Two Sentences From The Future

April 28, 2009

One: “I’m going to the library to buy a book.”

The Espresso Machine — and things like it — will spell the end of bookstores. I don’t have the numbers, but I have to think there are more public libraries out there than bookstores. And if there aren’t right now, there will be. You won’t go to a store to buy a printed book. You’ll go to a neighborhood library.

Two: “What kindle are you reading?”

This is my nightmare, that the post-print generation does away with the term “book” and turns Amazon’s Kindle trademark into the generic for electronic books.

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Amazon Buys Lexcycle/Stanza Reader

April 27, 2009

Lexcycle has been acquired by Amazon.com!

The news showed up in my Twittersream via a re-tweet from someone I don’t know.

I thought it was a poor joke.

Within minutes, Techmeme had the item.

Moments after that, I had the above link.

What does this mean?

1) Less choice. Although Lexcycle states:

We are not planning any changes in the Stanza application or user experience as a result of the acquisition. Customers will still be able to browse, buy, and read ebooks from our many content partners. We look forward to offering future products and services that we hope will resonate with our passionate readers.

The key word there is “plan.” Amazon is the Boss now. They call the shots.

2) The further fracturing of eBook formats. It doesn’t matter if Amazon “embraces” ePub now. That embrace would take the form of hands around a neck. So far we’ve had the “illusion” of a universal eBook standard with ePub — because Adobe’s hands were the only ones around its neck. Adobe’s DRM is what made it possible for ePub to be embraced by the pearl clutchers of New York publishing. If Amazon adds ePub, it will have Amazon DRM. So while people can say it’s ePub, it’s really Amazon ePub. Incompatible with, for instance, the Sony Reader or any other device that licenses Adobe’s ePub rendering engine and DRM scheme.

3) I doubt we’ll see “Adobe ePub” on Stanza reader now. Check the very careful vetted-by-attorneys language in that original announcement:

announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement

Emphasis added by me.

An agreement is far different than saying “we have contracted to license.” Ask any attorney. I suspect no contract was ever signed. If one had been presented to Lexcycle for signing, its completion was stalled by whatever acquisition discussions were concurrently taking place with Amazon. As Samuel Goldwyn famously said, “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.” Stanza could agree to a license — but until the papers are signed, it’s meaningless.

4) Less choice for eBook buyers. Does anyone really expect Fictionwise and other stores to remain available on Stanza Reader now? Does anyone really think Amazon would permit competitors? Amazon doesn’t even permit customer dissent.

5) Fewer sales outlets for independent writers. Lexcycle once stated it would create a way for such writers to easily create ePub to sell via the Stanza app. That won’t happen now. Writers will be fobbed off to Amazon’s Kindle Store, where they will be ordered to drop pants, bend over, and take the confiscatory financial arrangement Amazon (grudgingly, I’m sure) offers.

6) The end of Stanza Reader. Come on. Amazon is going to have two apps, one for Kindle and one for competitors? It will become the Kindle application, period.

And what of everyone else?

Sony: Its strategy is eventually to release a wireless Sony Reader that will allow publishers to independently sell their eBooks. Sony does not intend to centralize everything in its current eBook Store. Sony, however, causes me to lose more faith in its ability with each passing day.

Fictionwise and others who were available via Stanza Reader: This is not good news, contemplating that over sixteen million potential customers will at some point be taken away.

Other devices: Most device manufacturers intend to license the Adobe ePub rendering engine and DRM scheme. That was when they all believed there was finally an “ePub standard.” That game has now changed. Given that Amazon did an iPhone Kindle app, could the company’s intention now be to openly challenge Adobe’s grip on ePub? Will it now license “Kindle ePub” to device makers? Will we see “Kindle Inside” stickers on future devices? ECTACO’s jetBook remains the odd man out in all this, using FBreader as its ePub rendering engine and not supporting any form of DRM whatsoever. (If the assertion of @kirkbiglione is correct, that, like music, DRM-free ePub is the future, then one could argue that jetBook is the future of eBook devices right now.)

Pearl-clutching New York publishers: Amazon has just pushed you back into a corner again. A consequence you invite when you let the future happen to you, instead of creating it.

Writers: Screwed, screwed, screwed. As usual.

It’s time for me to to educate all of you about just how important all of this is.

Look at how much time all of you spend reading from a screen. The future of reading is electronic, period. And I don’t mean simply books. I mean everything.

This battle over eBooks and standards impacts everyday life in ways few of you have yet to realize. Until eBook reading devices entered the consciousness of everyday people, eBooks were thought to equal reading off a computer’s monitor. I recall a hilarious and horrifying New York Times article where the columnist decided to “try eBooks” and did so by printing out a text version of a Project Gutenberg file.

Look at how far we’ve come since then: eBooks on Oprah. (Don’t argue about whether that’s good or bad, simply acknowledge it’s now in the mainstream.)

At some point, all levels of government will realize that offering paper is costly and inefficient. Back in the 1980s, the U.S. government mailed to every household a pamphlet about AIDS.

These days, we’d be told to go a website for such information (as we are, right now, being told to go to websites for information about a deadly flu outbreak).

But what about information in longer form? What about Congressional bills, agency manuals, Requests For Proposals, and the like? People won’t want to read such lengthy things off a computer screen, seated uncomfortably in an office-like chair at a desk.

It’d be better to publish them in eBook form. A quick download is far better than tying up servers with page requests.

And so, when the government wakes up to eBooks, all of this is going to finally start to become very, very important. Because the government can step in and mandate standards. The government is going to demand a universal standard — a truly universal standard. One that can be used internally as well as externally. And “externally” doesn’t simply mean to us, the population — for breaking information or even for public school books — but globally.

The government stepped in twice with television, first giving us the analog NTSC, and then the digital system in use today.

You see, we don’t need an “iPod of eBooks” — we need, cringe at this phrase if you must, a television of eBooks.

At some point, all of this is going to lead to Congressional hearings. You can put money on that. eBooks — the future of reading — is too important to be left in the hands of an allegedly “free” market.


The jetBook: A Real eBook Contender?

April 26, 2009

Look at this:


Click = big

These are two eBook reading programs on my desktop.

I have sized the windows identically.

On the right is the gorgeous LIT in Microsoft Reader.

On the left is ePub in FBReader.

How eerie is that?

If, like me, you’re used to seeing fugly fugly fugly ePub in both Adobe Digital Editions and the Sony eLibrary software, the above should be a real eye-opener.

It was for me.

As you’ll also notice, the fonts on the left are rather lighter than the MS Reader program. I don’t know what I can do about that aside from increasing font size and ruining the look-alike.

But: look! Margins! Fonts that aren’t fugly. A book-like presentation!

Why is this important?

FBReader is the display software for ePub files on the ECTACO jetBook.

You’ll notice my text extract at top isn’t centered — this is my alpha of The People of the Abyss. This continues throughout the alpha version. I suspect the fault is mine: I’m probably not using the proper tag for it.

But this really makes me wonder if the jetBook does ePub eBook display better than the Sony Reader.

One other glorious thing: FBReader will hyphenate words when the font size is changed. Unlike, say, the Sony Reader, which won’t break words and therefore leaves huge gaps between words when the font size is increased.

Alas, the ePub the jetBook can handle is of the no-DRM flavor, meaning no borrowing eBooks from public libraries and no buying of most ePub eBooks. And yet, for those who are philosophically/politically opposed to DRM, this is the first eBook reading device out there to offer something other than the fugliness of Adobe’s rendering engine.


Something’s Wrong In ePubville

April 25, 2009

I came across this link at MobileRead about free ePub eBooks for kids.

I downloaded one at random: R. Caldecott’s First Collection of Pictures and Songs [ePub link]

I opened it in Sony’s eLibrary software and Adobe Digital Editions.

Both were horrible.

I also tried Calibre, which did a slightly better job.

But still, I was so disgusted by what I saw, I couldn’t even take screensnaps.

How is it so easy for people to create terrible ePub? And then set it loose on the world to give ePub and eBooks something akin to a festering lip sore?

The worst LIT I’ve ever come across had blank lines between paragraphs (which is also an ongoing sin in all formats) — never anything as atrocious as what I saw here.

Previously here:

Is Adobe Hindering eBooks?
Ah, Gorgeous LIT!
The Native Beauty Of LIT


Book Notes And Free eBooks

April 21, 2009

That whole Apple App Store thing is frustrating some developers. This is a lesson for Palm not to do the same with the Palm Pre eStore. Not a tight eBook connection with this item, but I think there might in the future, so I want this link here.

British Publishers Try to Find the Money in E-books

The topic of pricing also drew heated commentary. “We need to adapt our thinking about payment” said Makinson, who is of the mind that publishers are “short-changing authors” if they don’t price e-books the same as physical books. Rebuck, too, called for parity in pricing while e-books are in their infancy in the British market, and said, “as we go on we can adjust.” And Barnsley came out strongly against the practice of “micro pricing” and selling chapters individually, preferring a subscription model. She said e-book reader manufacturers, network providers and others involved in the retail chain would like e-books to be priced as low as possible. But “they see [the book] as the petrol in the car, while we see it as the wine in the bottle.”

I’m not a fan of subscriptions. I can’t figure out what’s good about that for any writer.


Source: NYPL Digital Gallery, The New York Public Library.

The Humbug: Edgar Allan Poe and the economy of horror.

An interesting article that casts Poe within his place in time. Yet it misses the point: all of time is the wrong time for certain people.

If Dupin sounds uncannily familiar, that’s because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, like every other author of detective fiction, not to mention the creators of a thousand TV crime shows, is incalculably in Poe’s debt. “The children of Poe” is what Stephen King calls the members of his guild, and with good reason. But horror stories predate Poe, and have many other sources. Not so the literary sleuth. All detective stories and police procedurals begin with the intellectually imperious C. Auguste Dupin: methodical, eccentric, calculating — and insulting. We, mere readers, are so many Watsons, Hastingses, and Goodwins. Poe is the only Holmes.

And anyone who asks this:

Between Poe’s lies and Griswold’s forgeries, it can be difficult to take the measure of Edgar A. Poe. Was the man an utter genius or a complete fraud?

Doesn’t understand genius or Poe.

Now for a jarring change of topic — the baddest badass book trailer EVAR: MEEB Like This. Go watch.

Free eBooks!

Someone has taken the second issue of the classic comic book The Blue Beetle and turned it into a free ePub eBook.

Put Your Dreams First is a free PDF for a very short time.

And tomorrow only, Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie, shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009, will be free.


Moriah Jovan: Print Has A Future

April 20, 2009

Um, no. It’ll be the fuel source for cooking the squirrel.


"Small Places" Catch Up On This Twitter Novel

April 20, 2009

Writer Nick Belardes has published all the tweets that so far comprise his ongoing Twitter novel, Small Places.

Twitter Novel In The Twitterverse: Read The First 358 Tweets Of ‘Small Places’

I’m beginning to think that a Twitter novel is a new animal. I don’t mean the brevity (Ken Bruen has haiku-like writing in most of his books!). It’s the streaming delivery.

There I was enjoying several Small Places tweets. The character Milt was about to write something important on the whiteboard. I was all worked up to see what this revelation was going to be. And then the next tweet cut away from that to other characters! I’ve never experienced that sort of movie-like suspense with novels. Novels are more like a continual experience, whereas a Twitter novel is like a movie: cut-cut-cut.

Right now, the gold standard of Twitter novels is Small Places.

This is your chance to get up to speed. Go read!