liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
[personal profile] liv
[personal profile] syderia asked me about e-books and paper books. It's possible everything there is to say about this topic has already been said, but let's give it a go.

When I first read The hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy I really desperately wished for the Guide to exist. 20 years later, we're not quite there but really not far off. I don't think we can quite put the total output of all literate civilizations on a single portable device, except, well, if it has an internet connection... I can however carry a device which cost about a day's salary and weighs a few hundred g and has the capacity to store pretty much a lifetime's worth of reading material. I think this is basically awesome, but that doesn't mean I despise paper books, and I can certainly think of some improvements both social and technical for how e-books work.

In lots of ways e-books make a ton of sense for me. I read fast, I spend quite a lot of time on buses and trains and really hate being without reading material. I also read the great majority of books exactly once, except for a very small number that I passionately love. I also tend to read in a pretty linear way; I'm not bothered by the fact that e-books make it harder to skim and flip back through the pages. But I'm surprisingly reluctant to give up paper books, reading them, yes, but also owning them, even though finding storage space for my library is becoming quite a substantial issue in my life.

I think it's partly that e-readers aren't quite reliable enough yet. I always want to take a backup novel when I'm travelling, in case my reader freezes on me or runs out of battery or I lose it or break its screen. And if I'm near the end of my current book, well, I'd better take a second one just in case my e-reader dies and I run out of book. At which point, I'm not gaining nearly as much advantage as I could from having the e-reader. Maybe the solution to this is to use my phone as a backup e-reader. I don't want to use it as my primary device because I do prefer reading substantial text with e-ink rather than a backlit screen, and because an internet-enabled device means I don't really concentrate enough to read properly. In theory e-readers are also superior because of the much longer battery life, but my experience has been that that's only really true in the first few months of life a brand new reader, after that they need feeding nightly just like my futuristic but power-hungry smartphone does.

And that's the other downside of e-readers. They're not even slightly robust, and there's built-in obsolescence on top of that. I had in mind that I would by a cheap e-reader for a few tens of pounds, and then I would put lots of cheap or free books on it and I'd be set. But no, I find I'm having to spend a few tens of pounds on an e-reader about every year, because they become faint and unchargeable or the screen breaks. And that's eating a big chunk out of my book budget plus I feel guilty about the resource implications of constantly updating my electronic devices.

It's also partly because I like being able to lend books to people (and not in some convoluted way where they have to have a precisely compatible device and jump through lots of hoops to "borrow" an e-book). Just to be able to have a conversation and a book gets mentioned and my friend expresses enthusiasm and I can say, here, borrow. I like having books arrayed on my shelves so people can notice them and express opinions. Also I grew up in a house that was full to bursting with books, and I don't feel quite right in rooms that don't have extensive and crowded bookshelves. And even though I don't reread I like being able to go back to a book and check something.

Probably the best compromise is that I should buy e-books and do my read once thing, and then get a second paper copy of any that I particularly like. I should also purge once-read, mediocre and unmemorable paper books from my life, I am not at all likely to reread them or lend them so it's really foolish to let them take up precious space. The problem with that strategy is basically copyright and DRM. My reading habits are that I pick up books recommended by friends or blogs, and also quite a lot of serendipity books from the library or charity shops. That just doesn't work with e-readers; lots of books that my friends recommend aren't available as e-books, or are only available from Amazon in their special proprietary format which only works on Kindles (which I don't have). And yes, I could break the DRM and I could convert to a more sensible format, but it's already quite a big hassle to buy / download books from anywhere other than endorsed stores, and side-load them onto my e-reader. Cracking the DRM and format shifting is mostly too big an obstacle. And serendipity is still really hard with online book stores. I also don't like having to think in advance of a trip what I'll want to read; I prefer browsing my bookshelves and seeing what I'm in the mood for.

I also read quite a lot of books from the middle of the 20th century. Long copyright terms mean that there's an awful lot of books that are in copyright but out of print, meaning that absolutely nobody has the right to make e-book versions of them. In paper book days I wasn't so bothered by this because you could always find books that were popular a generation or two ago in charity shops. With e-books they're simply missing. And yes, I think this problem will get less bad as everything is published with proper digital rights agreements baked in from the beginning. There's almost no commercial reason against publishers and e-book stores keeping their entire backlist "in print" in the sense of being available to download, and probably fairly cheaply once it's no longer selling meaningfully at full price.

So in short, I think we need a few more years of ironing out the kinks in both the technology for readers and the way that e-books are marketed. I hope the problems will get fixed, rather than heading to a situation where the only way you can read at all is by paying Amazon their protection money. But I don't really expect paper books or traditional publishing to go away any time soon, not from my life and not from the world in general.

[January Journal masterlist. Anyone want the last empty slot?]

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-16 09:44 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
I agree with you about the benefits and drawbacks of ebooks. I think I'm on the cusp of going more e-book heavy. I still have a large emotional attachment to paper books, but if I can get ripping DRM off figured out, and get into the habit of backing up books from my phone/ereader, I think I'd feel happier buying my "read once" books in electronic format if they exist.

And then buying a hardcopy at some point in my life if I really want it.

I'm not sure what the analogue to the Guide is -- I think it's wikipedia, not Project Gutenberg or Internet Archive, which should fit. Though you might need a dedicated device with good battery that doesn't get flaky when it loses internet :(
Edited Date: 2014-01-16 09:45 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-16 11:20 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
DRM removal is really surprisingly easy if you have a Windows machine (or probably a Mac) and tortuously difficult if you are using Linux. The Calibre plug-in for it Just Works (tm) provided you have installed Kindle for PC and/or Adobe whatever-it-is. Wahey. Calibre also (without any sort of plug-in) trivially converts DRM-free books between formats.

Personally I mostly read things only once so I don't really care very hard about DRM meaning I don't really "own" books; and probably wouldn't have bothered. Except that I don't own a Kindle and want to read ebooks that only Amazon sell...

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-16 11:42 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Thank you, that's really helpful. For some reason, I had a problem getting Calibre to install on my laptop, which I'm sure is an easy fix, but I never got round to fixing it. Or, come to think of it, maybe I should just do it at work :) But it's good to know it is, in general, easy (which also makes me feel DRM is fairly pointless).

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-16 11:49 am (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
I'm not sure what the analogue to the Guide is -- I think it's wikipedia

Well, if it helps, I'm pretty sure Wikipedia is the only credible candidate whose page about Earth has ever actually read "Mostly harmless"!

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-16 11:53 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Well, if it helps, I'm pretty sure Wikipedia is the only credible candidate whose page about Earth has ever actually read "Mostly harmless"!

LOL! Though, I'm confused, do you mean "looks like it was written by someone who actually read", or are you making a joke I missed?

Surely is a plausible candidate, and its entry for Earth is "mostly harmless", though I gave wikipedia the nod for a much wider variety of entries :)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-16 11:58 am (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
No, I mean that the content of the Wikipedia page has been nothing but "Mostly Harmless" on multiple occasions! (Because lots of vandals had the same idea, of course, and it was always immediately reverted.)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-16 12:05 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Ah! Then yes, I see what you mean, good point. Though I still think h2g2 is a plausible candidate :)

In fact, I stopped to wonder if wikipedia's Earth page should say "Mostly Harmless". I decided it would have been funny when wikipedia first started, but by now, enough people genuinely want information about Earth who may not have read HH that it should be useful. Though there may be room for occasional easter eggs.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-16 10:44 am (UTC)
oursin: Books stacked on shelves, piled up on floor, rocking chair in foreground (books)
From: [personal profile] oursin
I also read quite a lot of books from the middle of the 20th century. Long copyright terms mean that there's an awful lot of books that are in copyright but out of print, meaning that absolutely nobody has the right to make e-book versions of them.

Yes, that, exactly. For some obscure reason a few works of some of my beloved early C20th women writers are available e.g. on Project Gutenberg but nothing like the lot and usually not my absolute favourites. (But E M Delafield comes out of copyright this year!)

I am also somewhat irked that The Reading I Am Doing For A Book Award is all being supplied as dead-tree. Given the field in question, I find this ironic.

DRM is really annoying - I don't know if British Library has changed in the last few years, but if you InterLibrary Loan-requested a journal article you could only print it out, not save it as a digital version for this reason. (Admittedly some journals among the ones I had work access to and therefore could download articles from, were extremely bad about formatting for e-readers.)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-16 11:09 am (UTC)
kerrypolka: Contemporary Lois Lane with cellphone (Default)
From: [personal profile] kerrypolka
I'm basically with you on using e-reader for books that are one-time reads and/or old enough to be free, and buying paper books for reference or ones I know I'll want to read again and flip through.

Possibly I read less than you do (about two-three hours a day on weekdays, I think, including commute) but I only have to charge my Kindle once a week. I do find the need to charge my phone overnight very annoying, and I think I would feel much crosser towards my e-reader if I had to do the same for it.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-16 08:23 pm (UTC)
hunningham: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hunningham
I also read the great majority of books exactly once, except for a very small number that I passionately love. I also tend to read in a pretty linear way; I'm not bothered by the fact that e-books make it harder to skim and flip back through the pages.

That's a nice summary of why I'm not in love with e-readers; I reread a lot and I am the very opposite of a linear reader. And, dear God help me, the number of people who think reading the end of the book out of order is "cheating".

I've been reading the Best of Tor collection on my ipad recently, and was discombobulated because I couldn't easily tell how long a story was when I started. It made a real difference to my reading enjoyment. With a paper book I'd do a very quick skim or check the table of contents to see if I was starting a 5-page shorty or a 50-page monster, and I hadn't even realised that I had this habit until I tried reading an ebook.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-16 10:35 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I agree about the difficulties of scimming or browsing e-books. I have, however loaded my NOOK (RTM) with a library of free literary works, including War & Peace and C. Dickens, for our forthcoming Australian trip.

I find my NOOK Simple Touch GlowLight very comfortable for reading in bed, even without my glasses.

I remember a rather flippant correspondence many years ago in The Times on the best way of reading in bed, culminating in a suitably chauvinistic letter: "Sir, The correct method of reading in bed is to have a literate wife with a melodious voice." Alas; I cannot read aloud to my wife at night.

From: (Anonymous)
I have not tried it but I believe you can borrow e-books from the library.


(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-21 10:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I find that now that I'm the same age my parents were when I was little, I want to read the books they were reading. They always read library books though so it's not feasible (I mean beyond the obvious, LotR, Duncton Wood etc). So I want to buy books and series we love now in hard copy in case my children feel the same way.


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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