Look At Me, I’m on the Cutting Edge

Amazon is announcing its Kindle E-Book reader even as I type this, and look at what’s one of the debut titles: The Ghost Brigades. Why TGB and not Old Man’s War? Got me. I’m just the writer, you know; no one tells me about these things. I suspect probably both of these titles will be on the slate, and TGB is the one that’s showing up first. And if it’s just TGB, well, see, there’s the wisdom of my policy of making sure each book in the Old Man’s War universe stands alone. In any event, if you’re one of those who’s itchin’ to Kindle, I’ll be there for you.

For the non-Kindled, I still don’t have any idea when other e-book versions of my work will be extant. Sorry.

As for what I think of the Kindle itself: Meh. It looks like a nice toy. But I look at it this way: I can pay $400 for an e-book reader, and then pay $7.99 for an electronic copy of a book, or I can just pay $7.99 for the actual book, which requires no expensive intermediary equipment to enjoy, and use that extra $400 to buy 50 more books. Seems pretty straightforward to me. Also: paying for a monthly subscription for newspapers and blogs you can read on the Web for free? That earns a fairly large WTF? from me. But, you know. Whatever makes people happy.

98 Comments on “Look At Me, I’m on the Cutting Edge”

  1. There’s a recurring chorus every time an ebook reader is announced or talked about or conjured in a dream. It goes “Ebooks will only be successful if it’s cheap enough that I can accidentally drop it in the tub.”

    It’s a good tune, you can dance to it. $400 is way out of line for a gadget like this.

  2. Meh. If I could email pdfs to it, that would be great (I’d buy a scanner and ditch my heavy textbooks for this in a heartbeat), but it appears to very pointedly not allow that. (“Email your Word documents and pictures (.JPG, .GIF, .BMP, .PNG) to Kindle for easy on-the-go viewing.”) Nor can I print or back up the books I buy.

    Also, all kinds of ugly. Surely they could have hired someone away from the ipod team to give it some actual pretty industrial design?

    Still, though, give them props for thinking outside a lot of boxes here- the side paddles for flipping pages are really quite a nice solution to that problem, and the always-available store really is a nice improvement over a regular book- next time you’re stuck in an airport, and have read all the books you brought with you, you’ll want one of these instead of the crappy airport bookstore.

  3. (Also, with regards to price: that is what everyone said about ipod. If the functionality is there, people will buy it.)

  4. OK, when will the industry learn? As long as people have to pay any more than the cost of a hardback, these kind of devices just will not sell. Mobibook, eReader, Cybook – all casualties in the ebook device war

    For $400 I can get a freakin’ iPod Touch or a PDA that displayes ebooks just fine, thank you.

    In my mind, the only ebook reader that will sell (this whole epaper thing notwithstanding) would be something that:
    1) Allows me to read any of the major ebook formats – mobi, Microsoft Reader, PDF, etc
    2) has a convenient “one-handed scroll/page turner” (no pr0n jokes from the peanut gallery, ‘k? :) ) – my old Axim X5 PDA was perfect in this matter. It was large enough to have some heft and had this little rocker switch on the side which let me turn pages with just a flick of my finger or thumb, depending on which hand I was holding it in;
    3) about the size, height and width-wise, of a standard paperback (I think trade/hardback-sized would be too bulky for this kind of application)
    4) accept flash cards (microSD would be great)
    5) not cost more than a hardback
    6) decent backlighting and works well in bright sun
    7) have wifi to get new books via amazon/itunes/whatever (er, whatever the indefinite pronoun, not the website that is listed first on a google search for “whatever” :) )

  5. Luis:

    The difference being that you’ve always needed something to play recorded music on; you don’t need something else in order to read a book. The book’s data are accessible so long as one is literate.

  6. I can’t ever imagine owning one of these book thingymabobs. I love books. They are my weakness. I’m not a jewelry whore, or the stereotypical shoe buying gal; I want books. My TBR pile will still be piled high with books, long after I’m dead and gone.

    (Oh, and I love those blank books [which always stay blank because I’m too boring to fill them up with anything of interest] and I like nice pens. Or colored sharpies.)

  7. I dunno, there are some good things about this–the connectivity is pretty neat–but I’d want to hear what the screen refresh is like (some devices are terrible on this), and the whole “only convert personal files at Amazon” is not good. If it’s a variant of HTML, as various gadget blogs are saying, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to convert at home and do my own edits; plus what if I want to read confidential files, or to break the DRM on a book I’ve already paid for so I can read it here? Is my data safe, is Amazon going to give me up as a “pirate”?

    Also, of course, that’s a lot of money. If I didn’t already have a PDA which I read dozens of books on, I might consider something like this . . . if it were maybe $200.

    OT, and I feel like I said this before, but what happened to “remember me”?

  8. There are a couple of interesting wrinkles to this little toy, the biggest of which is that it runs on Sprint’s data network without a monthly fee (which is why they’re charging per blog, I guess). Pricing for current-hardcover bestsellers is $9.99 — which even the deep discounters seldom hit. There’s a note on the link above which says you can browse Wikipedia… but is that another $1.99 a month, or does it have generic web browsing free, or is Wikipedia a single free source of wikireality?

    I haven’t seen anything about what non-DRM formats you can load on this thing yourself… I’ll have to do more digging.

  9. But iPod let you carry your entire music collection in your pocket, instead of the giant, ridiculous sleeves of CDs we used to have. Similarly, the book’s data is accessible so long as one is literate and has access to the book. I don’t carry my ‘to be read’ shelf around with me. At least, I didn’t in the past. Now, in theory, I can (or at least the parts Amazon will bless me with access to.)

    [If the iPod analogy breaks down, it is because it is easy to rip my entire CD collection into my iPod, which makes my ipod valuable without spending any extra money. It is hard to rip my book collection into my laptop, and (apparently) impossible to rip it into the Kindle, since it looks like it won’t accept pdfs.]

  10. joelfinkle:

    The user manual says:

    “Supported Formats for Conversion
    In addition to the file formats listed above, you can also convert other personal documents to read on your Kindle.

    The supported file formats are listed below:
    Microsoft Word (.DOC)
    Structured HTML (.HTML, .HTM)
    JPEG (.JPEG, .JPG)
    GIF (.GIF)
    PNG (.PNG)
    BMP (.BMP)”

    You send them to Amazon and then it mails it to your computer for free or to the device for $0.10.

    (What do they mean by “structured” HTML, by the by? And will they keep formatting–and logical markup, too, strong and em, not just b and i?)

  11. I see three flaws, any of which will cause this device to be a flop:

    1) It’s too expensive. Very few people are going to pay more than maybe – maybe – $100 for such a device.

    2) It’s too proprietary. There is no mass market for an e-book reader that you can’t convert files for yourself, on your own computer. Preferably, it should handle any open format, including (but not limited to) PDF, HTML, and plain text.

    3) It’s too complicated. The first successful e-book reader will have no more than four buttons. Possibly two.

    I can envision an e-book reader that would be very popular, that is possible right now, except for the price (the screens still cost too much – for now).

    It would be no larger than a small hardcover.

    It would have no more than four buttons (page forward, page back, maybe “hold down for next chapter or last chapter”), and a couple of buttons for menu options (like adjusting font size)

    It would have a screen with contrast equal to printed paper, and at least 300 dpi resolution (this exists, but costs way too much for now).

    It would have a battery life of a lot longer than 30 hours of reading. (The better e-paper screens use no power at all, except when you are actually changing what they dispaly. This should produce a batter life of months of normal use.) The batteries should be standard AA alkalines.

    It should have only flash memory, and boot from it. The hardware specs should be open source, to encourage people to write their own readers and/or operating systems. The flash card should be easily changable. So, you can update the operating system easily, if someone comes up with something better than the manufacturer, and if some bozo publisher insists on a proprietary format, they can easily write their own proprietary reader client that you simply copy on to the flash card.

    The final retail price cannot be more than $99.99.

    Other than price (because of the e-paper prices), this could easily be built today. It will be built someday soon.

  12. Feh. Cut the price in half (at least) and make it easier to load you own content to it directly, and maybe it’d be interesting.

    But this “send it to Amazon for conversion” stuff ? Fuggedaboutit…

  13. In regard to #14, this is why the e-book people are really PISSING ME OFF! Terry Austin’s list of requirements is pretty much the same as mine, and most everybody I have discussed this sort of thing with has agreed that this is what they are looking for. As far as I can tell, it has been technologically possible to meet all these requirements, including the price point, for some years now. E-paper display would be nice, but a low-power monochrome LCD would be pretty good too. If somebody would just MAKE the damn things, I and many, many other people would buy one. But, will anybody DO it? NOOOOOO! They’re too busy making these expensive and proprietary monstrosities to pay any attention to the huge chorus of people telling them exactly what they would actually buy!

  14. For me, here’s what I need:

    – Support all logical formats for stuff I already own (.txt, .pdf, MSReader .lit, etc.)

    – If it’s a book that I purchase, it needs to not be tied to a specific device with a limited lifetime. I have books I bought over 30 years ago that I still reread occasionally. Take this away from me and it’s no-sale.

    On the other hand, if instead they had a subscription service that got you access to the back catalog of a bunch of publishers, stuff that’s a couple of years old or whatever, I’d gladly pay $10-15/month for that, just like I pay for Zune Marketplace. Add in logical reference materials, and suddenly you’ve got a portable public library. And _that’s_ a winner to me.

    Stuff in the subscription? DRM the heck out of it. Stuff that I buy? It better be portable to any future reading device I buy, including any number of different PCs, consecutively.

  15. It’s hard to replace existing kit with something that’s inferior. Until they come up with one that doesn’t run out of power periodically and is as easy to use as turning a page it just won’t take off. That’s why MP3 players had to wait until the capacity and battery life made it more attractive than other music players.

  16. I played with the Rocket eBooks for a while — which allowed one to dump your own HTML files on it — and it was pretty usable. The 2nd gen Sony eBook reader looks a lot more appealing than the Kindle (WTF kind of name is that?), and at a $100 less, people were pointing out that it was typically overpriced for a Sony.

    Meanwhile, the Apple iPod Touch continues to Safari through the Web via WiFi very nicely, and if they would do a software upgrade so you could download files, and not just music and video, then a 16GB iTouch could easily be a sweet little eBook reader. I understand Jeff Bezos spent a lot of time looking at the iPhone and iPod roll-outs for his planning for his unit — and I don’t think he learned the lesson. One software upgrade and Apple could trounce the Kindle. And put iTunes in the book market. Yikes!

    Dr. Phil

  17. The problem with ebooks is not just that I have access to the books already… it’s that, unlike the iPod, I can’t put my existing book collection on the reader. I have an original iPod…and I could take about 1000 of MY songs from MY CDs with me. All I needed to do was rip the CDs into iTunes and sync and all of those CDs were in my pocket. If I didn’t want to, I never needed to buy a single song (or download illegally, etc… ). I could rip my CDs and sync all 450 of them if I had the space…

    I can’t do that with my books. I’m left with a device that requires me to buy content in order for it to be useful. If I regularly bought hardbacks the price difference between the physical and electronic version might pay for the device… but I almost never buy hardbacks, so this makes no sense to me from a financial point of view. Sorry Jeff, nice try, no sale.

  18. The biggest cost associated with the E-Ink Devices is that the screen is still patented technology. So the manufacturer is charging whatever the market will take. I don’t like the fact that Amazon decided to come up with a new encryption scheme instead of using one the already own, Mobipocket, which is popular.

  19. I’ll buy an e-book reader if it were about $100, and was backwards compatible with txt, pdfs, and all the other e-texts that I might have already paid somebody money for. Until then, it’s all going on my Dell Axim with MicroBook loaded on it. My fantasy is to be able to pay fullprice for a hardcover, and get the e-book for free. That way I’ve got a hardcover that’ll last me for years, and something I can carry around in my pocket. God bless Baen Books for making their ebooks available for a good price.

  20. As a die-hard Acrobat fan (I am a print-centric graphic designer, after all), I’ve never understood why e-book makers need to re-invent the wheel in terms of format. Universality? PDF. High res/resolution independence? PDF. Preserving the original pub’s text formatting and layout? PDF. Bookmarks? PDF. Annotations? PDF. Searchability? PDF. Lightweight file sizes? P to the D to the F. DRM? Meh, go without it, but if necessary, again, PDF.

    As for the device itself, grossly overpriced, as mentioned before, and fugly. It looks like a device that should have hit the market in the mid 90’s. Also as mentioned before, iTunes/iPod has set a high bar in terms of transferring your content onto a mobile device. As a matter of fact, an iPhone after a jailbreak is a great eBook reader, and it does all sorts of other useful things. Once mobile computers start resembling a larger iPhone (shouldn’t be too long now *crosses fingers*), with a touchscreen and, say, an 8 to 10 inch display, these stand alone eBook readers will got he way of the dodo. The one kind of interesting feature it has are the page-turning paddles, but again, in the age of the touchscreen, big, clunky solid-state buttons are awkward.

  21. Ric at #22, I agree that the lack of easy conversion is a big drawback. Though I’m reminded of videotapes vs. DVDs — when DVDs started to become popular, it was theoretically possible to convert one’s videotapes to DVDs, but for most people it took a lot of time, effort, and pricey equipment. That didn’t shoot DVDs dead in the water, though; plenty of people bought new stuff on DVD and eventually replaced their videotapes with DVD versions.

    On the other hand, a DVD is generally an improvement over a videotape — better visual and sound quality, possible extra features like subtitles or interesting extra materials, easier to go to a specific scene. An ebook is an improvement over a paper book in some ways, searchability and portability in particular; that’s valuable enough to some folks that it’s worth buying the e-version.

    I can certainly see buying electronic versions of particular favorites and some reference works, but I don’t see myself replacing my entire paper library with e-versions. Unlike my videotapes, my paper books don’t require a different pricey and breakable device to use; barring a major disaster, they’ll be perfectly usable long after VHS players are rare and expensive items. Also, almost all the movies I had on videotape have since been released as DVDs, whereas many of my favorite books likely aren’t going to be available in e-format in the near future due to rights issues — and many other favorites are in the public domain, so why pay Amazon when I can get them from Project Gutenberg and read them on my laptop?

  22. Pablo “Preserving the original pub’s text formatting and layout” is specifically why PDF isn’t the best format for e-books. Open up a random e-book with Adobe Reader and drag it to be about half the width of your screen. Odds are that the text is now too small to read. So you can fix that by going back in and switching the page scale to 100%, or some other scale that is readable. But now, you have to horizontally scroll to read. Not good. You go from a one-finger UI to a multi-step one. Now imagine that instead of that much space you’re going to read the book on your phone.

    Now open the same ebook saved as html, or in, say, Microsoft Reader format. There’s enough layout info encoded to do a reasonable layout on the fly for most screen resolutions. Need bigger text? Change the menu and it reformats automatically and is still usable.

    I’d guess that this is the reason they didn’t support PDF, by the way, but not supporting other formats that do support this natively is silly.

  23. How about something that allows you to scan the bar code (or enter the ISBN) of a book you own, and have it pop into your reader? Except, I guess, you’d get people (like me, probably) borrowing books from the library, or just walking into a bookstore, and scanning the codes and getting the books for free. Never mind.

  24. Expect the proprietary HTML format and requirement to email to Amazon to be broken in a week, maybe two when accounting for Thanksgiving.

  25. Good lord is that thing ugly.

    And I ain’t just talking about its looks.

    This thing is absurd. Bulky, clunky looking, crippled, and insanely overpriced. If they want people to start buying e-books they’re going to need to use the razor/blade model (or game console/game model) and sell the thing below cost, to make up the profits on software.

    Honestly. What the hell were they thinking?

  26. I think Terry Austin nails most of the points on why I’m not big on the reader devices yet. And Kate has some excellent points about the proprietary nature of the Amazon connection. And the bathtub survival rate was brought up.

    Also, that said….power. I mean, I can cart a book around in my bag or in my car without worrying about it. And while I’m a swift swift reader, I’m also a compulsive reader. Which means if my battery dies mid-climax, I’m gonna be a peeved monkey. Or if I get it out of my bag to read during lunch, only to discover the thing ain’t charged. Oh man. (Today, I’m bookless during a lunch that was supposed to be spent at the gym but had to turn into lunch at t he office. Sans book. This also means there’s no visible sign to my co-workers that I am at lunch. Alas.)

  27. Damn Paolo Bacigalupi and his ability to say it quicker, better and nicer than I can.

    I’d get one of these if, like so many have said before, it was like the iPod. I’d pay $200 for one or even $400 if it came pre-loaded with like a hundred books at $1.00 a shot or something. Or even $2.00 a book. Sheesh, these guys are idiots. Why does it seem easier to make an MP3 player than a e-book reader.

  28. At least they finally got the pricing right – $10.00 for a new release, available day-of-publication without having to leave my chair? Yeah, I can get behind that.

    I’d love to be able to get some Kindle e-reader software from Amazon to run on my existing connected devices, though – I’ve already got a smartphone that I use for 99% of my reading. It took a bit of adjustment, but the freedom of having my entire library with me all the time is very nice, especially considering my ADD reading habits. I usually have two or even three or four books going at any given time. Reading digital copies saves me a lot of hauling.

  29. Kate, a properly created PDF will be crisply readable on whatever resolution screen you use, since its text is vector-based. Hence, resolution independence.

    The actual layout of a document relative to the actual size of the screen you’re viewing it on is another matter entirely. Shorter line lengths are better for smaller screens. Inversely, you can use longer line lengths for larger screens (but only up to a point. The rule of thumb is somewhere roughly between 50-70 characters per line, on a standard page). But as we were discussing a device with a relatively standard-sized display (the Kindle), I didn’t take small screens into consideration. Even so, devices like the iPhone get around this problem by having a mechanism for ‘zooming’ into the block of text. Not the most elegant solution, mind you, but it works when faced with a long line of text on a small screen.

  30. I just use my Tablet PC, which has the virtue of supporting all the eBook formats, all the music & video formats and has ample room to hold a library of each*. I even use it for accessing a lot of my sheetmusic (in the form of PDFs**) as I can sit it quite comfortably on a piano/kbd music shelf and “turn pages” by clicking a button, or scrolling a wheel.

    I can also make annotations on the PDFs (or other page formats) with a pen or keyboard. If the Tablet is plugged into the keyboard’s MIDI out then I can use standard software to view/edit the music. That’s not something everyone wants to do, but you’re gonna have to hit a sweet spot in terms of readability, access to material and interaction potential if you want to have yet another specialized device get adopted widely.

    I’m waiting for the day when my phone “wand” extends to a large readable area, giving me both a reader and general PC.

    *an iPod can’t come close to holding my CD collection at any reasonable compression level, but the day is coming…
    ** I’ve bought CD-ROMs with the entire keyboard output of all the greatest classical composers in PDF form, and it takes a small part of my hard drive.

  31. “Jeff” (if that is his name) said: “Expect the proprietary … to be broken in a week, maybe two when accounting for Thanksgiving.”

    Man, this is a week off for most 14-19 year-olds. Expect it to be broken on Thanksgiving.

    By-the-by: Anybody know where to find Isaac Asimov’s description of the Book as a technological device? I’m pretty sure it was him, but trying to find it by putting the keywords “Asimov” and “book” into a search engine is just inviting madness.

  32. Pablo Defendini: ah, thanks for the clarification. I’m not sure what resolution the Kindle is running at, but it does tout font-size changing, which makes PDF very problematic on it, as you say.

    (I read e-books on a Palm TX (320×480), and PDF is hopeless. Instead I automagically reformat HTML for Palm’s eReader.)

  33. I periodically scour the internet for a decent electronic book reader. Like others have said above, it should:
    – cost less than $100.
    – be able to read all reasonably common formats including .txt, .html and .pdf.
    – be easy to transfer files and books from the computer.
    – be easy to read books available on the internet in any of a number of formats.
    – NOT be dependent on one company’s exclusive DRM format. Yes, there will likely be some kind of DRM there but I should be able to read other free formats as well, like .txt.

    For the device to be inexpensive, it probably has to be specialized towards reading books. That said, it has to be flexible enough to actually use. We need something half way between the do-everything device that costs too much and the specialized device locked down to one DRM. The iPod Touch (though it costs too much for me) would probably convert some people to e-reading if it did the job well. I know it’s not a specialized device and that it breaks the $100 threshold, but I would by a Sony PSP if I could read books on it easily.

    I have over 500 papers in .pdf format that I want to access electronically on a portable. No, I don’t think .pdf’s are the best for compact electronic viewing but I’m dependent on that format.

    As for the physical book versus e-book… Yes, a physical book is easy to read, but have you tried to carry an extra 20 papers or an extra 5 books in your backpack. I would like to be able to carry most of my library. And, I want to do it easily and at a reasonable cost.

    I don’t know why no one has made a decent product yet but I’m confident that it will happen some day. I think that Apple has everything in place to nail the product with an iBook reader based on the iPhone. When someone finally does get it, a number of others can compete to bring in a variety of products at reasonable cost.

    Someone, make something that isn’t overpriced or crap!

  34. Pablo, 10″ laptops with touchscreens have been around for a while. Mobile computers with ~7″ touchscreen have been around for a year or two. (i.e., the UMPC.) In fact, various Tablet PC and UMPC websites are all a twitter right now talking about how they make great ebook readers. None of them have the touch optimized user interface that iPhone has, of course. (i.e., while they’re in the form factor you envision, they’re not nearly as easy to use as you want.)

    The Asus Eee notwithstanding, they’re also quite a bit more expensive than either Kindle or iPhone.

    As for Kindle, I’m non-plussed that there doesn’t seem to be a way to put anything on the thing without paying Amazon money.

  35. Well, it looks just about like the road runner items that some blind people use that read your ebooks aloud to you. And about as pricey. I wonder if it even would do voice output?

    If you HAVE to read electronically, like I do, the portability is nice, but so is a nice compact laptop that will do the same thing plus read me my email. So, I kinda don’t get it. Can’t people already use their iphones to read books anyway? or is that too small?

  36. Jim Franks:

    Any chance this thing has enough processor to use an SD Wifi card and leave the whole USB upload, tote the computer around, out of it? Because I’d buy it in a heartbeat if I didn’t need to know where my computer is when I want to get something else to read.

  37. Cool toy, but I’ll only read e-books when I’m comfortable reading them while on the crapper. And for $400, I’m definitely not comfortable using the Kindle whilst on the crapper.

  38. Skip: The big disconnect here is the portrait orientation of a page in a real book as opposed to the landscape orientation of most displays—inherently incompatible, as you say. In order to address this, special layouts should be created for an e-version of a book (I’m apparently contradicting myself here, but you’re right, the layout needs of an e-Book are different than those of a dead tree edition, given the viewing interface). That being said, I usually don’t have a problem reading an e-Book in Acrobat. Just set the page at your desired magnification and space-bar your way through it. One button, one movement.

    The reason I don’t think that HTML or M$ Reader are good for eBooks is precisely the reason you find them so compelling: the fact that you can change type size to suit your needs. While this may work for standard prose, it would suck to read, say, poetry, at type sizes and line lengths not intended by the original author (or typesetter). . . the line breaks would then make no sense, and there are many authors who use line breaks as visual indicators of one form or another, aside from poets. Then again, maybe it’s just the print designer in me wanting to have complete control over the viewing experience. . . a habit I guess I may need to get out of in this age of hyper-customization.

    John: The Asus recently caught my eye, actually. But like you say, it’s the ease of use that gets me about the iPhone. In addition, the clamshell design seems unnecessary to me, and the only reason for it to be there seems to be to have a place for the keyboard. I don’t need a hardware keyboard on a small tablet—I’m not gonna write long-form works on it— just give me the softkeys when I need them, and get them out of my way the rest of the time. An acompanying, stay-home wireless keyboard can be used when necessary.

  39. Jim Franks:

    “I’ll be up front here, my company, NAEB is looking to distribute a competitor to the Kindle and the Sony PRS-505. The Bookeen Cybook.”

    What? And you haven’t sent me one to play with? Madness!

  40. Brett L: It uses a Samsung® S3C2410 ARM920T 200MHz, so it might be able to handle it. However someone would have to hack in a driver, however Bookeen hasn’t released the SDK yet.

    John: If you are interested in playing around with an engineering sample for a couple weeks drop me a line at jfranks@naebllc.com. I should be able to hook you up. No leather cover though.


  41. I’m still bullish on audiobooks being more future friendly. Most people already has an ipod, or can afford a cheap MP3 player. More media that can play on them is a good bet, as people expand out from music to other forms of entertainment.

  42. I travel a lot, and one of the downsides of electronic devices is having to turn them on and off. I can read a paper book all the way through boarding, takeoff, the plane ride, and landing.

  43. That is a disconnect. And it’s similar to the disconnect I have with website designers who design their page layouts down to the pixel. I hate websites which do this, and mostly avoid them unless there’s an rss feed.

    Why? Because they usually designed them on big freaking monitors and don’t realize that the 8 point type they specified is unreadable on a laptop to people with human eyes, and because they hard-coded the sizes, when I go to the menu in internet explorer and bump the text size up, it makes no difference to the display. And while this is less of a problem now, they probably never checked to make sure they displayed properly on anything but a 4×3 display.

  44. Deirdre: The Cybook has 3 states. Off, sleeping, and On. If you change the auto-off setting to none I’ve found it lasts 3-4 days. This is reading it for a few hours, leaving it lying around until I pick it up and read some more.

    If anyone is interested in the Cybook here is a link to the MobiRead Forum. Lots of details and other people’s reviews.


  45. Dell has a multitouch Latitude due for release.

    iPhone may have a lead in its form factor, but its the fabrication costs of *reliably* making larger screens which has slowed this market.

    Jobs has been vocally anti-tablet form factor for a long time so it will be interesting to see when he will start eating his words, in the way that Michael Dell has.

  46. As someone who recently coughed up the $299 for the Sony e-reader I do have to say the price on this thing was the first huh???

    I was in the “I will never use electronic books because they just aren’t as portable as real books” camp and then I collected a box full of paperbacks I wanted to read over the summer. Since lately my life is all about reducing clutter… this was annoying to say the least. Then I saw the Sony e-reader. It removes the clutter and it is easy to use (changing a page requires pushing one button). Ya, the price was ridiculous, but it wouldn’t be the first time I spent too much on a gadget.

    I really enjoy it. It is very portable and very compact. It has the “adjustable font” feature that would make it perfect for folks who need large print and don’t want to pay extra for it. It can’t read pdfs worth a crap but that isn’t what I bought it for. I have been showing it to all my “love to read and have a house full of clutter” friends as a potential Christmas gift.

    Having said all that, this amazon version has too many buttons, too many strings, and is even more chokingly expensive than the Sony version. At least with the Sony you pay for your reader up front and the only time you need to pay more is if you decide to download a new book.

    I think I will hold off cluttering up the house with multiple e-readers unless Jim Franks wouldn’t mind hooking me up with one of his. ;-)

  47. Jeff H.

    From memory, I think Asimov’s tribute to the book was an intro to a Harlan Ellison story collection, perhaps Shatterday?

  48. 57: Compact laptops are fantastic. I’m not disputing that but they’re a different product. Compact laptops start at $1200 (more typically $1700). That’s 10 times as much as an ideal book reader should cost. (Make that 3-4x if you compare it to current technology like the Sony Reader or the Kindle.) Should I pay 10 times as much when all I want is to read?

    I have a laptop. It has my life on it and it feels risky to open it up on the bus. It’s not easy to read at a bus stop. By the time I have it started up on the bus, I’ve arrived at my destination. Besides, most laptops are fragile and I can’t afford to take many risks with mine. It doesn’t feel very safe or easy to use a laptop on the bus.

    The other problem with using laptops is that they do too much. If I want to wind down and read at the end of the day, it doesn’t help to have laptop reminding me of my piles of work that I still need to do. It doesn’t help to have email sitting there to be sorted. I don’t want all the functions that a laptop provides. When I’m reading, I want to dive into a book and escape. I don’t want work to follow me into my reading time.

  49. Okay, about the PDFs. You can find a pdf to text converter ranging from free to expensive depending on how hard you want to look. You can even find ones that ignore the protection on your pdfs. (I did the same thing for the e-books I’d bought in the .lit format before I got used to the Microsoft reader interface.)

    Pricing: The best publishers charge a good deal less for the e-book version of something than for the hard copy. And the very best ones don’t treat their customers like thieves and put DRM on things you buy from them. (notice that several music sales places have recently been offering DRM free music for a small extra charge, implicitly accepting that DRM removes value even though it costs the companies more.) Baen knocks about 2 bucks off the price of an e-book version compared to the paperback and offers it in a wide range of DRMless formats. (And a fair number of their hardbacks have come with CDs containing the ebook version of the book you bought plus other works by the author and other authors, all in sane drmless formats.)

    Existing libraries: I could find probably 60% of my current existing library in nice clean OCRed editions in an afternoon if I cared to go looking through the torrent sites. I’d probably get it up to 70+ percent with a week or so of sporadic searching. A lot of that would be PDF, but see the first point.

  50. tceisele Says:

    “In regard to #14, this is why the e-book people are really PISSING ME OFF! Terry Austin’s list of requirements is pretty much the same as mine, and most everybody I have discussed this sort of thing with has agreed that this is what they are looking for. As far as I can tell, it has been technologically possible to meet all these requirements, including the price point, for some years now. E-paper display would be nice, but a low-power monochrome LCD would be pretty good too.”

    Actually, for extended reading, LCDs don’t really cut it. The resolution is something of an issue, but the contrast is the big one. Not enough contrast, and you cause serious eye strain for most people after they read for a few hours. The new e-papers solve this – they have resolution comprable to the blackest ink on the whitest paper – but the cost is still prohibitive. There’s a reason low end PDAs haven’t already borged the e-book market.

  51. My only question is why must everything be appropriated, digitized and made accessible electronically? Why fix what ain’t broken? There’s nothing wrong with books, good, old-fashioned books. There’s something about the feel of a book, the smell of a book, heck, the sound of the pages as they flutter past.

  52. When the singularity hits, these various ereaders will start messaging: “All your ebooks are belong to us!”

    See who’s laughing then.

  53. 59: I’ve heard the same thing from friends about laptops. They say I just want to do a little email and web-browsing. 2 months later they want to do time-recording of movies.

    I agree that compact PCs are (for now) too expensive, but I doubt that anyone would be satisfied for long with a dedicated ebook reader. In a way people want it to have most of the properties of a PC anyway.

    If I had an eBook reader that didn’t handle pictures at least as well as my PC and offer some A/V support as well, then I’d be feeling shortchanged. I think the real opportunity for eBooks is with textbooks, and bare text isn’t going to cut it in the 21st century, or heck even 10 years ago. If I’m reading to learn and react, then I want to collect information from the text.

    All of this is pushing the basic requirements up towards the PC level rather than to some very stripped down device. The PC form factor has to evolve more to accommodate reading needs, but tablet/multitouch/inking/compact devices are just the first steps.

  54. 64: Yes, I agree that pictures are necessary. I’m looking at technical documents in .pdf format all the time and the pictures are a necessary part of the communication.

    And I agree that it’s a slippery slope. Once the internet is connected, the whole world starts rushing in with all the distractions. I’ve described my ideal for an electronic reader but it’s hard to prevent more features from being added, especially when those features are so close to implementation.

  55. Re PDFs – you can use PDFtoPPM on Linux, which creates numbered screenshots at your chosen rez in mono or colour, and you can then run the results through a converter to make jpgs or gifs or whatever.

    Taking this one step further, you can then OCR those images, which is how I converted the PDF page proofs for my latest novel back to text, so I could compare them to my own version after the copyeditor had played with it. PDFtoTXT ruined the formatting and layout, and so didn’t work for me.

  56. Kate Nepveu wrote: “I dunno, there are some good things about this–the connectivity is pretty neat–but I’d want to hear what the screen refresh is like”

    I believe it’s e-ink, in which case there is no refresh.

  57. “Jobs has been vocally anti-tablet form factor for a long time so it will be interesting to see when he will start eating his words, in the way that Michael Dell has.”

    Well, Jobs once said that people don’t want to watch movies on a tiny screen, but that didn’t stop him from putting out iPods with video and the iTunes TV/movie store.

  58. My only question is why must everything be appropriated, digitized and made accessible electronically? Why fix what ain’t broken? There’s nothing wrong with books, good, old-fashioned books.

    1)I can’t carry more than about twenty books, and it’s rare that I can be bothered to carry more than three. I habitually now carry more than three hundred albums, offering choices for ever occasion. Additionally, I subscribe to an online service (Rhapsody) that gives me an temporary option on pretty much any album I want. This makes a difference.

    2)If my house burns, my books are simply lost, some irreplacably. My data (music, pictures, and docs, but sadly not movies, yet) is safely backed up to Seattle, Australia, and a fire-proof safe. This makes a difference.

    3)Some of my books have these charmingly crude things in the back called “indexes”. Additionally, I can highlight sections of them using transparent inks (if I remember where I left the pens), and occasionally scribble notes in the corners, although it should be noted that this is all write-once. Beyond that, the searchability, sharability, annotatability, and linkability of books is really really quite sucktastic. Oh, and none of my books seem to update with errata, unless I’m willing to pay full price for a new rev. This all makes a difference, particularly for non-fiction.

    I love the usability of books, and believe that e-books will have to match that usability on every axis before they take off. (The trickiest point is probably bathtub use). Once they do, though, I’ll pulp my library without a second thought, even if the reader costs twice what Amazon wants.

  59. Ugly; but the Amazon dependency is the deal breaker. What if Amazon goes bust – or just gives up on the device after a few years? What’s their track record in supporting consumer electronics?

    Compare that with *music* under the iTunes model. If Apple goes bust, I just burn my DRM’d purchases to CD and I’m back where I started.

  60. I’m an Tech Geek. And i love seeing new tech stuff. I mean I eat and sleep the stuff. But there are some things that we really don’t need to be made electronically, like a book. If you read a book on one of those things i think 2 things:
    1. You dont have any real friends and you want to look cool while reading.
    2. You have only one friend and that friend told you not to buy it cause it would make you look stupid carrying around something that costs 400 bucks just to read, but being determined to prove that “friend” wrong you bought it.
    Books are best made out of paper.
    Paper is best made out of trees or recycled paper which was made from trees.
    Dates shouldn’t be in a chatrooms.
    Cyber sex is totally not what is cracked up to be.
    For some things, you cant beat the real thing… and you are a complete dork if you buy one of those 400 dollar readers. Buy a freaking Book and get some real friends!

  61. D.Paul wrote: “My only question is why must everything be appropriated, digitized and made accessible electronically? Why fix what ain’t broken? There’s nothing wrong with books, good, old-fashioned books.”

    This brings to mind the old Bacon quote:

    Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

    Likewise, there are some books that really call for a physical volume, others for which a digital facsimile is adequate, and still others for which digital is simply the best way to go.

    For the last category, exhibit a would be ephemeral books that quickly lose relevance: software users’ guides, date-based topics like Y2K doommongering, and political hit pieces (nobody’s going to buy the anti-Kerry swift boat book nowadays.)

  62. Steve wrote: “But how do you get your favorite author to sign the damn thing? That’s what I want to know.”

    Obviously, you collect signatures on the device itself. Which could be a pretty cool effect after you have a few.

  63. I ordered one of the XO Laptops as part of the Give 1 Get 1 program (still ongoing for a few more days – see http://laptop.org) and one use I plan on using that device for is in part as an ebook reader (which it is designed to be). It uses a similar technology to E-ink on the screen (may be the same technology I’m not certain) though the screen on the XO laptop actually has two modes – a color mode when in laptop lapout, and a black & white mode for use in full daylight (and in tablet mode). The screen also uses a cache and other technology to shut down the processor when you are just reading.

    However it is limited by relatively low amounts of storage, but I think (have to test this) i can add USB keys to the XO laptop and access them, plus the XO has full wifi and mesh wireless connectivity options.

    I am a book collector – as well as an avid reader. I do not see myself replacing my library anytime soon. That said, there are cases and types of documents I would find having accessible electronically very useful indeed – especially if the process of quoting, sidenoting, annotating, etc the documents was fairly seamless and if I could on the same device use both ebooks and PDF’s I could search for and download directly via the device (i.e. access for example an online research database and as I find relevant papers download a copy of them for further research all while also building up my citations, having the ability to make notes on the papers directly, highlight sections etc.

    The firefox plugin Zotero offers some of these capabilities today (and I love using it).

    Also I should note, iTunes already can manage PDF’s (you can even subscribe to podcasts which distribute PDFs btw) and the iPhone has a built-in PDF viewer – though it is not completely flawless by any means.


  64. Well its encouraging that one of your books is in an electronic format. I’ve been wanting to buy some of your books, but the fact that they haven’t been released as an ebook has prevented me from doing so. I find that real books never get read, I always have my pocket pc with me, and use that for reading almost all of my books.

    The device’s nature is a bit disappointing. I strongly prefer my pocket PC which supports multiple formats. I find one of the primary reasons for ebooks is that I have NO shelf space in my house, and that over the last few years I’ve more than made up the cost of my pocket PC with cheaper books (from some publishers at least, I just wish that Tor was one of them).

  65. re: TGB vs. OMW… I have a friend who is an e-book lover, and one of his biggest complaints is that he can almost never find the first book of any given series available as an e-book.

  66. I have a whole lot of e-books from eReader, Fictionwise, and Baen. I prefer the Baen non-DRMed books, but the eReader format has what I consider a minimal pain DRM system involving an unlock code; IMO it’s at the same hassle level as Apple’s Fairplay. I haven’t tried Secure Mobipocket books but I suspect they’re similar.

    Unfortunately, even though I am willing to buy DRMed e-books, not all publishers have their current books available even in the DRMed formats. (I have a few Tor releases that were done through eReader a few years back; I wasn’t lucky enough to pick up the Webscriptions Tor books during the short time window they were being sold before the hammer came down.)

    Why e-books? Portability: the same reason I buy paperbacks of books I already own in hardcover. I have several books in three different copies: the hardcover is the “archival”/”joy of the artifact” book, the paperback is the “drop it in the tub/over the side of the bed and it won’t break” reading copy, and the e-book is the “read it on the train/bus/plane/wherever” on-the-go “always there” copy because my Palm TX is (a) on my belt clip and (b) equipped with a 2GB SD card for book storage.

    This means that, in most cases, the e-book is in addition to my other purchases, not a replacement for it. More money for the publisher and author! This is a good thing! In cases where I don’t want to deal with the hassle of owning a hardcover (Elizabeth Moon’s Command Decision the most recent example), I may buy the e-book even at the “hardcover” price because I like the book enough to do so.

  67. If I could move my collection of over six thousand books into electronic form, I could free up a whole room in my house and plenty of space in a couple of others…

  68. @20 Dr. Phil Says:
    >[…] the Kindle (WTF kind of name is that?), […]

    The Kindle is an early-generation product, which will be obsoleted by its successors – the Smolder, the Flame, and ultimately the Blaze[3].  Each newer product will utilize storage cells of higher energy-density, and consequently have greater tendency to spontaneous uncontrolled thermodynamic excursions, than its predecessor[1]. 

    @75 Jon H Says:
    > Steve wrote: “But how do you get your favorite author to
    > sign the damn thing? That’s what I want to know.”
    >Obviously, you collect signatures on the device itself. Which could
    >be a pretty cool effect after you have a few.

    Even cooler would be if the author’s signature were accepted as final and unquestionable proof of full rights of entitlement by the bearer (i.e., the same rights enjoyed by the owner of a physical book) to the work in question, and as such were sufficient to unlock any DRM-enforced restrictions on access. Now that would just possibly justify some of the crypto-shenanigans with which both e-readers and the majority of e-books are burdened. [2]

    [1] Paging Mr. Bradbury, you have a call on extension 451 … Mr.
         Ray Bradbury, please dial extension 451.

    [2] Of course, the phrase “signing tour” would take on a much
         scarier meaning than it already (undoubtedly) has today.

    [3] In an alternate universe, the successors would be named the      Clutter, Pounce, and Pride, respectively. Really. Ask Ghlaghghee
         if you don’t believe me.

  69. The screen technology does look nice, but that is one ugly piece of electronics!

    What I want from an e-book reader is portability – something that I can access on-the-go whenever I get a moment. My Palm handheld fills that niche very nicely at the moment thank you.

    What the e-book industry needs is a radical shake up of pricing and delivery – in DRM-free, portable formats. Not another proprietary reader.

    The $9.99 price point still seems too high to me, when you’re not getting a tangible, physical copy of the book. When scanned and OCR’d copies of many books are available for free, where’s the extra value coming in paying for it? I’d pay something extra to get a properly spell-checked and proof-read file, but how much?

  70. Jon H: I mis-spoke, and also hadn’t watched the video yet. I don’t know what you call that flash when the page is turned, but I also don’t know how easily I could get used to it.

  71. Paul @78: re: TGB vs. OMW… I have a friend who is an e-book lover, and one of his biggest complaints is that he can almost never find the first book of any given series available as an e-book.

    I often have the same problem at used bookstores trying to find the first book in hardback.

  72. The $9.99 price point still seems too high to me, when you’re not getting a tangible, physical copy of the book.

    I consider not having to deal with a tangible, physical copy is a major plus. I’ve celebrated moving all the boxes of old CDs into offsite storage, and I’d gleefully do the same with books and DVDs, thus reclaiming something like 700 square feet of wall space scattered over three rooms. Half cover price seems about right. That’s what I pay for PDFs of technical books, and it seems reasonable considering that the publishing company doesn’t have to print/bind/ship/store bundles of pulp. Unfortunately for most fiction I buy half-price isn’t $9.99, it’s more like $3.99.

  73. Shannon: I was planning on doign the same thing with my XO! (In addition to using it as a writing laptop and accessing Google docs. And if I did that, then I suppose I could mostly store my e-books in my Google Docs, if the thumb drive thing doesn’t work.)

  74. I’m not sure if this is the bona fide “breakthrough” for e-book readers, but we’re getting closer with each new device.

    (I’m a bit worried about hidden fees, though: Which document downloads precisely will Amazon earn money on?)

  75. Am I the only one who likes to listens to ebooks using text to speech software while working (I’m an artist and listen to books while I paint)?

    Some of them have surprisingly natural sounding voices now. Not perfect, certainly. I’d rather listen to an audiobook read by a real person. But most SF doesn’t get turned into an audiobook.

    Nor, for that matter, can I afford to buy audiobooks—while I can download more free stories in a week than I can read in month.

  76. I’ve been reading e-books since GemStar first came out with the Rocket. Have both the original and the 1100. I like both because I can upload my own writing to them for proofing, etc. Like them because most e-books are available in formats they can handle so I can download from many sites. Like them because when giving a lecture, I can input my notes, turn the device on its side, use large print and have my own little makeshift teleprompter. Like them because they’re backlit and I can read in the dark. Lately though, with CTS a problem, I’ve been doing most of my e-reading on my iPAQ because it’s light and easy to hold. Sure doesn’t look to me as though Amazon’s over-priced, propritary toy will give me any of the above options.

  77. Hey John,

    Amazon folks have said the limiting factor on the initial run of Kindle books available for sale was the amount of time they had before launch to convert books to the new format. They probably looked at which of your books was selling best or most likely to sell to the Kindle demographic or something like that — maybe it was just alphabetical order, Ghost before Old?

    That said, as a vocal member of the tiny pro-Kindle minority in the blogosphere, I thought I’d throw in a few clarifications and corrections. Although PDF isn’t listed as a supported format, the Amazon email service converts them just fine. Don’t want to email them? Download the free Mobipocket Creator software and do it yourself. I have converted a bunch of files, including PDFs with illustrations and charts, with no problems.

    I think the crowd has also missed the significance of the free included mobile Internet service (based on Sprint’s speedy EVDO network). Kindle is not simply like other ebook readers or the first five gens of the iPod in letting you carry around a library of your stuff. It’s also an always-on, go-anywhere book store. And with the free Internet access, you can travel even further. I have read blogs, newspaper and magazine web sites, downloaded free ebooks, looked up stock prices and used my gmail account, all for free. You can totally route around the fees for blogs and papers. The browser is black & white and limited by the screen size. But for finding information, reading it, storing it and cataloging it — the Kindle’s a wonder. So much kvetching about the monthly access fees on the iPhone and now no one credits the Kindle for free Internet access…

    Finally, there’s the debate about the pricing of ebooks but it seems somewhat overdone. Okay, okay, we’d all like to get everything for free. But a lot of the ebooks on Kindle are considerably cheaper than the paper, real-world editions. All the best-sellers are $9.99 versus $15 or $20 for hardcovers. Older paperbacks, like Gibson’s Neuromancer or the Foundation series, are way cheaper. The tricky zone seems to be Kindle ebooks that are officially versions of pricier trade paperbacks when cheaper mass-market paperback editions are also available. Maybe that explains why the ebook of Ghost Brigades is $7.99. And, of course, there’s the head-in-the-sand publishing industry. Who knows what it’s trying to dictate on pricing.

    Overall, two days in, I find my Kindle to be a fun way to read, especially heavy hardbacks. The screen is crisp and clear — far less taxing on the eyes than my laptop screen. The software is easy to use once you spend 10 or 20 minutes to get the hang of it. And the web browsing and built in note-taking app constantly come in handy. I wish the price tag was lower — and it probably will be soon enough — but it’s been a worthwhile purchase for me so far.


    ps have a great Thanksgiving!

  78. So Aaron,

    How much work would it be to convert 500 pdf’s? Does the Kindle file format take more or less space than the original pdf? I would still prefer to be able to just look at .pdf’s but it might be workable.

    If there is no charge for web browsing anywhere, then that’s fantastic, even if it doesn’t do flash and .pdf’s. I could imagine using it 90% of the time just for that.

    If what you’re saying is true then it seems that the Kindle has not been marketed very well.

    I’m not about to drop $400 right now in my current situation but it sounds enticing. I was under the assumption that the web access was limited to Amazon and that you couldn’t access Project Gutenberg or other sources of free ebooks. For me, the large part of the appeal of an ebook reader is to be able to read old classics or otherwise free books.


  79. Aaron, something doesn’t add up here. If you can really surf the whole web on the Kindle, why would they be trying to get people to pay for blogs that are otherwise free? Why would I pay for BoingBoing if I could already surf there for free? I suspect that the web access is significantly curtailed from what you are describing.

  80. Also, I’ve read that the process to convert .pdf’s doesn’t work well for graphics or equations. So, the .pdf conversion thing is flawed for all but pure text documents. Pretty much all of my.pdf’s are full of figures and equations.

  81. “I suspect that the web access is significantly curtailed from what you are describing.”

    It’s not. The only advantage I can see to buying blog subscriptions is that they’re downloaded to your Kindle, so you can read them even when you can’t get a signal. And it’s certainly easier than sitting down, turning on your laptop, opening your web browser, and going to that URL. Not to mention that you don’t need a Wifi hotspot.

    The Kindle can access gutenberg.org or any other free e-book site via the web browser, and you can transfer free e-books from your computer via the USB port.

    As for converting PDFs, I just downloaded the free PDF of John’s issue of Subterranean Magazine, and it converted very well to the Kindle format. The formatting is a little wonky, one or two hard returns in the middle of a line per page. But it’s readable.

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