More Questions Than Answers: Month 3 of the Year of the E-book

First, a blog post got passed around on Twitter. Then the NYT picked up on it, and the following week this video was posted to YouTube:


(better version of this from Penguin’s Digital unit)

Got your mind properly blown yet? (Yes? Good.)

This is just the start of what promises to be a really ground-breaking year of user experience with e-content. In fact, I think we may have to stop calling them e-books. I knew that the iPad would be a game-changing device because of its ability to connect content with video and touch as well as connectivity, but to see its ability to utterly transform content is AMAZING.

I know we’re going to see more of this when the Microsoft Courier makes a debut, and as soon as the Asus eee Pad comes on sale later this year the market will be blown wide open. Just as the touchscreen smartphone became the norm in a little over 2 years, it will take even less time for tablets and “pads” to do the same.

But what else will be transformed? The evaluation of this content is going to be paramount for consumers – a traditional book or media review is not even going to start to cut it for interim consumers stuck between now, where we are in a real Wild West stage of development and innovation and the future, where (hopefully) standards for e-content will emerge… in some way or another. The same e-content could look radically different on one device than it does on another, and lose or gain functionality when ported to yet another.

I’ve said in the past that digital content needs to be device agnostic, and I’m willing to stick to that as an ideal for now. But things are getting very interesting, and it is nearly impossible to deny at this point that the publishing, reviewing, and bookstore/library industries are getting ready to pass through a fundamental change. Will consumers who bought a Nook only three months ago be satisfied once they see what their money could have bought in Apple’s iPad bookstore? Can Kindle fanatics reconcile themselves to plain black and white e-ink when interactivity and animations are available on new-style tablets?

Let’s see what Q2 of 2010 brings.

Happy 2nd Anniversary from IL2009

I’m excited to celebrate 2 years of blogging here! I wanted a new place to collect library thoughts so began this blog at IL2007 in order to do just that. This has been a great space for me to explore the random library, education, and literature-related ideas that flow through my head. Sometimes I feel like I should have named this blog schooling.ME because that’s a more accurate way to describe it 🙂 Having a dedicated blog space has really helped me to think deeply about all the bits and scraps I read about in my RSS feeds, tweet about on Twitter, and text about with friends.

That said, there are even more issues (relatively speaking) this year at IL as compared to two years ago. I have been following the Twitter backchannel chat and trying to pull out the themes that seem to be dominating the conversation this year:

THANKS. First, thanks to all who attended our presentation yesterday, with @lorireed & @librarianbyday & myself (@erindowney). For the lady in the audience who wanted to learn more about RSS, I recommend my wiki at http://cyber64edu.wetpaint.com/page/aggregators%2Freaders and to follow up with http://tinyurl.com/2rf25c . Good luck and drop me an email if you’re not feeling it gel for you!

PART ONE from Bobbi Newman
PART TWO from me:

NOSTALGIA. Despite our love of all things shiny & techno, there was a lot of talk in the keynotes about the solitary experience of reading, the scent of paper, and the sensory cues that tune us into this alternate world of deep contemplation. Although we acknowledge that libraries provide a new and wonderful node of community convergence, walking the line between preserving that singular & personal experience with information and the collective experience with the same is proving difficult for us emotionally. (Imagine how this affects how our patrons see us!)

CONTROL. Directors and other decision-makers are no clearer, according to attendees, about the fact that controlling dialogue online is at best illusory and at worst dictatorial. Transparency and extension of professional trust is the sentiment of the day. The boat has sailed: Internet communication means that we’ve created a sort of uber-democracy where voices cannot be stifled, no matter how much we may not want to hear them. The new proactive approach to service is to constantly scan the conversation and to become a part of it in productive, positive, and meaningful ways. Not participating is no longer a viable option.

LEARNING. Folks have expressed in various forums that libraries are still doing something very well – being one of those places where true learning can take place and personal passion can be pursued. Traditional schooling and the idea of teaching is transforming mightily, and the attendees here seem to be of the opinion that creating life-long learners is a process happening outside traditional institutions of learning. But this means letting go of our egos and seeing ourselves as coaches or facilitators rather than “teachers,” and is a point of friction.

RADICAL CHANGE/BUREAUCRACY. This dichotomy is not working for people. Librarians need to be set free to experiment, to fail, to try and dabble and poke about in order to bring about the change that’s needed to keep up with our users. The world is moving very quickly, and we stand the chance to exponentially lose street cred & relevance. Red tape, delays, paperwork, and other things keep us lumbering along like the dinosaurs (and many see us this way). Flexible, nimble, and ephemeral teams are more relevant as an organizational structure for today’s library.

From my perspective, these were all topics we were talking about 2 years ago at IL2007 but today’s conversations are much more intense. Transformative change only occurs when we can get our home institutions on board and gain critical mass with our own coworkers. If IL2007 was “try something new,” IL2009 is “DO something NOW!”

Even more e-readers, and mobile thoughts

At our annual Staff Day extravaganza on Columbus Day, Columbus Metropolitan Library‘s director Patrick Losinski gave a nice keynote about today’s library challenges and opportunities. His library concentrates on three key constituencies: young minds, power users, and virtual users. I think these are three sets of people you’d do well to make your primary service groups…

And speaking of power users and virtual users, I’ve kept rounding up the e-reader news & thinking about the issues. Check it out:

B&N E-Reader goss as well as SCOOP!

Spring Design reader will reportedly feature the Android OS

NYT weighs in:
Libraries & (digital) readers
and also
Brains and electronic reading

Mother Jones on ecological aspects of e-reading

The coming explosion!

Since my last rather ranty post about e-readers & such electronic devices, the field has gotten crowded with competitors and announcements. 2010 is totally going to be the year of the e-reader!

Time previews some of the new devices

Barnes & Noble will have their own reader for customers

Amazon answers with a price cut & international Kindle access!

Speculations over tablet PCs from Asus and Apple include e-reader capabilities & design

LG’s solar powered reader has promising niche appeal, could be huge in remote/rural places & emerging markets like Africa, etc.

And bloggers do the roundup of developments at the AtlanticWire

What this all boils down to, of course, is that computing is becoming even more mobile and interactive. Being able to manipulate interfaces directly a la the iPhone makes tablets ultra-droolworthy, and the emergence of a mainstream e-reader market has come from the desire of the contemporary reader to engage with text flexibly & digitally. Our silicon ways (wouldn’t that make a great band name?) have brought us to an interesting juncture – truly ubiquitous computing may be right at our fingertips.

I downloaded a book (and I liked it… sort of)

I felt as though, after my last post, I should play more with electronic books so that I can speak from a position of experience. So, I fired up my Kindle app on my iPhone – downloaded only because it was free – and flipped through my purchases, such as they were. I had only downloaded a short story and a few sample chapters, so I had no real experience at extended reading on my phone.

Because I’ve been enjoying the TV show True Blood based on Charlaine Harris’ novels, I decided to try the first in her Sookie Stackhouse series. I had flipped through them years before, and thought I might give them another try. After all, reading tastes change and I needed an “average” book to try out: something I would have bought in paperback, not too long or too short, just an average sort of book in order to get an average experience reading using Kindle.

Well, that was a mistake.

Dead Until Dark was a fun little book. So fun, in fact, I was eager to see what happened next in the series. And with an electronic book, all you have to do is hit the download button. It’s like a direct delivery system for book addicts; Kindle crack, if you will. The rush of instant gratification was a little magical and a little thrilling. There I was, in the backseat of a car, and within moments I was reading the continued tales of a vampire-dating waitress from Louisiana. I was about as happy as a real book lover could possibly be.

But that feeling didn’t last very long after I was done. For me, books are just about as social as anything else in the world. So of course I started thinking of people I would recommend this series to. And I realized that I could recommend all I liked, but that I wouldn’t be able to lend them my copies of the books! I’d have to hand over my phone in order to lend out my “books.” And in my mind, that’s a big loss. One of my big readers’ advisory mantras is that recommendations are only as good as your ability to connect the reader and book as fast as possible. Nobody likes to wait, and there’s a reason why Big Chain Bookstores engage in the “here, let me hand you the merchandise” practice: it cements the deal.

So while the e-book version was convenient for me as a solitary reader, it led me into a dead end. Even if I was able to “gift” my digital copy to another reader, it would still only be able to be read on an iPhone or a Kindle itself. I think the experience left me a little poorer than it found me – although now I’ve read the books, I’m not able to share that with other people unless they are willing to pay about $6.00 and go out to find the books themselves.

I’m inclined to think that this hurts the publishing industry more than it supposedly helps them. I rarely lend out an entire series of books, but I frequently lend the first copy in a series to friends and colleagues who are willing to give them a try. How many subsequent sales does that drive? Also, the price point seemed pretty arbitrary to me. I could pay between $2.00-$6.00 for a used paperback copy for the same book locally, and have the residual value of the physical book left over for sharing, etc. In theory, e-books are so cost-efficient to deliver to the consumer that it totally disrupts the distribution model. You only need one copy of the book on a central server to make a copy of for each reader, so I hope more of the profits would go to the writer (but I strongly suspect this isn’t really the case). And finally, publishers are losing their cheapest form of free advertising. Nobody I encountered that day knew I was sitting there reading Dead Until Dark. They had no clue. When carrying around a physical book in public, I usually get at least basic questions from people I encounter like “is that any good?” or “do you like it?” Now those chance encounters are all closed off.

So in the pros column, we have convenience and portability as well as instant gratification. But in the cons column, I experienced a lot of frustration in trying to share my reading experience. E-books also seem expensive given their limitations and restrictions.

While I won’t be repeating this experience with downloadable audiobooks (I am notoriously unable to listen to books, so it wouldn’t be a fair experiment), I do feel like I’ve gotten more insight on the electronic reading experience. If anyone has thoughts to share, I’d like to hear what you have to say in the comments section.

%d bloggers like this: