Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What was that about e-books being doomed?

In Japan, e-books designed for cellphones outsold print books in the first six months of 2007. (Hat tip: LISNews.)

I wish this sort of thing would catch on in the U.S. In general I prefer reading on a screen to reading on paper—I appreciate having the ability to search the full text for words and to control the font, the type size, etc. And, since it's not particularly uncommon for me to spend 12 hours a day at the computer, I've invested in a nice setup—a big high-quality LCD screen, ergonomic keyboard and trackball, and a good desk chair—so I'm actually more comfortable sitting at the computer than I am sitting on the sofa or in bed or all of those other places that people say they prefer to read. But I very rarely read true e-books (of the type carried by NetLibrary or ebrary) because the interfaces on them are so awful. Actually, for the longest time I couldn't use ebrary books even if I wanted to, because their proprietary reader didn't work on Linux and I wasn't about to boot into the other side of my dual-boot setup to access their books. (I'm a messy-desktop person—I usually have several dozen Firefox tabs, a dozen or so Thunderbird windows, and half a dozen word processing documents open at once. Closing them all, booting up into Windows, and then going back to Linux and trying to remember what I had open and why and re-opening them all is a pain that I'm only willing to go through for a very small number of things.) I've tried NetLibrary, but I got frustrated at my session timing out and losing my place. I was trying to use a NetLibrary book to write a paper, so I wanted to be able to refer to the book, refer to other stuff, write for awhile, pace around for awhile, and then go back and refer to the book again. No dice—every time I went back I had timed out and I had to start from the beginning to find the book and my page again. Also, at this point the majority of the time when I'm reading a book I'm doing so with an eye towards using an excerpt from the book in one or another anthology that I'm editing for Greenhaven, which means I need to be able to print a copy of the chapter I want to use. Except (at least the last time I tried this) NetLibrary is understandably not so keen about people printing out entire chapters because of the potential for copyright infringement.

But my point is, these aren't problems with e-books per se; they're problems with the current e-book interfaces. Unfortunately, I don't know what it's going to take to convince the e-book vendors to either improve their proprietary readers or to serve books in plain old let-me-do-what-I-want-with-it HTML. *sigh* Maybe I should just move to Japan.

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