Monday, October 30, 2006

On e-books

When I talk about books going electronic, bibliophiles and librarians go apeshit, insisting that a book will never be replaced by another object because... well, because. You can't curl up with a PDA is the inevitable conclusion. My favorite variation of that is: you can't read a PDA in the bath. Here's a hint: Water and wood pulp don't mix that well either.

The main complaint about reading a "book" on a computer seems to be that it's hard on the eyes. The Sony Reader seems to use a reading interface that is not hard on the eyes.

This review agrees, but finds plenty of other tangental things to complain about. Because he likes to "focus on the positive," the reviewer notes that the format is fine... the device is lightweight, the text is comfortable to read... but it's not backlit, so you need a reading light to enjoy it, files don't enlarge well, it isn't searchable, and there aren't enough titles available.

"Herr Gutenberg's half-a-millennium-old innovation stands the test of time." Sez he.

So, says the reviewer, the Sony Reader is worse than a book because it's no better than a book. Personally, I think he worked harder on the "catchy" title than he did "focusing on the positive." It's a weird review, made even weirder by the fact that the reviewer links to a near rave review he wrote about a technology from eight years previous: the Soft Book.

Yeah. I don't know what that is, either.

Let me point out that paper books don't enlarge at all. The answer to small text in a paper book is a whole 'nother book, which we in the book industry call large print.

Paper books also do not light themselves. Neither do they offer any searchability except for thumbing through them and using your eyes to find a word. Or, as the current joke about republicans would have it, "bending over a page." How exhausting. How analog.

Some of those complaints are valid, of course. But for the wrong reason. They don't have anything to do with readability. What fool makes an electronic information storage device that isn't searchable? Why not take the trouble to make other formats scalable, so your device is more useful to people (and therefore more marketable)?

I'll add another complaint to the list for free, actually: Not only will the list of titles be moderately limited for the near future, I bet it takes Sony for-fucking-ever to make sure libraries have access to readable Sony Reader formats. Like Apple is doing with their books on tape format for iPod.

But really, all those problems will get fixed, by Sony or someone who finds a way to make a similar, but better product.

Don't get me wrong: I won't be buying a Sony Reader anytime soon. I don't have 350 bucks to blow on it. I may buy the "Reader Nano" that comes out next year because I don't need to keep 1,000 books in my hip pocket.

500 will be fine.

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