To Ebook or Not To Ebook

This week Barnes & Noble lowered their price for the Nook to $199, and came out with a Wi-Fi only model for $149, and on the same day Amazon lowered the price of the Kindle to $189.  Unfortunately, the iPad remains $499.  Once again I’m thinking about buying an ebook reader, but there are so many things to consider that I’m left undecided.

For instanced, I’ve been to three local bookstores trying to find a copy of Texasville by Larry McMurtry without coming home with a book to read.  If I had an ebook reader, either Nook or Kindle, I could have started reading it immediately after realizing I wanted it.

Score 1 for ebooks.  If the book is available ebook readers win on instant gratification.

Score 1 for paper.  On the other hand, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble sell the ebook edition of Texasville for about the same price as the trade paperback edition, so I wouldn’t have saved any money towards paying back the investment of $149, $189 or $499.  Why buy an ebook when the real book is the same price?  I could read the real book and give it away or sell it, which I can’t with an ebook. 

Score 1 for paper.  I just ordered Texasville as a used hardback for 1 cent and $3.99 postage.  You can get used books but not used ebooks.

Score 1 for ebooks. If I had bought the ebook edition of Texasville, Larry McMurtry would have been paid.  Buying used cuts out the author.  If all books sold were ebooks then writers will always get their cut.

Score 1 for paper.  If everyone buys ebooks bookstores will go out of business, now that would suck, wouldn’t it?

Score 1 for ebooks. The price of The End of Biblical Studies is significantly cheaper for the ebook edition.  It’s $21.77 for paper and $9.99 for the Kindle, but it’s not available for the Nook.  Bummer, because I was thinking about getting the $149 Nook.  But that’s $11.78 I could apply towards the iPad, since it does have Kindle and Nook reader software.

Score 1 for paper.  I’m going down my Amazon Wish List to test things, and it’s score another point for paper, because The Year’s Best Science Fiction 2010 is not available for ebook readers.  Actually, paper will score many points here because many books on my Wish List aren’t available in an ebook edition.  That will change.

Score 1 for iPads.  There are books that are available for the Kindle but not the Nook, and other books like Darwin’s Armada that’s available on the Nook, but not the Kindle.  The iPad has software readers for most dedicated ebook readers.  But $149 + $189 is still cheaper than $499.

Score 1 for ebooks because they offer large print and that makes reading easier for me.

Score 1 for ebooks because they are environmental friendly.

Score 1 for paper because I can share books, give them away or sell them.

Score 1 for ebooks because they are easier to hold.

Score 1 for paper to save money.  By buying used, going to the library, getting books off the free table at work or borrowing books from friends I could significantly reduce my annual reading budget.  It’s even possible to spend no money on reading if I stuck with paper.

Score 1 for ebooks because they stimulate the economy.  Not only do you need to buy an ebook reader, but you have to pay for all your new books.  This is bad for libraries and bookstores, but great for publishers, writers and the economy.  The move to a Green Economy means creating as many environmental friendly jobs as possible.

Score 1 for iPads because they are good for magazine reading.

That’s 6 for paper and 9 for ebooks, with a leaning towards the iPad.  I’m leery of spending $499 for the iPad.  I spent $199 for the iPod touch and $399 for a Toshiba netbook and really don’t use either.  I’d hate to spend another $499 for another gadget I’d end up not using too.  But I’m wanting to read more but I can’t because small print strains my eyes.  An ebook reader promises help for this handicap.

Finally, my stand on giving up paper means I don’t read magazines like I used to, and I miss that.  I can read magazine articles online from my computer desk, but that’s not the most comfortable way to read for fun.  The iPad “appears” to offer a better solution, but I won’t know until I bet my $499.

I look at my wall of books next to my computer desk and I wonder what life would be like if all those books were inside an ebook reader.  Many of them are reference books with photos, drawings and diagrams – so I can only imagine those working on an iPad. 

I had to move my wall of books when we put down new flooring and all of those books were very heavy and hard to move.  It would be strange to hold all of them in one small device.

If I was born in a future age of ebooks, would my ebook reader at age 58 hold every book I had ever read?  That’s a weird thought.  Writing this is making me lean towards buying the iPad, and maybe even spending $599 to get the 32gb model, although I’m also tempted to hang onto paper for just a while longer until the iPad 2 comes out next year.

I keep thinking of more things to consider.  Will I take my expensive iPad into the bathroom to read?  If there are four best of the year SF anthologies to consider and only two of them are sold in ebook editions, will that force my buying decision?  Will I choose Dozois and Hartwell over Horton and Strahan because they don’t have ebook editions?

Once I buy an iPad will that make me prejudice against books that don’t have ebook editions?  It’s like my friend who took a rotary phone to show his fifth grade class and one girl asked “How do you send text messages?”  If I get used to an ebook reader and then pick up a book, will I think, “Where’s the button to change the font size?”

JWH – 6/27/10

Lightspeed – A new science fiction ezine

Lightspeed is a new online science fiction magazine edited by John Joseph Adams.  Adams was an editor for the print magazine F&SF for nine years, as well as ongoing editor of many exciting theme anthologies, so he has lots of experience looking for good SF stories.  It’s an exciting time for short story writers as they transition to online and ebook markets.  Lightspeed is a good looking site, offering a number of innovative options, including audio versions of stories, as well as the ability to purchase issues in a variety of ebook formats, including Kindle, iBook, ePub and Mobipocket.


Reading Lightspeed online is apparently free, with “Our regular publication schedule each month includes two pieces of original fiction and two fiction reprints, along with four nonfiction articles. Fiction posts on Tuesdays, nonfiction on Thursdays,” but you can buy the entire monthly issue for reading immediately on your ebook reader for $2.99.

I tried to buy the first issue online, with the hope of using PayPal, but aborted my order when asked for my address and no payment method was stated.  Since they take donations via PayPal that might be an option.  It would be nice if that information was at the top of the checkout page.

I’m thinking about buying an iPad, so I’m looking forward to seeing Lightspeed on the beautiful iPad screen.  I also discovered I can buy Lightspeed as a Kindle edition through Amazon and read it on my Kindle Reader for my iPod touch, so I purchased it that way for now.  That took less than 30 seconds, and maybe less than 15.  I wish all ebook magazines were this easy to get, and $2.99 is a very fair price I think.

I’m glad I didn’t buy the first issue online now because I would have had the hassle of downloading it to my computer, importing it into Stanza Desktop, and then going to my iPod touch and copying it over by WiFi.  The Amazon method was much more direct. 

So if you’re an ebook reader, check your different ebook stores for Lightspeed.  It would be helpful if the Lightspeed site had a page about all the various ways to get it on your ebook reader program and device.  This magazine is perfect for the iPhone crowd, and it would be extremely cool to see them combine their print and audio editions into an iPhone App.

I hope Lightspeed plans to distribute with Fictionwise because they are great at selling editions for almost any kind of ebook reading device, and they are a great site for getting all the major science fiction magazines in ebook editions.

Ebook editions might be the future of science fiction magazines.

JWH – 6/6/10

Books versus Ebooks

I love science fiction and futuristic ideas.  I love computers and neat gadgets.  I love reading.  So, you’d think I’d love ebook readers.  I’ve owned several, including a Kindle, but I’ve sold or given them away.  I’m still anxious to have another ebook reader, but I’m not so much waiting for the ultimate ebook reader as I’m waiting for the revolution in publishing that will create super-books that have to be read on an ebook reader.  Right now ebook readers have a few conveniences that might appeal to some bookworms, like being able to change the font size, carry many books around at once, going green and saving trees, but for the most part, reading an ebook isn’t different from reading an old fashion book.

What I want is an ebook like the magical books we see in Harry Potter movies, where the pages have moving photos and words and letters dance with animation.  I love reading about science and history and I believe that adding multimedia to the words I read would create a quantum leap in learning fun.  Actually, web pages are heading more in this direction than ebook pages.  Take for instance my blog here.  I can add videos, photos, maps, music to my page to spice it up.  I can link to other pages all over the web.  These additions are still clunky, so the page isn’t seamlessly animated like a book in a Harry Potter story, but I’m sure is working on that.

Last year I was at a book giveaway where I picked up several modern high school textbooks.  They were stunning productions, taking the potential of the printed page further than I’ve ever seen before.  No current ebook reader can come close to duplicating what they can.  If the iPad had a 15” screen it could, and if the layout was adapted, its 9.7” screen, it could theoretically compete well.  The iPad represents a new generation of ebook readers, and it has the potential for being a fantastic device.  Will it become the fabled Dynabook, we’ll have to wait and see.  Tablet computers have been around for awhile, but no one has really programmed the content to showcase the design.  The iPhone is a huge success because programmers maximized the design of their networked programs for the 3.5” screen.

Whether writers and publishers jump on the tablet ebook potential is a whole other story.  I was thinking about buying a Kindle 2 or a Sony ebook reader, but after seeing the iPad I doubt I will.  The iPad’s larger full color screen, able to show high definition video, play sound, and computer animation makes me think I could have a Harry Potter magical book.  But remember, the iPad is worthless without the content.  I’m surprised Steve Jobs didn’t commission a writer to produce an ebook that showcased the iPad’s real potential.  If I was just going to read novels, I’d get a Kindle.

I recently reviewed The Bible: A Biography by Karen Armstrong.  It has 34 pages of footnote citations.  I own this book in hardback and unabridged audio.  I’d like to have an iPad edition that has both the text and audio narration built in, and hyperlinks to the full pertinent portion of the texts to all the footnote references.  Armstrong summarizes the work of hundreds of individuals over thousands of years.  I’d like links to their original work (it should all be in the public domain).  Also, if her research for the book included documentaries and interviews, I’d like the videos and sound recordings added.

But most of all I’d want two extras that I haven’t seen before, even on the web.  First, since the book is about The Bible, I’d like her annotation of The Bible presented and for each verse I tap with my finger I’d want Armstrong’s text related to that passage, and a listing of links to all the people who offered commentary on that verse that Armstrong reviewed.  Second, I want a time-line.  Armstrong is summarizing thousands of years, so I’d like a year by year listing of when various portions of The Bible was written, related history happened, or commentary took place.  That way I could read the text of Armstrong’s book in three orders:  As it was published in print, in time order, and in Bible passage order.

I’m sure other people can think of other features to add to this super-book version.  For example, having a fun trivia type game to test me on content would be an another extra feature.  Hell, another cool idea just popped into my mind.  Since The Bible has spawned endless denominations of Judaism and Christianity, I’d like a family tree of denominations showing how each sect got started and by whom.  All the philosophers and theologians Armstrong mentions created a spider web of interconnected ideas, with many branches forming new churches.

Essentially what I’m asking for is what’s already in the book that Armstrong wrote and her notes, annotated with what she read and studied to write the book.  I’m just asking to see the same information from a variety of angles, and to follow different paths through the information.  For example, Armstrong gives us a taste for many Christian thinkers, like Origen, but because her book is short, she flies by these philosophers rather fast.  Including the Wikipedia entry for each person mentioned would also be helpful.  This is the second book I finished this month that mentions the Christian theologian and heretic Origen, the other being The Rise and Fall of Alexandria by Justin Pollard and Howard Reid.  Neither paint him as well as his Wikipedia entry.

This would not be practical as a printed book.  I’m not even sure if EPUB formatting can handle it.  But when publishers start selling books like this, then people will see the obvious value of an ebook reader like the iPad.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the iPad is special.  I think HP, Asus, Acer, Toshiba, Samsung, MSI and other computer makers will quickly take over the market and create iPad like devices that are better and cheaper.  They might all be called iPads, like all copiers are called Xerox machines.

Ebooks should revolutionize the textbook and non-fiction book industry.  Each book should have multiple ways to read through the content, and reading might take place with the eyes or ears or both.  Can you imagine a fully multimedia math book?  Or what about textbooks for studying French and Spanish?  What about a detailed history of astronomy?

So far I’ve been talking about super-books.  But what if a publisher took the 10 best books on a subject, like The Bible, and blended them together to for a super-super-book?  Certain books would have fantastic synergy is woven together.  This would be perfect for college courses too.  Also, use the same techniques to annotate fiction.  Imagine what could be done with On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

The reason why ebook readers haven’t been convincing buys to many bookworms yet, is because they haven’t presented the potential of Reading 2.0.  Or is it Reading 14.0 by now?

JWH – 1/31/10

Libraries in the Age of iPads

If everyone owned an iPad would we need libraries?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating the demolition of libraries, but with the advent of the internet and ebooks talk about the death of newspapers, magazines and books get more common every year.  If we don’t need those physical objects anymore, why do we need a building and institution to maintain them?  Think about it.  If books, magazines and newspapers disappear from our houses and move into Kindles, Nooks, and iPads, why would we go to the library?  Why would we go to bookstores, new or used? 

Modern libraries are about more than books, patrons also check out movies, audiobooks, music, and periodicals.  But all of those media types are now available on the iPad.  I know older people who grew up with libraries will immediate protest, but remember, us older folk are a dying breed and the up and coming generations are gadget afflicted.

Libraries used to be storehouses of knowledge and librarians worked to collect and preserve the printed word.  That’s still true of academic libraries, but public libraries have moved into an era of supplying what their patrons want, so as soon as a book is ignored for a specific period of time, it gets jettisoned from the collection.  Most people think of libraries as free books, free movies, free music albums, and free magazines and newspapers.  I think a lot of people think we should have libraries to provide a cultural outlet for the poor.  But the internet provides more free stuff to read and watch.

The death of libraries is pretty much unthinkable now, but don’t be surprise when city bean counters start making suggestions about closing them.  I grew up  loving libraries, and even worked in public and academic libraries.  They don’t seem as crowded with patrons as they used be.  I hardly go to the library anymore myself, not since the internet.  I saw the video of Steve Jobs presenting the iPad and showing off its ebook features and it struck me that devices like the iPad will be the library of the future.  When I was growing up futurists would talk about having a handheld device with the Library of Congress in it.  We’re getting spookily close, aren’t we?

The book is evolving too.  When it escapes the limitation of the page, adding multimedia and hypertext the book will no longer fit on a library shelf.  Printed books, newspapers and magazines might become extinct, but imagine what will replace them.  There is no reason to make a distinction between newspapers and magazines anymore.  That might become true for books and novels too.  Newspapers used to be frequently published information printed on cheap paper.  Magazines and journals had longer periods between publication and were printed on better paper, suitable for long term storage in libraries. 

The electronic page is not limited by time, paper quality or cost of printing.  Newspapers and magazines use to be text plus photographs.  Electronic publication is text plus photographs, video, sound recording, animation and other multimedia.  Go look at the iPad video and tell me if kids will even want to go to the library or read books and magazines.  And what about you?


I like the name iPad, just one vowel different from the iPod, but many of my friends have expressed a dislike for the name, and some of my women friends tell me the name brings up bad connotations with them.  I think Steve Jobs should have named it the iLibrary.

JWH – 1/28/10

The Battle of the eBook Readers

For a couple years now the Amazon Kindle has been the standard for ebook reading, even though the Sony Reader has been around longer and many people find it just as good. Now, the Barnes & Noble Nook has come out – so we have the Big Three of ebook readers, even though there are other ebook readers available, and more being planned.  I have no intention of trying to review them, or compare their technology, PC World does a good job here.  I’ve owned a number of ebook readers, including the Kindle, but I’ve sold or given them away.  So far they haven’t quite lived up to my expectations.  The trouble is, I again want to own an ebook reader.

My first impulse is to buy a Kindle 2 because I’d like to have its text-to-speech feature, and because I buy a lot of books from Amazon.  Then I happened to read, “Sony rolls out EPUB content, makes B&N nook transition easy and international.”   By using the EPUB standard, Barnes & Noble and Sony have made Amazon look like Apple promoting it’s proprietary AAC song format over the standard MP3 song.  Amazon created a nice music business attacking Apple by marketing MP3 songs and this is what Sony and B&N are doing to Amazon by promoting the open EPUB format.  Sony is even abandoning its proprietary format and switching to EPUB which makes it compete better against the B&N and Amazon at the same time.  Great strategic move.

If you bought an ebook reader, you’d want buy books from any bookstore, right?  Televisions can tune any channel, but imagine having to buy a different TV set for each station in town.  That’s sort of how ebook readers work now.  For each online ebook store, there’s an ebook reader they promote.  Another sign that the open EPUB format is really the emerging standard is some public libraries are now lending books in this format.  

Look at, an online store that only sells ebooks, they promote the eSlick Reader.  Oddly enough, this site is owned by Barnes & Noble, so it appears B&N are promoting two competing ebook readers – I bet that will change soon!  This site has been around for awhile and also provides the free eReader software for a bunch of existing computing devices to let folks read ebooks on any digital devices they already own, like computers, laptops, PDAs, cell phones, including the popular iPhone.

If you visit the Sony Reader Store you won’t see any mention that the B&N Nook can read their books for sale, nor does the B&N Nook site promote selling their books to Sony Reader owners.  Behind the scenes, EPUB ebook users are finding ways to load books from both stores on their favorite device.  This leaves the Kindle kind of lonely by itself.  Fictionwise, another general ebook online storefront, promotes the eSlick reader too, but works to get their books on any device they legally can.  When you purchase a book it goes into your library, but when you go to download it, you are given a long list of supported file formats, including the Kindle and EPUB.  Fictionwise even has a Fictionwise Kindle eBookstore.  So even though the Kindle is proprietary, being the horse out front of the pack means it gets a lot of support.

See how confusing it is to decide which ebook reader to buy?  To make the issue even more complicated, go read David Pogue’s “Should e-Books Be Copy Protected?”  The MP3 song is very easy to steal and share, but there are now plenty of legal sites selling the unprotected MP3 song.  Would it be possible for all online bookstores to sell the same unprotected EPUB formatted book that could be read on any ebook reader?  Maybe in a few years, but right now book publishers are too scared to sell unprotected ebook files, so the protected EPUB format is emerging as the standard now.

Deciding which ebook reader to buy now means aligning with a particular bookstore, or finding one that works with many different bookstores.  Some ebook readers are expensive because they come with broadband cell phones built into them to easily purchase books from the proprietary bookstore that markets them.  I’d rather have a cheaper ebook reader that works like a MP3 player and use my computer to buy books and be my file librarian.  That way I wouldn’t be tied to any bookstore. 

I have an iPod Nano and touch, Microsoft Zune and Sansa Clip all loaded with audiobooks that I buy from  I never feel the need to buy an audiobook when I’m away from home.  I always run out of battery juice before books.  I’ve never run out of books away from home because my devices all hold so many.  Ebook readers can hold thousands of books, so I don’t see the need to spend money for instant access.  Besides, it’s just a way to tie the device to one bookseller.

If there was a Kindle 3 for $150 without the wireless, I buy it because of the text-to-speech feature.  Otherwise, I’d probably like the Sony Reader Pocket Edition, that uses EPUB, but it costs a little too much right now, even at Amazon’s $189 price.  I also wished the Sony Reader Pocket Edition had a 6” screen.  It would still be much smaller than Kindle and full size Sony Reader.  The smaller screen means more page turning, but many reviewers love it because it’s so easy to carry around.  I was always afraid to carry my Kindle 1 away from home.  That brings up another factor.  It hurts far less to lose a $150 reader than one that costs $300.

The reason why I want to get another ebook reader is because I want to read science fiction magazines.  The top four print magazines have been available for a couple years now for ebook readers, and I’m hoping the emerging online magazines will start offering EPUB editions too.  The ebook reader might increase readership for the dying short story market. 

One plus to the ebook readers that have wireless/broadband connections is they make provisions for reading blogs.  I bought a netbook hoping it would be a great portable RSS reader, but it hasn’t worked out.  The form factor isn’t very book like.  I’m hoping that RSS software for reading blogs will migrate onto ebook readers too.  iTunes manages podcasts for iPods, so why can’t software manage blogs for ebook readers?

However, what’s really emerging is bookworms love ebook readers for consuming books.  Ebook readers are really perfect for fiction reading, and especially for people who love to read fiction in quantity on the cheap.  And this is great – it saves trees and the environment.  Because libraries are starting to lend EPUB books, and because there are about a million out of print books available for ebook readers, and because there are many online stores selling ebooks cheaper than print books, bookworms really benefit from owning an ebook reader.  I think the time for ebook readers have finally arrived and I have to get back in the game again.

JWH – 12/19/9

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