My iPhone

A couple of months ago I finally decided to join everyone else in the 21st Century by getting myself a smart phone. Up until then, I had been using an old Motorola flip phone and I’d been reluctant to get rid of it simply because it felt a bit like using a Star Trek communicator. 🙂 But that phone finally died, and so I took the plunge. Being a Mac person, I of course decided to get an iPhone. It has been an odd experience thus far. Aside from making me feel old, it has proven to be a far more useful device than I had expected.

It’s funny how technology moves forward, but people often don’t. I remember when I started my first office job, not long out of Uni, and how the older people in the office would often come to me for help with their computers… not that I was any sort of computer expert, but simply because I was familiar and comfortable with the technology. I’d smile patiently and try to explain things in simple non-tech terms. Now, suddenly, I’m one of those older people. When I bought the iPhone, the young sales assistant had to explain to me the basics of its operation. Smiling politely, he talked to me in very basic non-tech terms.

After a few weeks of trial and error, I’d figured out the basics of the phone. But I still felt that I was missing out on functionality simply because I didn’t know about it… so I booked myself into an iPhone tutorial at my local Apple store. I was the youngest person in the class… apart from the tutor who didn’t look a day over 20. But I still felt old, because I needed someone to explain to me in simple terms how to use some pretty basic technology. On the plus side, I did learn heaps about the use of the phone, so it was worth the effort.

I am now most definitely enamoured with my iPhone. As well as replacing my old phone, it has also replaced my iPod. It’s rather nice having all that in the one device. I’ve put some games on to it, mostly to keep the kids amused when we’re out and about. And despite what some people warned me about, it’s great for phone calls — much clearer and easier to use than my old phone.

“But what’s all this got to do with books?” I hear you shout. “Why are you waxing lyrical about your phone on Literary Clutter?”

Well… for starters, it can be used as an eReader. Mind you, I haven’t progressed to using it as such… not yet anyway. Yesterday I downloaded a few kids’ read-along eBooks in preparation for an overseas trip. I figured that rather than just having games and videos on there to keep the kids amused during long bouts of travel, I’d try putting some books on there for them. And there are LOTS to choose from… many available for free or for a very low price. I’ve had a look at them, and they are rather cute. Although they’re still not enticing me to read that way, they may have some impact on my kids. I’ll report back after our trip.

Interestingly, I’m finding the iPhone particularly handy as an author. How? In a few different ways.

As a writer, I like to carry a notebook and pen with me for when inspiration strikes. But, on a number of occasions in the past, I’ve found myself caught without writing material when needed, desperately trying to keep the brilliant idea in my mind until I could write it down… and usually failing. That will never happen again… because my iPhone has a notepad. And I don’t even have to type into it. I can just speak into the phone, which will then transcribe it for me. Very nice!

Then there is the ability to have videos on the phone. I’ve got my book trailers on there. During a meeting yesterday, when talking about the trailer, I was able to pull out my phone and show the trailer I was talking about. Very handy.

And then, there are the apps. I’ve got a dictionary app. And I’ve downloaded the Melbourne Literary app (see “Literary stuff with an iPhone app”) — a great little resource about literary stuff in Melbourne.

No doubt, there is still heaps more my iPhone can do that I’m just not aware of yet. So I think I’m going to book myself in to the advanced tutorial at the Apple store. Who knows… maybe I’ll write my next book on my phone?

Catch ya later,  George

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Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review — The Octonauts: Ready For Action

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

50 Books You Can’t Put Down

It’s that time of the year again. The Get Reading campaign kicked off at the end of last month and for the first time they’re offering an iPhone app to help readers connect with books.

The app is free from the App Store, and I’m surprised to say that it is excellent – far more useful than the Get Reading brochure available from most good book stores.

For those who don’t know, the Get Reading campaign runs every year and is designed to get people who wouldn’t usually read a book to have a go. The way it works is that there’s a list of 50 books broken down into a few basic categories: non-fiction, new authors, page turners and escapist reads. If you buy one of those books from a participating store you get a free exclusive book written specifically for the campaign. This year you get a choice between 10 Short Stories You Must Read in 2010 and Tickled Onions by Morris Gleitzman.

The iPhone app is great for browsing the books available and with the click of a button you can read the first chapter of the book or find a bookstore near you to buy it integrated with Google Maps. You can even find a place to read the book, as the app contains a directory of coffee shops (cute!). The app also has a schedule of Get Reading events that are being run throughout the month, which you can pinpoint and get directions to if you decide to go.

One-off apps of this nature are often a bit gimmicky, but I, for one, am all for them, so long as they are well made and actually useful, as this one is. Over the past year I noticed a Sydney Festival app and the Good Food Guide, and I’m hanging out for an app of this nature for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, which has a notoriously annoying schedule.

My only gripe, predictably, is that ebooks are not included in this year’s Get Reading campaign, though this is hardly the fault of the iPhone app. Nonetheless, it’s disheartening to see that in a campaign run by the government to get people reading at any cost, they have not managed to include reader-friendly ebooks as part of the promotion. (To be fair, they may have tried and failed – the only real Australian ebook retailer is Borders/Kobo, and they may have declined). Ebooks are incredibly easy to buy – and it wouldn’t be difficult for retailers to rig up a system for giving away the free books in a package (it is definitely possible with online retailers of dead tree books – cheers Boomerang! – so it should be possible for ebooks). At any rate, I applaud the effort, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next year.

You can download the iPhone app here.

Mark My Words: The E-Book Will Never Be Victorious!

It seems like everyone is talking about Amazon’s recent emission that e-books have surpassed the sale of hardcover books. Our fellow blogger, Joel Blacklock, has been writing some fabulous articles on the whole phenomenon. Til now I have attempted to stay out of this debate, but I feel that the time – to step forward and offer my own two cents on the matter – has come.

Let me get one thing straight first – I don’t want e-books to fail. They represent an important movement in reading books that I embrace wholeheartedly – anything that purports to make reading easier and more accessible has a two-thumbs-up from me! So they’re preaching to the converted! But they’re also preaching to the wrong type of audience. Sure, there will be readers who enjoy being ‘up’ on the latest technology and so will be the first in the lineup for the latest Kindle or Sony e-book-related product. But unlike the fact that pretty much everyone likes to listen to music (the iPod) or talk to others (the iPhone), it’s a sad truth that not everyone likes to read books.

Reading’ll probably always be considered the archaic art that has the characteristic of the mythical phoenix, seemingly dead but rising from the ashes with renewed vigour with every passing generation.

Rather than it being an either/or scenario, I feel like e-books will become part of the book industry, and some readers will find it most convenient to gravitate towards this medium. I am sure the e-book will experience significant growth for consumers, but it ain’t gonna happen for a while yet. Society is experiencing nostalgia as well as progress – it’s why things like Harry Potter (based in an era where magic rules and the computer is exchanged for spell scrolls) and Twilight (based on the supernatural goings-on in the small town Forks where I bet they only just got wireless broadband) have succeeded for the Y Generation. Fantasy is never really about the present – magic concerns the past long-gone, Sci Fi is about the future, and dystopian fiction is an undesirable view of the future. We may be the generation that enjoys progress, but I like to believe we’re all for freedom of expression, and don’t want to be confined to one type of reading outlet. If companies continue to push, push, push this commercial enterprise it’ll just cheapen reading to the point where no one’ll bother – some of the wonderful things about books is the ability to ‘covet’ certain exxy paper editions; ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over gorgeous covers; and yeah, romanticise over the musty/ freshly-pressed ‘smell of books’.

And I’m pretty sure the world is still full of rebel romantics.

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.

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?

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?

Multimedia Does Not A Book Make

The release today of the stunning Alice for iPad video on YouTube (above) has made me wonder, yet again, whether these ‘enhanced’ ebooks that are beginning to pop up (mostly on the iPhone’s App Store) are anything other than a gimmick. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, an enhanced ebook is an ebook with bells and whistles. They range from the no frills, DVD extras kind of thing – perhaps a written interview with the author, at best – to the sort of multimedia extravaganza that was put together for the release of The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave. This iPhone enhanced ebook contains the full audiobook (read by Nick Cave) with backing music composed by the author (helpful that in this case the author is a musician), interspersed with video of the author in all his moustachioed glory.

For a long while, I’ve held the view that enhanced ebooks done properly (like Bunny Munro) are for people who don’t really like reading – and, in fact, aren’t even really books – and when done badly (I won’t name names), are just an excuse to charge $25 for something that is only worth $12. But I have changed my mind (at least about the former).

The new Bunny cover. Now with              less conspicuous female genitalia.

The argument is that by sticking audio or video into a book, it stops being a book (some would argue that this makes it a vook – those people are ridiculous; there is no such thing as a vook). Rather than ponder the metaphysical question of what really makes a book (I fear the answer may be full of smell-of-books style nostalgic silliness), I think it’s more worthwhile to think about how we – and by ‘we’, I mean me – consume books.

Nowadays, the way I read a book – ebook or not – is often peppered with mental interruptions, whether it’s wondering what a word means, questioning what the author is referring to or just following a trail of logic to its illogical conclusion. For me a book is not just the words on the page, but a series of associations I have made along the way. I’m not sure if this is a product of the internet age – where in order to understand what’s happening on Lost it’s necessary to have your laptop open and twelve tabs open in Google Chrome and be constantly flicking between each one before your attention runs out – but this is genuinely how I like reading. I suspect I’m not alone*.

The traditional paper book is, perhaps, the last great bastion of undivided attention and pure concentration. And that is lovely, for those times that you have great swathes of time and attention to spare. But the daily lives of many people sometimes don’t allow for that kind of reading experience. Should that mean that books get left behind other kinds of easy-to-consume media? I don’t think so. When I get off the train and want to keep reading, why not have Nick Cave continue reading me the story? And when the full brain freeze of reading is just too much for me, why shouldn’t I be able to check the news and reviews on an author simultaneously?

What do you think? Have you ever tried an enhanced ebook? Would you? How many books do you read a year? Do you think you might read more if they were a bit more accessible?

*Yes, I’m talking about you. You know who you are. You’re the one who looks up the name of every movie mentioned in a casual conversation on IMDB on your iPhone.

A Pirate’s Life For Me

The NYT’s The Ethicist created some controversy this week with an article considering the ethics of downloading pirated copies of ebooks. Specifically it responded to the question of whether it is ethical to download a pirated version of an ebook (when it is not available legally) if you purchase the hardcover edition of a book first.

Snip:

An illegal download is — to use an ugly word — illegal. But in this case, it is not unethical. Author and publisher are entitled to be paid for their work, and by purchasing the hardcover, you did so. Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod.

Under the Dome: A bloody heavy book

Needless to say, this has caused a stir in some publishing circles, and a number of other blogs and opinion pieces have responded to the question and explored many of the flaws in the argument. There’s no clear answer to this conundrum. The central premise seems compelling – people are used to only having to buy one format – you don’t have to worry about illegal downloading when you buy a CD or a DVD, you can easily rip music and movies to your computer yourself. Why should books be any different?

From personal experience, I think the reason this is even an issue is to do with the failure of the book publishing industry to understand the market and to respond to technological (and the resulting cultural) change. I don’t buy an ebook because it’s cheaper than the dead tree version. I buy it for all the other benefits an ebook gives me – I can start reading instantly, it can be searched, I can look up words in the dictionary or Wikipedia, I can carry multiple books around without hefting a load of paper, I can even read it on multiple platforms (PC, iPhone and Kindle) depending on when and where I feel like reading. The $9.99 price point that Amazon tried to set for ebooks is very nice, but more expensive ebooks are not going to turn me towards paper books, they’re just going to turn me towards other, better-priced ebooks.

The publishing industry needs to do more than re-educate consumers about the value of books. They need to respond to consumer need. Since the advent of digital piracy, consumers have a way of getting what they want, when they want it – bugger the ethics or the legality. To combat this, publishers need to make it easier to buy an ebook legitimately than it is to get it illegally. Practices like windowing and DRM are destined for failure for this reason; they punish the ethical. Publishers cannot just expect to change behaviour without meeting their readers halfway.

What do you think? Would you feel bad about downloading a pirated book if you couldn’t find the ebook anywhere else? Do you think owning the physical copy entitles you to a digital one? What can publishers do to lure you away from illegally downloading ebooks?