Wednesday Links 3-24-10

  • Everyone seems to be touting the Great eReader Adoption as an iPad-Kindle war, but the Nook still looms (and also sports an iPad app) and the Alex is still on the way (and still overpriced). However if terrible customer service like this around haphazard products is what can be expected from Barnes & Noble, the Nook won’t stand much of a chance. Perhaps I don’t really understand why international buyers can’t have an instant download over the internet already, but I guess Diesel-ebooks allowing instant international “delivery” of ebooks is a good thing. (Really though, what do mail carriers have to do with ebooks, and what does “an innovative and evolutionary free digital shipping promotion” mean?)
  • This year I’m once again a second round judge for the Amazon Breakout Novel Award. I obviously can’t talk specifics about the books, but it’s a pretty cool program so I wanted to stick in a link so more people could check it out. I like when the big guys open the doors for the small fries. You can see a full list of the entrants now, and if it’s run like last year’s was, more information about the books will be available once the short lists are narrowed down.

Wednesday Links 11-4-2009

So after taking last Wednesday off for haiku, we’re back with two weeks’ worth of scuttlebutt:

    • Creative (maker of the iPod’s poor, homely, and ignored cousin) threw their hat into the ring with the Zii Mediabook.  I’d like to go on the record as saying this is an even dumber name than Nook or Alex. Speaking of, the makers of the Alex have sued Barnes & Noble over the Nook’s dual screen design. Also with dual screens, I can’t decide if the Entourage Edge looks cool or crappy, but I’m leaning toward crappy.
    • The inexpensive Jetbook Lite is available now (thanks to reader Ben for the heads up). And on the horizon, ASUS wants in the ereader game after all their netbook success. And so does Bridgestone, after all their tire success? It’s bendy, which is cool. Apparently there are some snazzy new E-Ink processor chips in the pipeline, so hopefully we’ll seem even more creative new tech soon. Lots of ereader hype this selling season, might we finally be at the verge of the Great eReader Adoption?
    • Up for some light reading? How about an ebook about mail order Russian brides? These ebook “covers” are so cheesy they’re funny. I find the idea of a cloud library pretty intriguing. And I’m definitely in favor of ebook happy hour, too bad they only serve well books.
    • Outside of ebooks, a new Beatles b-side has been discovered, as has the creepiest thing I’ve seen–except for maybe Wii Baby and Me–in a long while: a ventriloquist choir singing “Yesterday.”

Kindle DX Roundup: It’s Bigger, More Expensive

The Internet ate too much Kindle DX yesterday and threw up all over itself; there was instant analysis and little chunks of live-blogging everywhere. Now that things have calmed down a bit, here’s your guide to what everybody’s been saying.

As you might have heard, the Kindle DX—just announced yesterday—is Amazon’s large-screen version of their flagship product. Its specs are very similar to the Kindle 2′s feature set, except that the DX has a 9.7″ screen (instead of 6″) and costs nearly $500.

OK, those aren’t quite the only differences. The DX also sports an iPhone-like auto-rotate feature, which you can see in action in the first of a series of great videos from a MobileRead user. And the official DX page at Amazon crows about native PDF support; however, the new Kindle still doesn’t support any DRM formats other than Kindle proprietary. That means the DX still can’t talk to Adobe Digital Editions and still can’t borrow library ebooks, and all that has an Adobe exec, as TeleRead noticed, siding with Sony.

The bigger fish frying is how Kindle DX will perform as a textbook platform and as a newspaper reader.

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Digital Reading in the Field: I Fyeel So Unsyastified

I’ve spent the past week of my life working on a lit paper, channeling my inner Teddy KGB, and wishing I had alligator blood. I logged my share of hours in the stacks, but at least half the sources I used were digital. Most of them were articles from JSTOR or Project MUSE, which came in unhelpfully function-free PDFs. Along the way, though, I found a few entire books available as digital texts, which were routed through my college library’s website, and supplied by ebrary.

I printed out every page I read, including most of one complete book, a book from which I wound up pulling maybe three quotes. Despite my belief that ebooks are the future, and despite some fairly nifty features in the ebrary reader, I didn’t even consider reading these pages off my computer.

And, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure why. But I’ve got a theory.
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iPhone Readers: Frotz

Frotz isn’t exactly an ereader app–so I can’t compare it to the other apps–as it’s a program that runs interactive fiction (IF) rather than ebooks. IF is a niche within a niche, sort of a cross between Choose Your Own Adventure books and old point and click computer games like Monkey Island, King’s Quest, and Maniac Mansion; akin to the hypertext literature championed by Robert Coover. It’s a form of entertainment that’s been around since the 1970s, when computers didn’t have graphics, and it’s nice to see that it still hold up so well on an iPhone app almost 40 years since the first (called Colossal Cave Adventure).

For such an old medium, there are  a large amount of IF pieces still being programmed, and many are creative and well written. The genre is kept alive by a vibrant fan community, and you can find most any available IFs through their Interactive Fiction DataBase. Some of the writing reads a bit fan-fictional in quality, but much of it is surprisingly good. Awesomely, Frotz comes with 25 of the most popular IF titles preloaded. Plus, it can connect automatically and easily to the IFDB, allowing you to download and read/play on your device virtually ever IF title available

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Everybody’s Making Giant eReaders

In the past few weeks, several companies have announced sheet-of-paper-sized ereaders, a trend which no doubt reflects a growing desire to crack into the lucrative business/student ebook market. The problem is that, while bigger screens are necessary for students and businesspeople, bigger screens alone will not make for a suitable device.

The fragility of the screens, the still nascent state of E-Ink, and the inadequacy of all current content interaction systems are just a few flaw that ereaders need to address before these devices become a commonplace sight on college campuses. Simply enlarging the display (and the price) won’t by itself create a perfect ereader for students and business users.

That said, though, I think this trend toward big ereaders could spell great news down the line for the state of ereading.

Here’s what’s happening, why it won’t be mind-blowing in the short-term, and how it could finally take ereaders mainstream.
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What an AppleBook Could Mean For the State of eReading

For the record, I don’t put any stock into the rumors of Apple making an ereader. The reports state that Apple bought a bunch of touchscreens, not a bunch of E-Ink screens. Dedicated ereader devices simply cannot have LCD screens anymore. My guess is it’s a big iPod, like everybody first thought; even in that case, if they’re hyping a reading feature, backlit screens are a step back.

All that said, though, Apple entering the ereader market would be nothing but a good thing for readers.

On ITWorld, Peter Smith theorizes that one of the major reasons for Amazon’s popularity is its ease of use: you don’t have to fool around with formats or software, you just buy books right off the Kindle Store.

The tradeoff for this ease of use is a number of significant drawbacks: Kindlers have no alternative buying options, they’re strongly tethered to cripping digital restriction measures, they can’t borrow library ebooks, and they can’t download RSS feeds for free (and can’t download a lot of feeds at all). Plus, Kindle’s success is making Amazon a company that feels no desire to significantly improve its device. Understandably so, because nobody else can compete with their price,  selection, name recognition, or that aforementioned streamlined book-buying process.
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Doctorow on the Value of Publishing’s Sales Force: I’m Not Buying It

Cory Doctorow has an article up at Locus Magazine, called “In Praise of the Sales Force,” about the irreplaceability of the publishing industry’s ground-pounding sales force. He makes a number of good points about the potential difficulties of democratizing publishing using the Internet, including essentially his main argument:

though it’s easy to find an outsource firm that’ll get your books from Warehouse (A) to Store (B), it’s a lot harder to find the cost-effective firm that will convince Store (B) to order the book from You (C). That’s shoe-leather business, the slow, messy human-factor business of getting to know thousands of key people around the country, people who will introduce your book to readers who haven’t heard of you and don’t know why they should be reading you (good bookselling is fractal: the sales rep knows what the clerk will like, and the clerk knows what the reader will like).

I can understand (and respect) Doctorow’s loyalty to the people who’ve worked hard for his books, but I just don’t buy this argument. These days, I purchase books in actual bookstores very rarely, and I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book because the guy at Borders recommended it.
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My eInk Deflowerment: Why eReaders are Awesome but Still Not Ready for Everyone

While I have high hopes for the successful future of ebooks and confidence in the Great Reader Adoption actually occurring, I have had very little exposure to the current generation of ereaders themselves. Most of my ebook consumption occurs on my computer and my iPhone in small bites (I’m smitten with Stanza, but long reading sessions on either screen prove uncomfortable, especially after spending the work day staring at a computer). So I borrowed a BeBook and took it with me on a recent Fung Wah adventure to NY. Nico’s already done a good job of breaking down the good, the bad, and the ugly with the BeBook, so I’m not going to do they same, and he’s also put forth that reading on an ereader is better than reading a paper book. I don’t agree with him entirely on that point, but I’d like to share my impressions as someone who recently lost his ereader cherry.

Now, I’ll admit I’ve been dragging my heels a little about trying out ereaders. A large part of me doesn’t want to like them.
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Plastic Logic Could Be The Most Open eReader Yet

Amidst all the kerfuffle over the Kindle 2.0, Plastic Logic’s announcements today have been relatively overlooked by most blogs (TeleRead being the notable exception).

The biggest news was the variety of formats the Plastic Logic ereader will support, including ePub, PDF, and “Adobe DRM/eBook support,” which I think, and hope, means that Plastic Logic ereaders will be able to borrow library books. The device will also support the usual suspects like .rtf and .txt, and eReader format, which might take the wind of the eSlick’s sails.

In addition, Plastic Logic announced a “Publishers’ Program,” which will allow third parties to distribute ebooks directly through Plastic Logic, instead of dealing with either paper publishing houses who botch ebook distribution, or sites like Smashwords, which are just digitized self-publishers.

This platform opens the door for small presses to circumvent the models of Luddite publishers like Random House, and release cheap ebooks without paper press overhead. Hopefully, it will also spark some drive in those Luddite publishers to get on the ebook wagon and agressively push the development of ebooks and ereaders, which will get us closer to the Great eReader Adoption.

Plastic Logic seems to be aiming for a primarily business-oriented market, with its emphasis on business content, and paper-sheet, 8.5″ by 11″ form factor. Hopefully they’ll branch out to incorporate more casual users also, as, from the looks of this video, they seem to have balanced a good contrast ratio and a touchscreen interface, a combination which has so far eluded Amazon and Sony.

TeleRead is also reporting that Plastic Logic will have wireless, which, if it’s open wireless, will be a huge step in the right direction for the epublishing industry.

I said yesterday that I was more excited about this than the new Kindle. Plastic Logic has indeed delivered the more ground-breaking news, and the better news for the future of the epublishing industry. Upstage successful.