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Rethinking eBooks

Fantastica Daily points us to this Asimov’s article on eBooks written by sf author James Patrick Kelly. It turns out, I have had similar turnaround experiences with eBooks as JPK.

About a year ago, I posted about my lack of excitement with eBooks. But I tried it anyway. Over the past year, I’ve read several short stories on my PDA and enjoyed the experience. Alas, the novel-length book I downloaded from the Baen free library still sits on my PDA – unread. It’s just too daunting to read on the small screen. Maybe JP was right when he said that eBooks are better with shorter fiction. Still, I think I’ll keep reading the eBook versions of short stories…

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

6 Comments on Rethinking eBooks

  1. I have no problem with reading a novel on my PDA. In fact, that was the single most useful thing that I’ve done with my older IPAQ — reading Bram Stoker’s novel: Dracula novel (and yes, I’m aware of John’s feeling about that book, but we’re here to talk about the eBook-reading experience).

    The small screen doesn’t bother me, it keeps my place automatically, and if i need to find a passage again, i can search for it — I enjoy all these perks over the printed page.

    With that said, I have to say that I’m very picky about the format in which my eBooks come in — MS Reader only. PDFs just don’t work because they’re usually formatted for a bigger screen so there’s A LOT of panning when reading a single line — that gets old real fast!

    Even though I enjoy reading an eBook vs. a physical book, I don’t find myself buying them probably because it doesn’t feels as “permanent” as a real book. On a PDA, eBook risks an HD crash (Backups don’t really work because then the backups are subjected to HD crashes on your PC, etc) whereas a real book is not subjected to that danger, maybe it’s just me.

    I didn’t realize that Baen has so many books on there and can be downloaded in the .lit format (MS Reader); I’m going to try to read some of those books if I can find the time.

  2. Just a little tidbit of knowledge, MS Reader is not in current Pocket PCs. You can download it, but for the most part MS Ebooks are slowly dying. Barnes and Noble have closed thier Ebook website. We had a long discussion about this topic with MS and even they indicated a handheld is just too small to be a replacement for a book. Now there are options coming, but there will be some time before the cost of the reader combined with the cost of books. Add to that DRM so you don’t have piracy and its all very messy.

    I have seen an EBook reader from Sony that looks really good. The contrast ratio is great and its weight and size show that it can be an excellent replacement for real books – the problem is that it has a terrible DRM format and almost nobody supports.

    I have read at least one book in ebook format, but I still like that physical feel of the book. And once I buy it – I can give it to a friend or a library. Thats the way I like the books.

  3. Oh well, i guess i’m saddened by the loss of the MS Reader…

  4. I’ve got several hundred (really) eBooks. About 1/3 of the 70+ books I’ve read this year were eBooks. Heck, I’m thinking of buying the “Baroque Cycle” books in eBook format because I’m finding the hardcovers a bit much!

    Heck, I even bought the Palm book maker to make my own books (such as J.D. Bernal’s “The World, The Flesh and The Devil”).

    So I’m a big believer. Being able to vary font size, switch white page with black print for black page with white print, etc. all make it a useful format for me in a variety of circumstances.

  5. Ralmon the Gen // October 24, 2004 at 9:51 am //

    …risks an HD crash…a real book is not subjected to that danger

    Well, Peter, maybe I should introduce you to this handy portable fire generator (lighter). ;P

    But seriously, I agree somewhat. Current eBooks really only have one advantage of paper versions, lack of spacial dimensions (not counting the PDA size). They are still a fairly weak representation of paper books (although Dracula may have gained something by putting it on the eBook – gained by freeing valuable shelf space, that is). However, eBook are still fairly new, and rather unusual to people used to flipping through pages in a store or library.

    Speaking of perusing libraries, one of thing I find missing from eBooks is the smell that completes the atmosphere of being surrounded by paper books. There are obvious memories associated with all these subtle sensations, the feel of the cover, the smell, the way the pages look… Those are things newer eBook reading generations may learn to live without. That last statement is assuming paper books eventually die out.

    OTOH, the new generation will have memories triggered by other events, perhaps the sound of an eBook, the look of animated graphics. We’re in a transitional phase and have really no clue where this new media is taking us. The current eBooks are simply a weak representation of paper books and really only have the advantage of lack of spacial dimensions, if you don’t count the PDA size.

    Real Soon Now ™, we’ll be able to read those books projected directly onto a screen in front of the eye, then onto the retina as a virtual screen, later perhaps directly into one of our brain implants.

    Those books may be some form of rich media we can’t even imagine yet.

  6. Have you read Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books by Cory Doctorow? An interesting discussion.

    Personally I like the idea of being able to read a book on my computer, although whether I will do this for long books is another thing (see Charlie Stross’s rant on ebooks). What I don’t like is DRM in ebooks or ebooks being a format. I’d like the text in ASCII please and then I can do whatever I want with it. Just look at all the formats that Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom is supported in now, all starting with ASCII.

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