Posts Tagged ‘e-readers’

Have you thought about where e-readers are taking us? I don’t just mean emptier shelves round the house and less weight to pack for holidays. I mean the bigger changes that they’ll bring, as change ripples out through the institutions built on old technology.

Yesterday’s post provoked some interesting responses about publishing, and I’ve written before about why kids will still want old style books. But there’s so much more to it than that. Because our default concept of reading is based on privately owned paperbacks, but the reality of books is far more complicated.

Mike Licht

Textbooks

Glenatron mentioned textbooks in response to yesterday’s post. And he’s quite right – they could be vastly improved by using the benefits of an electronic medium. They could be repeatedly revised and updated, colleges and schools buying into the updates instead of whole new books. No more battered, out of date books with notes in the margin and penises crudely scribbled onto the photos.

But getting there is very complicated. Because for schools to use e-books in classrooms they first need e-readers, but to justify the e-readers they first need the textbooks to go on them, so there’s a tricky circle to be broken. Not to mention the risk of e-readers going missing – schools will probably need them cheap and sturdy.

Then there’s a bigger academic issue, because part of how we legitimise knowledge as correct and of value is by publishing it through established academic houses and then keeping that edition of the book set, unmoving and easily referenced for years. That’s an approach that doesn’t work so well with the changes going on.

E-readers have the potential to radically change both education and the knowledge economy around it. But it’s going to be a tricky thing to do.

Libraries

This was another point raised in response to my post yesterday, this time from Sheila. Our model of publicly shared books – which is to say the library system – is built around books that are trapped on the physical page. New lending models and legal frameworks will be needed to cope with lending e-books. Those new models could make books more accessible than ever, or shackle the electronic age with assumptions from the paper one.

And what about libraries as public spaces? If we start borrowing and referencing by download from library webpages, how will those centres of communal activity be supported, never mind the experience and wisdom of the librarians?

Copyright

When a book’s published electronically it’s much harder to stop people copying it, just like with music. And that has huge implications.

I could go on for hours about this one. Suffice to say that old models of intellectual property are poorly designed for the modern age, but big companies insist on wielding them to hold back their profits against the inexorable tide of change. It’s not just copyright – look at the pharmaceutical companies getting outraged about life-saving knock-off medicines, or King’s battles to protect its dubious gaming trademarks.

The best companies will respond by innovating to appeal to customers and by finding ways to profit in an age when you can’t realistically stop low level copying. Others will continue on the defensive, keeping the lawyers busy as they go down fighting. The end results should be innovation and a richer culture, but the journey there may be messy.

What have I missed?

What are the other implications to the shift to electronic books? What angles have I missed? Leave comments, share your wisdom.

Just don’t try to stop people copying your opinions – that one’s a losing battle.

 

Picture by Mike Licht via Flickr creative commons

Part of our desire to own and collect books stems from an instinct to control. As in many areas of our lives, we assert that control to feel more like agents of our own destiny, like masters of our world. In business, this manifests as managers setting strict rules. In politics it’s both the intellectual struggle to create orderly systems of thought and the ballot box battles for control of the country. And in reading it’s our book collections, knowing that you have a book to hand even if you’ll never read it again, that it’s there inside your sphere of influence. You own that story, just a little.

Yes, little man, it really is that awesome

Yes, little man, it really is that awesome

I got a new e-reader this week, having broken my last one in a moment of clumsiness at the gym, and it made me think about this issue of ownership again. Because in a digital age we can get hold of many books at a moment’s notice just by going on an e-reader and downloading them from the appropriate store. We can even access books instantly for free through the growing electronic collections of libraries. It can liberate us from the clutter of books, but involves a change of mindset, from one of control to one of flexibility, feeling safe that you can get what you want when you want it if you just let go of the need to own. The book is just as available as before, even more so as you don’t have to work out which shelf or box it’s in. But some of the romance is definitely gone.

I doubt many people of my generation, entrenched like me in thirty-something years of habit, will make the most of this liberation. But the shift from functioning by controlling to functioning through flexible networks is one that’s also emerging in other areas like business management. Maybe, as future generations give up paper pages in favour of networked e-readers, changing reading habits will be symbols of a wider social change.

And that’s enough intellectual posturing for today. I’m off to the gym with my new e-reader. And this time I’m going to be very careful.

 

Photo by Zhao ! via Flickr creative commons

Changes in technology change our relationship with the printed word. The printing press spread literacy. Cheap paperbacks allowed every home to be its own small library. E-readers are moving us away from buying printed books, within certain limits.

These changes in technology allow us to be less protective over the material possession that is a book, as content is now widespread, preserved and made available in libraries, bookshops, and electronic form. And whether or not that’s the artist’s intention, it’s one of the things that I ponder when I see pictures of these beautiful sculptures being produced from books in Edinburgh. These works have been appearing anonymously in public spaces for a while now, and thirty delivered to the International Book Festival include a tribute to the great Iain (M.) Banks.

I find it delightful that someone can now use the physical materials of books for something else, safe in the knowledge that the part that’s truly precious, the content of those books, can always be found again. It’s particularly liberating to see something we often fetishise, the paper volumes themselves, treated so playfully.

These are beautiful works, worthy of whatever books have been sacrificed to make them. I can’t wait to see more.

Second hand habit

Posted: January 8, 2013 in Uncategorized
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It’s a funny thing, but even though I think that e-readers are great, I hardly ever use mine. Not because I prefer reading paper versions, but because of second hand books.

A lot of my favourite browsing is in charity shops. If I’m looking for something in particular, I’ll never find it, but I never know what I might find. It’s like mining for mysterious treaures. I’ve found books on sewage systems and spy methods, railway myths and radical politics. I’ve picked up cheap copies of Steve Aylett novels, and volumes of Mike Carey’s Lucifer for a fraction of the first hand price. And because they always seem like bargains, and I might never find them again, I find it hard to resist buying them, especially when the money’s going to a good cause. As a result, I now have a whole shelf full of unread books, and more piling up on the floor. Unless there’s something really compelling out, like a new George R R Martin, then going to the kindle store seems rather superfluous.

It goes to show that technological change is about more than just which of two tools is handier. A lot of habits, secondary markets and other behaviours grow up around these things, and it can take far longer for those to change. Any change in the book industry is going to depend on a lot of other related changes, and no-one can plan for them all.

The future is cardboard

Posted: June 25, 2012 in Uncategorized
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The debate’s been going for some years now on whether e-readers are the future of reading. Early adopters evangelise on behalf of the gadgetry. Traditionalists talk about how you can’t replace the smell and feel of paper. We’ve even had this debate within my not-terribly-techy team at work, so it must be getting old by now. And yet I recently had an experience that shed new light on it for me.

I love my e-reader. The elegance of its design, the convenience of being able to carry hundreds, thousands of books in something the size of a slim paperback. If you’d told fourteen-year-old me that, two decades down the line, he’d be able to fit his whole library in his school bag he’d have been overjoyed. Never mind hoverboards and moon bases, that was the future I wanted. Looking at books through the eyes of an adult, or even the memories of a bibliophilic teenager, I’m sure this is the way to go.

But the other day I got an insight into a younger sort of reader, and why there’ll always be a place for paper. I don’t mean junior school kids, with their illustrated reference books and their well worn copies of Harry Potter. Not even the infants, with their wonderfully illustrated picture books. No, I’m thinking about the children who can’t even read yet, the wobbling toddlers first learning the joy of books.

The source of my insight was my niece, lets call her Ever-ready. Ever-ready is one and a bit years old. She’s seen her sister, the previously-mentioned Princess, reading books. She’s seen mummy reading them, and daddy, and that funny-looking Uncle Andy. And in the past few months she’s started to appreciate them for herself. At first, the words and pictures meant little to her. She knew that other people made noises at them, but I don’t think she’d connected the noises with the things on the page. What she got a kick out of, what first got her handling books for herself, was turning the thick cardboard pages of baby books. I could see satisfaction in her smile as she worked her way through from beginning to end. She wasn’t worried about the details. She didn’t, to the Princess’s shock, stop to take in every page. She just turned, and turned, and turned those pages, and suddenly books were within her grasp. They weren’t just something that was read to her. They were something she controlled.

Ever-ready has moved on already. She’s started recognising that certain pictures have certain noises, saying ‘moo’ when shown the cow, ‘baa’ for the sheep. She loves that too. But the thing that first drew her in was turning those pages, feeling ownership over the experience. It’s too long ago to remember, but I’m sure I must have felt that too, the thrill of page-turning leading to a life-long love of words.

When we talk about paper versus e-readers we do so through the lense of our adult lives. But if we pause to think about younger perspectives we’ll see that the future isn’t just micro-chips, or thin leaves between paper covers. The real future of reading is in those thick, cardboard pages, and in learning to make them turn.