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January 16, 2007

Comments

molasses

I have a feeling it might catch on in the same way a 'paperless office' has caught on.

Ms Baroque

I was just talking about these the other day. I think Molasses could be right, but then I remember when people thought mobile phones were a waste of time & the province of fools.

As with anything it will be about identifying a logical market. I think one place where these could really make a difference would be in large print. Printing is expensive, and large print books are hard to come by - not that I've tried, much. But I feel fairly sure you can't get the Collected Prose of James Merrill, for example. These e-books could eliminate the need for specifically-produced large print books - just download your book and increase text size. Would be a godsend for me and I'm not even old yet! (And within two years, for the first time ever, the population over 65 will outnumber that under 16. Huge implications.

Dave Hill

I suppose I can't see it competing with the tactile quality of a 'real' book and it cannot replicate the attractions of a memorable cover design. But it does seem to offer a significant new publishing avenue which writers rather than retailers and marketing departments have most control over, and that has to be a good thing.

Francis Sedgemore

I'm sceptical about the screen quality. Perhaps you could comment in more detail about the resolution and font rendering.

Modern computer screens are based on flexible thin-film transistors (TFTs). Existing mass-market TFTs are relatively crude and slow, and at the cutting edge the technology remains unproven and expensive.

To make a decent e-book reader would in my opinion require a much denser pixel array than is found in any computer screen, and more work needs to be done on digital font rendering. Until then, paper rules.

Technology development for commercial use is driven by market needs, and the market is currently obsessed with HD video. The resolution needed for e-books that can match the readability of paper is an order of magnitude beyond this.

molasses

Books are great things to physically own.

Amongst other things, they make a room feel more colourful, relaxed, cosy and lived in.

tyger

Francis, I understand the screen on these things look great. It's brand new proprietary display technology.

Not sure I'd want a back light, I'm sure its better to read with a light behind you. I think by including a backlight it may well strain the eyes when reading for long periods.

tyger

Books still rule though...

Francis Sedgemore

"It's brand new proprietary display technology."

Sony's technology is still limited by the components available, and the company does not make these, or do fundamental research in materials science and nanotechnology. These are subjects I write about professionally, and I know that the kind of flexible TFTs needed for ultra-high resolution displays are not ready for mass-market applications.

I can understand if the Sony e-book reader display looks good in comparison with, say, a PDA or even a high-resolution laptop screen, but I'd be reluctant to spend hours reading a volume of poetry on one when I have ready access to a much higher resolution analogue version — i.e., an ink on paper book. I already spend far too much time in front of a computer screen, and it's ruining my eyesight.

Oh, and I much prefer the smell of a good quality paper to that of the volatile compounds used in the manufacture of consumer electronics devices. I have a new Palm TX PDA, and while it is, to me at least, a useful device, it continues to emit a most unpleasant odour.

Julia

How do you find reading off this thing?

I usually find reading long bits of text off a screen less comfortable somehow than reading from paper.

Noosa Lee

Ms Baroque's idea is a good one, that this device might find a niche market in large type and out of print books. Paper books are practical - they don't break and no one would want to steal one which means you can safely travel with them stuffed in your luggage, fall asleep reading them and leave them on the beach when you go for a swim. They are here to stay.

Ms Baroque

Thank you Noosa! I also think that for people like, eg, students who may need to travel but can't carry 80 nbooks with them this could be useful.

It doesn't seem to me to be about replacing books. But even a laptop screen is sometimes easier for me to read at the moment than and, as I said, I can't be the only one.

I also = pace all these remarks about now NICE books are - feel as if people are possibly suggesting that to think this device could be useful is somehow to be aesthetically philistine. I love books. I'm sure I buy more of them than most commenters here. My house is full of them. The best present I got this XMas was a complete works of Samuel Johnson, 1821. Sure! They furnish a room and they do smell nice.

I've almost given up reading, for example, novels. I just can't do it any more the way I used to. I'd love a little screen that would make it easier for me to read solid blocks of text.

And if it's better than a laptop, well, it's better than anything I've got!

Martin McCallion

From the Wikipedia article I see that the Sony device is encumbered with DRM. That would be enough to stop me buying it: "The digital rights management rules of the Reader allow any purchased eBook to be read on up to six devices (at least one of those 6 must be a PC)."

I would want to be able to download an out-of copyright book from Project Gutenberg ( http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page ), or one of Cory Doctorow's or Charlie Stross's Creative-Commons-licensed novels. I've read all of those on my PDA in the past, so I ought to be right in the target market. But not with DRM.

Otherwise, it seems a lovely device.

Incidentally, Dave, is there any way you can change your Typepad settings to allow some HTML in the comments? I was trying to make the "Project Gutenberg", above, into a link, but it only allows bare URLs like you see there. And I've tried to do emphasis in the past, and it just rejects it all.

Philip F

In reponse to Francis's comment about "higher resolution analogue version — i.e., an ink on paper book" Sony's reader uses E Ink technology - its' not their own, and is high resolution. To quote the eink.com website: "The black and white ink-on-paper look, combined with a resolution in excess of most portable devices at approximately 170 pixels per inch (PPI), gives an appearance similar to that of the most widely read material on the planet - newspaper. Because the display uses power only when an image is changed, E Ink High Resolution Displays have extended battery life over other types of displays. The unique technology also results in a compact and lightweight form factor allowing it to be ideal for highly portable applications."

Francis Sedgemore

"...170 pixels per inch (PPI), gives an appearance similar to that of the most widely read material on the planet - newspaper." [Philip F]

My Apple PowerBook has a PPI of 107, and uses what is now an old technology (bog standard LG Philips panels). 170 PPI is excellent in relative terms, but only moderately good in absolute terms. Pixel density will need to exceed 300 before I would call it high resolution. Almost all modern printers achieve in excess of 300 dots per inch, and any decent laser printer has a DPI of at least 600.

Of course, screen readability depends also on font family and size, and the type of font anti-aliasing used. This is the apparent removal of pixelation by blurring the sharp corners of fonts through colour shading and grey-scaling. In Microsoft Windows, anti-aliasing goes by the name of ClearType. To my eye, anti-aliasing improves the aesthetics of screen fonts, but the blurriness can be tiring on the eyes.

I agree with Ms Baroque and Noosa Lee that there is a market niche for devices such as the Sony reader, but I certainly wouldn't buy one at the existing $350 price point. And, as pointed out by Martin McCallion, there is also the fact that the Sony device is encumbered with a Digital Rights Management system that ties the user to an iTunes-like interface for purchasing books. DRM combined with an open-source operating system (i.e., Linux)? Bad, bad Sony!

Littlebear

Gotta have real books as well, though. How else can you get to know someone while they cook dinner? Must review the bookshelves.

Clare

Not convinced it would ever feel like a real book. But am also a little worried...

How to stop people downloading pirated copies of your books? Would nullify the benefit of current books-published-free-online, which only works cos people don't enjoy reading it on screen and so buy the book instead.

Also, and here I'm really raining on your parade, but...

The music acts that get big via MySpace or whatever, with no record company input, are rare. And, to be honest, it can only work if they're really talented, in which case they would probably have got a recording contract at some point anyway. Beyond that, the only way they can make any money from their craft is with decent marketing and distribution, for which you need someone with money , contacts and experience... i.e. a record company. The same applies in publishing.

The only way you, as an independent author, could reach a substantial book-buying audience - enough to fund the writing and therefore be able to write the next book rather than disappear into some other job to pay the bills... is with either phenomenal talent or a decent marketing budget. Even in the land of the internet, you have to have something really special to get the hundreds of thousands of hits that would be necessary to sell a large quantity of books. Remember, only a small percentage of website visitors will actually buy what you're selling.

I could be completely wrong, but I don't see a significant number of writers being able to make it on their own, with no publishing-company backup, even if they can sell direct to customers.

But arguing against my own cynicism, at least the returns would be much higher (no middle-men) and writers could join up to create publishing collectives, plugging each other's work online and marketing each other, and maybe investing some money back into marketing etc.

I dunno. I like it in principle. In practice my dark cynical heart is skeptical.

Clare

Incidentally, that photo doesn't do a good job of selling it to me. It looks too fat - I can't see that hand staying comfortable for long. He/she is surely going to get cramp very soon?

Having said that, I'd love to know whether someone has yet come up with a solution for the reading-in-bed problem, which I was reminded of only last night. Unless you sit up, you're buggered. If you lie down, whether on back, side or front, there is no comfortable way to hold a book and turn its pages without very quickly becoming very uncomfortable in some area of the body or other.

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