Blog posts tagged "ebooks"

(One of the many) Ebook Dilemmas.

January 25th, 2010

I'm going to need books, lots of books

How do I support and reward the excellent curation of the local bookstore if I want the ebook version of something I find? – Kellan

I am not a unsophisticated consumer of science fiction. And finding new material to feed the book addiction is something I spend a not inconsiderable number of cycles on. Yet, there I was standing in Borderlands last week, and books to buy were jumping off the shelves. 2-3 of “my authors” had new books out that I hadn’t heard about. (tho 2 of them are on low rotation right now, as they’ve disappointed me of late) A book multiple friends had mentioned but I’d failed to track was featured. And I found several other new promising options, none of which I had heard of, and several of which aren’t normally available in print in this country.

Low Paper Diet

And I was stuck. You see, I’m on a pretty strict dead tree diet right now. I simply don’t have to the space to store books. And while I’m at it I’d rather not incur the carbon debt of chopping down trees, mass printing on paper, warehousing and transporting a product which is statistically likely to be pulped before ever being purchased. Clearly I’m getting a huge amount of value out of Borderlands, but I didn’t really have a way to include them in the exchange. I wasn’t even sure I was really comfortable wandering next door to their newly opened cafe and settling in with my Kindle as I was inclined to do.

Micro-slicing the pie vs trickle down?

Charlie Stross wrote a really great post recently, The monetization paradox analyzing the value chain of content production right now, summed up as,

“Google could in principle afford to pay every novelist currently active in the English language out of the petty cash.” – Charles Stross

Amazon is doing something similar. Capturing greater value then they’re providing. (and I love Amazon) I visit, I visit the Kindle Store. And I walk away empty handed. Amazon captures the value when I buy a book for my Kindle, but aren’t providing sufficient tools for me to do this. Without Borderlands, Amazon would have gotten no $$ from me last week, as it is, they did all right.

So how do I cut my local bookstore/curator in? I asked on Twitter and the consensus emerged around “buy the book, steal the ebook”, or “tip the bookstore.” (thanks to waferbaby, dajobe, BOBTHEBUTCHER, benprincess, timoni, carlcoryell, bhyde, and rabble for feedback!)

One of the ways I know I’m getting old is most of the time stealing media isn’t worth it. This also is a product of consuming outside of the most mainstream troughs, and genuinely liking/respecting most of the players in my media supply chain. I’ve got sitting on my drive detailed specs for building a relatively high throughput personal book scanner, and in the moments when I’m honest with myself I’ll probably never build it.

Open Questions?

Which brings me around to, how do I tip bookstores? And if there exists a viable model of funding that allows me to express my generalized appreciation of the existence of these important curators while getting some specific value back, a Kickstarter inspired model if you will? Would anyone besides me use it I wonder? How does this interact with Charlie’s ideas of a subscription model for writers? Given a semi-hyphothetical open e-reader with a radio could we partially fund bookstores with a real world version of Amazon affiliate links?

Unfortunately I still don’t have the answers, but I wanted to write down the problem, am I’m going to keep looking into it. Meanwhile if you know of anyone experimenting with this, I’d love to hear about it.

(so concludes the latest in this week’s series of blog posts written by the simple expedient of scaling up a tweet by a 30x inflation factor)

(update: a few really interesting comments, thanks guy!)

Ruby, eBooks, and Bookmarks

November 24th, 2004

Rabble is one of the hardest core Perl fans I know. Even when we were working together for Palm as Java programmers he was still writing Perl (which is something of a feat). So I’ve watched his enthusiastic uptakes of Ruby (and in particular Rails) with a mixture of curiosity and alarm . In fact it seems like a huge percentage of the really smart people I know are all learning or using Ruby. Now I’m on a bit of a self imposed “travel ban” when it comes to working on non-PHP projects, but with 4 hours to kill in the airport (Jasmine’s flight is delayed) I figured now was the time. But this blog post isn’t about Ruby (yet), its about eBooks.

First thing I did was I bought the Programming Ruby ebook. Pragmatic Programmers have gone a very nice route with their copy protection. They don’t lock, or encrypt, or in some other way hobble the PDF. I can copy it, and print it, and general own it. I can even “loan” it. But my name is on the bottom of every page so I have an incentive to tightly control access to it. This is good, and smart and embracing the possibilities of a new medium. eBooks aren’t ever going to take off as long as their publishers cripple them.


I’m less enthused about the choice of PDF as the distribution medium. I’d be curious as to why this choice was made?

I spend a huge amount of my day reading online in Firefox, I’m comfortable with it, the quality of the display is excellent (at least on OS X), and I don’t have to launch a special application. I know I like reading books as HTML because I have experience doing this both with Baen, and with the O’Reilly bookshelves. (does anyone know a good script to produce properly formatted and linked HTML from a PDF?)

Bookmarks Please

If I was on Linux or Windows a PDF would be useless to me. Thankfully I’ve got a Mac, and as I spend more time with I am more and more impressed with it. Its fast, its light on memory usage, its responsive, the text rendering is gorgeous. Odd how Apple can produce a better PDF reader then Adobe. The one thing I’m really missing is bookmarks. Apple, can we get some bookmarks in Preview? I’ve got a back button, and a previous and next commands, but I’m reading through an 800 page PDF and I need bookmarks.

A Bit More on Ruby

Okay I’ve spent 20 minutes playing with Ruby, and 20 minutes grinding my axe about ebooks, but I have to say what I’m most impressed by is Ruby’s ability to learn from others. Just one example, I learned Python sitting in idle playing iteratively. I’m very happy to find irb, and am having a similar experience.

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Baen Free Library

April 22nd, 2003

The Baen Free Library is one of the coolest ideas around. It’s an expirement in disapproving the “fact” that the internet is damaging artists, and that the solution is to clamp tighter and tighter regulations on all content. And that is exactly what it’s proved, writers who include their work in the library seem increased sales, particular of their older works which had by and large stopped selling. (see Janis Ian’s famous article on the subject) And they are so classy about it! Rather then the usual bondage and discipline one has come to expect they bend over backwards to make their books accessible; you want it with frames? without? download and read it later? Sure here is a zip file. In fact they bring that same approach to their for pay service Webscription as well. Lets see Oreilly provide zip files on Safari, hmmm?

The Catch

One small problem. Baen publishes pulp! More then any other SciFi publisher I can think of Baen is famous for garish covers, and formulaic genre writing. Still in the late hours of the night, when you can’t sleep, you can read On Basilisk Station to see if the Honor Harrington books are as bad as you always thought. (not quite) Or can discover, Louis McMaster Bujold, Baen’s rare exception who gets mixed up by seeming to be genre writing, while actually dicing and chopping the tropes of military scifi into a feminist inspection of the future, and multi-genre romp, as her wonderful short novella, Mountains of Mourning available. (doesn’t do me much good, I just recite it from memory, but you could read it.) I think if insomnia persists I might have to finally read Lackey’s The Lark and the Wren.

Honor Harrington

The real problem with the Honor books (besides all the other problems) is I just can’t get past Weber’s politics which are as shallow as they are blatant. He does however think Earth First! will be around for another 1000 years or so, admittedly as misguided fools, but the vote of confidence is nice none the less.

More on Harrington

So I blew through Queen’s Honor last night, and now having read 2 Honor books I can say I think Weber is not someone whom I would like to meet. His idea of a happy ending is gross. Both books end with thousands of people dead, and very little subsantially changed with the universe. However we know they are happy endings because our main characters is heavily rewarded with money, land, and titles. The sort of ending that makes you pine for “and they lived happily ever after.” (and I’ll confess, while I read fast, I was partially able to read these books so fast, by kicking over to autopilot on the indepth descriptions of space combats, which, while by all signs are insightful and well thought out do not, in my book, constitute story telling, to paraphrase Olivier, “Try writing, dear boy.”)

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I want my ebook!

September 30th, 2002

People wax rhapsodic on the joys of carrying 4000 songs worth of music on their little iPods, “If I had to carry all this music as CDs, I’d need to replace my back pocket with a Mac truck to fit it in.” So, have you ever tried carrying 4000 books?

The Usual Suspects

It is unfortunate that the greed of certain companies (Adobe, we’re looking at you) is totally undermining what could be an incredibly cool tool. Right now the demand for ebooks is totally driven by the companies who want to sell them. And they all want to be the next Sony (including Sony), leverage their way into consumer electronic mega-opoly and “Big Media”-hood, by selling the world’s fanciest metaphorical razors (think Playstations) at cut rate costs, and then make a killing selling for big bucks the blades(video games, or electronic books), which are manufactured for fractions of a cent. To turn anything into the ever desirable razor blade you must commoditize it. In the realm of ebooks this means, the companies want to control how you read the content, and how many times, and regulate (most likely deny) your ability to lend said ebook to a friend, copy out a piece, or generally maim, spindle, plagiarize, share, and make collage art out of it. All things you can do with a normal book. (in the most famous case, Adobe released a version of “Alice in Wonderland”, a public domain book, with a license that forbid you to read the book aloud to your child).

The Unrealized Potential

Because of this, most of the discussion regarding ebooks has focused on the negative; what the consumer will lose when profit mad, short-sighted companies get their way, and destroy books as we know them! So much so that people react badly to the idea of ebooks without even thinking about it. But they could be so cool!

I’m about 5 hours away from my primary library. 3000 miles from some of my most important books. I’ve got both an account with Baen’s Webscription (early chapters from Bujold, and its cheap!) and a Safari account with O’Reilly, but only when I can find a net connection.(preferably an open access point) I’ve got a bookshelf full of spiral bound notebooks for ideas I’ve jotted down on books I couldn’t mark up, a box full of stickies for when I wanted to write in the margin of library books, and a repeated sense of loss when I’ve had to hand back borrowed books (and lost all those lovely marginalia that came with them).

Ebooks could solve all these problems.

Don’t just tell Jesus you want a Winnebago, tell him what color

I want a small, light, thin panel, that runs off a decent battery, preferably consumer grade, with a USB port, and a screen that can be read, if not in bright, direct sunlight, then at least outside. Ideally I would want it to be made out of some sort of nifty flexible material, that I can roll up and shove into small places, but I’ll take that in the second generation model. But physical specs are easy, it is software that would be critical.

The software of the reader needs to be open, and upgradeable. It needs to support open, intelligent formats like DocBook, as well as popular formats like PDF. (format handling should be transparent) Given an intelligent format, you could…

  • Attach annotation, and footnotes to lines, passages, and individual words, e.g. scrawl in the margins. Perhaps using Annotea RDF vocab. (also in the unrealized potential category)
  • And share those annotations!
  • Search, plus intelligent indexes.
  • Lots and lots of bookmarks, that never fall out when you pick up the book from the wrong side.
  • (and perhaps venturing into the realm of fantasy) For books, fictions, or non-fictions, which are written in an interleaved fashion, liberate just one theme, or one thread from the story to be read front to back, something I wanted when reading Brothers Karamazov, or when re-reading the Sparrow, but only wanting to read the deeply touching characters sketch of pre-Launch, and not the heart wrenching mutilation story that is woven with it.

This would require the reader to be built on open, flexible formats, that could change and grow with the users demands, and be setup to make intelligent use of the networked society that we live in, versus trying, futilely, to cripple the devices into being network unaware. All features that would totally fail to make the ebook readers into loss leaders for the high profit racket of selling limited access to free bytes.