Thursday, February 26, 2009

And even more about the Kindle...

Everyone is talking about the Kindle. I guess that even includes silly comics and Jon Stewart. And Jeff Bezos has the strangest laugh I've ever heard.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kindle Library Theory

This xkcd comic (cropped to fit by me) has little to do with the official Kindle Library Theory (except that the issue might not exist if the Kindle was really The Hitchhiker's Guide...). Still, it serves its purpose as a great prelude to what is, in my opinion, the greatest flaw of the Kindle and the main reason why I won't be purchasing one in the near future.

First off, amendments from my previous Kindle post: According to sources (which may or may not be reliable... I'm still looking into it), the Kindle does allow other eBooks to be uploaded in the same way as you might send yourself a document. This is the feature that costs 10 cents, though according to Amazon, there's a loophole. Weeks into reading and rereading the Kindle's product page have made no advancements in my understanding of this feature, thus making it rather moot. However, I have learned that documents or eBooks cannot be shared from Kindle to Kindle. I somehow doubt this is a problem with other eReaders, seeing as I don't think most eReaders have a huge Amazon store behind them providing them with eBooks. Still, it exists in the Kindle - the only way to "lend" a book to a friend is in the literal sense of lending the Kindle.

And here's where it gets complicated. Normal libraries have a standard formula: pay once a flat fee, pay for overdue books, and then everything is free. The registration fee is also usually quite low. Overdue fines make sense. Most libraries can't last on donations alone. So how does this translate to an eReader? A few ideas.

1. Make it possible to "rent" books. For different prices, you can have different programs. Say, for a certain yearly price, you can check out two books at a time (check out periods of a month), one renewal allowed and then you can't check that specific book out again, only buy it. This encourages readers who love certain books to come back and buy it anyways while readers simply seeking a quick, free read and do that as well and don't have to worry about buying a silly book they'll never read again anyways. If you pay more, you can check out more books at a time and can renew them for longer too.

2. Have some sort of price reduction for previously checked out books. If you're in a higher ranked program, get special privileges in regards to Kindle purchases while still making most books available for free.

3. Make it possible to "lend" books for limited periods of time. Again, have some sort of trick to limit the time a book can stay "lent" and insure that the person on the receiving end can't get the same book again.

Just as libraries didn't destroy the book industry (if anything, made it bigger), a library service must be thought up for the Kindle. Mine is really rough (I'll try to do some casual calculations later, but this is it for now) but it's the basics that count - this can't mimic real library services, but it can create a whole new method of looking at reading books for free. It's absolutely ridiculous to pay 400$ for a machine and then another 10$ per book as well. If not for the environmental issue, it's a lot more worth it to buy ordinary hardbacks which I can lend or simply go to the library where I get books for free. If the Kindle is truly "revolutionary", it needs to take this into account.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Calling on all Battlestar Galactica fans...

*Notice! This is a no spoiler zone! Please refrain from mentioning anything related to season 4 of Battlestar Galactica! Thank you!*

With that out of the way, I'm pleased to link to the Guardian's most-delightful article that's about, believe it or not, Battlestar Galactica. (The article is spoiler free in regards to season 4 but mentions things through season 3.) Until reading this neatly phrased piece, my copy of the Aeneid sat cheerfully ranked as "last" on my above-bed bookshelf. I never believed that anything could make it shoot up through the ranks so quickly, surpassing even a Zola novel I've been wanting to read for months. As soon as I finish my current read, into the battlestar, er, I mean, Virgil, I go. A tip of my hat to the Guardian, then. Charlotte Higgins, I don't believe I should get so amused from reading about Virgil. Then again, you used the phrase "geek tragedy".

While it's always fun to compare classics to their modern counterparts, I think this ranks as one of my most favorite.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

On the other hand...

So while Amazon is alone in terms of profits in 2008, the news is grim on the publisher's side: Simon & Schuster is reporting a 3% decline. Publisher's Weekly analyzes the situation, semi-justifying the declines by pointing out that 2007 included sale of a megahit in the form of the amazingly popular "The Secret". It's an interesting article.

Still, what's most interesting about this news is that it does to a certain extent counteract the news that Amazon has profited quite a bit in the last year. Obviously, Amazon is much more than just a book outlet and it's always been clear that book sales are not what keep the company afloat. And even knowing this, it's surprising to hear about publisher's difficulties selling.

Simon & Schuster was on track to have a solid year until the second week in October, when consumer concerns over the economy resulted in a severe sales downturn that, noted S&S CEO Carolyn Reidy, “continues to this day.”

What can be more revealing than quotes like this? It makes sense that a darkening economic situation would cause consumers to stop and think before they buy. And yet there's still something troubling to it. This implication that the book industry is perhaps not quite as stable as we'd like to think it is, and how it is, for the most part, dependent on precisely those readers who buy (or don't buy) books. None of this is new, of course; it's just reemerging now once again as the times grow dark. And even with declining sales, Reidy and Simon & Schuster try to look at the bright side - the megahits that are bound to come. There's still time to see what 2009 will bring.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Classic makeover

Unlike the Guardian, I will link to this general blog (I have no lawyers at my beck and call, no legal knowledge and see no harm in pointing people along to websites... unless otherwise asked, of course). Designer M.S. Corley presents "redone" book covers for "Harry Potter", "The Spiderwick Chronicles" and "A Series of Unfortunate Events". While obviously this kind of stuff is done often enough (I just don't often come across it), what's special about Corley's designs is that they're made to look like "classics". The rough sketchiness to it is meant to imitate Penguin Classics and what's surprising is that the books really do suddenly look like classics.

It's not only neat to look at (the covers contain main parts of the story without giving anything away), but it's a far way's from the original covers. Will these be the Harry Potter covers of the future, or are Corley's elegant mimicries no more than that? Take a look, reach your own conclusions. Alison Flood from the Guardian is right to point out that there's something remarkably attractive, mature, and comfortable in these covers (or "nostalgic"). Quite nice.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A story

Yesterday, in an entirely non-bookish setting, 6 unrelated people between ages 17-79 (two men, four women) were told to name a few books they'd read recently. The room split into two groups, men vs. women, and each group pulled up names of books in an attempt to stump the opposite "team".

Of the books listed, none were common. Except for one book, the men didn't recognize any of the women's books. The women recognized one of the men's books, and the others not at all. One of the books was a children's book that one of the men had read to his child recently. Another was a non-fiction history book. Among the books the women read there was a book about the Holocaust, a memoir, and an internationally popular bestseller.

I can't say I was surprised, but it was strange to see this clear, sharp divide. The men's list was shorter and contained more non-fiction books. The women's list was primarily fiction, with a smattering of memoirs here and there. Each woman seemed surprised when the men didn't recognize their books. The men seemed unsurprised that the women didn't know theirs.

It's a small story and an isolated incident, but there's something odd to it. What's with this divide? I'd be curious to hear any opinions, thoughts.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Graveyeard Book - again

I mentioned a few weeks ago in this post that my copy of "The Graveyard Book" was on its way. I also promised I'd follow up on it. I read it over the weekend (I'm a bit slow this week) and figured I should live up to my promise.

I don't usually try to view books through the eyes of award-givers, but "The Graveyard Book" is actually... great. I really see why it won the Newbery. Not only is it a fun, enchanting story, but it's got this incredible Gaiman flair to it. It's a children's book, no doubt, but it's one that can be enjoyed by adults as well. Now that I've actually read it, I believe I must heartily concur with the judge's decision. This series of enjoyable stories about a boy named Bod are on the one hand so Gaiman and so fun to read. A hat tip to them as well as one to Neil Gaiman. Thanks for a fun weekend read.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Write a blurb!"

Guardian commenter "Degrus" may snap at me that I'm distributing the same post in a slightly different packaging too, but this post (and the subsequent comments) made my brain tick a little. The Guardian quotes Mr. Pack's blog, in which he lists his pet peeves, among which is the following:

When you pick up an attractive looking paperback in the bookshop only to turn it over and find, instead of a blurb, a list of quotes from various wanky publications. Somewhere within these quotes is some vague hint at what the book might be about but I can't be arsed to find it if the publisher can't be arsed to write a blurb.

I'd laugh at the humor, but there's a heavy, annoying truth to this statement. The Guardian goes one to list other reading pet peeves, from crackling book bindings, to repetitive publications of the same book. One pet peeve, though, rubbed off me the wrong way. While I agree with most of the points (especially Mr. Pack's), the comment about nameless protagonists annoyed me. That is, I disagree. And what would the world be without disagreements?

Still, there are scores of frustrating aspects to being a bibliophile. For instance, when the book is really short (in height) but monstrously fat, so you have to seriously break the paper just to be able to read a sentence. Or when the author's name is five times the size of the title. Or a million and a half other little things that we overlook every day. The more I try to come up with annoying things, the worse my mood gets. So I'm going to stop and let the internet take over. Anybody else want to add to this ever-growing list?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Kindle; she burns

The buzz is all over town. Amazon has revealed (oh, as if we didn't already know) the shiny new Kindle 2.0. What does that mean? Well, more Kindle debate. We're all supremely guilty. Almost every bookish blog is pointing it out. Boring. And then you have those actually saying something. I found this nicely put list (I edited out long descriptions) at Read More Books:

  1. Indexing via tags
  2. Dog-earing
  3. Annotations and highlighting
  4. Bookmarking
  5. Massive storage
  6. Long battery life
  7. Extras
  8. Lower price
Right. A lot of interesting points are made, some I agree with, others less so. For instance, the idea that there's no point in buying an eReader while they're more expensive than iPhones. Quite frankly, I think eReaders are worth a lot more than iPhones (size and merit, anyone?). Still, a lot of these points are pretty relevant. And then I realized my point (semi-made in my last entry) wasn't ever addressed. What about other eBooks, Gutenberg or otherwise? But first we'll deal with the claims Read More Books mentioned.

According to Amazon's amazingly detailed product page, a lot of these issues have been dealt with. There's access to dictionaries and Wikipedia, so if you're an info-geek, it'll be simple and easy to get the knowledge you seek. That rhymed. Anyways, the dictionary is built in for apparently easy use. Obviously, I have no idea if this stuff is actually easy-to-use. But the mere idea is pretty interesting. Amazon claims there's also a dog-ear and a margin-writing option, or, in their terms, "annotating" and "bookmarking". The battery life (so long as you don't go wireless) is allegedly two weeks (!) (four days with wireless) and the storage seems oddly large (how do 1500 books fit in 2GB of storage?). Almost all of Read More Books' requests have been met. Almost.

Still, for all the flashy ups (no paper! We like the environment, yes we do), there are a number of irrefutable downs. For instance, the price. Obviously, it isn't that steep. Most consumers remember how expensive the early iPods were and how each new version was equally pricey. I understand why it's so expensive, but I won't spend that much money. Not yet, at least. Not while I can't upload whatever eBooks I want. Not when I have to pay 10 cents to e-mail myself documents (there's a way around it, apparently, but still, the mere fact that this exists...).

And absolutely not when there's no library function. I may purchase a number of books every year, but I also check out about that many from the library. I paid a couple of dollars years ago to get my membership and now I get books for free whenever I choose. With the Kindle, I need to purchase each and every book (for only a buck or two cheaper than the paperback? Please). There's no option of having it for three weeks and then returning it. I have to buy it plain and simple, pay a surprisingly steep price for it (considering how much I'm spending on the Kindle as well), and then... nothing. I can't lend it to a friend (unless I lend my entire Kindle, I guess) and I can't borrow from friends. If I'm already paying so much for the machine, can't I also pay a couple of bucks per year for a free three-week service? I won't go into depth about my Kindle library service theory yet (oh, its day will come), but as much as it seems the Kindle has improved (that "reading aloud" thing is really weird though... watch the vid...) and is rather drool-worthy, it has a long way to go before it can tempt many readers.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Gutenberg revisited

Every once in a while I head on over to to see what new books they've uploaded. It's not something I do all too often, but every once in a while I get itchy fingers and click on over. Every single time I remember why I rarely visit the theoretically perfect site. Probably because it isn't so... perfect.

Much as I love Gutenberg (the man, the website, and the whole idea), I realized that there's one fatal flaw to the whole eBooks idea: they're really uncomfortable. I mentioned this way back when, in my first ever attempt at being clever (also known as my first ever post), but it didn't hit me quite so hard until last week. I was thinking of a couple books I wanted to recommend to a friend when I remembered that there were a few more Zola novels I really wanted to read (he is a genius, by the way... just making sure we're on the same page). The paperbacks weren't actually that expensive, but frugality and curiosity led me to download the eBook instead of a standard purchase. And what do I get?

I keep forgetting this is how Gutenberg works, but the crappy font, the bunched together lines, the needless scrolling is really uncomfortable. I did my usual thing: cut and paste into word. But nope, that doesn't help the font or the bunched-together aspect. So I change the font to the easy-to-read Verdana. Okay, but now everything is shining red and green. "Spelling mistake! Grammar mistake! Oh, who cares that this is a French name and that's a British spelling? Who cares that this is literary license? Not Word, no siree!" That, by the way, was all sarcasm. Imagine the little paperclip guy singing that in a really high-pitched voice. That's what I'm picturing right about now. Okay, canceled the grammar/spelling check for this document. Can this get any worse? Well, yes. It turns out that I have no desire to read a book just like that out of a word document.

I'm guilty of not owning an eReader (when they're cheaper we'll chat again). Still, Gutenberg is doing this great thing here and I just can't appreciate it. It's not even that I hate the way they do their thing, I get it. It's just that I guess eBooks don't do it for me. It's no different than the book in my hand... except in every way. So what now? How hypocritical is this moment? Maybe not as much as I think. It's been talked to death, but the tech revolution is hitting books a little late and awkwardly, though the awkwardness is not that unlike the music world's reaction. And just as things have been working themselves out there over the last few years, books will probably learn to adapt and coexist with eBooks. eReader-less people will settle for classic paper and ink; the technically adept and cheerful will remind us of how many trees we're killing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Moment of the week

Click quickly and eagerly!

It's really rare to find things that could be linked for pure hilarity and for bookish merit as well. Thanks to The Book Lady's Blog, I found the aforelinked gem. Obviously there's a fair share of silliness to the song itself (please read it all the way through), some rhythmic wouldn't-fit-with-the-music moments, and the overall blushing as you realize you're trying to sing it out loud, but boy, it's just so amazing.

Jane is so cool...

Eyre? Tarzan? Bennet? That last one came close. Ladies and gents, presenting Miss Jane Austen... again:

Michael Thomas Ford’s forthcoming novel about an undead Jane Austen who, after 200 years of writer’s block, takes revenge on everyone making money off of her? More proof of the inherently vampiric nature of the literary heritage industry? Or the strongest argument yet for retroactive tightening of copyright restrictions?

That's from the NY Times' Paper Cuts blog. I had to laugh at loud seeing that. The post is quite hilarious. I recommend you read it (and the subsequent comments). But other than the pretty great mental image of a zombie Mr. Darcy, I got to thinking about superstar Jane. Most 19th century writers have to battle ageism against them. Jane Austen is somehow exempt from this rule. There's something so clear and obvious to loving Jane Austen. "Pride and Prejudice" is a pretty nice book (lovely romantic plot, nice length...) and much as the obsession with it is fun, it isn't particularly enlightening. How many different versions can you make of the same plot?

I don't have much of an opinion on the copyright issue, but I definitely feel that the P&P craze is another one of those fads that takes away from the original quality. Often, bad books are overly hyped, thus resulting in tons of people reading a pretty crappy book. In this case, the opposite is happening. A reasonably good book is blown entirely out of proportion to the point where people will pretty soon get sick of it. It'll take a while: generations of young women have fallen in love with the romance of the novel (even guys think Mr. Darcy is perfect). It's hard not to. That's part of the reason why P&P is so popular in the first place. Who doesn't want to read a book that makes their stomach flutter and gives them classic points at the same time?

Google "Pride and Prejudice". 3,850,000 hits. That's about 1.5 million more than "Crime and Punishment" and 85 million less than "Harry Potter". It sweeps Burney's "Evelina", "Camilla" and "Cecilia" off the board (by 3,500,000 of all three combined!). It even beats "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights", two other romantic romance novels grandly over-hyped. It's crazy. Yes, we all love P&P because it's a good book but does nobody else think maybe we need to relax for a moment? Other excellent period novels are overlooked simply because they aren't stamped with Jane Austen on their covers. How many sequels have been published for P&P? People love Jane Austen: movies, miniseries (the BBC rocks), books, er, other media things...

So what's the deal? A 200-year fad or simply understanding quality? I'll pull for a combo. "Pride and Prejudice" is a really good book, but there's something overly hyped to it. Either way, it'd be nice if it stopped... And, of course, a delayed reaction:

What in the world? Jane Austen and zombies?