Musings on the Wild World of Writing & Editing

Posts tagged ‘Nook’

The E-Reader Wars

Okay, fine, that title is a little incendiary. But the wars behind e-readers are varied: libraries getting mad at publishers because publishers limit the number of e-rentals before the libraries have to pay again; price collusion on e-books leading the DoJ to sue five of the Big Six; self-published e-books taking on the traditional publishing industry. Yes, the battles are varied and many, but I want to go back to a topic I discussed a little while back: a new meaning of “ownership.” I read another article on another e-reader war about digital rights management (DRM). The Big Six publishers require that their e-books be sold with DRM protection so that readers cannot make copies of books, and because of DRM requirements, a book you buy for Kindle can only be read on other Kindle devices or apps (or Nook with Nooks and Nook apps, etc.) Many consumers hate DRM because if they decide to switch e-readers, there is no way for them to convert the file to read on another device. However, the issue goes further; non-DRM books can’t be read on Kindles (some can, but relatively few). So, if you have a Kindle, you’re pretty much stuck getting your e-content from Amazon. An “easy” way to circumvent this problem is to get a tablet with multiple e-reader apps, but a Kindle e-book has to stay in the Kindle app, and an iBook has to stay in the iBook library. 

Independent booksellers want to sell e-books without DRM so that no matter the customer’s e-reader/tablet, that customer will be able to buy whatever book he or she likes. Some imprints of major publishers are ceding to this trend and allowing non-DRM content to be sold. Hopefully other publishers will come around and let independent bookstores fight Amazon’s growing market share of e-readers and e-books. 

As a writer, I’m pretty torn about copyright law and piracy. On the one hand, I respect intellectual property and do not want my work stolen without my permission, but I feel that in some ways copyright law is outdated, overly strict, and stifling. When a music label sues a mom for using a song on a YouTube video, that label comes across as out of touch and stingy. I know; I know; the music industry is struggling right now, but the woman didn’t intend to break the law, just add a cute soundtrack to her video. And don’t get me wrong–I’m super against piracy. Unless a friend gave me the song/CD, I’ve bought every song on my iPod and every book on my Kindle. 

I’m just not sure that ruthlessly cracking down on every possibility of copyright infringement is really in the creator’s or the consumer’s best interest. I’m glad that the resources in the creative commons are growing, but we are a long way from recognizing that copyright laws might be getting in their own way. I’m going to go into more on this in my next post, so stay tuned. 

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A new meaning of “ownership”

I’m going to start off topic today and mention a post I made a few weeks back about the importance of public libraries, and I recently read a Publisher’s Weekly article that supports my claim with statistics: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/54474-majority-of-young-readers-still-use-libraries.html. I’m not posting this to say, “Hah! Look! I was right!” Really my intention is to show with numbers that libraries continue to be a valuable resource and an important asset to communities. There are several books I’d like to read soon, and I don’t have the funds to buy them, so I’m looking forward to checking them out from my local public library. Hooray for libraries!

Moving on to the main topic of this post, which will be short and sweet today while I chill during my lunch break before the rest of my afternoon (read: 1.5 hour long class and a goodness-knows-how-long group project meeting followed by going home and writing 6+ pages for my thesis and then eking out some French homework before working out). I know many of my posts are pretty long, so I’ll spare you the long-winded idea explications.

As someone who uses an e-reader and has purchased a fair amount of e-books for my Kindle, I became pretty concerned when I read this article: http://www.zdnet.com/why-amazon-is-within-its-rights-to-remove-access-to-your-kindle-books-7000006385/. Most stores that offer online content for your e-reader have clear rights of ownership; you’re basically a renter of what you buy online and is subsequently stored digitally on the seller’s server. This move is (pardon my inappropriate language for a minute) a cover-your-ass tactic on the company’s part to avoid a lawsuit should they have a systems failure/crash and your e-content disappears. Without their disclaimers in their terms of use, you could technically sue them for loss of property if your content is lost or unavailable from a systems failure/error.

The author, Eileen Brown, brings up an excellent point of the end of the article: with content becoming increasingly digital, we need to re-evaluate our notions of ownership. When we buy an e-book, we don’t own the book in the same sense that we own a print book–Amazon or B&N or Apple or whoever has the absolute right to revoke your access to that content. You’re pretty much paying a one-time fee to lease or borrow the content, but it’s not yours. Fortunately, none of the books I’ve bought are particularly sentimental or important to me–I make sure to have the books that matter most to me in print where they’re pretty much protected, except from theft or fire, though I have no idea who would want to steal my measly book collection or set fire to my apartment.

Anything we buy online and that exists online isn’t really “ours.” We’re renting it, and like something rented, the right to rent can be revoked at any time, often without any reason. I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to get comfortable with being at the whim of large companies with stuff that I think is “mine.” “Ownership” is undergoing a radical definition change. Maybe Merriam-Webster’s will have to catch up and add an entry for online ownership. Hopefully the law will catch up with these changes to protect consumers, though I doubt with the current political gridlock that that will happen anytime soon. For now, I’m just going to enjoy what I’ve got and not worry about it; I already have a long list of things to worry about, some of which keep me up at night. There’s no room in my overcrowded head to heap this issue on the towering pile.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Thought for the day: “Moderation in everything, in itself, is a kind of extreme.”

The e-textbook Explosion??

E-textbooks have become more and more prevalent in the university textbook scene. E-textbooks are less expensive than their print counterparts, which is a huge draw for students on a budget who can’t afford that $125 textbook that will be out-of-date and “obsolete” after one semester. Some textbook sellers even let you buy specific chapters rather than the entire book, and you can also “rent” books for 30-, 60-, 90-, 120-, and 180- day periods. These options make textbooks more affordable, more portable, and more available to students. Some students, however, still prefer the hard copy, because the hard copy is easier to mark up, annotate, and read without distraction. I once used an e-textbook for an intro religion course, and I had a hard time reading from the screen, remembering where text was located on the page, and reading deeply beyond surface-level comprehension. Some apps do allow noting and markups, but many students complain that such annotation is simply “not the same” as writing notes and underlining/highlighting by hand.

Various tablets/e-readers offer textbooks on their user interfaces, including the iPad and Kindle Fire. Students and professors mostly use third-party applications to buy and mark/annotate e-textbooks. One of these applications is Inkling for iPad, which offers interactive textbooks through major publishers–McGraw-Hill and Pearson, W.W. Norton, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, e.g. “Inkling allows publishers to create interactive content with video, interactive quizzes, 3D models and more that can be easily published across a variety of formats and platforms and updated just as easily” (www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/50622-inkling-debuts-multimedia-publishing-platform-at-toc.html).

According to an article on Publisher’s Weekly, “E-textbooks on the Cusp?” (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/50552-e-textbooks-on-the-cusp-.html), 46% of students are interested in purchasing a textbook for their iPad, but only 10% use a tablet or smartphone for schoolwork. The article argues that because the interest is there, usage will increase as tablet prices (particularly the iPad) decrease and as professors and universities fully integrate e-textbooks into their courses.

Personally, I find that this prediction/projection is somewhat overly optimistic, unless the projection is for several years down the line. The majority of students are still reluctant to read e-textbooks on their computer or tablet. (I am one of them; I would spend more money for the print version than have to read the electronic version and not remember what I read). Students in the future may be more comfortable reading from a computer screen or tablet, but most current students have reservations about readings online. In a course I am taking right now, many readings are online, and most of the students in my class print out the electronic articles anyway to maintain their ability to mark/highlight the reading.

Also, the cost of tablets on top of the necessary laptop/computer for higher education may be beyond many students’ grasp. The iPad has no USB ports, so it cannot be connected to a printer or other drives. Its use is currently more for entertainment and less for education, and many iPad users see it as a leisure tool rather than a part of education. A tablet, particularly the iPad, cannot replace a computer for schoolwork, and buying an iPad specifically for Inkling and textbooks may not seem a worthwhile investment when the student can find the used textbook in print for less money. However, if schools provide iPads or other tablets because the university wants to integrate interactive textbooks, students may be more enthusiastic.

E-textbooks may emerge slowly as students who are more experienced in learning from a screen enter the university system and as the economy recovers, allowing students to afford expensive technology. Until then, though, I think that e-textbook publishers should not get ahead of themselves in prophesizing huge jumps in e-textbook sales.

Fanning the Flames

I recently read an article about Jonathan Franzen claiming that e-books are damaging society (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/9047981/Jonathan-Franzen-e-books-are-damaging-society.html and http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/01/30/jonathan_franzen_ebooks_are_not_for_serious_readers_.html). Franzen asserts that e-books are impermanent and too open to alteration and change. He enjoys the durable quality of books, that if you spill water on a book it’s still readable (usually) and that most of the things in our lives today are so fluid that we need an unchanging medium. The ability to alter an e-book concerns Franzen, and he contends that “serious readers” aren’t satisfied with the malleable and temporal nature of the e-book; serious readers are enjoying a specific text in a specific time and place that was meant to be printed in ink, not read on a screen.

I’m probably allowed to see myself as a serious reader, and I have a Kindle, so I take a little offense to Franzen. I have to make a concession to Franzen: he sold three million copies of his first book, so I’m going to give him his due. A man of his skill is allowed some latitude in making such proclamations, and his expertise makes him somewhat of an authority on the subject. In short, he’s a serious reader and writer, so I’m not going to question his personal opinion.

But I am going to take issue with his blanket generalization that all serious readers are dissatisfied with the e-readers. I read both on my Kindle and print books. Each have their merits and their drawbacks. I received my Kindle as a Christmas present back in 2009. I love my Kindle; it’s light, cute, and portable. For someone with so many books, I like knowing that when I pack my bag to travel (which I do quite often), I’m not going to be weighted down by several books. Writers who do serious amounts of research for their books such as Eula Biss and Amy Tan enjoy the iPad and Kindle, because they can travel with massive amounts of books and articles on a single lightweight device. As a CNF writer, I do a fair amount of research for my essays, and sometimes I just can’t keep all the necessary materials with me.

When I told my friend that I received a Kindle for Christmas, she was temporarily incredulous. “You? A Kindle?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Are you still going to buy books in print?”

“Of course. I’m not planning on switching exclusive to an e-reader.”

“Okay good. Because a writer like you just wouldn’t seem right without a lot of books in your home.”

I believe that no room is truly complete without a few books. I believe that books in printed form are beautiful, living things and holding them in our hands and reading them is to connect to the human experience.  Reading taps into the human story, the one story that encompasses what it means to be human and alive. Print books are important to preserving cultural heritage and staying connected to thousands of years of human history. From cuneiform to hieroglyphs to the alphabet, the written word is enduring, what links the past to our present.

And of course I believe we should still continue reading print books. We do miss something when we read from a screen and lose the interaction with the page. We sacrifice some of our relationship to the books, when we press a button instead of turning a page, when we highlight with a cursor rather than underline with a pen, when we set aside a book by flipping a switch rather than closing a cover. The physical connection between our hands and the printed book is delicate and precious. We should do what we can to preserve the magic of that feeling.

But at the same time, “serious readers” (I’m not even sure what that means) can still engage a text, even if it’s on a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad. One could even argue that serious readers benefit from the advent of the e-reader–they can buy books more quickly and more easily with less money. Browsing is easier online (although I do sometimes miss my frequent trips to the bookstore), and downloading a book happens almost instantaneously. Maybe we should have to work more to acquire a book, but I think breaking down the barriers between discovering a book and reading it is worth the transition.

Although I don’t know if I qualify as a “serious reader,” I think my attachment to books might put me into that category. I’m a writing major; I read both on my own and for school on a regular basis. I have a life-long love affair with words, so yeah I’d say I’m a serious reader. I do miss being able to loan out books I like; you can’t just say, “Here, take my Kindle for a few weeks and read this book.” But still, the Kindle is a way to read many books at once and not break your back in the process.

Franzen also talks about how those who e-publish don’t put the same painstaking effort into getting the words just right and making the language appear just so on the page. He believes e-publishing makes room also for “sprinkling” classic works with advertisements and liberal editing. Those who publish online won’t put as much thought and effort into correctly formatting and modifying a classic text for e-consumption. I’m not a publisher, and I don’t work with re-formatting print text to e-text, but blaming publishers for taking a classic and essentially perverting it for profit is unfair to the publisher and the consumer. And on the subject of classics–books should be accessible and enjoyed; I dislike classics worship as though they’re sacred and untouchable. The reason classics are classics is that they effectively tap into the human experience that I mentioned earlier. They can adapt with the times; they’re meaningful and applicable years later. Maybe they should be put into e-reader form so that they can continue to reach and affect future readers.

Plus, those who self e-publish view the work they’re publishing as their brain child, their opus. They will not skim over the details or cut corners for the sake of being on the Internet. Your credibility is on the line when you e-publish; lots of major errors put your reputation in jeopardy because your ethos as a writer is at stake. Franzen underestimates the dedication of those who self-publish online and the amount of effort and labor writers lovingly pour into their work.

So here’s what I have to say to Jonathan Franzen: make your own Luddite opinions on the e-reader revolution, but e-readers are probably here to stay. The publishing world is currently experiencing serious growing pains as it acclimates to this new reading environment. Speak for yourself, Jonathan Franzen, because the serious readers of the world remain dedicated, devoted, and faithful to the written word, no matter the format.

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