BitDepth 781 - May 10

E-books and e-reading have been a part of my life for the last ten years but the technology is speeding up and getting better.
Books made of bits
Caption: The Kindle reader running on an iPad. Amazon is rumoured to be planning its own colour tablet for the market. Photo courtesy

As part of the recently concluded Bocas Lit Fest, I put together a short talk on electronic books as part of a discussion panel on the subject. A vidcast of that presentation is
Long term readers of this column will have read earlier instalments about e-books and audiobooks, both of which I’ve championed as useful ways to keep up with reading in situations that might normally find you wishing for a book.

E-books have kept me company through hundreds of hours worth of driving and dozens of life’s generous offerings of boredom; from executive powerplays that left me in waiting rooms until I knew my place (or at least their place, with an hour to inspect it) to long lines awaiting competence.
What’s changed in the last year is an explosion of devices capable of supporting reading opportunities that don’t involve slabs of paper glued together.

Amazon’s Kindle was the biggest selling single product the company shipped over Christmas 2010, and Barnes and Noble announced that their rival e-reader, the Nook, was the best selling product in their company’s entire history.

During 2010, the Kindle moved quietly from being a device to becoming a platform, with software readers for Android, iOS, Mac OSX and Windows. With a useful bookmark websync built-in, it’s now possible to begin reading on one device and continue without losing your place on another. Add to that a rich selection of current books and the Kindle is shaping up become a key source for books sold over thin air and read onscreen.

In 2008, Amazon quietly gobbled up the other major supplier of books in digital format, and sensibly left it to it alone. Audible’s player on non-Apple platforms may not be as elegant as iTunes, but it’s functional and enables bookmarkable audiobooks on Blackberry and Android phones.

My commitment to audiobook reading runs deep. Nine years, 300 books and a new auto stereo with an auxiliary jack later, my only quibble with the Audible’s product is the same idiotic digital rights management (DRM) that plagues all electronic media. 

Instead of acknowledging the global character of marketing media and simplifying cross-border sales, retailers are held to sales boundaries that make no sense in a digitally enabled world. That’s why some electronic books simply aren’t available for sale to local purchasers but there are no restrictions on the dead tree editions.

Colour enabled digital tablets like the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab have added magazines, and comics to the growing digital library and the surge in selections wedded with the immediate gratification of digital delivery make the future of electronic reading seem quite bright.

And for a new generation of web enabled consumers of information that may be true, but there's no romance to reading an e-book for old-school book lovers.There’s no spine to sniff like a literary bloodhound, no divining the deeper quality of the book from the aroma of glue and tactile sensation of its paper stock.

I’m in the surreal position of having bought at least three recent books twice. Two of them were purchased because I still like having a shelf reference and another was actually a gift, but then I turned around and bought the Kindle editions for two of them and an audiobook of the third because that’s the only way they’ll ever get read.
These aren’t dilemmas that the next generation of readers will be having, so publishers must be ready for them.

Lit's Bits, a vidcast about electronic books
At Bocas Lit Fest
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