Tuesday, December 13, 2005

eBooks -- The Right way

A couple weeks ago I was talking about ebooks with some folks.

What intrigues me is what it will take for ebooks to catch on. I think some very important aspects of books were ignored by previous attempts to bring out ebooks.

Here's a thought: ebooks get adopted in education because of the presence of guns in the schools.

How's that work? Guns led to no lockers...no lockers led to back packs...back packs led to back problems in children...and this leads to ebook adoption.

I do not know if that is accurate, per se...but it illustrates the chain of unintended consequences which lead to the adooption of new technologies at a social level.

Other things are important if they are to be accepted:
First...I have two rocket ebooks, but I never use them anymore. One is for me and one is for my wife. The problem I encounterd was that I could not give her a book.

Books are one of the most popular gifts in our household at holiday times. But I had no way to purchase an ebook and target it to her reader as a gift. That's an importnat feature.

In the same vein we have to ask whether ebooks need to have a physical tangible instantiation. Why? Because gifts need to be tangible.

Music has never been unabstracted in reproduction. That is, you have never been able to deliver music without a player, a device to interpret the abstract representation of music encoded as grooves on a vinyl disk, magnetic domains on tape, or pits in a CD.

Books on the other hand are unabstracted. That is, the medium is, indeed, the message...the book needs no intermediation for the human user to consume it.

So giving music has always been giving abstraction, but giving literature has not. Now, however, we want to give and deliver literature that is abstracted and that requires the intermediation of a device to interpret it. This is a significant change for many of us, making the value of an ebook less than that of a book.

When I give a CD as a present, just as when I give a book, I give a physical entity...even though it is an abstraction of the music i intend to deliver. If I am going to start giving abstractions of literature (ebooks) as presents, I will need to be able to present a physical object, just as I do with music. I need something I can wrap and put a bow on.

So ebbooks need to be available in book stores, perhaps as chips or blocks which will then be offloaded into the reader, or perhaps, they should be slivers of material we hold onto.

Now DRM plays a part in both these issues. But there are solutions. For example, if I purchase an ebook online for my wife, I should be able to just target it to her reader. But the book block i purchase at B & N may need to be encrypted in a neutral 3rd party manner that can only be moved from the block to my ebook reader through a process that leaves the block unusuable or contianing only a version encrypted for me.

This brings us to the issue of loaning books and of moving them from reader to reader. I should be able to loan an ebook as I do a real book. Of course this means being able to invalidate MY copy while validating someone else's so that only one person may have access at a time.

Another rather unrelated aspect of ebooks is the fact that we do not have a cure for presbyopia. And many of us suffer from it as we grow older.So I should have a VERY easy way for the reader to bump the font size up and down. Prefereably a pair of buttons or a jog wheel or some such one touch control. A drop down menu with mutliple selections is too inconvenient..

A backlight is, of course important, but a text-to-speech capability is as well. It would be nice to be able to read a few chapters in the evening, then listen to a few onthe way to work. Or to listen to the last chapter late at night with the lights out so as not to disturb the spouse.

All of these considerations have much more to do with the social aspects of books and ebooks than they do with the technology. Books have specific connotations and social uses attached to them. It is very important to preserve, recreate, and extend these features. If they ar lost or are made difficult in ebooks, ebooks will not succeed.

AUTHOR: mike
EMAIL: mike@smick.net
DATE: 11/01/2005 07:06:36 AM
One thing that I think is important about ebooks is bookmarking that is as convenient as regular bookmarkting. Also, defaults in the ebook reader so your settings are remembered. Frankly I think a lot of people are excited about the epaper technology that has never become mainstream. It's always 3 years away, and yet we read about uses of it all the time. DRM can be really annoying, worse than regular book. I can give books away that I own, I can also resell them, motivating me to buy new ones. How does DRM work other than to the company's benefit. Despite the sneaky names, DRM often hinders the rights of the consumer. Therefore, ebook's growing popularity with some will rest on how annoying their lockdown is. If it's my belonging and I want it tangible, that means, I can do all the things just like a tangible item. give, borrow, loan, buy, sell.

AUTHOR: Bill McDaniel
EMAIL: mcdaniel@adobe.com
DATE: 11/01/2005 09:26:58 AM
MikeI agree with you about both points. Bookmarking should be easy and flexible (and digital dogears should leave no marks).BTW, I think e-paper (or e-ink) will be commercialized in the next few years. It HAS taken longer than desired but the technological obstacles are falling now. You can actually by electronic ink signs now from gyricon... http://www.gyricon.com/DRM is harder. I agree, I want to DO all those things with an ebook...give it away, loan it, borrow one, donate to a library, resell.The problem is that legally, the publisher powns the rights to all that. Even doing it now with paper books may be construed as a violation in some cases. But your points about the freedom to do this with books leading to more book buys is valid and we need a way to mirror that digitally.Buyin a book as a gift is omportant, but i agree..I want to be able to donate it, to loan it, to give it later. I am less sanguine about selling it, but i know I love buying old used books from bookshops.Too much DRM lockdown WILL reduce the acceptance. Publishers need to figure this oput form a long range, invest in readers, point of view, not from the point of view of a quarter's lost revenue.Now another way this may play out is that another generation may come along that is so used to the lockdown they accept it in books too(consider digital music and the inability to easily share it across iPods) .But I rather hope that, instead, we develop some equitable way of allowing the propagation of literature, books, music, and ultimately video to continue as it has. Just because something CAN be locked to the limit does not mean it SHOULD be.This is another of those social aspects which will seriously affect the acceptance of ebooks.The problem with your final line is that certainly in the new digital sense, it is NOT your BELONGING...it is, at best, your LICENSE. And this is the justification for all the lockdown. Hopefully, we find a path forward through that to an equitable social e-commerce that includes oans, gifts, and donations.



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