How do you get your ebook signed by the author?

Paul Raven @ 04-01-2010

No, it’s not really a trick question. In fact, it’s a business idea from Danie Ware, public relations ubergeekstress of London’s world-famous Forbidden Planet store, a solution to the intangibility of an ebook by comparison to the collectible physicality of its dead-tree equivalent. So I’ll let Danie explain the idea herself:

Removable, collectable vinyl [ebook reader] covers – plain, a selection of colours, maybe they can be stylised by your favourite art toy designer – but ultimately, they’re there to collect signatures. Take one to a Convention, keep it on you, it protects your Kindle, it looks cool – and you get to show off all the autographs/sketches you’ve collected.

It’s a talking point in the bar – a great way to chat up fanboys/girls and a lovely excuse to approach your favourite writer. Plus the authors get to keep up with their public appearances – hell, if this is marketed right and catches on, it could be a new and different lease of eventing life… bigger multi-author signings will surely become more popular, and (we’re back to this again) everybody wins.

Definitely not the craziest idea I’ve heard so far this year… hell, I’d buy one right away (if I had an ebook reader to put in the thing).

What do you lot think – will your ebook reader be owner-decorated, like a sticker-bedecked and/or laser-engraved laptop (or, going back in time a little bit, the school bags, folders and pencil-cases of teenagers), or will it stay largely uncustomised, like your phone?


The B&N Nook – is it the ebook reader we’ve been waiting for?

Paul Raven @ 22-10-2009

Barnes & Noble Nook ebook readerI don’t know for sure, but it’s certainly ticking a lot of my requirement boxes by comparison to the alternatives. Barnes & Noble have dropped a minor bombshell in the form of the Nook ebook reader, which is powered by Google’s Android operating system and open to a whole lot of everyday file formats that the competition don’t touch. Here are some highlights from the Ars Technica rundown:

In contrast to the Kindle’s physical keyboard (and Sony’s on-screen one), the Nook uses a color touchscreen for most of the navigation (it’s listed as a 3.5″ TFT-LCD); it’s laid out as a wide band immediately below the E-Ink screen. Various demos show that this can be used to access a series of settings through hierarchial menus, and it will display book covers, either from the B&N store or in your library, in full color. It’s not clear at this point whether it can also display an on-screen keyboard for note-taking and other text entry.

In other ways, the Nook is a bit of a throwback to the first version of the Kindle. It’s a bit thicker and heavier, but that enables B&N to include a removable battery and an SD card slot for additional storage—2GB is built in. It also comes with free access to a 3G cellular network (this one from AT&T), but one-ups Amazon by including WiFi, which will allow some of its features to operate during foreign travel. It can be connected to a computer or charged via a mini-USB port, and the device also has a speaker and headphone jack.

All of these features may explain why the battery is removable. B&N estimates that the device will run for about 10 days on a single charge if the various wireless options are shut down, but heavy use of the optional features may drain it in as little as two days.

So, the sort of thing you could take abroad and still access new content with. And who knows what sort of capabilities the hacker crowd will discover once they learn to root the OS and add their own applications? Some sort of basic web browser attached to the wi-fi connection doesn’t seem implausible. But the best is yet to come:

Some of these hardware choices may make it a compelling device, but the real differentiator is probably in the software. B&N turned to Google’s Android operating system to power the Nook, which may be why it supports so many file formats, including PDF, EPUB, eReader, MP3, and PNG, JPG, and GIF image formats.

Like the Kindle, the software will synchronize content among a variety of devices, including PCs and Macs, as well as Blackberries, iPhones, and iPod touches. But it also allows users to lend their purchased items to friends with linked accounts. So, for example, you can choose a book and send it to a friend via the touchscreen interface. Once sent, your friend has 14 days to read it (presumably, the work is inaccessible to you during that period).

Finally, someone has remembered that people like to lend books! I rather suspect there’ll be a lot of fiddly legal loopholes and DRM involved, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The snag-point for me (besides the fact that it doesn’t look like there’ll be a UK version particularly soon) is being tied to a specific retailer’s store, but that’s ameliorated a great deal by the ability to read PDFs and other standard formats – it means there are literally thousands of books and stories that you can read for free on the Nook. All you have to do is go fetch them from somewhere and load them on… and a rooted device with the aforementioned basic web capabilities could make that a simple procedure, too.

But the price-point and capabilities are (hopefully) a harbinger of things to come; I think we’re getting nearer to the tipping point that mp3 players went through a while back, when there’ll be a sudden wave of generic hardware that doesn’t tie the user to a particular content provider. Ideally you’d have the option to link to all the major ebook vendors as well as the ability to download free material from the web, and that’s plainly well within the bounds of technological possibility (although the vendors will resist calls to surrender their walled garden exclusivity, no doubt). Will the ebook market grow quickly enough to provide that pressure? I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but the protestations of those who say that ebooks will fail because they’ve always failed before are starting to sound a little shaky to me. [image ganked from The Guardian; contact for immediate takedown if required]

So, what do you think? Would you be interested in a B&N Nook? If not, why not? What features or capabilities is it missing?


Would you buy a Kindle DX?

Paul Raven @ 08-05-2009

Well, we’ve all had a few days to take a look at the specifications and hear the debates, so it’s time to ask – would you consider buying the new Kindle DX? If not, why not?

Amazon Kindle DX ebook reader

Frankly, if I had the money to hand I’d order one now – in full knowledge that something better will be along in a year and make me regret it. They’ve just passed the utility point past which my early-adopter organ starts releasing the hormones; PDF compatibility is the big issue for me, second to a bigger screen size, though apparently there is a small charge for sending a PDF through the system to your device (which is a bit cheeky). Lucky I’m skint right now, I guess… but this is surely much closer to a game-changer device than the last iteration, not to mention easier on the aesthetic eye. What do you think?

Bob Lefsetz seems to agree with me:

The Kindle breeds excitement.  At your fingertips is a breadth of excitement and knowledge.  My little device is always at the ready, and calls me not only at night, but during the day, to delve into a story that tells me so much about the world but is not laden with the hit and run facts of today’s infotainment society.

Fiction tells you more about life than non-fiction.  All these years later, to rediscover the experience of reading stories is thrilling.

But I don’t expect the mainstream to join me on my adventure quite yet.  The buy-in price of the device is way too high, $349.  And the new Kindle, $489, this is not something for the masses!

iPods got cheaper.

Kindles are getting more expensive.

Buy the third or fourth generation.  Maybe the fifth.  The ergonomics will be better and the price will be lower.

Granted, Lefsetz’s experience is in the music industry, but I (and he) still hold that the similarities between the two industries are strong, albeit with change occuring in the book industry at a somewhat more manageable pace. The writing is on the wall… or rather on the screen. 😉

But the response on everyone’s lips seems to be “ooh, just wait until Apple put out a tablet device!” I’d agree that if Apple can nuke the punch-bowl in the same way they did with the iPod, they’ll be onto a winner… but I’m not sure they care enough about books as an industry. Everyone listens to music, and you can listen to music while doing something else; neither of those factors apply to reading. Reading is a very different (and smaller) lifestyle niche, and I’m not sure the iPod business model would scale in the same way.

Furthermore, an Apple tablet will doubtless do loads of other fancy latte-sippin’ Apple stuff as well, and doubtless have the fashionably high price tag to match… so while I’m not feeling the Kindle DX as the apogee of ebook tech, I’m not expecting Steve Jobs and company to lead the field either. My money’s on someone else coming up with a more open and utilitarian platform at a lower price; that’s when things are going to get really lively. [image courtesy Engadget]


Gary Gibson’s six months with a Sony Reader

Paul Raven @ 15-12-2008

Sony ebook Reader deviceBeen considering splashing out on an ebook reader? If so, you’ll be wanting the opinions of someone who isn’t just shilling for the company. While the Kindle seems to get the bulk of the blog coverage, there’s another big-brand competitor out there – and Scots science fiction novelist Gary Gibson seems to be a convert to the church of Sony Reader:

The answer is a very vigorous thumbs-up. I love the bloody thing, despite its many faults. God knows there are enough of them; it crashed from time to time, necessitating sticking a pin in the back to get it to laboriously reboot. Changing pages can occasionally also be a bit slow. It doesn’t come near the stated 7000-pages-before-needing-a-recharge stated in all of Sony’s advertising. And that’s just the hardware. There are endless problems to do with file formats – .lit, .mobi, .epub, and .on and .on and .on. […]

And yet, it’s still the greatest thing. The words are an absolute delight on the screen. It’s remarkably like reading words on paper. The text is clear and sharp. The machine is stunningly sleek and portable. And my reading has gone through the roof; I’ve read more books in the past six months than I’m usually likely to get through in a couple of years, if that. […]

I’ve made a point of being the first to describe the many discouraging issues concerning the technology. I suspect machines like this are really for the hardcore reader like myself; critics are right to point out these are not devices for the kind of people who might read one or two books in a year while on holiday. But for people who like to read, they’re an absolute godsend.

I expect I’m going to wait until the next generation of netbooks have full ebook functionality (I’ve been rammed into penury by sporadic displays of early-adopter syndrome before, a habit I doubtless acquired from my father), but if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t buy a new computer ever eighteen months, but who does tend to read a lot of books… well, are you tempted? Or are you going to stick with print on pulp until it’s pried from your cold dead hands [image by shimgray]


Pan Macmillan caters for the iPhone alpha geeks

Paul Raven @ 24-11-2008

iPhoneHey, you – yeah, you with the iPhone. Wanna do something more interesting than pretend to check your mail while you’re on the bus? Genre publishers Pan Macmillan obviously think you do, and have taken the remarkably forward-looking choice of making some of their science fiction and fantasy ebook selection available for the Stanza reader software. [image by William Hook]

At the moment you still have to download the original ebook to your Stanza desktop app and transfer it across, and you can only get an excerpt rather than the whole thing, but apparently the ability to buy direct from your iPhone is in the pipeline. I’ve been waiting to see how the big houses would respond to Oprah’s backing of the Kindle – maybe we’re seeing the first shot in a hardware war yet to come?


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