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December 3, 2007

Egregious Self-Promotion
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:31 AM * 66 comments

If you already blew four hundred bucks on a Kindle, what the heck! Waste another six-and-a-half to get one of my books to read on it!


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Comments on Egregious Self-Promotion:
#1 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 01:06 AM:

If they sold kindles here and I had that kind of money for tech toys and the downloading worked outside the US then I would, but they don't, I don't, it wouldn't and so I can't.

Hope you sell a million, though. More, even.

#2 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 01:09 AM:

Jim, I'd love to buy your book, but in order to offset my Kindle's cost, I'm going to limit my reading to the (free) first chapters of books from now on.

But seriously, I did order a Kindle last week. I should be receiving it around Christmas. I've added your book to my sample list and am looking forward to reading it (all of it).


#3 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 01:10 AM:

Paper copies are available where you are, betcha.

(The reasons you posted are only part of why I believe the Kindle is the Segway 2.0....)

#5 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 01:16 AM:

I hope the kindle is the beginning of a viable electronic book. I don't know what the segway is the beginning of, but I hope the kindle evolves, becomes more interactive, grows to deal better with illustrations and moving media and whatall. It's got promise. It's not there yet, but it's pointed in the right direction.

_Land of Ice and Snow_ is on my holiday reading list, FWIW. But it'll be an old-fashioned molecular copy, I'm afraid.

#6 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 01:17 AM:

I really don't need the Kindle as an excuse to buy your books. Not after The Apocalypse Door . . .

#7 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 01:18 AM:

Jim, are you saying we can ride around sidewalks in style on the tiny little Kindle thing?

SOLD! To me. I might think about reading your books on it, too.

#8 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 01:20 AM:

Mist.

Mist and Snow, dammit.

I meant Mist.

I am sure I typed Mist.

Bloody fingers. I shall take them from here and thrash them soundly.

#9 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 01:30 AM:

Mist.

Mist and Snow, dammit.

I meant Mist.

I am sure I typed Mist.

Bloody fingers. I shall take them from here and thrash them soundly.

#10 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 01:31 AM:

Bugger.

#11 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 01:32 AM:

ethan. Riding.

It being late at night, I wrote a post taking off on those concepts. But it was inappropriate, so I didn't post it.

#13 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 03:17 AM:

What is it about these devices that nobody thinks we want them in the benighted UK? Same with the Sony Reader. I yield to none in my allegiance to ink and paper, but sometimes it would be nice to be able to carry several thousand books in my hand luggage...

And while we're at it, what happened to that scheme to print money on liverwurst, anyway?

#14 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 06:49 AM:

I too thought the Segway was and is overhyped (though still pretty neat -- I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to ride one), but then I saw the iBot wheelchair, which uses the same technology to put the seated passenger up to eye-level, climb stairs and go over curbs, and now I hope they sell a million or so Segways to subsidize the cost of the iBots.

#15 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 07:18 AM:

I have a Sony Reader. Are your books available in some other electronic form?

#16 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 07:33 AM:

#13: I bet Amazon would love to sell the Kindle in the UK. However, Amazon first needs to make a deal with a cellular network company in the UK. Whispernet in the US is really Sprint's EVDO network. Then, unless the UK cellular network uses EVDO, Amazon will need a model of the Kindle which works with whatever technology that network uses (e.g. HSDPA).

After all, the Kindle isn't just an ebook reader, it's a mobile bookstore. Without Whispernet, the Kindle would be far less attractive to Amazon (or anyone else who wants a mobile bookstore).

#17 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 07:45 AM:

They need to do it like cell phones. They need to discount the price and have a subscription service that allows you so many downloaded books over the course of the sub.

#18 ::: Piscusfiche ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 08:14 AM:

I got me an XO laptop instead. (And one for a kid probably in Uruguay or Cambodia somewhere.) But I kinda plan on using my XO as an e-book reader. Sure, it doesn't have the nifty easy-buy interface Kindle does, but I guess I'll figure something out. :)

#19 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 08:35 AM:

vian @#9: Don't blame your fingers, your brain was probably playing Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song someplace while you were typing.

Connie H. @#14: The police here in Chicago have segways, and they seem to be pretty handy. It lets them move faster than the flow of foot traffic but they can stop and talk to people, write parking tickets, etc. For regular people, probably not so useful.

Steve C. @#17: I'm glad it's not a subscription service, but I wish the device cost $200 instead of $400. $400 is crazy, but I'm crazy so I got it anyway. But it's a relief that going forward, I will spend only what I want to spend.

#20 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 09:04 AM:

Re: Mary Dell @19:

Apparently they have Segway cops in Portland too:

http://www.webcomicsnation.com/erika/dar/series.php?view=archive&chapter=25208

A similar real-life incident:

http://www.engadget.com/2007/09/04/chicago-cop-chases-down-gunman-on-segway/

I hadn't heard of the cops-on-Segways phenomenon before now, and I haven't seen any here in Boston yet, but it seems to be becoming more common. I suppose sooner or later the local police will get in on the act.

#21 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 09:09 AM:

I'd suggest you bought my only book with Kindle availability too, but as it is The King's Name (2001), the second half of a two book novel, I strongly suggest you don't, unless you've already read a (paper) version of The King's Peace (2000).

So on the whole I doubt the Kindle's going to do me much good.

I think Baen have the right idea about e-books.

#22 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 09:25 AM:

#15: I have a Sony Reader. Are your books available in some other electronic form?

Yes, indeed they are.

An abbreviated list for one book here.

#23 ::: Mike G. ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 09:50 AM:

Sorry Jim - I bought a Bookeen instead of a Kindle, and it doesn't look like Fictionwise has your book. No e-book sale to me for you, I'm afraid... (Well, not for this ebook anyhow, and not for Land of Mist and Snow (which fictionwise has) since I bought that in paper format...)

#24 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 10:32 AM:

Jo, maybe they'll put out Ha'penny, too, and not Farthing. That would be nicely consistent of them.

Who makes the decisions for what books to Kindleize, anyway? Is it Amazon, the publisher, or some combination thereof?

#25 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 11:19 AM:

I looked at Fictionwise for putting up my entire backlist of short stories -- I have electronic versions of most of them -- but decided against it because they want exclusive electronic rights.

#26 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 11:35 AM:

That Bookeen looks more like the thing I want. Now, it's gotta be a bit bigger and have academic books and journals.

Plus, someone needs to supplement my salary enough to allow me to buy all this.

#27 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 11:37 AM:

Mike@#23: Try looking here on Fictionwise for Land of Mist and Snow.

#28 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 11:39 AM:

#27: Re#23. Oops. I see you already did. Too much snow makes brain freeze up.

#29 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 11:45 AM:

Debra Doyle (#27): Your bio on Fictionwise is quite interesting!

Washington Irving was born in New York City on April 30, 1783 – the same year the Treaty of Paris put an official end to the American Revolution. When he was as young as nineteen years old, Irving began to contribute satirical essays and sketches to New York newspapers. In 1815, he went to Liverpool, England, as a silent partner in his brothers’ commercial firm, and remained there after the firm went bankrupt in 1818. Under the pen name “Geoffrey Crayon,” he wrote a number of essays and short stories. From 1826-1829, he was with the United States diplomatic staff in Madrid, and returned to Spain in 1842 after being appointed the American minister to Madrid. After leaving Spain in 1846, Irving returned to his country home near Tarrytown, New York, where he died in 1859.
You seem quite active for someone who died almost 150 years ago.

#30 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 11:55 AM:

The kindle looks interesting but still on the pricey side for me. I'll keep reading you on paper.

The NYPD got 10 or 12 segways in 2004/2005 and tried them out in parks and in Manhattan. I remember seeing a cop on one once, but maybe the segways didn't work as well as they thought they would because I haven't seen any recently. I've seen only one person using one and even that was a few years ago.

#31 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 12:18 PM:

The Concord, New Hampshire, post office got a whole pile of Segways (Segway is made in New Hampshire) for testing.

After testing, they dropped them. Reasons for doing so included the fact that delivering the mail via Segway took longer than doing so on foot. (On foot, the postal carrier sorts while walking. On a Segway the carrier has to stop, sort, deliver, move, repeat. Also, when left on a slope, a Segway can take off on its own, and it deep snow it's pretty useless.)

#32 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 12:25 PM:

Christopher@#29: Now that is weird. Data-entry glitch of some sort, probably. So long as it doesn't say that Washington Irving currently lives in Colebrook, New Hampshire, and writes sf and fantasy for children, teenagers, and adults.

#33 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 12:25 PM:

I've see officers on Segways at LA Union Station (which makes sense: from the Bus Plaza end to the Alameda Street doors is a good five-minute walk).

#34 ::: SKapusniak ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 12:32 PM:

I have to admit that my immediate deeply and doubtless unfairly cynical reaction to the Kindle was 'ooooooo, interesting indirect slushpile monetisation scheme!'.

Because you just know that some fraction of those poor would be wordsmiths who somehow just can't get past level 7 on the Slushkiller scale -- definitely not talking about Jim and Deb here -- are going to upload their baby to Amazon's Digital Text Platform and then persuade all their friends and relations that they just *have* to all rush out and buy a $400 Kindle in order to read and purchase their now *published* ('It's on Amazon and its got an ISBN and everything!') magnum opus, just like they just did themselves.

Amazon going after the *really long* part of the long-tail, so to speak.

#35 ::: paxed ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 01:27 PM:

Jim MacD @ 25: Exclusive electronic rights? Ouch. So what happens if, say, Fictionwise stops selling ebooks for whatever random reason?

#36 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 01:33 PM:

Jim, I'm happy to buy your books, but (a) see other folks' comments on Kindle's non-availability outside the USA, and (b) I don't buy ebooks with DRM.

Point (b) isn't even a matter of principle; it's just that I change my book reading widget more often than the trolls hereabouts change their underwear, and any form of DRM lockdown therefore reduces the useful life of a book to roughly 3 months.

(The changing book-reading hardware shtick isn't arbitrary. Mobile phones get upgraded on the phone company every year. PDAs change, too. And my subnotebook gets hammered on for novel-writing purposes, even before you add the neat-o Sony PRS-505 ebook reader I bought back in October. I like to keep ebooks I bought on all my gizmos, just in case I'm trapped in a lift with no company but my mobile phone or something.)

NB: My books -- some of 'em -- are available on Kindle as well; but you wouldn't catch me buying them there as long as they're under DRM, and I can't in all conscience recommend them to readers.

#37 ::: Mike G. ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 01:38 PM:

Charlie @ 36. Agreed. I bought a few encrypted mobi titles at Fictionwise, but most of my e-book dollars go for Webscriptions titles, or for unencrypted things at fw.

DRM bites when you drop and break palm-type gadgets as often as I do.

#38 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 02:15 PM:

The reading public may be interested to know that it is trivially easy to break DRM on one's Microsoft Reader (.lit) titles and turn them into device-independent HTML.

#39 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 02:29 PM:

Kate, that's all well and good unless you're a Microsoft-free zone. After all, you need a registered Microsoft Reader account before you can do that, and their software (funnily) doesn't run on PalmOS or Linux or OS/X.

One of the abiding ironies of the DRM issue -- for me -- is that there are editions of my books out there that I cannot read.

#40 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 03:11 PM:

May Dell @ $... Pa-per?
No.
Pay-per.

#41 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 03:35 PM:

Charlie: true enough.

Of the major DRM formats I'm aware of--Microsoft Reader, eReader, and Mobipocket--it looks like eReader has the widest platform distribution: Palm, Windows (including mobile), and Macs. Its DRM seems pretty unfussy, but the idea still makes me twitchy, so I compromise with Microsoft Reader where necessary. I'd certainly prefer that it weren't.

#42 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 03:42 PM:

My publisher puts out books in unencrypted formats. While I've muttered about The Evils Of Piracy over on Charlie's blog, I am also quite certain that I'd have lost far more sales through readers refusing to buy DRMed files than I have through piracy of the open format files. I know too many people who won't buy DRM because they've been burned before by the books not being readable on $NEW_SHINY.

#43 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 03:50 PM:

Cory Doctorow nailed it in one when he pointed out that the Achilles' heel of the whole DRM argument is that DRM penalizes honest users, not dishonest ones. (Honest? You've got to jump through all these hoops to use the thing you paid for. Dishonest? You'll grab an illegal cracked copy, or crack the DRM, and thumb your nose at the inconvenience.)

We have a technical term for any business plan that relies on making life difficult for customers and easy for non-customers: we call it "circling the drain".

#44 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 03:52 PM:

... um ...

I don't want to sound as if I'm trying to discourage people from buying Jim's books. They're jolly good, my only beef is with Amazon's submission to the industry-wide obsession with counter-productive DRM.

Buy Jim's books! Preferably in hardcover!

#45 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 04:00 PM:

I'm reminded of that Asimov story, "The Holmes-Ginsbook Device", where two people, frustated with headsets required for viewing book-tapes, get the idea of printing out the strips of tape, fixing them to paper, and then binding the sheets between a cover. The device's name got shortened to last part of the inventor's, i.e. a "book".

I'll be waiting for someone to hook a Kindle to a printer.

#46 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 04:17 PM:

Charlie #43: Yes! And a bunch of the content protection crowd also include suing their customers as part of the business model, or bricking their music or DVD players for suspected piracy. Man, that's a great business model!

I have the same basic issue with e-books. It's just not acceptable to me that I might pay for an e-book, and then not always be able to have it. But the e-book hardware manufacturer may well just go out of business, and their DRM will surely be designed to keep me from getting my book out of their format and into something I can read on someone else's device.

My (1.5 year old) Palm is *almost* good enough as a book reader. The screen is a little low-res and small, but being able to read a book from a backlit screen (in a dark room, letting my wife sleep) is a huge win. And being able to carry a dozen books around without any hassle, in a normally functional PDA, is also nice.

#47 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 05:04 PM:

Heck, if someone handed me a Kindle, absolutely free, and said, "I've pre-paid for you to download anything you want!" it wouldn't do me any good.

No cell-phone reception here. If I'm going to drive fifty miles to the nearest cell-tower I might as well go to the bookstore.

(You can get various of my books and stories in a variety of electronic and paper formats, including Complete Text Absolutely Free on my webpage. I'm not necessarily boosting the Kindle (in fact, I'm openly questioning its price, usability, suitability, and the ability of anyone to read anything on one ten years from this morning).)

#48 ::: Geoffrey Kidd ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 05:06 PM:

The book's also available on Fictionwise:

http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/eBook42282.htm

but of course only in waste-of-time DRM formats.

#49 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 05:41 PM:

Zander @ 13
Pick up a Psion 5 on e-bay (1/4 the price of a Kindle). Buy a CF card (they're cheap). Download lots of books/short stories for free (Baen Free Library, Gutenberg project etc.). Buy your favorite books as e-books from e.g. Baen.
And you get an address book, diary, word processor, books database etc. thrown in

I've always got dozens of books with me, since Brain 2 accompanies me everywhere.

I just wish the Psion had been marketed properly in the USA and was still being updated/developed.

Charlie Stross @ 43. I agree. The assumption that the customer will be dishonest isn't encouraging either.

#50 ::: Piscusfiche ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 08:14 PM:

(Honest? You've got to jump through all these hoops to use the thing you paid for. Dishonest? You'll grab an illegal cracked copy, or crack the DRM, and thumb your nose at the inconvenience.)

Sigh. Too true. This just happened to me actually, only with a video game, not an e-book. Bought a copy of Neverwinter Nights this weekend so that I could review and critique my friend's module he'd written for it. Lo, and behold, large numbers of the Diamond Edition shipped with serial numbers that match each other, and hence, do not work. I hit the website trying to figure out what is up with that, and get directed to a little online emailing form, which reassures me that they will get to my problem in 7-10 business days. Oh, and they don't have any telephone support any more. Do I hit the web for a cracked serial or wait for my tech support people to get back to me--all while my poor friend is waiting on pins and needles for me to critique his mod. (He had the same issue with his copy of NWN too.) Here's me and my friend being honest and suffering for it, while there are no doubt hundreds of gamers poaching the thing off the webs with cracked serials. And the issue is such that I can't just take it back to the store and get another one--after all, it might have the same issue. GRrrr.

#51 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 11:36 PM:

Serge @$40: Nice one!

#52 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2007, 12:00 AM:

I've a relative did a lot of analysis for Segway - there are some good reasons they didn't catch on like wildfire.

One market they thought they had was Elders, but they're terrified of both falling & breaking something or getting caught out in inclement weather & coming down with something. Turns out the prefer sitting in a big box with a seat, roof, and trunk.

Another was Letter Carriers. They did a trial with 'em in New Hampshire, who thought Segways were great until winter hit. It wasn't snow & ice that dissuaded 'em, it was standing still in the bitter cold instead of walking and keeping warm.

Local regs also hurt a lot of use - many folks feel that a motorized vehicle is inherently incompatible with pedestrians and passed laws dissuading Segway use on sidewalks. Getting bumped by a distracted walker is usually just awkward, getting run over is significantly more serious.

There's also the issue of how & where to park & secure a several thousand dollar vehicle that can be lifted up & carried away. They're not very bike rack compatible, and there aren't all that many bike racks anyhow. It can't be comfortable leaving one's ride outside the market door knowing as you're picking over the fruit BillieBob is possibly hoisting it into the back of his pickup.

Continuing on the technology-for-technology's sake: $400 up front so I can pay full price for ebooks? Sure it's nice that Amazon will 'replace' my ebooks if I lose my Kindle, but I'm still out $400 for the Kindle. At least with paperbacks when I leave them someplace it's only a few bucks to get a new one.

(It's amazing aircraft can fly with the weight of lost literature on them every year.)

Furthermore the Amazon ebooks are DRM'd up the wazoo.

What happens to 'em if/when the Kindle goes up in smoke? With paper books I own them, I've got them on a shelf, with locked-up ebooks I've got encrypted bits I apparently have no claim to.

I look at the folks who've shelled out hundreds of dollars for DRM'd material, like Major League Baseball downloads, then gotten shafted when the next DRM flavor was rolled out & the key server they depend on was quietly retired.

They value their baseball games, I value my library. $400 buys me a lot of paper, and gives me ownership of the words printed on it.

(What could Amazon do for me? Give me the ability to create an online library of books I already own, so I could trivially search through them for facts & quotes. I don't need access to the full text, just the page in question & a citation.)

#53 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2007, 08:35 AM:

Michael @#52:

full price for ebooks

Actually Amazon's book price is what convinced me. I buy about 6 books a month, and stuff in the kindle store is significantly cheaper than the print equivalent. So if I switch half my buying over to the Kindle, it'll pay for itself eventually. When I looked at the sony reader and its store last year, e-books appeared to cost the same as their print equivalents, which is ridiculous, so I didn't buy it.

That said, you make many good points about the Kindle. I plan on restricting my buying to books I would otherwise read once and then need to weed out of the library. Murder mysteries, for example, which I seldom re-read...except Rex Stout and a few favorite Ngaio Marsh's. I have room in my library for about 1200 books, and I'm always right up against that limit, and since I have a pretty extensive collection of art and art reference books that I'd like to keep until they're pried from my cold, dead fingers, the Kindle will allow me to shrink the space devoted to the incoming paperback queue.

Again, the price is ridiculous, but I'm a techy gadget person, and I have the luxury of a little extra scratch, so it's a good choice for me.

#54 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2007, 12:28 PM:

Three of our short stories for free, on our webpage:

The Queen's Mirror
On Suivi Point
The Last Real New Yorker in the World

All three of our Knights Templar short stories in inexpensive ($1.25) .PDF: The Confessions of Peter Crossman

#55 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2007, 12:48 PM:

I have made my feelings about the Kindle known here. Mary Dell, I suggest you follow the link to Amazon's terms and conditions and read the paragraph headed "Information Received" before you make your mind up whether or not to buy one.

The more I think about that bit, the angrier I get. This isn't an ebook reader, it's a bugging device.

#56 ::: Piscusfiche ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2007, 01:26 PM:

Charlie: Yay for mentioning the OLPC XO in your review of Kindle. Here's one of the guys from the Internet Archive using an XO as an ebook reader: http://www.olpcnews.com/content/ebooks/internet_archive_laptop_ebook.html

(Okay, okay, I'm a bit excited for my XO. Yes. Only 10-20 days before it arrives.)

#57 ::: Spike ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2007, 06:01 PM:

Charlie @39 - I believe the program you need can be found here, delighting in the name Open Convert-.lit or c-lit for short. It is quite good, but if you intend on installing it you may have to edit the make file.

#58 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2007, 12:57 AM:

Charlie Stross:

A quick note: the converter page you posted for the Sony Reader causes a Nokia n800 running 2008 to instantly crash--I thought I'd bricked it for a heart-stopping moment. I've been thinking about sending the link to Nokia just so they could look over the results...

#59 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2007, 06:42 AM:

Bruce: you know it's an SSL-encrypted (https://) website? The version of Opera on the N800 isn't the most stable web browser in the world, in my experience, and I suspect it may have trouble with SSL traffic ....

#60 ::: emmelisa ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2007, 01:25 PM:

As a librarian, I'm occasionally asked if I think that electronic books will do away with the paper variety. Looks as if the Kindle won't be changing my standard answer, "Not until they can invent an electronic book that does what a book does as well as a book does it."

About three years ago, I got into a very interesting discussion with a passionate "early adopter" sort who told me that in just five more years there wouldn't be any need for all these bookshelves. I looked at him, and then picked up a paperback and dropped it on the floor.

"Would you do that with your electronic gizmo?" I asked him. He turned pale.

Cruelly, I added, "And if that had been a bathtub full of water, I'd be out a whopping $7.95. How much would it cost you to replace yours?"

Does anybody here think that there will ever be an electronic hand-held device that isn't both expensive and delicate, doesn't monitor what you're reading, and allows you access to the full range of print materials? Because I'm really beginning to doubt it.

#61 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2007, 01:32 PM:

emmelisa: as the first line of one of my favourite novels put it:

"In two years, the penis will be obsolete," said the salesman.

#62 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2007, 01:53 PM:

Wasn't there a very thin flexible piece of plastic developed recently that could have LCD text stored on it? I could imagine a book could eventually contain such thin flexible plastic pages and have a socket of some kind that would store different texts. Years away, but not fundamentally impossible.

#63 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2007, 03:09 PM:

I can believe that there will eventually be electronic devices that are so cheap that I won't care much when they get destroyed. I can believe that there will eventually be book readers that, from a UI perspective, are adequate. (Which does not necessarily mean that they will be as good as paper books in the ways that paper books are good. It means they will be adequate at all of the things that paper books are good for and better at something else.)

The DRM and file format problems worry me a lot more. Actually, the file format problem worries me a lot even without DRM. I have some books that I bought 30 years ago, and some that I bought more recently but that were printed 120 years ago. I also have electronic media I bought 10 years ago that I can't read anymore.

It may be possible to develop file formats that will be usable long term, but it will require a lot of serious thought about several different levels of formatting. (Can I read the signals on the media, can I turn them into a stream of bits, can I interpret that stream of bits as a container of objects, can I interpret an object as human-readable text, can I display images on a resolution appropriate to the device,...) It'll require thought about what kinds of technology we can expect to be immutable and what kinds we need to migrate between. It'll require thought about copying between different generations. These are hard problems. There are people thinking about those problems--I just see no evidence that any of those people are developing the current generation of ebook readers.

And then add DRM into the mix, which by definition is supposed to make your book unreadable except under circumstances that the publisher carefully defines and which is supposed to prevent migration to other media, and it seems to me that the futureproofing problem is hopeless. I don't even know of any research into simultaneously solving the problems of DRM and long-term archival storage. I don't think the goals are compatible. Charlie had the right idea in Glasshouse, in his characterization of "the first dark age".

I'm not sure what to expect. It's hard for me to believe that we won't have usable ebooks a hundred years from now, and it's hard for me to believe that we can have usable ebooks with DRM, and it's hard for me to believe that publishers will sell all of their ebooks without DRM given current ideas about copyright, and it's hard for me to imagine a world where copyright goes away or changes radically. Obviously at least one thing that I have trouble imagining will come true.

#64 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2007, 07:37 PM:

Jim writes books?????

;-)

#65 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2007, 01:33 AM:

Charlie: this wasn't Opera. This was the whoop-ti-doo, theoretically non-Beta Mozilla based browser that ships with OS 2008. Until I hit that link it had handled everything I'd thrown at it, so I think I'm going to try a few other SSL sites to see if it crashes like that again... Because I'm an early adopter, of course.

#66 ::: Cat Faber ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2007, 09:39 AM:

For fairness sake I should say that when I learned about the Kindle I really liked the idea of carrying a whole library around in my pocket, and so I've been researching it extensively. It is possible I have failed my save vs SHINY.
----end fairness-------------------

Regarding proprietary format--the Kindle reads text and unprotected Mobipocket natively (and see below regarding Mobipocket DRM); I've been watching the message boards and seen posts where both types of files have been loaded from non-Amazon sources and work as advertised. Mobipocket is technically proprietary, but widely used. Sort of like pdf. I certainly hope the Kindle will eventually support html and epub natively, but I realize there are no guarantees.

I think pdf support would be great (since most of the journal articles in my field are available as pdfs.) Unfortunately, there are technical issues with taking a format that is intended to preserve layout and moving it to a much smaller screen--one can either try to preserve layout and wind up with text too small to see, or reflow text, which has its own problems if the layout is complex. Plus the pdfs of older journal articles are simply image files of page scans, and those would be impossible to reflow. The Kindle and the Sony both support pfs "sort-of-kind-of" (and the iLiad supports them pretty well, by all accounts, but costs quite a bit more) but I think for real pdf support you'd need a screen that was 8 1/2 by 11, or nearly.

Regarding Kindle DRM: I found posts on the Mobileread and Kindle message boards that have some things to say about the Amazon format and DRM. Apparently the .azw format is Mobipocket, which may or may not (I'm getting to that) have DRM. When it does, the DRM is different from Secure Mobipocket, unfortunately.

The may or may not part is that apparently Amazon is applying the DRM at the insistence of the publishers of the various books. Apparently (I haven't seen it myself) Amazon has stated that if the publisher doesn't want DRM, Amazon will publish the e-books DRM-free. I read from another post that people using the digital publishing platform to turn their manuscripts into Kindle books have the option of specifying that the Kindle book be DRM-free. I don't know if there is any way to tell from the Amazon website whether a particular Kindle book has DRM or not, though. In addition, files that Kindle owners submit for conversion come back DRM-free; apparently if the file extension is changed to .prc, devices that can read Mobipocket can read them.

I would love to see Amazon follow the Baen model and put out all their books DRM free, but I guess that will depend on the publishers.

Regarding #47 James. Someone who lives outside of Sprint coverage can always download the e-books to a computer and put them on the Kindle with the included USB cord. Um. Provided that you have a credit card with a USA address, anyway.

I have to admit I don't really like the idea of the Kindle reporting on my reading habits, though. On the one hand, it's not as if I can mail order from anywhere (that I know of) without leaving records of my book buying habits behind. Nor can I buy from a store without leaving records of the transaction, unless I make a point of always paying with cash. On the other hand, the store never knows whether I read the book or not, or whether it was for me or a gift, or whether I kept the book when I finished reading it.

On the other hand, if DRM-free books are popular on Kindles, Amazon will know to start pushing publishers to let them remove the DRM.

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