personal choice, reading in a public space can be an alarming reminder that not all literature is seen as equal. As with any subjective matter, opinions are divided and occasionally offered in the most insulting possible way.

A friend of mine has given up reading her Twilight books on the train, thanks to pointed glares from non-fans and one person asking her if she was capable of reading a “real book”. Much like the kids who disguise their comics, pulp serials and (ahem) educational adult material in a heavy encyclopaedia while in the school library, she now disguises them with a book sleeve of something more high-brow. Another keeps their taste for corset-busting romances firmly hidden in brown paper covers since a drunken commuter insisted they could be their semi-clothed pirate prince instead of “some poof in a book” and then proceeded to open their shirt and prance around the carraige to demonstrate.

My own habit of reading motivational and pop-psychology books has put me in cringe zone a few times when I have looked up and seen people reactions to my choice of book. These books that are worth a flick, but perhaps not without reading either on an iPad or with a plain brown paper cover.

1. He’s Just Not That Into You

It’s more a comedy than a melodrama of a book, with wonderfully down-to-earth advice but if you decide to read this on public transport you may as well place neon flashing sign over your head. And that sign says: “I have been dumped. Dramatically dumped. I am just one visual reminder (“There’s a car. George used to drive a car.”) or off-hand comment (“He said hello. George used to say hello…”) off breaking down into a torrent of tears while wailing “Why, George, WHY?”

You don’t have to use George. Insert the name of your ex, or if anyone is wearing their work ID, try bawling their name between gut-wrenching sobs just to watch them twitch. If you feel like cranking the Embarrassometer up a notch, you can turn up the next day reading He Just THINKS He’s Just Not That Into You, causing all your co-commuters to call home and check that the bunny hut is safely secured.

2.The Game by Neil Strauss

You may be engrossed by the fascinating world of the PUA’s, or Pick Up Artists, or enjoying Neil Strauss’s honest and irreverent humour but everyone looking at you thinks you are only reading it for cheat tips to the opposite sex. If you are a guy reading this, people assume you a damp-pawed and creepy type who also owns How To Pick Up Girls By Hypnosis* and tries the “there is.. .something… in your eye…” line at parties. If you are a girl reading this people assume you are a damp-pawed and creepy type who also owns How To Pick Up Girls By Hypnosis. Basically, no one is making eye contact or shaking hands with you all the way home.

3. Anything on unarmed combat, knife-fighting or ear-biting. Or How-To guides by the SAS.

On the plus side, no one will take the seat next to you for the whole trip. On the minus, those four burly armed security staff closing in on you are not doing so to offer you a chocolate muffin and a nice cup of tea. As a general tip, most commuters are fine with you reading books about horrifically bloody murders, it’s when you start reading about real-life methods of mayhem and squinting speculatively around the carraige they will decide to call the cops.

Perhaps the release of the iPad and other e-readers is a licence enjoy your guilty or gorey pleasures. Tescos reported sales of downloaded Mills & Boon titles grew 57 per cent in the five months after the Sony Reader went on sale, and with the advent of the iPad, who knows what the person next to you on the bus could be reading? You’ll just have to ask them to show you.

And if it’s How To Pick Up Girls By Hypnosis or anything on knife-fighting, I suggest keeping your eyes on their screen and smiling vaguely the whole way home.


* This book does not exist out of the science fiction series Red Dwarf, so don’t bother looking for it. At least, if it DOES exist, Boomerang Books thankfully don’t stock it.

I suggest keeping your

Review: iBooks on the iPad

Click on any of the pictures for a closer look

So, I’ve had my iPad for a couple of weeks now, and it’s high time to review Apple’s answer to the ebook question. I’m not going to review the entire iPad – unlike the Kindle, the it’s not a dedicated reading device, and there are plenty of other options for reading books, newspapers, magazines and blogs on it.

The iBooks app does not come pre-loaded on the iPad when you buy it, a choice by Apple that has more to do with their relationships with international publishers than it does with their determination to turn the iPad into a reading device. Unlike Amazon, Apple do not want its users to associate the iBooks app with no books on its bookstore.

Having said that, we don’t yet have much of an idea how much content will be available on the Australian version of the iBookstore (can I point out right now that I’m already getting sick of typing lowercase ‘I’s in front of every bloody proper noun in the Apple vocabulary?). When it launches in Australia on 7 June, the iBooks app will be available from the App Store, but we don’t yet have any idea what the range will be like. The US iBookstore, for what it’s worth, seems well stocked enough (by all reports, somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000 titles). It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 400,000 available on the Amazon Kindle store, at the moment, but that’s likely as much to do with how long it has been available as anything else.

So what’s it like reading on this thing? Absolutely fine. Unlike the Kindle, the iPad uses an LCD screen, a source of much consternation for ebook nerds. I’ve heard comments that the backlit screen makes it ‘useless’ as an ereader. But this has not been my experience at all. For those of us who already spend a proportion of our days reading backlit screens on computers, the iPad is no worse and arguably a lot better than this. You can easily set the brightness levels to suit the ambient light, and the advantages of the backlit screen are obvious – it can show colour, embedded video and the refresh rate (how quickly each page turns and illustrations are shown) is light years ahead of the Kindle. You can also almost instantaneously flip the orientation of the book between a double-page spread and a single larger page by just turning the device as it suits. There are disadvantages as well, of course. The screen is not a patch on the Kindle for reading in direct light – you can forget bringing it to the beach with you (though I’ve never been inclined to bring my Kindle to the beach anyway). The ten-hour battery life is also nowhere near the Kindle’s ten days – though this is mitigated by the fact that the iPad can and would be used for more than just reading books.

For anyone used to reading ebooks, the iBooks app has most of the standard ereader features. You can look up words in the dictionary (I really like the implementation of the dictionary – it pops up in a small window overlaying the text so you can quickly check without having to leave the page), you can also search the book and bookmark it. For some reason iBooks does not have any annotation capability, though this may be something addressed in a future update.

One thing that really bugs me about iBooks, however, is the way you load books. If you buy books exclusively from the iBookstore, you can do it from anywhere and start reading instantly. However, if you want to load up your own DRM-free, out-of-copyright books you might have downloaded from somewhere like Gutenberg.org, then the only way to add books to the app is to plug it into iTunes, add it to the library and sync the iPad. For a device that sells itself as internet connected and as a netbook replacement, this feels like a massive (and unnecessary) step backwards.

Ultimately, the iBooks app is a very strong contender in the realm of ebook readers. However, the comparative feature set of this single app is not going to be what sets it apart. That’s because the iPad is not just iBooks. For readers who are hooked on the e-ink experience, I’d say that there’s no huge advantage to buying an iPad. Stick with your Kindle, your Eco Reader or your Sony. For people who are curious about e-reading, but can’t decide whether to an ereader is a waste of money – then an iPad is for you. It’s more expensive, but it does far more than an ordinary ereader. It is also much more likely to be future proof – whether it’s Amazon, Apple or Google books you’re after, it’s very likely that they will all be able to be read on an iPad long into the future.

The agency model: hot or not?

The Agency Model: A lot more boring than     this picture.

I’ve implied in the past that ebooks are likely to change the way we buy, sell, read and perhaps even write books in the future. One of the ways things are already changing is the way that publishers supply ebooks to booksellers. This is what’s called the ‘agency model’. The agency model has the potential to fundamentally change the way that publishers interact with people who read books, so it’s worth knowing the basics.

To understand it, though, you first have to get an idea of how dead tree books are sold now. In the current dead tree publishing model, the company sells a certain amount of books to a bookshop and ships them out in dead tree boxes. The bookseller tries to sell as many as possible. Whatever is left can be returned to the publisher. There is a recommended retail price (RRP), but the bookshop decides how much to sell the book for – and they’ve demonstrated a lot of flexibility in doing so. In Australia for example, the big discount stores (K-Mart, Target and Big W etc.) will sell books for a fraction of the recommended retail price. Borders, on the other hand, has been known to increase the price. In other words, books are sold pretty much like any other product.

The agency model is something that has come out of selling ebooks – specifically when Apple came on the scene with the iBookstore and the iPad. Basically what it means is that instead of the bookshop selling digital products directly to you, the bookshop becomes an ‘agent’ (hence ‘agency’ model) of the publisher. The publisher sets the price of the ebook and then give the bookshop a license to sell ebooks on their behalf.

I’ve covered the reason for this change in a previous blog, but the consequences so far have been steady prices for readers (Amazon have increased the prices of ebooks by a few dollars, but other ebook stores will eventually drop their prices). It also means that no single bookshop (I’m looking at you, Amazon) can artificially prop up a price point that no other store can match. This is essentially what K-Mart, Target and Big W do in Australia with dead tree books. You can get very cheap books in these stores, but not a big range. Smaller bookshops around Australia have closed as a result, and the sales for midlist authors (authors who don’t always sell in the big discount chains) aren’t as good as they used to be.

So, the questions is – is the agency model hot or not? As with all of these kinds of questions the answer is that it’s complicated. Do you prefer a good range or a good price? The prevailing wisdom is that the cheaper books become, the fewer risks publishers will be able to take on new and interesting authors. Having said that, ebook stores do not have the physical limitations of their dead tree cousins – the range of books they can supply is almost infinite. What do you think? Sound off in the comments.

Review: Remains Of The Day Audiobook

For a change I thought I’d review a book. Seeing as reviewing an ordinary ebook is essentially the same as reviewing the device you’re reading it from, I thought I’d go with an audiobook instead.

Audiobooks have become a staple of my reading habits. I cycle to work, so don’t have the luxury of reading on public transport. But I still like consuming stories in whatever way I can. My ideal book is one I could read part of in text, part of in audio, all synced between iPhone, Kindle, iPad and my computer. Because that’s not yet possible without a ridiculous amount of manual searching for your place, I usually have about four or five books on the boil at once, all on different devices. This, you might argue, is the product of a lack of concentration. I won’t disagree with you.

Having said that, the audiobook of The Remains of the Day was an absolute pleasure to listen to; a book that made me relish getting on my bike and riding, even on cold, hungover mornings. For those who don’t know the story, it’s an historical novel about an English butler named Mr Stevens. Stevens is an unreliable narrator, telling his story of the last great years of his time as a butler in recollection as he takes a ‘motoring trip’ across England to visit Miss Kenton, a woman who used to work with Stevens at Darlington Hall.

The book is narrated by the actor Nigel Hawthorne (best known for his role as Sir Humphrey Appleby in the TV show Yes, Minister). Hawthorne gets the tone of the book exactly right, and Stevens’s accent pitch-perfect. Audiobooks that are read by the wrong person or by someone who doesn’t seem to understand the tone of the book can completely ruin a story. In contrast, with the right voice actor the book seems to come alive. All the repression, self-censorship and selective memories vividly bubble under the surface in this reading – although Stevens never makes clear any of his personal feelings, you get the sense that they are just there, like the voice at the other end of a telephone line.

How does everyone else feel about audiobooks? Have you ever listened to one? Do you consider it ‘real’ reading or a pale imitation?