Tag Archives: ebooks

Notes from LMC Conversation Panel on “Books, Libraries, and the Digital Future” with Jay David Bolter, Lauren F. Klein, and Me

These are my speaking notes and discussion notes from today’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication Conversation following Robert Darnton’s talk yesterday on “Books, Libraries, and the Digital Future.” The panelists included Jay David Bolter, Lauren F. Klein (remotely), and me.

We met with an audience of about 25 members of the Georgia Tech community in the Stephen C. Hall Building, Room 102 from 11:00am-12:00pm.

  1. My research in the area
    1. My interest in eBooks comes from two tangents.
      1. First, it comes from my research interests in video game narratives in older software for the Commodore 64, Amiga, IBM-PC, Apple II, and Apple Macintosh platforms. Part of this research focuses on the way characters read within the game—particularly, computer based reading on terminals, tablets, virtual displays, etc. and how these ideas filter into reality/production and vice versa.
      2. Second, it comes from my dissertation research on something that William Gibson wrote about obsolescence and how our technologies—typewriters, Apple IIc, etc.—are fated to become junk littering the Finn’s office—in an “Afterword” to his Sprawl trilogy of novels: Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive [To read it, scroll to the bottom of this page]. The trouble with sourcing this text was the fact that it was not published in a physical book. Instead, I discovered from a Tweet that a mutual friend made with the writer that it come from an early eBook designed for the Apple Macintosh Portable by Voyager Company (what’s left of this company today creates the Criterion Collection of films).
        1. Gibson, William. “Afterword.” Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive: Expanded Books. Voyager Company. 1992. TXT File. Web. 25 March 2012.
        2. Gibson has done other things with ebook and experimental writing such as his exorbitantly priced Agrippa: A Book of the Dead, a floppy disk based e-poem that erases itself after “performing” one time.
      3. Since working with Gibson’s ebook, I’ve begun studying other ebooks—rediscovering ones that I read a long time ago and rethinking what constitutes an ebook—thinking about encyclopedia precursors to Wikipedia and other software such as the Star Trek: TNG Interactive Technical Manual, which does on the computer things that Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda could not do in their print Technical Manual.
      4. We can talk more about this later, but I support Aaron Swartz’s “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.” In my research, I have deployed my own tactics for reading and manipulating text that enable scholarship that I otherwise would be unable to do. Read more about fair use and transformation.
  2. My response to Darnton’s talk
    1. Aaron Swartz’s “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto
    2. Peter Purgathofer’s Lego Mindstorms-MacBook Pro-Kindle-Cloud-based OCR assemblage for ripping text from Kindle ebooks
    3. DPLA  scans of Dickinson’s manuscripts (open) and copyrighted scholarly editions (closed).
    4. Issues of the Archive, Access, and Control.
  3. My suggestions for future research directions
    1. The relationship between haptic experience of pulp books and ebooks (e-reader, tablet, computer, Google Glass, etc.). How do we read, think about, and remember books differently based on the modalities of experiencing the book? We know that the brain constructs memories as simulations, so what are we gaining and losing through alterations to the methods of interacting with writing?
    2. A history of eBook readers—fascinating evolutionary lineage of ebook reading devices including Sony’s DD8 Data Discman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_Discman).
    3. How are our students reading? More students this year than last asked me if they could purchase their books for ENGL1101 and Tech Comm as ebooks. How many students are turning to ebooks due to their cost or ease of access (pirating)? I don’t mind students purchasing ebooks over traditional books, but I have them think about the affordances of each.
    4. As researchers, how should we assert our fair use of texts despite the intentions of copyright holders? We no longer own books, but instead, we license content. [Purgathofer mentions this, but Cory Doctorow and others have commented on this at length: one source. Another more recent source.]
    5. How do we use ebooks and traditional books differently/similarly? For example, Topiary (aka Jake Davis), one of the former members of LulzSec, said earlier today on ask.fm that he prefers ebooks for learning and studying, but he prefers traditional books for enjoyment.
  4. Other responses, comments, and questions
    1. Jay Bolter: What about the future of books, the status of the book, and the status of libraries? What will happen to literature and the literary community? What is the cultural significances of print/digital to different communities (e.g., general community of readers vs. community represented by the New York Review of Books)?
    2. Lauren Klein: What are the roles of the archive and how do readers access information in the archive? We should think about how people use these digital archives (e.g., DPLA). In her work, she deploys computational linguistics: techniques to study sophisticated connections between documents. How is the information being used? Deploying visualization techniques to enable new ways of seeing, reading, and studying documents.
    3. Grantley Bailey: What about people who grow up only reading on screens/ebooks? What will their opinions be regarding this debate?
    4. Aaron Kashtan: Commented about graphic novels and comics in the digital age and about how these media remain entrenched in traditional, print publishing. Also, Aaron is interested in materiality and the reader’s experience.
    5. John Harkey: Commented on poetry’s dynamism and its not being wedded to books/chap books. Poetry is evolving and thriving through a variety of media including the Web, as electronic art, and experimental literature. We should think about literature as vehicles of genres and artifactual heterogeneity (essay, collage, posters, augmented reality, etc.).
    6. Lisa Yaszek: Pan-African science fiction is likely a model for the future. In the present, no single nation can support a thriving publishing industry for SF, but together, African SF is taking off with the diffusion of  new technologies of distribution and reading (ubiquity of cellular phones, wifi, cellular data, etc.).

Hugo and Nebula Anthology 2013, CD-ROM Source for New Project

20130126-162843.jpgI was very happy this week to receive a used copy of the Hugo and Nebula Anthology 1993 from Amazon. This early ebook technology by ClariNet is chocked full of content, including a hypertext version of Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. I will post more about this amazing collection as I explore its depths.

From CNN: Amazon e-books now outselling print books

According to this article on CNN, Amazon e-books now outselling print books – CNN.com, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced in a statement that Kindle ebooks are now outselling print books. Apparently, Amazon is still selling a boatload of books, but the ebook sales are slightly higher than traditional print editions.

Personally, I prefer Apple’s iBook Store to Amazon’s Kindle Store. I also prefer my multifunctional iPad to the one trick pony Kindle. I wonder how Apple and other ebook sellers are faring with Amazon’s aggressive push and success with ebook sales?

Twinsburg Library Presentations on the Future of Books

This past week, the Twinsburg, Ohio Public Library held a special event that featured Donald “Mack” Hassler among a number of other guests to discuss the future of books. I didn’t go to the discussion, but I did hear about it through the grapevine by way of a conference-call email from Mack. One of the folks covering the event for the blogosphere was Tim Zaun, who wrote a very excellent synopsis of the gathering here, which includes an outline of the arguments that each guest speaker made on the future of books.

Reading Zaun’s reporting of the event reminded me of things that I had written in the past on the future of books here and here. In the past, I felt a tension between digital books and pulp books. Each have their own unique and promising properties. However, my thinking has changed somewhat after having played with an Apple iPad.

Actually, I fell in love with the iPad on the several occasions I’ve had to play with one. As much as I lament the loss of the physical book artifact, I cannot ignore the power that a computer affords a reader over a text. There’s so many cool things that you can do once the text is in an electronic form. The thing for the future is to make sure we insist on our rights as readers to the full text and power over the text besides reading. If we’re going to switch to a new mode of reading through computer technology, reading and the things we do with texts should change and transform into something new. I am afraid that ebooks will just be another fight as it has been with the RIAA and MPAA regarding the transformation of their industries. The FCC’s allowing media to control your TV, stereo, etc. with the output block bit is only one example of how big media wants to control what you see and how you may see it. I don’t want this to happen with books. At least for now, the debate seems to be taking place in the marketplace–there is competition and multiple players–all healthy things, but as we’ve seen with other media, a state of affairs that can change very quickly.

I do hope that I can own an iPad in the near future, but graduate life as it is, may prevent this from being an immediate possibility. Perhaps one will fall out of the sky, but I hope that it has some kind of descent assist. The psychic trauma of finding a destroyed iPad would be too much to bear.

Amazon Nukes Ebooks Remotely

David Pogue on the New York Times reports that Amazon remotely nuked George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from every purchasers’ Kindle ebook reader, because the publisher decided that it did not want those books available in electronic form.  I call “bullshit” on Amazon and the publishers. I will never buy books from an online publisher that retains the right to reverse the sale after money has exchanged hands.

What recourse will Kindle owners have in a situation like this?  Will they sue to have their books returned, and will a judge or jury care since they were reimbursed for the reversal?  This is obviously a special case, because Amazon, in effect, reached into the home of each Kindle owner that bought those books and snatched them back without asking the purchasers if this was okay.  I believe that this will take strong muscle to assert the rights of consumers against big media.  So-called voting with dollars is non-starter when the need (or perceived need) of a product in the market place can be artificially created, inflated, and manipulated by capital within the market.

Read the full article here.

eBooks and Librarys

I know that there has been a lot more interest in eBooks following Amazon’s introduction of the Kindle and Kindle DX, but I was surprised to hear that ebooks, while only making up 3% of the book “publishing” market, represent the fastest growing segment of the book market according to this New York Times article.  I wonder if ebooks are beginning the logarithmic rise that mp3s did not too long ago to (almost) replace CDs.  MP3s were around for awhile before the firebrand RIO PMP300, and the style-and-function conscious Apple iPod took the stage and catapulted the digital audio file technology into something more than just a new technologically mediated way to listen to music.  The iPod with iTunes added a streamlined system for selling, distribution, and portable playback of purchased songs.  This, combined with rampant file sharing and a proliferation of inexpensive portable mp3 players, catapaulted mp3s over the walls of the compact disc stronghold.  Now, the rows of CDs for sale in big brick-and-mortar stores are dwindling.  Will the same be true in the near future for books and bookstores?

Amazon and Interead have reading devices and online ebook stores.  Many folks are scanning books and making them available online.  It seems like history may be repeating itself with books following the music model of going online–bits and tech replacing words on a published pulp page.  I’m weary of this transition, because I like controlling the bits that I own.  However, Amazon’s ability to remotely change the way a Kindle works (as in the case of the text-to-speech feature that was killed) leaves me concerned about who controls the device after it is purchased.  

Those concerns aside, what does the ebook mean for libraries?  Ebooks are much cheaper than books, which would give a library the ability to purchase more of them to satisfy their readers.  But, I don’t think the big ebook companies (like Amazon) or publishers want ebooks to follow a lending/reselling model that we’ve enjoyed with real books.  With a real book, I can lend it to a buddy, or sell it to someone else.  Additionally, lending and reselling may take place indefinitely for the life of the book.  This is not possible with the current offering of ebooks.  Amazon prohibits lending, and Interead allows you to trade books four times (kind of like Apple’s iTunes model of sharing songs–read more here). Additionally, there is the initial cost of a reader.  Electronic paper displays on ebook readers are much easier on the eye than traditional, backlit LCD, but this is a new and apparently costly (I wonder how much of this is licensing and not materials production) technology.  The point of libraries is to make reading available to a wide audience, but a greater shift to ebooks may marginalize libraries and their patrons.  What solution might the publishing industry offer libraries?  What should folks like us demand of the publishing and tech companies in the long term as books transition to the digital realm?  This seems like another case of the haves-vs-the-have-nots, and those persons with access to technology will make off with the spoils.  However, according to the Wall Street Journal, the homeless (this is not to say that all homeless experiences are the same) have computers and get online (read more here).