E-readers: musings on publishing and the word (part 2 of 3)

While the debates rage on about tablets versus e-readers and about e-ink vs LCD readers and about Kindle vs Nook and other e-reader contenders, there are other more fundamental debates taking place as per articles like E-reading: Revolution in the making or fading fad? by Annie Huang on physorg.com,

Four years ago Cambridge, Mass.-based E Ink Corporation and Taiwan’s Prime View International Co. hooked up to create an e-paper display that now supplies 90 percent of the fast growing e-reader market.

The Taiwanese involvement has led some observers to compare e-reading to the Chinese technological revolution 2,000 years ago in which newly invented paper replaced the bulky wooden blocks and bamboo slats on which Chinese characters were written.

But questions still hang over the Taiwanese-American venture, including the readiness of the marketplace to dispense with paper-based reading, in favor of relatively unfamiliar e-readers.

“It’s cockamamie to think a product like that is going to revolutionize the way most people read,” analyst Michael Norris of Rockville, Maryland research firm Simba Information Co. said in an e-mail. Americans use e-books at a rate “much, much slower than it looks.”

I don’t know that this constitutes proof that Micheal Norris is right (ETA Sept. 21, 2010, this Techdirt article Don’t Be Confused By Amazon’s Ebook Sales Claims by Mike Masnick cites research that supports Norris’ claim) but the essay E-reader revolt: I’m leaving youth culture behind by Emma Silvers certainly suggests that not all of the younger (Millenial) generation is necessarily as enamoured of e-readers and associated techno gadgets as is commonly touted,

At 26, I’m part of a generation raised on gadgets, but actual books are something I just refuse to give up

One recent story in the New York Times went so far as to claim that iPads and Kindles and Nooks are making the very act of reading better by — of course — making it social. As one user explained, “We are in a high-tech era and the sleekness and portability of the iPad erases any negative notions or stigmas associated with reading alone.” Hear that? There’s a stigma about reading alone. (How does everyone else read before bed — in pre-organized groups?) Regardless, it turns out that, for the last two decades, I’ve been Doing It Wrong. And funny enough, up until e-books came along, reading was one of the few things I felt confident I was doing exactly right.

o is my overly personal, defensive reaction to the e-reader boom nothing more than preemptive fear of the future, of change in general? I’d like to think I’m slightly more mature than that, but at its core my visceral hatred of the computer screen-as-book is at least partially composed of sadness at the thought of kids growing up differently from how I did, of the rituals associated with learning to read — and learning to love to read — ceasing to resemble yours and mine. Nine-year-olds currently exist who will recall, years from now, the first time they read “Charlotte’s Web” on their iPads, and I’m going to have to let that go. For me, there’s just still something universal about ink on paper, the dog-earing of yellowed pages, the loans to friends, the discovery of a relative’s secret universe of interests via the pile on their nightstand. And it’s not really hyperbole to say it makes me feel disconnected from humanity to imagine these rituals funneled into copy/paste functions, annotated files on a screen that could, potentially, crash.

I doubt I’m the only one, even in my supposedly tech-obsessed generation, who thinks this way.

Well, maybe Silvers is a minority but there is at least one market sector, education texts, that e-readers don’t seem to satisfy as Pasco Phronesis (David Bruggeman) in an August 12, 2010 posting notes evidence that e-readers are less efficient than regular books,

Edward Tenner (who you should be following on general principle) at The Atlantic gathers some findings that suggest e-readers are less effective than regular books from an efficiency perspective – something that matters to readers concerned with educational texts. Both in terms of reading speed and the distraction of hypertext links, e-Readers are not the best means to focus on whatever text you’re trying to read.

Those problems may be remedied with a new $46M investment in Kno, Inc. (from the Sept. 8, 2010 news item on physorg.com),

Founded in May 2009 and short for “knowledge,” Kno is developing a two-panel, touchscreen tablet computer that will allow users to read digital textbooks, take notes, access the Web and run educational applications.

“Kno is gearing up to launch the first digital device that we believe will fundamentally improve the way students learn,” said Osman Rashid, Kno’s chief executive and co-founder.

Rashid said the funding will “help us continue to deliver on our product roadmap and ultimately deliver on our vision to bring innovative digital technology to the world of education.”

Still, there’s another downside to e-readers as per this item, Reminder: You Don’t Own Your Ebooks; Amazon Locks Customer Out And Doesn’t Respond To Help Requests by Mike Masnik on Techdirt,

We’ve pointed out in the past that if you’re “buying” ebooks on devices like the Kindle or the iPad, it’s important to remember that you’re not really “buying” the books, and you don’t really own them. We’re seeing that once again with a story on Consumerist about a woman who was locked out of the ebooks on her Kindle for a month:

In fact, they can do a lot more than just lock you out of your account they can delete books that you’ve purchased as Amazon did with books such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and The Virtue of Selfishness, and some of the Harry Potter books. Apparently, these titles were illegally uploaded which is why Amazon removed them. Farhad Manjoo’s Slate essay Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four; How Amazon’s remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning’s digital future on these incidents explores the implications,

The worst thing about this story isn’t Amazon’s conduct; it’s the company’s technical capabilities. Now we know that Amazon can delete anything it wants from your electronic reader. That’s an awesome power, and Amazon’s justification in this instance is beside the point. As our media libraries get converted to 1’s and 0’s, we are at risk of losing what we take for granted today: full ownership of our book and music and movie collections.

Most of the e-books, videos, video games, and mobile apps that we buy these days day aren’t really ours. They come to us with digital strings that stretch back to a single decider—Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, or whomever else. … Now we know what the future of book banning looks like, too.

Consider the legal difference between purchasing a physical book and buying one for your Kindle. When you walk into your local Barnes & Noble to pick up a paperback of Animal Farm, the store doesn’t force you to sign a contract limiting your rights. If the Barnes & Noble later realizes that it accidentally sold you a bootlegged copy, it can’t compel you to give up the book—after all, it’s your property. The rules are completely different online. When you buy a Kindle a  book [sic], you’re implicitly agreeing to Amazon’s Kindle terms of service. The contract gives the company “the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service at any time, and Amazon will not be liable to you should it exercise such right.” In Amazon’s view, the books you buy aren’t your property—they’re part of a “service,” and Amazon maintains complete control of that service at all times. Amazon has similar terms covering downloadable movies and TV shows, as does Apple for stuff you buy from iTunes.

I certainly like owning my books and the idea that some unseen individual might decide to remove access with the click of a few keystrokes certainly gives me pause. As for whether or not people are using e-readers and their ilk, I have more about that along with my thoughts on these debates and what’s happening with ‘the word’ in part 3.

3 thoughts on “E-readers: musings on publishing and the word (part 2 of 3)

  1. BaxDoc

    What a great post, Frogheart! I shudder to think that one does not ‘own’ one’s books and that a cherished book is a ‘service’. But on a positive note, what a terrific young woman Emma Silvers is and how glad I am to hear that ‘young people today’ are not the homogeneous mass they are presented as in too much marketing. My own recent experience teaching younger people furthered Silvers’s point: much to my astonishment these 19-22 year-olds not only were not tech whizzes but many of them didn’t even have the most rudimentary notions about how to use some basic software (or indicate the least interest in learning how to use a bibliography program). One young woman, when I told her about a word processing shortcut, told me she would prefer to use a quill and ink if she could… So much for this younger generation that will leave us all in the dust technologically ..

  2. admin

    Hi BaxDoc! Thanks for the stories about your students. I’ve suspected that this monolithic, generational shift that the media keep proclaiming isn’t nearly as unanimous as one would think after reading and listening to the “news.” A few years back a professor from one a university in the Maritimes presented a case study about a class she had taught using 2nd Life. Her students did not just dive into the technology and use it seamlessly. If I remember rightly, there was a fair amount of initial resistance to the 2nd Life experiment and, for the most part, the students were not won over by the end of the course’ they’d had a tough time. Cheers, FH

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