The paper edition of the encyclopedia
ends its centuries-long run,
but is it a victim or beneficiary of the digital age?
Tuesday 13 March 2012 22.18 GMT
This article was published on guardian.co.uk
at 22.18 GMT
on Tuesday 13 March 2012.
It was last modified at 23.00 GMT
on Tuesday 13 March 2012.
Its legacy winds back through centuries and across continents,
past the birth of America to the waning days of the Enlightenment. It is a
record of humanity's achievements in war and peace, art and science, exploration
and discovery. It has been taken to represent the sum of all human knowledge.
And now it's going out of print.
The Encyclopedia Britannica has announced that after 244 years, dozens of
editions and more than 7m sets sold, no new editions will be put to paper. The
32 volumes of the 2010 installment, it turns out, were the last. Future editions
will live exclusively online.
For some readers the news will provoke malaise at the wayward course of this
misguided age. Others will wonder, in the era of Wikipedia, what took the
dinosaur so long to die. Neither view quite captures the company or the
Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc, suggested that the
encyclopedia was already something of a relic within the company itself, which
has long since moved its main business away from its trademark publication and
into online educational tools.
"The company has changed from a reference provider to an instructional solutions
provider," Cauz said. He projects that only 15% of the company's revenue this
year will come from its namesake publication, mostly through subscriptions and
app purchases. "The vast majority" of the remaining 85% of revenue is expected
to come from educational products and services, said Cauz, who declined to
provide dollar amounts but said the company was profitable.
Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc, is owned by the Swiss banking magnate Jacqui
Safra. The company's websites, which include Merriam-Webster dictionaries,
attracted more than 450 million users over the course of 2011, according to
If the company's move over the last decade into the education market is an
impressive example of corporate versatility, the competitive difficulties the
encyclopedia faces are easy to grasp.
Wikipedia English has 3.9m articles. The comprehensive Britannica has about
120,000. Wikipedia is free. The DVD Britannica, which includes two dictionaries
and a thesaurus, costs $30 on Amazon. Individuals will also be able to sign up
for an annual $70 subscription (universities will be charged about $1 per
Cauz said the product was worth the price.
"We may not be as big as Wikipedia. but we have a scholarly voice, an editorial
process, and fact-based, well-written articles," Cauz said. "All of these things
we believe are very, very important, and provide an alternative that we want to
offer to as many people as possible. We believe that there are 1.2 to 1.5bn
inquiries for which we have the best answer."
Asked whether the decision to end the publication's monumental run had not
caused a backlash inside the company, Cauz said the opposite was true.
"The transition has not been that difficult," he said. "Everyone understands we
needed to change. As opposed to newspapers, we felt the impact of digital many
years ago – we had a lot of time for reflection. Everyone is very invigorated.
"We are the only company that I know of, so far, that made the transition from
traditional media to the digital sphere, and managed to be profitable and to
But what of the kids who will no longer grow up in the beneficent shadow of the
physical volumes, or be guided in their learning by happy chance, as when they
go looking for "kookaburra" and accidentally encounter "komodo dragon" on an
"I understand that for some the end of the Britannica print set may be perceived
as an unwelcome goodbye to a dear, reliable and trustworthy friend that brought
them the joy of discovery in the quest for knowledge," Cauz wrote in a company
announcement. The product will improve, however, when it finally leaves the
space constraints and black-and-white finality of print behind, he said.
"Today our digital database is much larger than what we can fit in the print
set. And it is up to date because we can revise it within minutes anytime we
need to, and we do it many times each day."
Readers discuss the choices to be made
in the digital age:
buy books online or at the local bookstore?
Read e-books or paper books?
To the Editor:
During the holiday book-buying blitz, my spirits were lifted by the data
presented in “E-Books, Shmee-Books: Readers Return to the Stores” (Arts pages,
Dec. 13). As both an avid “Amazonian” and a patron of independent bookstores, I
do not believe that online stores and e-books pose a threat to independent
bookstores or larger chains.
Each segment of the bookselling market has its own specialty and benefit. I shop
in my local bookstore because of the impeccable service, the ease of browsing
and the hometown feel of being greeted on a first-name basis. For this, I, like
many others, am happy to pay more and support the local economy. Amazon is a
viable second option when a book isn’t available locally, but it’s a cold and
impersonal way to do business.
In much the same way that virtual stores like Amazon supplement the physical
shopping experience, e-books can and will continue to coexist with printed
books. I’ve always believed that the predictions about the death of the physical
book were premature. If Barnes & Noble thought that e-books would destroy its
ability to sell printed matter, it wouldn’t feature the Nook prominently at the
front of its stores.
While e-reading is more convenient by far, it has drawbacks: you can have books
purloined by publishers and vendors over legal squabbles, the battery can die
and you need to turn your e-reader off for airplane takeoffs and landings.
Regardless of how pervasive technology becomes in our literary lives, people
will forever long for the tactile experience of reading a tangible book — bought
from a tangible store.
East Hanover, N.J., Dec. 18, 2011
The writer is the author of the Biblio Files trilogy, a series set in the world
of antiquarian books and libraries.
We need to stop fetishizing objects in this country. Are Donne’s “Meditations”
any less moving on a Kindle than on the page? No, they are not.
There will always be a place for printed books, but they will be objects of art
(think illuminated manuscripts), not conveyors of ideas and emotions.
The mass-produced printed book is going to die; in fact, it is dying. Printed
books are going to be killed by e-books, and good riddance. The cost of a paper
book is too high, the environmental impact of a paper book is too high, and the
paper book has too many middlemen between the author and the reader.
Paper books had a good run, over five centuries, but the bell tolls for thee
now. They will not be missed.
M. ADRIAN MATTOCKS
Worcester, Mass., Dec. 21, 2011
I edit a scholarly journal that was founded in 1940. Over the
last two decades, the print run has decreased by half. But revenue has more than
doubled, largely from electronic distribution, and I’d like to think that the
journal is more widely accessible domestically and internationally than it has
I love books. They are my work tools and my passion. Finally, though, they are
merely a delivery system, with advantages and drawbacks. Books are indispensable
when I want to take notes in the margin or flip rapidly through pages; digital
texts are indispensable for text searches. I depend on both for my work.
The growing popularity of digital readers and texts should be a cause for hope.
In my view, the discussion should not be about the future of books but about the
future of reading.
Seattle, Dec. 21, 2011
The writer is a professor of comparative literature at the University of
Washington and the editor of Modern Language Quarterly.
Technology can never replace the history and aesthetics of the
printed book. You’ll never hold an e-book that was signed by Winston Churchill,
and you’ll find it unsatisfying after a dinner party when you invite guests to
take a glass of brandy to the library to see what you’ve downloaded.
Denver, Dec. 21, 2011
The writer is the owner of Danbom & Son Books.
Though I share Mr. Raab’s affection for independent
bookstores, I find it hard to share his sanguine outlook about their future.
To be sure, everybody likes the idea of a small, independent bookstore with
charming owners and clerks. But most people like the idea of horse-drawn
carriages and steam engines, too, and such sentiment did not save those
Rarely can I find the book I want in stock at a local small bookstore. This
means that getting it through such a store would involve driving across town and
back so that I can pay more, and wait longer, to have someone else order the
book online for me. Only to have to drive across town again to pick it up later.
Can anyone blame me for just ordering it online myself instead?
East Palo Alto, Calif., Dec. 21, 2011
Every time my daughter is home on college break we discuss,
heatedly, this new phenomenon of e-books. I argue that backlighting and easy
access to books make it a joy to read on my iPad. She claims that her impulse to
circle words on a page (she’s a poet) and collect physical books makes them
irreplaceable objects in her life.
Recently, she asked if I could take her to her college library because she
needed a few more books for the paper she is working on. I had forgotten the joy
of finding the exact book among thousands, and of stopping to look at any other
book whose cover seemed an invitation to perusal.
As she sits by me now, working on her essay, I am reading on my iPad. We are
LISA Q. LOEB
Wallingford, Conn., Dec. 21, 2011
The writer is a high school teacher.
As a former indie bookstore events coordinator, I appreciate
Mr. Raab’s loyalty to his local bookstore. But as a working parent trying to
juggle a budget and family schedules, I also understand the appeal of shopping
Consumers can strike a balance between logistical sense and local sensibility by
following the suggestion of the 3/50 Project: choose three independent
businesses you love and spend $50 a month at those and other local stores.
For example, my family tries to buy gifts locally, including at our excellent
hometown bookstore. In this way, we support our favorite stores and also make
them known to gift recipients who may not have shopped there.
Concord, N.H., Dec. 21, 2011
We write as hard-core bookworms who are also stock analysts
who follow Amazon. Our research shows strong signs that traditional books and
e-books are coexisting nicely.
In our survey of 2,500 respondents, representative of the American population,
60 percent of those who bought at least one e-book during the last 30 days
indicated that they also bought at least one physical book, and 40 percent of
them bought at least two physical books.
We suspect that the stacks of books on America’s nightstands will continue to
FAYE I. LANDES
Stamford, Conn., Dec. 21, 2011
The writers are, respectively, a managing director and a vice president of
Consumer Edge Research.
Among the many advantages of printed books over e-books are
the inscriptions in the front and the annotations throughout. Although my
parents are long since deceased, seeing their handwriting on the inside of a
book’s front cover makes them seem alive to me. And nothing can equal the
annotations they made.
A 1927 graduate of Ursinus College, my mother left many a note, probably from
her professors’ lectures. “A plot should be symmetrical but not mechanical” is
written in the front of a book titled “Specimens of Pre-Shakespearean Drama,”
published in 1897.
I am a university lecturer myself, and I fear that my students who use e-texts
are depriving their children of a memento that would resonate through the
Galloway, N.J., Dec. 21, 2011
I love bookstores. Scanning books in a bookstore is several
cuts above scanning them online, and bookstores enrich our lives in many other
ways. But online prices are often cheaper, and reading an e-book is often more
The buyer faces a moral choice: buy it where you find it, or commit a sin by
perusing in one place and buying at another. So what to do?
Here is a proposed solution: Have a computer in each bookstore for ordering
e-books, and have the e-book seller and the store divide the profit in some
equitable way. This way, the bookstores would survive, the e-book sellers would
do well, and the public would get the best of both worlds.
BUDD N. SHENKIN
Berkeley, Calif., Dec. 21, 2011
Another reason paper books will live on, at least in New York:
unlike an iPad, no one is ever going to snatch it from you on the C train.
HOWARD P. HENSON
New York, Dec. 21, 2011
The first thing that my 4-year-old grandson, Caleb, and I did
after he arrived for a visit from California was to go to our local library to
stock up on books about cars and trucks and trains. A few days later, we lost
power when Hurricane Irene hit.
I had to explain to Caleb that there would be no engine whistles to blow as the
electric trains didn’t work, and no Bob the Builder as the TV didn’t work. He
seemed crestfallen, but then he rushed to his bedroom only to emerge
triumphantly tottering under his large pile of books. He held up his cache and
proudly announced, “Books work!”
GAIL G. ABRAMS
Little Silver, N.J., Dec. 21, 2011
The Writer Responds
Someone from the distant future who stumbled upon these letters in The New York
Times’s digital archives would read them with a sense of whimsy. What a quaint
and simple folk the citizens of the 21st century were. How could they have been
so naïve and shortsighted as to have confined their greatest thoughts within
such an impermanent medium as a bundle of paper, ink and glue?
Well, let me tell you.
I am giving my wife a book for Christmas that was carefully selected at a small
local bookshop, where it was warmly inscribed by her favorite author at a book
signing and lovingly wrapped. I chose this as my “delivery system,” as Mr. Brown
so astutely called it, because you can’t get an author to sign a digital book,
as Mr. Danbom pointed out.
I know that she will treasure this book for the rest of her life. And when she
has gone from this world, the signed book will be a record that she was the
first owner and help her children remember her with fondness, as Mr. Devine
I hope that Mr. Mattocks’s prediction of the printed book’s demise does not come
to fruition any time soon. But if Mr. Mattocks turns out to be prophetic, future
generations will miss the joy of coffee-table books, which never translated well
to e-readers. Children will miss having their teachers read books to them as
they hold up the illustrations on each page, as well as pop-up books, which just
don’t seem to “pop” within the digital realm. And the sheer pleasure of
antiquarian book collecting will be a distant memory.
We quaint and simple folk of the 21st century live in a glorious age, where we
have the freedom to choose how and where to see movies, view art, listen to
music, and buy and read books.
Ms. Abrams’s grandson Caleb encapsulated so succinctly into two wonderful words
the state of literature in our time: books work.
December 12, 2011
The New York Times
By JULIE BOSMAN
Facing economic gloom and competition from cheap e-readers,
brick-and-mortar booksellers entered this holiday season with the humblest of
But the initial weeks of Christmas shopping, a boom time for the book business,
have yielded surprisingly strong sales for many bookstores, which report that
they have been lifted by an unusually vibrant selection; customers who seem
undeterred by pricier titles; and new business from people who used to shop at
Borders, the chain that went out of business this year.
Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest bookstore chain, said that comparable store
sales this Thanksgiving weekend increased 10.9 percent from that period last
year. The American Booksellers Association, a trade group for independents, said
last week that members saw a sales jump of 16 percent in the week including
Thanksgiving, compared with the same period a year ago.
At the R. J. Julia bookstore in Madison, Conn., sales of adult trade books in
November rose 30 percent over last year, said Roxanne J. Coady, the owner.
“Last year was just depressing,” Ms. Coady said by telephone. “It was the
beginning of the e-reader, and we didn’t know what that meant. Somehow, this
year, people are back to thinking of books as an appealing gift.” Considering
the economy, she added, “Adult books being up right now feels crazy to me.”
Sales are up 15 percent from last year at Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon, Wis.,
the store’s owner, Lanora Hurley, said, speculating that she may have been
helped by the closing of a Borders store about seven miles away.
“We’re just going gangbusters and having a great time,” Ms. Hurley said, adding
cautiously that she was concerned that it would not last. “I have to say, I’m
worried about January. Everybody’s going to open their electronic device for
Analysts are predicting enormous sales for new e-readers and tablets from Barnes
& Noble and Amazon in the coming weeks (despite mixed reviews of Amazon’s new
color tablet), a factor that has many in the industry concerned about the future
of retail stores. The closing of Borders, the second-largest book chain in the
country, is also expected to hurt publishers’ overall sales numbers.
Jamie Raab, the publisher of Grand Central Publishing, said there was “no
question” that holiday sales would be hurt by the loss of Borders. “That’s like
650 stores that aren’t here,” she said. “The best way to get gift ideas is by
roaming around stores. I think it’s a really dramatic loss.”
Nevertheless, booksellers and publishers said they were still hoping that there
would be a healthy enough interest in print books that the two formats could
They have been closely watching the performance of print books this holiday
season, which so far has not produced a monster surprise hit like last year’s
“Autobiography of Mark Twain,” the 500,000-word best seller from the University
of California Press that was rushed back to press six times by mid-November.
But there has been a rich selection of nonfiction, some booksellers pointed out,
praising publishers for the breadth of biographies, histories and quirky
pop-economics titles released this fall.
Popular biographies include “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson; the critically
acclaimed “Catherine the Great” by the historian Robert K. Massie; and “Spencer
Tracy” by James Curtis; as well as memoirs from Diane Keaton, Regis Philbin and
Gabrielle Giffords, the Democratic congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in
Books by media pundits like Chris Matthews, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck have
pushed to the top five on the New York Times nonfiction hardcover best-seller
list. “Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America
Forever,” by Mr. O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, reached the No. 2 spot on the list
for the week ending Dec. 3.
“This year so far, it’s been the year of nonfiction,” said Peter Aaron, owner of
the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, citing “The Beauty and the Sorrow,” a
history of World War I by Peter Englund, and “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by the
Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, an exploration of thinking and intuition.
“What’s extraordinary about the books that are out there is that they’ve been so
well written and such a pleasure to read. Maybe people have an appetite for
nonfiction right now, just for some sort of grounding in reality.”
In fiction, titles that have emerged as popular holiday gifts are “The
Dovekeepers ” by Alice Hoffman; “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides; “1Q84”
by Haruki Murakami; and “The Angel Esmeralda,” a story collection by Don
DeLillo. Reliably bestselling authors like Michael Connelly, Stephen King, Janet
Evanovich and John Grisham have all released novels in recent weeks, and Mr.
King and Ms. Evanovich are second and third on the Times hardcover best-seller
list for the week ending Dec. 3.
A handful of glossy, expensive hardcover books have emerged as sleeper
successes. “Harry Potter Page to Screen,” a $75 book published by Harper Design,
an imprint of HarperCollins, has been on best-seller lists for weeks, despite
its intimidating price. Alberto Rojas, a spokesman for HarperCollins, said there
were currently 140,000 copies of the book in print.
“Mountain,” an $85 photography book subtitled “Portraits of High Places,” has
been a popular item at the King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, said Anne
Holman, the general manager, along with “The Louvre,” a dazzling art book with a
picture of every painting on display from the permanent collection of that
museum. The store has seen its sales rise at least 7 or 8 percent over last
year’s holiday season, Ms. Holman said.
“One thing that we noticed a lot of this year is that there are a lot more big,
beautiful coffee-table books,” she said. “Expensive, $50 and $75 books that
we’re selling hand over fist.”
At the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver, a surprise seller has been “The Art
Museum,” a $200 survey of world art organized in “rooms” and “galleries,” said
Cathy Langer, the lead buyer, who has reordered from the publisher several
“I’m not seeing the price resistance that usually occurs,” Ms. Langer said.
“Maybe people are just tired of being afraid to spend money.”
The New York Times
By JULIE BOSMAN and JEREMY W. PETERS
publishers are surrounded by hungry new competitors: Amazon, with its steadily
growing imprints; authors who publish their own e-books; online start-ups like
The Atavist and Byliner.
Now they have to contend with another group elbowing into their territory: news
Swiftly and at little cost, newspapers, magazines and sites like The Huffington
Post are hunting for revenue by publishing their own version of e-books, either
using brand-new content or repurposing material that they may have given away
free in the past.
And by making e-books that are usually shorter, cheaper to buy and more quickly
produced than the typical book, they are redefining what an e-book is — and who
gets to publish it.
On Tuesday, The Huffington Post will release its second e-book, “How We Won,” by
Aaron Belkin, the story of the campaign to end the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t
tell” policy. It joins e-books recently published by The New Yorker, ABC News,
The Boston Globe, Politico and Vanity Fair.
The books occasionally snap up valuable spots on best-seller lists — “Open
Secrets,” an e-book published by The New York Times, landed in the No. 19 spot
on The Times e-book nonfiction best-seller list in February.
“Surely they’re competing with us,” said Stephen Rubin, the president and
publisher of Henry Holt and Company, part of Macmillan. “If I’m doing a book on
Rupert Murdoch and four magazines are doing four instant e-books on Rupert
Murdoch, then I’m competing with them.”
But as much as news outlets and magazines would like a piece of the e-book
market, it remains to be seen whether what they produce can match the breadth
and depth of the work produced by traditional publishing houses.
“I’m doing something different than they’re doing,” added Mr. Rubin, who is in
fact offering a book on the phone-hacking scandal at News of the World. “I’m
going to get the book on Rupert Murdoch that is the definitive book for all
The proliferation of e-readers has helped magazine and newspaper publishers find
new platforms for their work, publishing executives said.
“On the one hand, a Kindle or a Nook is perfect for reading a 1,000-page George
R. R. Martin novel,” said Eric Simonoff, a literary agent. “On the other hand,
these devices are uniquely suited for mid-length content that runs too long for
shrinking magazines and are too pamphletlike to credibly be called a book.”
Some publishers have joined forces with news organizations to produce e-books on
a faster schedule. Random House, the world’s largest trade publisher, is
partnering with Politico to produce a series of four e-books about the 2012
Many of the works sold as e-books are more of a hybrid between a long magazine
piece and a serialized book. Each Random House-Politico e-book will be in the
range of 20,000 to 30,000 words, and the releases will be spaced out over the
course of the campaign.
“We think that the nature of a book is changing,” said Jon Meacham, an executive
editor at Random House and a former editor of Newsweek. “The line between
articles and books is getting ever fuzzier.”
Part of the appeal is cost. Instead of paying writers hefty advances and then
sending them out on the road to report for months at a time, publishers can rely
on reporters who are already doing the work as part of their day job. Politico,
for example, has assigned Mike Allen, its chief White House correspondent, to
write and report with Evan Thomas, a noted political writer. The e-book will be
the combination of their efforts.
“Our cost,” said Mr. Meacham, “is me and Evan.”
The Huffington Post, which began publishing e-books this month, is not paying
its authors advances for their work, but will share profits from the sales.
Some publishers are trying a different approach — one that requires even fewer
reporting and writing resources. Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, for example,
have created their own e-books by bundling together previously published works
surrounding a major news event.
When the phone-hacking scandal erupted at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in
early July, Vanity Fair collected 20 articles on Mr. Murdoch, his family and
their businesses and put them in a $3.99 e-book that went on sale July 29.
Graydon Carter, the magazine’s editor, wrote an introduction. The articles were
then grouped into six chapters, each with a theme that reflected various aspects
of Mr. Murdoch’s life.
“It’s like having a loose-leaf binder and shoving new pages into it,” Mr. Carter
said. “E-books are a wonderful way to do a book and do it quickly. They don’t
need to be fact-checked again. They do go through copy-editing. But you’re not
reinventing the wheel each time.”
The New Yorker created a similar e-book about Sept. 11 using content from the
magazine’s writing on the attacks and their aftermath — everything from poetry
to reported pieces on Al Qaeda. It sells for $7.99.
So far, sales for the handful of digital special editions that The New Yorker
has released remain relatively small. Pamela McCarthy, the deputy editor, put
the number in the thousands. “The question of what constitutes well in this new
world is one that seems to be up for grabs,” Ms. McCarthy said of the success so
Another problem for e-books that are not simultaneously published in print is
that they pose a marketing challenge. With no automatic display space in
thousands of bookstores across the country, making readers aware of a book that
lives only online is a problem.
“I think one of the challenges for everybody is letting people know the material
is there,” Ms. McCarthy said. “The e-book stores are tremendously deep, and
what’s there is not at all apparent on the surface. It’s not like walking into a
bookstore and seeing what’s on the front table.”
Authors who are using news organizations to publish their books also may have to
miss the pleasure of seeing their work produced in print.
Mr. Belkin, whose e-book will be published by The Huffington Post, said he still
hopes that his book will be released in print eventually. And if not, he’s
content with the potential exposure offered by The Huffington Post, which draws
some 25 million visitors each month.
“Even if the page itself is not as beautiful as a page from Oxford University
Press,” Mr. Belkin said, “Oxford University Press would not be getting the word
out to a million people on the first day my book is out.”
September 8, 2011
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Michael Hart, who was widely credited with creating the first
e-book when he typed the Declaration of Independence into a computer on July 4,
1971, and in so doing laid the foundations for Project Gutenberg, the oldest and
largest digital library, was found dead on Tuesday at his home in Urbana, Ill.
He was 64.
His death was confirmed by Gregory B. Newby, the chief executive and director of
Project Gutenberg, who said that the cause had not yet been determined.
Mr. Hart found his life’s mission when the University of Illinois, where he was
a student, gave him a user’s account on a Xerox Sigma V mainframe computer at
the school’s Materials Research Lab.
Estimating that the computer time in his possession was worth $100 million, Mr.
Hart began thinking of a project that might justify that figure. Data
processing, the principal application of computers at the time, did not capture
his imagination. Information sharing did.
After attending a July 4 fireworks display, he stopped in at a grocery store and
received, with his purchase, a copy of the Declaration of Independence printed
on parchment. He typed the text, intending to send it as an e-mail to the users
of Arpanet, the government-sponsored precursor to today’s Internet, but was
dissuaded by a colleague who warned that the message would crash the system.
Instead, he posted a notice that the text could be downloaded, and Project
Gutenberg was born.
Its goal, formulated by Mr. Hart, was “to encourage the creation and
distribution of e-books” and, by making books available to computer users at no
cost, “to help break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy.”
Over the next decade, working alone, Mr. Hart typed the Bill of Rights, the
Constitution, the King James Bible and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” into
the project database, the first tentative steps in a revolution that would usher
in what he liked to call the fifth information age, a world of e-books,
hand-held electronic devices like the Nook and Kindle, and unprecedented
individual access to texts on a vast array of Internet archives.
Today, Project Gutenberg lists more than 30,000 books in 60 languages, with the
emphasis on titles of interest to the general reader in three categories: “light
literature,” “heavy literature” and reference works. In a 2006 e-mail to the
technology writer Glyn Moody, he predicted that there would be a billion e-books
in 2021, Project Gutenberg’s 50th anniversary, and that, thanks to advances in
memory chips, “you will be able to carry all billion e-books in one hand.”
Nearly all the books are in the public domain, although a relatively small
number of copyrighted books are reproduced with the permission of the copyright
owner. The library includes two books by Mr. Hart: “A Brief History of the
Internet” and “Poems and Tales from Romania.”
“It’s a paradigm shift,” he told Searcher magazine in 2002. “It’s the power of
one person, alone in their basement, being able to type in their favorite books
and give it to millions or billions of people. It just wasn’t even remotely
possible before; not even the Gideons can say they have given away a billion
Bibles in the past year.”
Michael Stern Hart was born on March 8, 1947, in Tacoma, Wash. His father was an
accountant; his mother, a cryptanalyst during World War II, was the business
manager for a high-end women’s store. The couple retrained to become university
teachers and in 1958 found posts at the University of Illinois, in Urbana, where
his father taught Shakespeare and his mother taught mathematics.
Michael began attending lectures at the university before entering high school
and, following a course of individual study on human-machine interfaces, earned
a bachelor of science degree in 1973.
Work on Project Gutenberg proceeded slowly at first. Adding perhaps a book a
month, Mr. Hart had created only 313 e-books by 1997. “I was just waiting for
the world to realize I’d knocked it over,” he told Searcher. “You’ve heard of
‘cow-tipping’? The cow had been tipped over, but it took it 17 years for it to
wake up and say, ‘Moo.’ ”
The pace picked up when he and Mark Zinzow, a programmer at the University of
Illinois, recruited volunteers through the school’s PC User Group and set up
mirror sites to provide multiple sources for the project.
Shrewdly, Mr. Hart included books like “Zen and the Art of the Internet” and
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Internet” to expand the audience for the
Today, relying on the work of volunteers who scan and proofread without pay, the
project adds to its list at the rate of hundreds of books each month.
Even in the project’s early stages, Mr. Hart envisioned it in revolutionary
terms. Borrowing a term from “Star Wars,” he referred to e-books as just one
form of replicator technology that would, in the future, allow for the infinite
reproduction of things as well as words, overturning all established power
structures and ushering in an age of universal abundance.
One hurdle on the road to the diffusion of knowledge was the Copyright Term
Extension Act, passed in 1998. The act, sponsored by the California congressman
and former pop singer Sonny Bono, removed a million e-books from the public
domain by extending the copyright by 20 years. Under United States law, the
average copyright now lasts for 95.5 years.
Lawrence Lessig, then a law professor at Stanford University (and now at
Harvard), approached Mr. Hart to see if he would be interested in taking part in
a constitutional challenge to the law.
He met Mr. Hart in a pizza parlor in Urbana, where, Mr. Lessig recalled in a
telephone conversation on Thursday, Mr. Hart added a thick layer of sugar to his
pizza while explaining that he saw the case as much more than a test of
copyright law. It offered, as he saw it, a way to challenge the entire social
and economic system of the United States.
Mr. Lessig, looking for a somewhat less visionary lead plaintiff, eventually
enlisted Eric Eldred, the owner of Eldritch Press, a Web site that reprints work
in the public domain. In 2003, in Eldred v. Ashcroft, the Supreme Court upheld
the constitutionality of the copyright extension act.
Mr. Hart is survived by his mother, Alice, of Fort Belvoir, Va., and a brother,
Bennett, of Manassas, Va.
September 2, 2011
The New York Times
By JULIE BOSMAN
These are dark and stormy times for the mass-market paperback,
that squat little book that calls to mind the beach and airport newsstands.
Recession-minded readers who might have picked up a quick novel in the
supermarket or drugstore are lately resisting the impulse purchase. Shelf space
in bookstores and retail chains has been turned over to more expensive editions,
like hardcovers and trade paperbacks, the sleeker, more glamorous cousin to the
mass-market paperback. And while mass-market paperbacks have always been prized
for their cheapness and disposability, something even more convenient has come
along: the e-book.
A comprehensive survey released last month by the Association of American
Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group revealed that while the publishing
industry had expanded over all, publishers’ mass-market paperback sales had
fallen 14 percent since 2008.
“Five years ago, it was a robust market,” said David Gernert, a literary agent
whose clients include John Grisham, a perennial best seller in mass market. “Now
it’s on the wane, and e-books have bitten a big chunk out of it.”
Fading away is a format that was both inexpensive and widely accessible —
thrillers and mysteries and romances by authors like James Patterson, Stephen
King, Clive Cussler and Nora Roberts that were purchased not to be proudly
displayed on a living room shelf (and never read), but to be addictively
devoured by devoted readers.
“In those days, you could easily ship out a million copies of a book,” said Beth
de Guzman, the editor in chief of paperbacks for Grand Central Publishing, part
of the Hachette Book Group. “Then shelf space started decreasing and decreasing
for mass market, and it has especially declined in the last several years.”
For decades, the mass-market paperback has stubbornly held on, despite the
predictions of its death since the 1980s, when retail chains that edged out
independent bookstores successfully introduced discounts on hardcover versions
of the same books. The prices of print formats are typically separated by at
least a few dollars. Michael Connelly, the best-selling mystery writer best
known for “The Lincoln Lawyer,” said he worried that book buyers would not be
able to discover new authors very easily if mass-market paperbacks continued to
be phased out.
“Growing up and reading primarily inexpensive mass-market novels, it allows you
to explore,” he said. “I bought countless novels based on the cover or based on
the title, not knowing what was inside.”
The growth of the e-book has forced a conversation in the publishing industry
about which print formats will survive in the long term. Publishers have begun
releasing trade paperbacks sooner than the traditional one-year period after the
release of the hardcover, leaving the mass-market paperback even further behind.
Cost-conscious readers who used to wait for the heavily discounted paperback
have now realized that the e-book edition, available on the first day the book
is published, can be about the same price. For devoted readers of novels, people
who sometimes voraciously consume several books in a single week, e-books are a
“It’s a question of, do you still want to wait for the book?” said Liate
Stehlik, the publisher of William Morrow, Avon and Voyager, imprints of
HarperCollins. “The people who used to wait to buy the mass-market paperback
because of the price aren’t going to wait anymore.”
That could be good news for authors who make up for a loss in mass-market sales
with increases in e-book sales. Generally speaking, authors make more royalties
on an e-book than on a paperback.
E-book best-seller lists are packed with the genre novels that have
traditionally dominated paperback best-seller lists.
“In some ways, the e-book is yesterday’s mass market,” said Matthew Shear, the
executive vice president and publisher of St. Martin’s Press, which currently
has books by Janet Evanovich and Lora Leigh on the paperback best-seller list in
The New York Times.
Mass-market paperback sales have been sliding since giant bookstore chains and
later Amazon.com started heavily discounting hardcovers in the 1980s and 1990s.
The decline has deepened in the last two years, said Kelly Gallagher, the vice
president of publishing services for Bowker, a research organization for the
“You can’t list a single thing that has caused its demise,” he said. “But as
e-books become more affordable and better aligned to the mass-market reader, I
would have to say that I don’t think there are encouraging signs that print
mass-market books will rise again. When all these things align against a certain
format or category, it’s hard to recover.”
Ms. de Guzman said that Barnes & Noble used to keep a large display solely for
mass-market paperbacks in the front of its stores, but that has disappeared.
Borders, once a strong seller of mass-market paperbacks, especially romance, is
in the process of liquidating all of its stores.
Several publishers said Wal-Mart, a major seller of mass-market paperbacks, has
been quietly revamping its book selection to include fewer mass-market
paperbacks and more trade paperbacks, which have higher production values:
better-quality paper and larger covers.
Even airport stores, traditionally a mainstay retailer of mass-market
paperbacks, are shunning them more frequently in favor of hardcovers and trade
Sara Hinckley, the vice president of book-buying and promotions for Hudson
Booksellers, said that the stores had gradually decreased their selection in
recent years, while increasing their array of hardcovers and trade paperbacks.
Sales in trade paperbacks, she said, have continued to increase in recent years.
Last fall, in 60 of its stores, Hudson cut the display space for mass-market
paperbacks in half.
“With less demand and less retail shelf space for the format, and higher retails
on the trade papers, there simply isn’t as much publishing into the format,
which in turn creates declining sales,” Ms. Hinckley said in an e-mail.
Some publishers have responded by releasing books in trade paperback format
before the mass-market edition. Grand Central Publishing plans to release trade
paperback versions of “The Sixth Man” by David Baldacci and “Lethal” by Sandra
Brown — the first time those authors’ thrillers have been published in trade
After 20 years as a best-selling author, Mr. Connelly will experience a first
this fall: his latest legal thriller, “The Fifth Witness,” will be released as a
trade paperback by Grand Central.
“From my standpoint, which is probably pure vanity, the trade paperback edition
is often the way of publishing more literary novels,” Mr. Connelly said. “So for
me, it’s a cool ego thing — I get to be in the trade edition. But beyond that,
I’m hoping it works.”
February 4, 2011
The New York Times
By JULIE BOSMAN
Something extraordinary happened after Eliana Litos received
an e-reader for a Hanukkah gift in December.
“Some weeks I completely forgot about TV,” said Eliana, 11. “I went two weeks
with only watching one show, or no shows at all. I was just reading every day.”
Ever since the holidays, publishers have noticed that some unusual titles have
spiked in e-book sales. The “Chronicles of Narnia” series. “Hush, Hush.” The
“Dork Diaries” series.
At HarperCollins, for example, e-books made up 25 percent of all young-adult
sales in January, up from about 6 percent a year before — a boom in sales that
quickly got the attention of publishers there.
“Adult fiction is hot, hot, hot, in e-books,” said Susan Katz, the president and
publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books. “And now it seems that teen fiction
is getting to be hot, hot, hot.”
In their infancy e-readers were adopted by an older generation that valued the
devices for their convenience, portability and, in many cases, simply for their
ability to enlarge text to a more legible size. Appetite for e-book editions of
best sellers and adult genre fiction — romance, mysteries, thrillers — has
seemed almost bottomless.
But now that e-readers are cheaper and more plentiful, they have gone mass
market, reaching consumers across age and demographic groups, and enticing some
members of the younger generation to pick them up for the first time.
“The kids have taken over the e-readers,” said Rita Threadgill of Harrison,
N.Y., whose 11-year-old daughter requested a Kindle for Christmas.
In 2010 young-adult e-books made up about 6 percent of the total digital sales
for titles published by St. Martin’s Press, but so far in 2011, the number is up
to 20 percent, a spokeswoman for the publisher said.
At HarperCollins Children’s Books e-book sales jumped in recent weeks for titles
like “Pretty Little Liars,” a teenage series by Sara Shepard; “I Am Number
Four,” a paranormal romance by Pittacus Lore; and “Before I Fall,” a novel by
Lauren Oliver. (Some sales, publishers noted, are from older people crossing
over to young-adult fiction.)
Jon Anderson, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, said some
titles, like “Clockwork Angel” and books in the “Night World” series, nearly
doubled their e-book sales in the four weeks after Christmas, compared with the
four weeks before.
“We had an instant reaction — ‘Boy, a lot of kids got e-readers for Christmas,’
” Mr. Anderson said, adding that another significant bump in sales occurred over
the three-day weekend that included Martin Luther King’s Birthday. “If it
follows the same trend as adults, it’s the start of an upward curve.”
Digital sales have typically represented only a small fraction of sales of
middle-grade and young-adult books, a phenomenon usually explained partly by the
observation that e-readers were too expensive for children and teenagers.
Another theory suggested that the members of the younger set who were first
encouraged to read by the immensely popular Harry Potter books tended to prefer
hardcover over any other edition, snapping up the books on the day of their
release. And anecdotal evidence hinted that younger readers preferred print so
that they could exchange books with their friends.
That scene may be slowly replaced by tweens and teenagers clustered in groups
and reading their Nooks or Kindles together, wirelessly downloading new titles
with the push of a button, studiously comparing the battery life of the devices
and accessorizing them with Jonathan Adler and Kate Spade covers in hot pink,
tangerine and lime green.
“The young adults and the teenagers are now the newest people who are beginning
to experience e-readers,” said Matthew Shear, the publisher of St. Martin’s
Press. “If they get hooked, it’s great stuff for the business.”
It is too soon to tell if younger people who have just picked up e-readers will
stick to them in the long run, or grow bored and move on.
But Monica Vila, who runs the popular Web site The Online Mom and lectures
frequently to parent groups about Internet safety, said that in recent months
she had been bombarded with questions from parents about whether they should buy
e-readers for their children.
In a speech last month at a parents’ association meeting in Westchester County,
Ms. Vila asked for a show of hands to indicate how many parents had bought
e-readers for their children as holiday gifts.
About half the hands in the room shot up, she recalled.
“Kids are drawn to the devices, and there’s a definite desire by parents to move
books into this format,” Ms. Vila said. “Now you’re finding people who are
saying: ‘Let’s use the platform. Let’s use it as a way for kids to learn.’ ”
Some teachers have been encouraging, too, telling their students that they are
allowed to bring e-readers to school for leisure reading during homeroom and
English class, for example.
“I didn’t buy it until I knew that the teachers in middle school were allowing
kids to read their books on their e-readers,” said Amy Mauer-Litos, Eliana’s
mother, adding, “I don’t know whether it’s the device itself that is appealing,
or the easy access to the books, but I will tell you, we’ve had a lot of snow
days lately, and 9 times out of 10, she’s in the family room reading her Nook.”
Some younger readers have been exploring the classics, thanks to the
availability of older e-books that are in the public domain — and downloadable
After receiving a light gray Sony Reader from her grandparents for Christmas,
Mia Garcia, a 12-year-old from Touchet, Wash., downloaded “Little Women,” a book
she had not read before.
“It made me cry,” Mia said. “Then I read ‘Hunger Games,’ ” the best-selling
dystopian novel, “and it also made me cry.”
Her 8-year-old brother, Tommy, was given an e-reader, too. “I like it because I
have so many different books on it already,” he said, including “The Trouble
Begins at 8,” a fast-paced biography of Mark Twain written for children in the
Eryn Garcia, their mother, said the family used the local library — already
stocked with more than 3,000 e-books — to download titles free, sparing her the
usual chore of “lugging around 40 pounds of books.”
“There’s something I’m not sure is entirely replaceable about having a stack of
inviting books, just waiting for your kids to grab,” Ms. Garcia said. “But I’m
an avid believer that you need to find what excites your child about reading. So
I’m all for it.”
Amazon is reporting
Kindle edition sales outstripping
paperbacks in the US,
and the Booker prize jury is now reading on ebooks
Friday 28 January 2011
This article was published on guardian.co.uk
at 15.59 GMT
on Friday 28 January
The ebook revolution has swept past two more milestones in its
ferocious advance upon the bastions of literary culture. As the Man Booker prize
embraces the digital era, the online retail giant Amazon has announced that
sales of Kindle editions have overtaken paperbacks in the US.
Publishers entering books for the £50,000 Man Booker prize are now being asked
to make all submissions available both as physical books and in digital form.
This year's judging panel – which includes writers Susan Hill, Matthew d'Ancona,
and politician Chris Mullin as well as the Daily Telegraph's head of books Gaby
Wood, and is chaired by former M15 chief Stella Rimington – have been issued
with e-readers. The move will help them prepare for the 2011 prize longlist, to
be announced in July, without hauling around back-breaking numbers of
Man Booker administrator Ion Trewin said: "Traditionally we rely on proofs and
hard copies, but it seemed to me if publishers were in a position to supply us
with electronic downloads any earlier, it would help because time is of the
essence. And it gives the judges an alternative. This is what the Kindle will do
– it's not going to take over from print, but will offer another way of reading
as well." The judges who'd responded to him thus far thought the development was
"wonderful", Trewin added.
Meanwhile Amazon, posting its latest financial results, said that so far in 2011
its US wing had sold 120 Kindle ebooks for every 100 paperbacks. "Additionally,
during this same time period the company has sold three times as many Kindle
books as hardcover books," the company said in a statement.
Print still appears to predominate if both editions are taken together, and hard
figures are thin on the ground, but the move represents a decisive new shift in
the fast-changing balance between traditional and electronic book-buying.
While the numbers of ebook readers in the UK lag well behind their American
counterparts, they are growing very swiftly, with huge leaps in sales reported
over Christmas. On both sides of the Atlantic, publishers trying to predict the
future shape of their business face rapidly moving goalposts. How far the shift
to ebooks will go, and how speedily, is still unclear, but at this week's
Digital Book World conference in New York, publishers were predicting that 2014
will be the year when ebooks reach parity with print for the first time.
December 13, 2009
The New York Times
By MOTOKO RICH
William Styron may have been one of the leading literary lions of recent
decades, but his books are not selling much these days. Now his family has a
plan to lure digital-age readers with e-book versions of titles like “Sophie’s
Choice,” “The Confessions of Nat Turner” and Mr. Styron’s memoir of depression,
But the question of exactly who owns the electronic rights to such older titles
is in dispute, making it a rising source of conflict in one of the publishing
industry’s last remaining areas of growth.
Mr. Styron’s family believes it retains the rights, since the books were first
published before e-books existed. Random House, Mr. Styron’s longtime publisher,
says it owns those rights, and it is determined to secure its place — and
continuing profits — in the Kindle era.
The discussions about the digital fate of Mr. Styron’s work are similar to the
negotiations playing out across the book industry as publishers hustle to
capture the rights to release e-book versions of so-called backlist books.
Indeed, the same new e-book venture Mr. Styron’s family hopes to use has run
into similar resistance from the print publisher of “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller.
On Friday, Markus Dohle, chief executive of Random House, sent a letter to
dozens of literary agents, writing that the company’s older agreements gave it
“the exclusive right to publish in electronic book publishing formats.”
Backlist titles, which continue to be reprinted long after their initial
release, are crucial to publishing houses because of their promise of lucrative
revenue year after year. But authors and agents are particularly concerned that
traditional publishers are not offering sufficient royalties on e-book editions,
which they point out are cheaper for publishers to produce. Some are considering
taking their digital rights elsewhere, which could deal a financial blow to the
hobbled publishing industry.
The tussle over who owns the electronic rights — and how much the authors should
earn in digital royalties — potentially puts into play works by authors like
Ralph Ellison and John Updike.
Some publishers have already made agreements with authors or their estates to
release digital editions. All of Ernest Hemingway’s books, for example, are
available in electronic versions from his print publisher, Scribner, a unit of
Simon & Schuster.
But with only a small fraction of the thousands of books in print available in
e-book form, there are many titles to be fought over.
“This is a wide open frontier right now,” said Maja Thomas, senior vice
president for digital and audio publishing at the Hachette Book Group.
While most traditional publishers have included e-book rights in new author
contracts for 15 years, many titles were originally published before e-books
were explicitly included in contracts.
And with electronic readers like the Kindle from Amazon and the Nook from Barnes
& Noble attracting new readers and sales of e-books growing exponentially,
authors and publishers are trying to figure out how best to harness the new
New ventures focusing explicitly on e-books are cropping up regularly, and some
offer authors better financial terms than the traditional publishers.
In the case of Mr. Styron, who died in 2006 at age 81, the eight titles his
family wants to re-release as e-books were published in print before 1994. This
fall, Mr. Styron’s estate reached an agreement with a new company, Open Road
Integrated Media, founded by Jane Friedman, the former chief executive of
HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide, and Jeffrey Sharp, a film producer.
In October, Open Road announced that it would produce e-books of Mr. Styron’s
work, along with several older titles by Pat Conroy and Iris Murdoch.
Alexandra Styron, 43, Mr. Styron’s youngest daughter, said her family liked that
a company “focused on the idea of the future of the book industry wanted to make
my father’s books an important part of their plan to bring old and long-gone
authors into the 21st century.”
Ms. Styron said her family was happy with the job Random House, and their
father’s editor, Robert Loomis, had done for Mr. Styron’s work. But with
e-books, she said, “we didn’t feel that we were getting any similar kind of
In his letter on Friday, Mr. Dohle said that authors were precluded “from
granting publishing rights to third parties.” Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for
Random House, said the company expected to “continue to publish the Styron books
we own in all formats, including e-books.”
Mr. Sharp, president of Open Road, said in an e-mailed statement: “We are
confident in our agreements and only make deals with parties who represent to us
that they own the rights.”
Several publishers who say they retain e-book rights on old contracts are
working to amend those agreements to insert digital royalty rates. A spokesman
for Simon & Schuster, Adam Rothberg, said the company has amended many old
contracts. “Our plan is to publish all our backlist in e-book form,” he said.
Open Road announced in October that it planned to publish an e-book version of
“Catch-22,” which is published in print by Simon & Schuster. It is a mainstay of
college reading lists and this year has sold 85,000 copies in its paperback
edition, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of total
Mr. Rothberg would not comment directly on “Catch-22.” But Amanda Urban, a
literary agent who represents Mr. Heller’s estate, said in an e-mail message
that her agency, International Creative Management, believes the e-book rights
reside with the author, not the print publisher.
Ms. Urban said that there was not yet a signed deal with Open Road but that
discussions were continuing.
There is some precedent for arguments over e-book versions of backlist titles.
In 2002, Random House sued RosettaBooks, an e-book publisher, for copyright
infringement when Rosetta signed contracts with authors — including Mr. Styron —
to release digital versions of previously published novels.
In its suit, Random House relied on wording in its contracts that granted it all
rights to publish the works “in book form.” In its letter to agents on Friday,
Random House invoked the same wording to defend its right to publish e-books of
In 2002, a federal judge in Manhattan denied Random House’s request for a
preliminary injunction against RosettaBooks, ruling that “in book form” did not
automatically include e-books. An appellate court similarly denied Random
The case never went to trial. In a settlement, Random House granted Rosetta a
license to release e-book versions of 51 titles. Under a different agreement
with Mr. Styron, Rosetta also published two of his books, though its license to
do so has since expired.
Agents say some authors and their estates are seeking alternative routes for
e-books in part because they are dissatisfied with the digital royalty rate
offered by most traditional publishers. That rate — typically 25 percent of net
proceeds — generally results in authors receiving less than they typically
receive on hardcover editions. Agents argue that because it costs publishers
less to produce and distribute e-books, authors should receive more, not less,
in digital royalties.
“I think the potential danger that publishers run by not talking this through
carefully,” said Andrew Wylie, a literary agent who represents the estates of
authors of backlist titles not yet in digital form, including Ralph Ellison and
Vladimir Nabokov, “is that they will be excluded from e-book rights in a
October 15, 2009
The New York Times
By MOTOKO RICH
Kate Lambert recalls using her library card just once or twice throughout her
childhood. Now, she uses it several times a month.
The lure? Electronic books she can download to her laptop. Beginning earlier
this year, Ms. Lambert, a 19-year-old community college student in New Port
Richey, Fla., borrowed volumes in the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series,
“The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold and a vampire novel by Laurell K. Hamilton,
without ever visiting an actual branch.
“I can just go online and type my library card number in and look through all
the books that they have,” said Ms. Lambert, who usually downloads from the
comfort of her bedroom. And, she added, “It’s all for free.”
Eager to attract digitally savvy patrons and capitalize on the growing
popularity of electronic readers, public libraries across the country are
expanding collections of books that reside on servers rather than shelves.
The idea is to capture borrowers who might not otherwise use the library, as
well as to give existing customers the opportunity to try new formats.
“People still think of libraries as old dusty books on shelves, and it’s a
perception we’re always trying to fight,” said Michael Colford, director of
information technology at the Boston Public Library. “If we don’t provide this
material for them, they are just going to stop using the library altogether.”
About 5,400 public libraries now offer e-books, as well as digitally
downloadable audio books. The collections are still tiny compared with print
troves. The New York Public Library, for example, has about 18,300 e-book
titles, compared with 860,500 in circulating print titles, and purchases of
digital books represent less than 1 percent of the library’s overall acquisition
But circulation is expanding quickly. The number of checkouts has grown to more
than 1 million so far this year from 607,275 in all of 2007, according to
OverDrive, a large provider of e-books to public libraries. NetLibrary, another
provider of e-books to about 5,000 public libraries and a division of OCLC, a
nonprofit library service organization, has seen circulation of e-books and
digital audio books rise 21 percent over the past year.
Together with the Google books settlement — which the parties are modifying to
satisfy the objections of the Department of Justice and others — the expansion
of e-books into libraries heralds a future in which more reading will be done
“As young people become used to reading virtually everything online,” said Paul
LeClerc, president of the New York Public Library, “that is going to propel a
change in terms of readership of e-books rather than readership of physical
For now, the expansion will be slowed partly because, with few exceptions,
e-books in libraries cannot be read on Amazon’s Kindle, the best-selling
electronic reader, or on Apple’s iPhone, which has rapidly become a popular
device for reading e-books. Most library editions are compatible with the Sony
Reader, computers and a handful of other mobile devices.
Most digital books in libraries are treated like printed ones: only one borrower
can check out an e-book at a time, and for popular titles, patrons must wait in
line just as they do for physical books. After two to three weeks, the e-book
automatically expires from a reader’s account.
But some publishers worry that the convenience of borrowing books electronically
could ultimately cut into sales of print editions.
“I don’t have to get in my car, go to the library, look at the book, check it
out,” said John Sargent, chief executive of Macmillan, which publishes authors
like Janet Evanovich, Augusten Burroughs and Jeffrey Eugenides. “Instead, I’m
sitting in the comfort of my living room and can say, ‘Oh, that looks
interesting’ and download it.”
As digital collections grow, Mr. Sargent said he feared a world in which “pretty
soon you’re not paying for anything.” Partly because of such concerns, Macmillan
does not allow its e-books to be offered in public libraries.
Simon & Schuster, whose authors include Stephen King and Bob Woodward, has also
refrained from distributing its e-books to public libraries. “We have not found
a business model that works for us and our authors,” said Adam Rothberg, a
For now, the advent of e-book borrowing has not threatened physical libraries by
siphoning away visitors because the recession has driven so many new users
seeking free resources through library doors. And in some cases, few library
patrons seem to know that e-book collections even exist.
In the Brooklyn Public Library system recently, eight people were waiting for
three digital copies of “The Lost Symbol,” Dan Brown’s follow-up to “The Da
Vinci Code,” while 715 people were waiting for 526 print copies.
Some librarians suggest that because digital books never wear out, take up no
shelf space and could, in theory, be read by multiple people at the same time,
the purchasing model for e-books should be different than it is for print.
Pam Sandlian Smith, library director of the Rangeview Library District, which
serves a suburban community north of Denver, said that instead of purchasing a
set number of digital copies of a book, she would prefer to buy one copy and pay
a nominal licensing fee each time a patron downloaded it.
Publishers, inevitably, are nervous about allowing too much of their
intellectual property to be offered free. Brian Murray, the chief executive of
HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide, said Ms. Smith’s proposal was “not a
sustainable model for publishers or authors.”
Some librarians object to the current pricing model because they often pay more
for e-books than do consumers who buy them on Amazon or in Sony’s online store.
Publishers generally charge the same price for e-books as they do for print
editions, but online retailers subsidize the sale price of best sellers by
marking them down to $9.99.
“ ‘The Lost Symbol’ is $9.99 on the Sony Reader book page, and I just paid
$29.99 for that for the library,” said Robin Bradford, the collection
development librarian at the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library. Ms.
Bradford said she would consider buying additional digital copies if the price
were lower. But “to buy nonphysical copies at the same price,” she said, “I just
won’t do it.”
Academic publishers have been more willing to experiment with subscription
models, inviting libraries to pay an annual fee for unlimited access to certain
books. Scholastic Inc., the children’s book publisher, also offers library
subscriptions to BookFlix, a collection of picture books that children can read
Steve Potash, the chief executive of OverDrive, said publishers should regard
library e-books as a form of marketing. Many people who browse a library’s
online catalog end up buying the books, he said, although he could provide no
evidence of that.
Some publishers agree that library e-books, like print versions, can attract new
customers. “We’ve always strongly believed that there is a conversion point
where they do start to buy their own,” said Malle Vallik, the director of
digital content at Harlequin Enterprises, the romance publisher.
In libraries, readers are attracted to free material. Nancy Gobel, a dental
hygienist who already downloads digital audio books from her library in
Indianapolis, said she currently buys print books. But she is considering
purchasing an electronic reader so she can borrow them for free. “I would still
continue to buy, but I would download as much as I can,” she said. In many
cases, she said, buying “doesn’t make sense.”
For more than 500 years the book has been a remarkably stable entity: a
coherent string of connected words, printed on paper and bound between covers.
But in the age of the iPhone, Kindle and YouTube, the notion of the book is
becoming increasingly elastic as publishers mash together text, video and Web
features in a scramble to keep readers interested in an archaic form of
On Thursday, for instance, Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Ernest Hemingway
and Stephen King, is working with a multimedia partner to release four “vooks,”
which intersperse videos throughout electronic text that can be read — and
viewed — online or on an iPhone or iPod Touch.
And in early September Anthony E. Zuiker, creator of the television series
“CSI,” released “Level 26: Dark Origins,” a novel — published on paper, as an
e-book and in an audio version — in which readers are invited to log on to a Web
site to watch brief videos that flesh out the plot.
Some publishers say this kind of multimedia hybrid is necessary to lure modern
readers who crave something different. But reading experts question whether
fiddling with the parameters of books ultimately degrades the act of reading.
“There is no question that these new media are going to be superb at engaging
and interesting the reader,” said Maryanne Wolf, a professor of child
development at Tufts University and author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story
and Science of the Reading Brain.” But, she added, “Can you any longer read
Henry James or George Eliot? Do you have the patience?”
The most obvious way technology has changed the literary world is with
electronic books. Over the past year devices like Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s
Reader have gained in popularity. But the digital editions displayed on these
devices remain largely faithful to the traditional idea of a book by using words
— and occasional pictures — to tell a story or explain a subject.
The new hybrids add much more. In one of the Simon & Schuster vooks, a fitness
and diet title, readers can click on videos that show them how to perform the
exercises. A beauty book contains videos that demonstrate how to make homemade
Not just how-tos are getting the cinematic work-up. Simon & Schuster is also
releasing two digital novels combining text with videos a minute or 90 seconds
long that supplement — and in some cases advance — the story line.
In “Embassy,” a short thriller about a kidnapping written by Richard Doetsch, a
video snippet that resembles a newscast reveals that the victim is the mayor’s
daughter, replacing some of Mr. Doetsch’s original text.
“Everybody is trying to think about how books and information will best be put
together in the 21st century,” said Judith Curr, publisher of Atria Books, the
Simon & Schuster imprint that is releasing the electronic editions in
partnership with Vook, a multimedia company. She added, “You can’t just be
linear anymore with your text.”
In some cases, social-networking technologies enable conversations among readers
that will influence how books are written.
The children’s division of HarperCollins recently released the first in a
young-adult mystery series called “The Amanda Project,” and has invited readers
to discuss clues and characters on a Web site. As the series continues, some of
the reader comments may be incorporated into minor characters or subplots.
Susan Katz, publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, predicted that “there
is going to be a popular kind of literature where the author is seen as the
leader of a large group and will pick and choose from these suggestions” by
Bradley J. Inman, chief executive of Vook, said readers who viewed prototypes of
“The 90-Second Fitness Solution” by Pete Cerqua or “Return to Beauty” by Narine
Nikogosian “intuitively saw the benefits of augmenting how-to books with video
segments.” Mr. Inman said readers then “warmed to” the fictional editions.
Jude Deveraux, a popular romance author who has written 36 straightforward text
novels, said she loved experimenting with “Promises,” an exclusive vook set on a
19th-century South Carolina plantation in which the integrated videos add
snippets of dialogue and atmosphere.
Ms. Deveraux said she envisioned new versions of books enhanced by music or even
perfume. “I’d like to use all the senses,” she said.
Brian Tart, publisher of Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, which released
“Level 26,” said he wanted the book’s text to be able to stand on its own, but
the culture demanded rethinking the format. “Like everybody, you see people
watching these three-minute YouTube videos and using social networks,” Mr. Tart
said. “And there is an opportunity here to bring in more people who might have
thought they were into the new media world.”
Readers of “Level 26,” which Mr. Zuiker wrote with Duane Swierczynski, have had
a mixed response to what the publisher is marketing as a “digi-novel.”
“It really makes a story more real if you know what the characters look like,”
commented Fred L. Gronvall in a review on Amazon.com. The videos, he wrote, “add
to the experience in a big way.”
But another reviewer, posting as Rj Granados, wrote, “Do you really think cheesy
video vignettes will IMPROVE the book?”
Some authors believe the new technologies can enrich books. For his history of
street songs in 18th-century France, Robert Darnton, director of the Harvard
University Library, will include links to recordings of the actual tunes.
But Mr. Darnton, author of “The Case for Books: Past, Present and Future,”
warned that reading itself was changing, and not necessarily for the better. “I
think we can see enough already to worry about the loss of a certain kind of
sustained reading,” he said.
Mr. Doetsch, the author of “Embassy,” said the new editions should not replace
the traditional book. He has written a forthcoming novel, “The 13th Hour,” that
he thinks is too long to lend itself to the video-enhanced format. The new
editions, he said, are “like dipping a novel into a cinematic pool and pulling
it out and getting the best parts of each.”
Some authors scoff at the idea of mixing the two mediums. “As a novelist I would
never ever” allow videos to substitute for prose, said Walter Mosley, the author
of “Devil in a Blue Dress” and other novels.
“Reading is one of the few experiences we have outside of relationships in which
our cognitive abilities grow,” Mr. Mosley said. “And our cognitive abilities
actually go backwards when we’re watching television or doing stuff on
Dan Brown’s fans have waited six long years for “The Lost Symbol,” his
follow-up to the megablockbuster novel “The Da Vinci Code” that is being
published in hardcover on Sept. 15.
Will those who want to read it in e-book form wait a little longer?
It is a question that Mr. Brown’s publisher, the Knopf Doubleday Publishing
Group, is weighing as it plans the rollout of what it hopes will be a
book-selling sensation. The publisher has announced a first hardcover run of
five million copies, but Suzanne Herz, a spokeswoman for Knopf Doubleday, said
the publisher had not decided when to release an electronic version.
Other publishers are mulling release dates for fall titles. Twelve, an imprint
of Grand Central Publishing, said it had not set a date for the e-book edition
of “True Compass,” the memoir by Senator Edward M. Kennedy that is being
released in hardcover on Oct. 6. Twelve has announced a first print run of 1.5
No topic is more hotly debated in book circles at the moment than the timing,
pricing and ultimate impact of e-books on the financial health of publishers and
retailers. Publishers are grappling with e-book release dates partly because
they are trying to understand how digital editions affect demand for hardcover
books. A hardcover typically sells for anywhere from $25 to $35, while the most
common price for an e-book has quickly become $9.99.
Amazon.com, which sells electronic editions for its Kindle device, has
effectively made $9.99 the de facto price for most best sellers, a price that
publishers believe will reduce their profit margins over time. Barnes & Noble,
through its Fictionwise arm, also sells best sellers in e-book form, for $9.95.
Ms. Herz said that Doubleday was primarily worried about the security of Mr.
Brown’s book, which is being kept under a strict embargo until the Sept. 15
publication date. But she acknowledged that the e-book’s possible effect on
hardcover sales was also an issue, among others.
Similarly, Stephen King, whose novel “Under the Dome” is being published in
November by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, said in an e-mail message
that “we’re all thinking and talking about electronic publishing and how to deal
with these issues,” adding, “but I can’t say anything right now.”
Until now John Grisham has not allowed any of his books to be released in
electronic book form. But according to his agent, David Gernert, Mr. Grisham has
not resolved how his publisher, Doubleday, should release a digital version of
“Ford County,” a short story collection set for hardcover release on Nov. 3.
Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, the world’s largest publisher of
consumer books and the parent company of Knopf Doubleday, said that the
company’s standard approach was to release e-books on the same day that a
hardcover is published.
But, he said, “we do have discussions periodically about either delaying or
accelerating the e-book edition” on a book-by-book basis. Imprints of Random
House, in fact, have committed to releasing digital versions on the same day as
the hardcovers for upcoming titles from John Irving, E. L. Doctorow and Jon
Many publishers did not want to talk publicly about internal discussions
concerning whether to delay the release of e-books specifically on releases by
best-selling authors who typically sell hundreds of thousands, if not millions,
of copies in hardcover.
This fall is a particularly ripe testing ground for such discussions because
many top-selling authors are publishing books. Mr. King, Michael Lewis, Michael
Chabon, Barbara Kingsolver and Pat Conroy all have books scheduled.
At least one publisher has made a decision to withhold an e-book edition of a
forthcoming book to preserve demand for a hardcover edition. Sourcebooks, an
independent publisher, is releasing “Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse,” a novel
aimed at children, in September in hardcover. It will hold back the e-book until
six months later.
Dominique Raccah, chief executive of Sourcebooks, said she wanted to prevent the
cannibalization of hardcover sales. “If you as a consumer can look at a book and
say: ‘I have two products; one is $27.95, and the other is $9.95. Which should I
buy?’ ” Ms. Raccah said, “that’s not a difficult decision.”
Ms. Raccah said that because retailers like Amazon have set the standard
consumer price for e-books, the publisher could only control when a book would
be released in other formats. Delaying the release of an e-book, she said, was
like publishing a cheaper paperback edition months after a hardcover edition.
After The Wall Street Journal reported that Sourcebooks was delaying the e-book
release of “Bran Hambric,” many bloggers criticized the publisher.
Mike Shatzkin, founder and chief executive of the Idea Logical Company, a
consultant to publishers on digital issues, said he did not believe e-book
buyers cannibalize hardcover sales. “People who read e-books don’t buy physical
books, and people who buy physical books don’t buy e-books,” he said. E-books
still represent only 1 percent to 2 percent of book sales.
For now, Amazon is taking a loss on each e-book it sells because it generally
pays publishers half of the hardcover list price on new releases. So publishers
who delay releasing e-books run the risk of losing sales, for which they are now
getting higher margins than they are on print books.
An Amazon spokesman, Andrew Herdener, said that Kindle customers “expect new
releases to be available on Kindle, and we’ll continue to work hard to meet
Evan Schnittman, the vice president of business development at Oxford University
Press, said that the idea of concurrent editions with different prices was
unsettling to publishers.
But, he said: “I don’t think you want to withhold content from the public. I’m
pretty sure that when a customer decides to buy a Kindle, they are making a
decision to start becoming an e-book consumer.”
Google appears to be throwing down the gauntlet in the e-book market.
In discussions with publishers at the annual BookExpo convention in New York
over the weekend, Google signaled its intent to introduce a program by that
would enable publishers to sell digital versions of their newest books direct to
consumers through Google. The move would pit Google against Amazon.com, which is
seeking to control the e-book market with the versions it sells for its Kindle
Google’s move is likely to be welcomed by publishers who have expressed concerns
about Amazon’s aggressive pricing strategy for e-books. Amazon offers Kindle
editions of most new best sellers for $9.99, far less than the typical $26 at
which publishers sell new hardcovers. In early discussions, Google has said it
will allow publishers to set consumer prices.
“Clearly, any major company coming into the e-book space, providing that we are
happy with the pricing structure, the selling price and the security of the
technology, will be a welcome addition,” said David Young, chief executive of
Hachette Book Group, which publishes blockbuster authors like James Patterson,
Stephenie Meyer and Nicholas Sparks.
Google’s e-book retail program would be separate from the company’s settlement
with authors and publishers over its book-scanning project, under which Google
has scanned more than seven million volumes from several university libraries. A
majority of those books are out of print.
The settlement, which is the focus of a Justice Department inquiry about the
antitrust implications and is also subject to court review, provides for a way
for Google to sell digital access to the scanned volumes.
And Google has already made its 1.5 million public-domain books available for
reading on mobile phones as well as the Sony Reader, the Kindle’s largest
Under the new program, publishers give Google digital files of new and other
in-print books. Already on Google, users can search up to about 20 percent of
the content of those books and can follow links from Google to online retailers
like Amazon.com and the Web site of Barnes & Noble to buy either paper or
electronic versions of the books. But Google is now proposing to allow users to
buy those digital editions direct from Google.
Google has discussed such plans with publishers before, but it has now committed
the company to going live with the project by the end of 2009. In a presentation
at BookExpo, Tom Turvey, director of strategic partnerships at Google, added the
phrase: “This time we mean it.”
Although Google generates a majority of its revenue from ad sales on its search
pages, it has previously charged for content. Three years ago, it opened a
Google video store, and sold digital recordings of N.B.A. games as well as
episodes of television shows like “CSI” and “The Brady Bunch.” This year, Google
said it might eventually charge for premium content on YouTube.
Mr. Turvey said that with books, Google planned to sell readers online access to
digital versions of various titles. When offline, Mr. Turvey said, readers would
still be able to access their electronic books in cached versions on their
Publishers briefed on the plans at BookExpo said they were not sure yet how the
technology would work, but were optimistic about the new program.
Mr. Turvey said Google’s program would allow consumers to read books on any
device with Internet access, including mobile phones, rather than being limited
to dedicated reading devices like the Amazon Kindle. “We don’t believe that
having a silo or a proprietary system is the way that e-books will go,” he said.
He said that Google would allow publishers to set retail prices. Amazon lets
publishers set wholesale prices and then sets its own prices for consumers. In
selling e-books at $9.99, Amazon takes a loss on each sale because publishers
generally charge booksellers about half the list price of a hardcover —
typically around $13 or $14.
Mr. Turvey said that Google would probably allow publishers to charge consumers
the same price for digital editions as they do for new hardcover versions. He
said Google would reserve the right to adjust prices that it deemed
February 10, 2009
The New York Times
By BRAD STONE and MOTOKO RICH
Escalating its efforts to dominate the fledgling industry for electronic
books, Amazon introduced a new version of its electronic book reader today,
dubbed Kindle 2.
Amazon said the upgraded device has seven times the memory as the original
version, allows faster page-turns and has a crisper, though still
black-and-white, display. The Kindle 2 also features a new design with round
keys and a short, joystick-like controller — a departure from the design aspects
of the previous version, which some buyers had criticized as awkward. The new
device will ship on Feb. 24. Amazon did not change the price for the device,
which remains $359.
Though the improvements to the Kindle are only incremental, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s
founder and chief executive, defined some ambitious goals for the device. “Our
vision is every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than
60 seconds,” he said at a news conference in New York.
Amazon introduced several new features for the Kindle. A new text-to-speech
function allows readers to switch between reading words on the device and having
the words read to them by a computerized voice. That technology was provided by
Nuance, a speech-recognition company based in Burlington, Mass.
Amazon is also allowing Kindle owners to transfer texts between their Kindle and
other mobile devices. Amazon said it is working on making digital texts
available for other gadgets (such as mobile phones), though it did not specify
One competitive threat Amazon is facing in its effort to dominate the world of
e-books is from Google, which has scanned in some seven million books, many of
them out of print. Google has also struck deals with publishers and authors to
split the proceeds from the online sales of those texts.
Google recently said it would soon begin selling these books for reading on
mobile devices like Apple’s iPhone and phones running Google’s Android operating
Implicitly addressing the threat posed by Google, Mr. Bezos said that Amazon
knows better than other companies what book-buyers wants and stressed Amazon’s
digital catalog of 230,000 newer books and best-sellers.
“We have tens of millions of customers who buy books from us every day and we
know what they want to read,” he said. “And we are making sure to prioritize
Markus Dohle, chief executive of Random House, the world’s largest publisher of
consumer books and a unit of Bertelsmann of Germany, said the company was
working with Amazon and other e-book makers to digitize its so-called backlist
of older titles. When asked in an interview after the news conference if he was
concerned about the effects of Amazon’s dominance in the e-book market, Mr.
Dohle paused and laughed.
“It is not up to us to talk about Amazon’s competition,” he said. “I don’t think
that any kind of defensive business strategy will succeed. We want to grow our
business in all channels and one of the fastest growing customers is Amazon in
“We see the Kindle and we see e-books as a real opportunity because we think
that it will not cannibalize the physical part of the business and it will also
generate and create new readers of books,” Mr. Dohle said.
December 24, 2008
The New York Times
By BRAD STONE and MOTOKO RICH
Could book lovers finally be willing to switch from paper to pixels?
For a decade, consumers mostly ignored electronic book devices, which were often
hard to use and offered few popular items to read. But this year, in part
because of the popularity of Amazon.com’s wireless Kindle device, the e-book has
started to take hold.
The $359 Kindle, which is slim, white and about the size of a trade paperback,
was introduced a year ago. Although Amazon will not disclose sales figures, the
Kindle has at least lived up to its name by creating broad interest in
electronic books. Now it is out of stock and unavailable until February.
Analysts credit Oprah Winfrey, who praised the Kindle on her show in October,
and blame Amazon for poor holiday planning.
The shortage is providing an opening for Sony, which embarked on an intense
publicity campaign for its Reader device during the gift-buying season. The
stepped-up competition may represent a coming of age for the entire idea of
reading longer texts on a portable digital device.
“The perception is that e-books have been around for 10 years and haven’t done
anything,” said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division. “But
it’s happening now. This is really starting to take off.”
Sony’s efforts have been overshadowed by Amazon’s. But this month it began a
promotional blitz in airports, train stations and bookstores, with the ambitious
goal of personally demonstrating the Reader to two million people by the end of
The company’s latest model, the Reader 700, is a $400 device with a reading
light and a touch screen that allows users to annotate what they are reading.
Mr. Haber said Sony’s sales had tripled this holiday season over last, in part
because the device is now available in the Target, Borders and Sam’s Club
chains. He said Sony had sold more than 300,000 devices since the debut of the
original Reader in 2006.
It is difficult to quantify the success of the Kindle, since Amazon will not
disclose how many it has sold and analysts’ estimates vary widely. Peter
Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, a book market research company,
said he believed Amazon had sold as many as 260,000 units through the beginning
of October, before Ms. Winfrey’s endorsement. Others say the number could be as
high as a million.
Many Kindle buyers appear to be outside the usual gadget-hound demographic.
Almost as many women as men are buying it, Mr. Hildick-Smith said, and the
device is most popular among 55- to 64-year-olds.
So far, publishers like HarperCollins, Random House and Simon & Schuster say
that sales of e-books for any device — including simple laptop downloads —
constitute less than 1 percent of total book sales. But there are signs of
momentum. The publishers say sales of e-books have tripled or quadrupled in the
Amazon’s Kindle version of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski, a
best seller recommended by Ms. Winfrey’s book club, now represents 20 percent of
total Amazon sales of the book, according to Brian Murray, chief executive of
HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide.
The Kindle version of the book, which can be downloaded by the device itself
through its wireless modem, costs $9.99 in the Amazon Kindle store. The Reader
version costs $11.99 from Sony’s e-book library, accessible from an
Even authors who were once wary of selling their work in bits and bytes are
coming around. After some initial hesitation, authors like Danielle Steel and
John Grisham are soon expected to add their titles to the e-book catalog, their
“E-books will become the go-to-first format for an ever-expanding group of
readers who are newly discovering how much they enjoy reading books on a
screen,” said Markus Dohle, chief executive of Random House, the world’s largest
publisher of consumer books.
Nobody knows how much consumer habits will shift. Some of the most committed
bibliophiles maintain an almost fetishistic devotion to the physical book. But
the technology may have more appeal for particular kinds of people, like those
who are the heaviest readers.
At Harlequin Enterprises, the Toronto-based publisher of bodice-ripping
romances, Malle Vallik, director for digital content and interactivity, said she
expected sales of digital versions of the company’s books someday to match or
potentially outstrip sales in print.
Harlequin, which publishes 120 books a month, makes all of its new titles
available digitally, and has even started publishing digital-only short stories
that it sells for $2.99 each, including an erotica collection called Spice
Perhaps the most overlooked boost to e-books this year — and a challenge to some
of the standard thinking about them — came from Apple’s do-it-all gadget, the
Several e-book-reading programs have been created for the device, and at least
two of them, Stanza from LexCycle and the eReader from Fictionwise, have been
downloaded more than 600,000 times. Another company, Scroll Motion, announced
this week that it would begin selling e-books for the iPhone from major
publishers like Simon & Schuster, Random House and Penguin.
All of these companies say they are now tailoring their software for other kinds
of smartphones, including BlackBerrys.
Publishers say these iPhone applications are already starting to generate nearly
as many digital book sales as the Sony Reader, though they still trail sales of
books in the Kindle format.
Meanwhile, the quest to build the perfect e-book reader continues. Amazon and
Sony are expected to introduce new versions of their readers in 2009. Adherents
expect the new Kindle will have a sleeker design and a better microprocessor,
allowing snappier page-turning.
Mr. Haber of Sony said future versions of the Reader will have wireless
capability, a feature that has helped make the Kindle so appealing. This means
that the device does not have to be plugged into a computer to download books,
newspapers and magazines.
Other competitors are on the way. Investors have put more than $200 million into
Plastic Logic, a company in Mountain View, Calif. The company says that next
year it will begin testing a flexible 8.5-by-11-inch reading device that is
thinner and lighter than existing ones. Plastic Logic plans to begin selling it
Along the same lines, Polymer Vision, based in the Netherlands, demonstrated a
device the size of a BlackBerry that has a five-inch rolled-up screen that can
be unfurled for reading. There are also less ambitious but cheaper readers on
the market or expected soon, including the eSlick Reader from Foxit Software,
arriving next month at an introductory price of $230.
E Ink, the company in Cambridge, Mass., that has developed the screen technology
for many of these companies, says it is testing color screens and hopes to
introduce them by 2010.
Many book lovers are quite happy with today’s devices. MaryAnn van Hengel, 51, a
graphic designer in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., once railed against e-readers at a
meeting of her book club. But she embraced the Kindle her husband gave her this
fall shortly after Ms. Winfrey endorsed it.
Ms. Van Hengel now has several books on the device, including a Nora Roberts
novel and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals.” She said the Kindle had
spurred her to buy more books than she normally would in print.
“I may be shy bringing the Kindle to the book club because so many of the women
were so against the technology, and I said I was too,” Ms. Van Hengel said. “And
here I am in love with it.”
November 30, 2008
The New York Times
By JAMES GLEICK
THE gloom that has fallen over the book publishing industry is different from
the mood in, say, home building. At least people know we’ll always need houses.
And now comes the news, as book sales plummet amid the onslaught of digital
media, that authors, publishers and Google have reached a historic agreement to
allow the scanning and digitizing of something very much like All the World’s
Books. So here is the long dreamed-of universal library, its contents available
(more or less) to every computer screen anywhere. Are you happy now? Maybe not,
if your business has been the marketing, distributing or archiving of books.
One could imagine the book, venerable as it is, just vanishing into the ether.
It melts into all the other information species searchable through Google’s most
democratic of engines: the Web pages, the blogs, the organs of printed and
broadcast news, the general chatter. (Thanks for everything, Gutenberg, and now
But I don’t see it that way. I think, on the contrary, we’ve reached a shining
moment for this ancient technology. Publishers may or may not figure out how to
make money again (it was never a good way to get rich), but their product has a
chance for new life: as a physical object, and as an idea, and as a set of
As a technology, the book is like a hammer. That is to say, it is perfect: a
tool ideally suited to its task. Hammers can be tweaked and varied but will
never go obsolete. Even when builders pound nails by the thousand with pneumatic
nail guns, every household needs a hammer. Likewise, the bicycle is alive and
well. It was invented in a world without automobiles, and for speed and range it
was quickly surpassed by motorcycles and all kinds of powered scooters. But
there is nothing quaint about bicycles. They outsell cars.
Of course, plenty of other stuff is destined for obsolescence. For more than a
century the phonograph record was almost the only practical means of reproducing
sound — and thus the basis of a multibillion-dollar industry. Now it’s just an
oddity. Hardly anyone in the music business is sanguine about the prospects for
Now, at this point one expects to hear a certain type of sentimental plea for
the old-fashioned book — how you like the feel of the thing resting in your
hand, the smell of the pages, the faint cracking of the spine when you open a
new book — and one may envision an aesthete who bakes his own bread and also
professes to prefer the sound of vinyl. That’s not my argument. I do love the
heft of a book in my hand, but I spend most of my waking hours looking at —
which mainly means reading from — a computer screen. I’m just saying that the
book is technology that works.
Phonograph records and CDs and telegraphs and film cameras were all about
storing and delivering bits — information, in its manifold variety — and if
we’ve learned anything, we’ve learned that bits are fungible. Bit-storing
technologies have been arbitrary, or constrained by available materials, and
thus easy to replace when the next thing comes along. Words, too, can be
converted into bits, but there’s something peculiar, something particularly
direct, about the path from the page to the brain.
It is significant that one says book lover and music lover and art lover but not
record lover or CD lover or, conversely, text lover.
There’s reading and then there’s reading. There is the gleaning or browsing or
cherry-picking of information, and then there is the deep immersion in
constructed textual worlds: novels and biographies and the various forms of
narrative nonfiction — genres that could not be born until someone invented the
codex, the book as we know it, pages inscribed on both sides and bound together.
These are the books that possess one and the books one wants to possess.
For some kinds of books, the writing is on the wall. Encyclopedias are finished.
All encyclopedias combined, including the redoubtable Britannica, have already
been surpassed by the exercise in groupthink known as Wikipedia. Basic
dictionaries no longer belong on paper; the greatest, the Oxford English
Dictionary, has nimbly remade itself in cyberspace, where it has doubled in size
and grown more timely and usable than ever. And those hefty objects called
“telephone books”? As antiquated as typewriters. The book has had a long life as
the world’s pre-eminent device for the storage and retrieval of knowledge, but
that may be ending, where the physical object is concerned.
Which brings us to the settlement agreement, pending court approval, in the
class action suit Authors Guild v. Google. The suit was filed in September 2005
when Google embarked on an audacious program of copying onto its servers every
book it could get its hands on. This was a lot of books, because the Internet
giant struck deals with the libraries of the University of Michigan, Harvard,
Stanford and many others. On its face this looked like a brazen assault on
copyright, but Google argued that it should be protected as a new kind of “fair
use” and went on scanning during two and a half years of secret negotiations (I
was involved on the authors’ side).
By now the company has digitized at least seven million titles. Many are old
enough to be in the public domain — no issue there — and many are new enough to
be available in bookstores, but the vast majority, four million to five million,
are books that had fallen into a kind of limbo: protected by copyright but out
of print. Their publishers had given up on them. They existed at libraries and
used booksellers but otherwise had left the playing field.
As a way through the impasse, the authors persuaded Google to do more than just
scan the books for purposes of searching, but go further, by bringing them back
to commercial life. Under the agreement these millions of out-of-print books
return from limbo. Any money made from advertising or licensing fees will go
partly to Google and mostly to the rights-holders. The agreement is
nonexclusive: If competitors to Google want to get into the business, they can.
This means a new beginning — a vast trove of books restored to the marketplace.
It also means that much of the book world is being upended before our eyes: the
business of publishing, selling and distributing books; the role of libraries
and bookstores; all uses of books for research, consultation, information
storage; everything, in fact, but the plain act of reading a book from start to
In bookstores, the trend for a decade or more has been toward shorter shelf
life. Books have had to sell fast or move aside. Now even modest titles have
been granted a gift of unlimited longevity.
What should an old-fashioned book publisher do with this gift? Forget about
cost-cutting and the mass market. Don’t aim for instant blockbuster successes.
You won’t win on quick distribution, and you won’t win on price. Cyberspace has
Go back to an old-fashioned idea: that a book, printed in ink on durable paper,
acid-free for longevity, is a thing of beauty. Make it as well as you can.
People want to cherish it.
James Gleick, the author, most recently, of “Isaac Newton,”
Most of us read all the time: road signs, recipes, people’s expressions. But
sometimes reading is for purposes other than simply gaining information.
The teenagers mentioned in the article who eschew books in favor of online text
may be well informed and may interact with others every day, but they lack the
experience of “reading” that a literary narrative provides.
When reading is reduced to meaning only the acquisition of information, it is no
surprise to find that minds are impoverished. Do you agree or disagree with
“Jane Eyre”? With “Hamlet”? With “Their Eyes Were Watching God”? The question is
meaningless, beside the point.
As more and more people fail to “read,” it becomes easier for the powerful to
hoodwink them because extended narratives disappear, to be replaced by the quick
conclusions available in a Google search. We no longer see that we are repeating
old narratives, no longer see how we got to where we are.
To engage with democratic processes — to participate in making difficult
decisions or answering challenging questions (shall we go to war? whose fault is
poverty?) — requires the ability to examine multiple perspectives, to hold
conflicting ideas simultaneously in the mind.
Such qualities of thought are practiced and honed by reading, not by scanning
text for information.
As readers have become replaced by users, so our ability to understand what
happens in our name will continue to be diminished.
Nyack, N.Y., July 27, 2008
The writer is a professor of English at Pace University.
To the Editor:
I wonder if the invention of the printing press in 1440 had experts of the day
crying out that reading and writing were dead.
Pleasure literacy, academic literacy, cultural literacy and informational
literacy are all different genres, and we should welcome new sources with
As a lifelong reader, writer and teacher, and now a technological neophyte, I am
pleased to be able to find the information I need so easily and quickly on the
Internet rather than spending hours in library stacks as I used to do.
Our young people are not in danger because they are experimenting with literacy
in a new form.
So what if it obsesses them for the time being? That’s what adolescence is all
about. In maturity, they will have skills, knowledge and interests their parents
only dreamed about.
Portland, Ore., July 27, 2008
The writer is a former president of the National Council of Teachers of English.
To the Editor:
Show me the things on the Internet that compare with Sherlock Holmes’s deadly
confrontation with Moriarty, the final scene with the titular spider in
“Charlotte’s Web,” Winston Smith’s self-betrayal in “1984,” the brilliance of
John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels, the anger and the love and the sorrow
of Harlan Ellison’s stories, the wordy mirth of Rex Stout’s brownstoned Nero
Wolfe, Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld series, Tarzan, the Spenser mysteries,
Roland of Gilead, Little Bear, Big Max, Martha and George. And that’s just one
Show me humanity writ large on the Internet, and I’ll stop having any truck with
these heavy, burdensome books.
Until then, please stop encouraging the endorsement of this “greasy kid’s stuff”
as anything other than what it was described as in the article: an addiction.
And an addiction, by definition, is not beneficial.
Princeton, N.J., July 27, 2008
To the Editor:
I struggle mightily with the book versus digital reading issue. I see the view
that reading is reading. I know our real and reading world has changed
But reading a book — Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” Kate Chopin’s “Awakening” —
is more of a lasting aesthetic experience than reading the Internet, which is a
more ephemeral, economic lure.
Books ask us to pause, imagine, shush; the Internet says don’t think much, buy,
So, yes, there’s a new kind of reader in town, but please give me Shakespeare
and even Jonathan Swift now and forever, and let me take more time to decide on
Reading is reading is not always reading.
Chicago, July 27, 2008
The writer is the chairman of the teacher education department at DePaul
To the Editor:
The crucial issue might not be how one reads (in print or online), but what one
reads (something important or trivial).
It probably does not matter in what form one reads a “great book,” but time is
more likely better spent with it than with a book or article of lesser
But to read an important book is not enough. One should examine and understand
it, assess its relevance and credibility, and then answer this question: What
have I learned of value from it?
Upper Arlington, Ohio, July 27, 2008
To the Editor:
Is reading the nutrition information on a bag of potato chips “reading”? What
about the box score for a Yankees game or closed captions on a TV program?
People have always been able to read in different media and circumstances.
What’s important is the person’s purpose in reading, not the medium itself.
Are you looking for specific information, following a historical narrative or
savoring the language in a Jane Austen novel?
There’s very little reading that can be done in one medium (the Internet) but
not in the other (traditional print). The rest is all convenience.
It’s harder on the Internet to stumble on those small interesting stories in the
back of a newspaper, but it’s easier to find specific facts. There’s no single
answer to which is better, but it’s all good.
Madison, Wis., July 29, 2008
The writer is a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin.
BEREA, Ohio — Books are not Nadia Konyk’s thing. Her mother, hoping to entice
her, brings them home from the library, but Nadia rarely shows an interest.
Instead, like so many other teenagers, Nadia, 15, is addicted to the Internet.
She regularly spends at least six hours a day in front of the computer here in
this suburb southwest of Cleveland.
A slender, chatty blonde who wears black-framed plastic glasses, Nadia checks
her e-mail and peruses myyearbook.com, a social networking site, reading
messages or posting updates on her mood. She searches for music videos on
YouTube and logs onto Gaia Online, a role-playing site where members fashion
alternate identities as cutesy cartoon characters. But she spends most of her
time on quizilla.com or fanfiction.net, reading and commenting on stories
written by other users and based on books, television shows or movies.
Her mother, Deborah Konyk, would prefer that Nadia, who gets A’s and B’s at
school, read books for a change. But at this point, Ms. Konyk said, “I’m just
pleased that she reads something anymore.”
Children like Nadia lie at the heart of a passionate debate about just what it
means to read in the digital age. The discussion is playing out among
educational policy makers and reading experts around the world, and within
groups like the National Council of Teachers of English and the International
As teenagers’ scores on standardized reading tests have declined or stagnated,
some argue that the hours spent prowling the Internet are the enemy of reading —
diminishing literacy, wrecking attention spans and destroying a precious common
culture that exists only through the reading of books.
But others say the Internet has created a new kind of reading, one that schools
and society should not discount. The Web inspires a teenager like Nadia, who
might otherwise spend most of her leisure time watching television, to read and
Even accomplished book readers like Zachary Sims, 18, of Old Greenwich, Conn.,
crave the ability to quickly find different points of view on a subject and
converse with others online. Some children with dyslexia or other learning
difficulties, like Hunter Gaudet, 16, of Somers, Conn., have found it far more
comfortable to search and read online.
At least since the invention of television, critics have warned that electronic
media would destroy reading. What is different now, some literacy experts say,
is that spending time on the Web, whether it is looking up something on Google
or even britneyspears.org, entails some engagement with text.
Few who believe in the potential of the Web deny the value of books. But they
argue that it is unrealistic to expect all children to read “To Kill a
Mockingbird” or “Pride and Prejudice” for fun. And those who prefer staring at a
television or mashing buttons on a game console, they say, can still benefit
from reading on the Internet. In fact, some literacy experts say that online
reading skills will help children fare better when they begin looking for
Some Web evangelists say children should be evaluated for their proficiency on
the Internet just as they are tested on their print reading comprehension.
Starting next year, some countries will participate in new international
assessments of digital literacy, but the United States, for now, will not.
Clearly, reading in print and on the Internet are different. On paper, text has
a predetermined beginning, middle and end, where readers focus for a sustained
period on one author’s vision. On the Internet, readers skate through cyberspace
at will and, in effect, compose their own beginnings, middles and ends.
Young people “aren’t as troubled as some of us older folks are by reading that
doesn’t go in a line,” said Rand J. Spiro, a professor of educational psychology
at Michigan State University who is studying reading practices on the Internet.
“That’s a good thing because the world doesn’t go in a line, and the world isn’t
organized into separate compartments or chapters.”
Some traditionalists warn that digital reading is the intellectual equivalent of
empty calories. Often, they argue, writers on the Internet employ a cryptic
argot that vexes teachers and parents. Zigzagging through a cornucopia of words,
pictures, video and sounds, they say, distracts more than strengthens readers.
And many youths spend most of their time on the Internet playing games or
sending instant messages, activities that involve minimal reading at best.
Last fall the National Endowment for the Arts issued a sobering report linking
flat or declining national reading test scores among teenagers with the slump in
the proportion of adolescents who said they read for fun.
According to Department of Education data cited in the report, just over a fifth
of 17-year-olds said they read almost every day for fun in 2004, down from
nearly a third in 1984. Nineteen percent of 17-year-olds said they never or
hardly ever read for fun in 2004, up from 9 percent in 1984. (It was unclear
whether they thought of what they did on the Internet as “reading.”)
“Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media,” Dana Gioia, the chairman of
the N.E.A., wrote in the report’s introduction, “they provide no measurable
substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated and sustained
by frequent reading.”
Children are clearly spending more time on the Internet. In a study of 2,032
representative 8- to 18-year-olds, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that
nearly half used the Internet on a typical day in 2004, up from just under a
quarter in 1999. The average time these children spent online on a typical day
rose to one hour and 41 minutes in 2004, from 46 minutes in 1999.
The question of how to value different kinds of reading is complicated because
people read for many reasons. There is the level required of daily life — to
follow the instructions in a manual or to analyze a mortgage contract. Then
there is a more sophisticated level that opens the doors to elite education and
professions. And, of course, people read for entertainment, as well as for
intellectual or emotional rewards.
It is perhaps that final purpose that book champions emphasize the most.
“Learning is not to be found on a printout,” David McCullough, the Pulitzer
Prize-winning biographer, said in a commencement address at Boston College in
May. “It’s not on call at the touch of the finger. Learning is acquired mainly
from books, and most readily from great books.”
What’s Best for Nadia?
Deborah Konyk always believed it was essential for Nadia and her 8-year-old
sister, Yashca, to read books. She regularly read aloud to the girls and took
them to library story hours.
“Reading opens up doors to places that you probably will never get to visit in
your lifetime, to cultures, to worlds, to people,” Ms. Konyk said.
Ms. Konyk, who took a part-time job at a dollar store chain a year and a half
ago, said she did not have much time to read books herself. There are few books
in the house. But after Yashca was born, Ms. Konyk spent the baby’s nap time
reading the Harry Potter novels to Nadia, and she regularly brought home new
titles from the library.
Despite these efforts, Nadia never became a big reader. Instead, she became
obsessed with Japanese anime cartoons on television and comics like “Sailor
Moon.” Then, when she was in the sixth grade, the family bought its first
computer. When a friend introduced Nadia to fanfiction.net, she turned off the
television and started reading online.
Now she regularly reads stories that run as long as 45 Web pages. Many of them
have elliptical plots and are sprinkled with spelling and grammatical errors.
One of her recent favorites was “My absolutely, perfect normal life ... ARE YOU
CRAZY? NOT!,” a story based on the anime series “Beyblade.”
In one scene the narrator, Aries, hitches a ride with some masked men and one of
them pulls a knife on her. “Just then I notice (Like finally) something sharp
right in front of me,” Aries writes. “I gladly took it just like that until
something terrible happen ....”
Nadia said she preferred reading stories online because “you could add your own
character and twist it the way you want it to be.”
“So like in the book somebody could die,” she continued, “but you could make it
so that person doesn’t die or make it so like somebody else dies who you don’t
Nadia also writes her own stories. She posted “Dieing Isn’t Always Bad,” about a
girl who comes back to life as half cat, half human, on both fanfiction.net and
Nadia said she wanted to major in English at college and someday hopes to be
published. She does not see a problem with reading few books. “No one’s ever
said you should read more books to get into college,” she said.
The simplest argument for why children should read in their leisure time is that
it makes them better readers. According to federal statistics, students who say
they read for fun once a day score significantly higher on reading tests than
those who say they never do.
Reading skills are also valued by employers. A 2006 survey by the Conference
Board, which conducts research for business leaders, found that nearly 90
percent of employers rated “reading comprehension” as “very important” for
workers with bachelor’s degrees. Department of Education statistics also show
that those who score higher on reading tests tend to earn higher incomes.
Critics of reading on the Internet say they see no evidence that increased Web
activity improves reading achievement. “What we are losing in this country and
presumably around the world is the sustained, focused, linear attention
developed by reading,” said Mr. Gioia of the N.E.A. “I would believe people who
tell me that the Internet develops reading if I did not see such a universal
decline in reading ability and reading comprehension on virtually all tests.”
Nicholas Carr sounded a similar note in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in the
current issue of the Atlantic magazine. Warning that the Web was changing the
way he — and others — think, he suggested that the effects of Internet reading
extended beyond the falling test scores of adolescence. “What the Net seems to
be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation,” he
wrote, confessing that he now found it difficult to read long books.
Literacy specialists are just beginning to investigate how reading on the
Internet affects reading skills. A recent study of more than 700 low-income,
mostly Hispanic and black sixth through 10th graders in Detroit found that those
students read more on the Web than in any other medium, though they also read
books. The only kind of reading that related to higher academic performance was
frequent novel reading, which predicted better grades in English class and
higher overall grade point averages.
Elizabeth Birr Moje, a professor at the University of Michigan who led the
study, said novel reading was similar to what schools demand already. But on the
Internet, she said, students are developing new reading skills that are neither
taught nor evaluated in school.
One early study showed that giving home Internet access to low-income students
appeared to improve standardized reading test scores and school grades. “These
were kids who would typically not be reading in their free time,” said Linda A.
Jackson, a psychology professor at Michigan State who led the research. “Once
they’re on the Internet, they’re reading.”
Neurological studies show that learning to read changes the brain’s circuitry.
Scientists speculate that reading on the Internet may also affect the brain’s
hard wiring in a way that is different from book reading.
“The question is, does it change your brain in some beneficial way?” said
Guinevere F. Eden, director of the Center for the Study of Learning at
Georgetown University. “The brain is malleable and adapts to its environment.
Whatever the pressures are on us to succeed, our brain will try and deal with
Some scientists worry that the fractured experience typical of the Internet
could rob developing readers of crucial skills. “Reading a book, and taking the
time to ruminate and make inferences and engage the imaginational processing, is
more cognitively enriching, without doubt, than the short little bits that you
might get if you’re into the 30-second digital mode,” said Ken Pugh, a cognitive
neuroscientist at Yale who has studied brain scans of children reading.
But This Is Reading Too
Web proponents believe that strong readers on the Web may eventually surpass
those who rely on books. Reading five Web sites, an op-ed article and a blog
post or two, experts say, can be more enriching than reading one book.
“It takes a long time to read a 400-page book,” said Mr. Spiro of Michigan
State. “In a tenth of the time,” he said, the Internet allows a reader to “cover
a lot more of the topic from different points of view.”
Zachary Sims, the Old Greenwich, Conn., teenager, often stays awake until 2 or 3
in the morning reading articles about technology or politics — his current
passions — on up to 100 Web sites.
“On the Internet, you can hear from a bunch of people,” said Zachary, who will
attend Columbia University this fall. “They may not be pedigreed academics. They
may be someone in their shed with a conspiracy theory. But you would weigh
Though he also likes to read books (earlier this year he finished, and loved,
“The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand), Zachary craves interaction with fellow readers
on the Internet. “The Web is more about a conversation,” he said. “Books are
The kinds of skills Zachary has developed — locating information quickly and
accurately, corroborating findings on multiple sites — may seem obvious to heavy
Web users. But the skills can be cognitively demanding.
Web readers are persistently weak at judging whether information is trustworthy.
In one study, Donald J. Leu, who researches literacy and technology at the
University of Connecticut, asked 48 students to look at a spoof Web site
(http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/) about a mythical species known as the
“Pacific Northwest tree octopus.” Nearly 90 percent of them missed the joke and
deemed the site a reliable source.
Some literacy experts say that reading itself should be redefined. Interpreting
videos or pictures, they say, may be as important a skill as analyzing a novel
or a poem.
“Kids are using sound and images so they have a world of ideas to put together
that aren’t necessarily language oriented,” said Donna E. Alvermann, a professor
of language and literacy education at the University of Georgia. “Books aren’t
out of the picture, but they’re only one way of experiencing information in the
A Lifelong Struggle
In the case of Hunter Gaudet, the Internet has helped him feel more comfortable
with a new kind of reading. A varsity lacrosse player in Somers, Conn., Hunter
has struggled most of his life to read. After learning he was dyslexic in the
second grade, he was placed in special education classes and a tutor came to his
home three hours a week. When he entered high school, he dropped the special
education classes, but he still reads books only when forced, he said.
In a book, “they go through a lot of details that aren’t really needed,” Hunter
said. “Online just gives you what you need, nothing more or less.”
When researching the 19th-century Chief Justice Roger B. Taney for one class, he
typed Taney’s name into Google and scanned the Wikipedia entry and other
biographical sites. Instead of reading an entire page, he would type in a search
word like “college” to find Taney’s alma mater, assembling his information
nugget by nugget.
Experts on reading difficulties suggest that for struggling readers, the Web may
be a better way to glean information. “When you read online there are always
graphics,” said Sally Shaywitz, the author of “Overcoming Dyslexia” and a Yale
professor. “I think it’s just more comfortable and — I hate to say easier — but
it more meets the needs of somebody who might not be a fluent reader.”
Karen Gaudet, Hunter’s mother, a regional manager for a retail chain who said
she read two or three business books a week, hopes Hunter will eventually
discover a love for books. But she is confident that he has the reading skills
he needs to succeed.
“Based on where technology is going and the world is going,” she said, “he’s
going to be able to leverage it.”
When he was in seventh grade, Hunter was one of 89 students who participated in
a study comparing performance on traditional state reading tests with a
specially designed Internet reading test. Hunter, who scored in the lowest 10
percent on the traditional test, spent 12 weeks learning how to use the Web for
a science class before taking the Internet test. It was composed of three sets
of directions asking the students to search for information online, determine
which sites were reliable and explain their reasoning.
Hunter scored in the top quartile. In fact, about a third of the students in the
study, led by Professor Leu, scored below average on traditional reading tests
but did well on the Internet assessment.
The Testing Debate
To date, there have been few large-scale appraisals of Web skills. The
Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT, has developed a digital
literacy test known as iSkills that requires students to solve informational
problems by searching for answers on the Web. About 80 colleges and a handful of
high schools have administered the test so far.
But according to Stephen Denis, product manager at ETS, of the more than 20,000
students who have taken the iSkills test since 2006, only 39 percent of
four-year college freshmen achieved a score that represented “core functional
levels” in Internet literacy.
Now some literacy experts want the federal tests known as the nation’s report
card to include a digital reading component. So far, the traditionalists have
held sway: The next round, to be administered to fourth and eighth graders in
2009, will test only print reading comprehension.
Mary Crovo of the National Assessment Governing Board, which creates policies
for the national tests, said several members of a committee that sets guidelines
for the reading tests believed large numbers of low-income and rural students
might not have regular Internet access, rendering measurements of their online
Some simply argue that reading on the Internet is not something that needs to be
tested — or taught.
“Nobody has taught a single kid to text message,” said Carol Jago of the
National Council of Teachers of English and a member of the testing guidelines
committee. “Kids are smart. When they want to do something, schools don’t have
to get involved.”
Michael L. Kamil, a professor of education at Stanford who lobbied for an
Internet component as chairman of the reading test guidelines committee,
disagreed. Students “are going to grow up having to be highly competent on the
Internet,” he said. “There’s no reason to make them discover how to be highly
competent if we can teach them.”
The United States is diverging from the policies of some other countries. Next
year, for the first time, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development, which administers reading, math and science tests to a sample of
15-year-old students in more than 50 countries, will add an electronic reading
component. The United States, among other countries, will not participate. A
spokeswoman for the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the
Department of Education, said an additional test would overburden schools.
Even those who are most concerned about the preservation of books acknowledge
that children need a range of reading experiences. “Some of it is the informal
reading they get in e-mails or on Web sites,” said Gay Ivey, a professor at
James Madison University who focuses on adolescent literacy. “I think they need
Web junkies can occasionally be swept up in a book. After Nadia read Elie
Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir “Night” in her freshman English class, Ms. Konyk
brought home another Holocaust memoir, “I Have Lived a Thousand Years,” by Livia
Nadia was riveted by heartbreaking details of life in the concentration camps.
“I was trying to imagine this and I was like, I can’t do this,” she said. “It
was just so — wow.”
Hoping to keep up the momentum, Ms. Konyk brought home another book,
“Silverboy,” a fantasy novel. Nadia made it through one chapter before she got
engrossed in the Internet fan fiction again.
CONSUMERS like large displays on the mobile devices they use for reading an
e-mail message or an e-book, but they also like to tuck those devices into their
pockets. But the bigger the screen on a cellphone or an e-reader, the sooner it
outgrows pocket size.
Now a hallmark feature of these screens — their rigidity — is changing. New
technologies are developing that make displays flexible, foldable or even as
rollable as papyrus, so that large screens can be unfurled from small
One new mobile device, the Readius, designed mainly for reading books,
magazines, newspapers and mail, is the size of a standard cellphone. Flip it
open, though, and a screen tucked within the housing opens to a 5-inch diagonal
display. The screen looks just like a liquid crystal display, but can bend so
flexibly that it can wrap around a finger.
Because the Readius is pocket-sized, but has a generous, supple screen, people
with five minutes to spare in a taxi, bus or subway can use the dead time to
open it, read a page or two of a book and then return the device to a shirt
pocket, said Karl McGoldrick, the chief executive of Polymer Vision, the company
in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, that created the device.
The Readius may even help stop people from obsessing over their e-mail: with the
device, spare moments for reading may be put to a possibly better use — say, a
novel by Stendhal. But if their good intentions fail, the device has a wireless
connection to download e-mail as well as books.
The black-and-white display holds about 22 lines of a book page, depending on
the font, all shown in the crisp black type provided by technology from E Ink,
also used in Amazon’s Kindle and other e-readers. The screen changes from one
page to the next in about half a second, at the touch of a thumb.
The Readius will be introduced in England, Italy and Germany this fall, and in
the United States early in 2009, Mr. McGoldrick said. Its battery lasts for
about 30 hours of reading — long enough to get through “The Red and the Black,”
and possibly a chunk of “War and Peace.” Pages can be read under a variety of
lighting conditions, even including full sunlight, he said. The price is not yet
set, but Thomas van der Zijden, vice president for marketing and sales, said the
Readius would be more expensive than the Kindle, which now is selling for $359.
The Readius is not the only entry in the area of flexible displays. “It’s an
exciting example, but there are going to be a slew of other devices coming soon,
too,” said Shawn O’Rourke, director of engineering at the Flexible Display
Center at Arizona State University at Tempe, which focuses on the technology’s
Mr. O’Rourke defined flexible displays as “different than a BlackBerry or
notebook,” with their traditional glass backings. “These displays are thin,
lightweight and rugged — and they bend,” he said. The underlying substrates that
support the display are typically either plastic or metal foil.
The market for flexible displays is likely to grow rapidly, said Jennifer
Colegrove, an analyst at the iSuppli Corporation, a market research firm in El
Segundo, Calif. “Flexible displays are the crucial enabling technology for a new
generation of portable devices that are mobile, but also have compelling user
interfaces,” she said.
Flexible displays offer the advantages of easy, relatively inexpensive and safe
shipping and handling, compared with conventional rigid screens, she said. Her
firm forecasts that the total market for flexible displays will grow to $2.8
billion by 2013.
Paul Semenza, vice president for display research at iSuppli, says that flexible
displays are not entirely new on the market, but that previous ones have been
relatively low-resolution applications — like those in smart cards and
point-of-purchase signs — “not high-resolution ones that have the kind of image
quality that users expect.”
The Readius images have this potential, he said, because the displays are
powered by what is called an active matrix — transistors behind each pixel that
can potentially provide fast switching and high performance.
“Polymer Vision’s technology is unusual,” Mr. Semenza said. “It’s hard to make
an active matrix on something other than glass.”
If Polymer Vision succeeds in “making these transistor arrays,” he said, “you’ll
have the ability to make high-performance displays on flexible substrates that
look as good as a notebook display on any high-performance L.C.D.”
THE Readius, which so far displays 16 shades of gray on its screen, is not at
that state yet, but Polymer Vision is hoping to add color and video capability
in the future, Mr. McGoldrick said. A prototype for a color model was
demonstrated at a trade show in May.
Mr. O’Rourke of the Flexible Display Center likes the look of the new generation
of supple screens, but he also likes their toughness. “Some of them we’ve beaten
with hammers, and they still run,” he said. “No one could do that with a
January 27, 2008
The New York Times
By RANDALL STROSS
PRINTED books provide pleasures no device created by an electrical engineer
can match. The sweet smell of a brand-new book. The tactile pleasures of turning
a page. The reassuring sight on one’s bookshelves of personal journeys.
But not one of these explains why books have resisted digitization. That’s
simpler: Books are portable and easy to read.
Building a portable electronic reader was the easy part; matching the visual
quality of ink on paper took longer. But display technology has advanced to the
point where the digital page is easy on the eyes, too. At last, an e-reader
performs well when placed in page-to-page competition with paper.
As a result, the digitization of personal book collections is certain to have
its day soon.
Music shows the way. The digitization of personal music collections began,
however, only after the right combination of software and hardware — iTunes
Music Store and the iPod — arrived. And as Apple did for music lovers, some
company will devise an irresistible combination of software and hardware for
book buyers. That company may be Amazon.
Amazon’s first iteration of an electronic book reader is the Kindle. Introduced
in November, it weighs about 10 ounces, holds more than 200 full-length books
and can display newspapers, magazines and blogs. It uses E Ink technology,
developed by the company of that name, that produces sharply defined text yet
draws power only when a page is changed, not as it is displayed.
Sony uses E Ink in its e-book Reader, which it introduced in 2006, but the
Kindle has a feature that neither Sony nor many e-reader predecessors ever
possessed: books and other content can be loaded wirelessly, from just about
anywhere in the United States, using the high-speed EVDO network from Sprint.
This may turn out to be a red-letter day in the history of convenience — our
age’s equivalent of that magical moment FedEx introduced next-day delivery and
people asked, “How was life possible before this?”
The Kindle is expensive — $399 — but it sold out in just six hours after its
debut on Nov. 19. Since then, supplies have consistently lagged behind demand,
and a waiting list remains in place.
The Kindle gets many things right, or at least I assume it does. I haven’t had
much of a chance to test out my demonstration unit. My wife, skeptical that a
digital screen could ever approach the readability of ink on paper, was so
intrigued by the Kindle when it arrived last week that she snatched it from my
grasp. I haven’t been able to pry it away from her since.
I can see that the text looks splendid. But when one presses a bar to “turn” a
page, the image reverses in a way I found jarring: the light background turns
black and the black text turns white, then the new page appears and everything
returns to normal. My wife said she wasn’t bothered by this at all, and I didn’t
have enough of a chance to see if I would soon get used to it.
Steven P. Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, has nothing to fear from the
Kindle. No one would regard it as competition for the iPod. It displays text in
four exciting shades of gray, and does that one thing very well. It can do a few
other things: for instance, it has a headphone jack and can play MP3 files, but
it is not well suited for navigating a large collection of music tracks.
Yet, when Mr. Jobs was asked two weeks ago at the Macworld Expo what he thought
of the Kindle, he heaped scorn on the book industry. “It doesn’t matter how good
or bad the product is; the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said.
“Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.”
To Mr. Jobs, this statistic dooms everyone in the book business to inevitable
Only the business is not as ghostly as he suggests. In 2008, book publishing
will bring in about $15 billion in revenue in the United States, according to
the Book Industry Study Group, a trade association.
One can only wonder why, by the Study Group’s estimate, 408 million books will
be bought this year if no one reads anymore?
A survey conducted in August 2007 by Ipsos Public Affairs for The Associated
Press found that 27 percent of Americans had not read a book in the previous
year. Not as bad as Mr. Jobs’s figure, but dismaying to be sure. Happily,
however, the same share — 27 percent — read 15 or more books.
In fact, when we exclude Americans who had not read a single book in that year,
the average number of books read was 20, raised by the 8 percent who read 51
books or more. In other words, a sizable minority does not read, but the overall
distribution is balanced somewhat by those who read a lot.
If a piece of the book industry’s $15 billion seems too paltry for Mr. Jobs to
bother with, he is forgetting that Apple reached its current size only recently.
Last week, Apple reported that it posted revenue of $9.6 billion in the quarter
that spanned October to December 2007, its best quarter ever, after $24 billion
in revenue in the 2007 fiscal year, which ended in September.
But as recently as 2001, before the iPhone and the iPod, Apple was a niche
computer company without a mass market hit. It was badly hurt by the 2001
recession and reported revenue of only $5.3 billion for the year. This is, by
coincidence, almost exactly what Barnes & Noble reported in revenue for its 2007
fiscal year. In neither case did the company owners look at that number, decide
to chain the doors permanently shut and call it quits.
Amazon does not release details about revenue for books, but books were its
first business. And Andrew Herdener, a company spokesman, said that Amazon’s
book sales “have increased every year since the company began.”
The book world has always had an invisible asset that makes up for what it lacks
in outsize revenue and profits: the passionate attachment that its authors,
editors and most frequent customers have to books themselves. Indeed, in this
respect, avid book readers resemble avid Mac users.
The object we are accustomed to calling a book is undergoing a profound
modification as it is stripped of its physical shell. Kindle’s long-term success
is still unknown, but Amazon should be credited with imaginatively redefining
its original product line, replacing the book business with the reading
Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley
and a professor of business
at San Jose State University.
The New York Times
By BRAD STONE
FRANCISCO, Sept. 5 — Technology evangelists have predicted the emergence of
electronic books for as long as they have envisioned flying cars and video
phones. It is an idea that has never caught on with mainstream book buyers.
Two new offerings this fall are set to test whether consumers really want to
replace a technology that has reliably served humankind for hundreds of years:
the paper book.
In October, the online retailer Amazon.com will unveil the Kindle, an electronic
book reader that has been the subject of industry speculation for a year,
according to several people who have tried the device and are familiar with
Amazon’s plans. The Kindle will be priced at $400 to $500 and will wirelessly
connect to an e-book store on Amazon’s site.
That is a significant advance over older e-book devices, which must be connected
to a computer to download books or articles.
Also this fall, Google plans to start charging users for full online access to
the digital copies of some books in its database, according to people with
knowledge of its plans. Publishers will set the prices for their own books and
share the revenue with Google. So far, Google has made only limited excerpts of
copyrighted books available to its users.
Amazon and Google would not comment on their plans, and neither offering is
expected to carve out immediately a significant piece of the $35-billion-a-year
book business. But these new services, from two Internet heavyweights, may help
to answer the question of whether consumers are ready to read books on digital
screens instead of on processed wood pulp.
“Books represent a pretty good value for consumers. They can display them and
pass them to friends, and they understand the business model,” said Michael
Gartenberg, research director at Jupiter Research, who is skeptical that a
profitable e-book market will emerge anytime soon.
“We have had dedicated e-book devices on the market for more than a decade, and
the payoff always seems to be just a few years away,” he said.
That disappointing history goes back to the late 1990s, when Silicon Valley
start-ups created the RocketBook and SoftBook Reader, two bulky,
battery-challenged devices that suffered from lackluster sales and a limited
selection of material. The best selling e-books at the time, tellingly, were
“Star Trek” novels.
Hopes for e-books began to revive last year with the introduction of the widely
marketed Sony Reader. Sony’s $300 gadget, the size of a trade paperback, has a
six-inch screen, enough memory to hold 80 books and a battery that lasts for
7,500 page turns, according to the company. It uses screen display technology
from E Ink, a company based in Cambridge, Mass., that emerged from the Media Lab
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and creates power-efficient digital
screens that uncannily mimic the appearance of paper.
Sony will not say how many it has sold, but the Reader has apparently done well
enough that Sony recently increased its advertising for the device in several
major American cities.
“Digital readers are not a replacement for a print book; they are a replacement
for a stack of print books,” said Ron Hawkins, vice president for portable
reader systems at Sony. “That is where we see people, on the go, in the subway
and in airports, with our device.”
Book publishers also seem to be preparing for the kind of disruption that hit
the music business when Apple introduced the symbiotic combination of the iPod
and its iTunes online service. This year, with Sony’s Reader drawing some
attention and Amazon’s imminent e-book device on their radar, most major
publishers have accelerated the conversion of their titles into electronic
“There has been an awful lot of energy around e-books in the last six to 12
months, and we are now making a lot more titles available,” said Matt Shatz,
vice president for digital at Random House, which plans to have around 6,500
e-books available by 2008. It has had about 3,500 available for the last few
Amazon has been showing the Kindle to book publishers for the last year and has
delayed its introduction several times. Last fall, a photograph of the device,
and some of its specifications, leaked onto the Web when the company filed an
application with the Federal Communications Commission to get approval for its
wireless modem, which will operate over a high-speed EVDO network.
Several people who have seen the Kindle say this is where the device’s central
innovation lies — in its ability to download books and periodicals, and browse
the Web, without connecting to a computer. They also say Amazon will pack some
free offerings onto the device, like reference books, and offer customers a
choice of subscriptions to feeds from major newspapers like The New York Times,
The Wall Street Journal and the French newspaper Le Monde.
The device also has a keyboard, so its users can take notes when reading or
navigate the Web to look something up. A scroll wheel and a progress indicator
next to the main screen, will help users navigate Web pages and texts on the
People familiar with the Kindle also have a few complaints. The device has a Web
browser, but using it is a poor experience, because the Kindle’s screen, also
from E Ink, does not display animation or color.
Some also complain about the fact that Amazon is using a proprietary e-book
format from Mobipocket, a French company that Amazon bought in 2005, instead of
supporting the open e-book standard backed by most major publishers and
high-tech companies like Adobe. That means owners of other digital book devices,
like the Sony Reader, will not be able to use books purchased on Amazon.com.
Nevertheless, many publishing executives see Amazon’s entrance into the e-book
world as a major test for the long-held notion that books and newspapers may one
day be consumed on a digital device.
“This is not your grandfather’s e-book,” said one publishing executive who did
not want to be named because Amazon makes its partners sign nondisclosure
agreements. “If these guys can’t make it work, I see no hope.”
For its part, Google has no plans to introduce an electronic device for reading
books. Its new offering will allow users to pay some portion of a book’s cover
price to read its text online. For the last two years, as part of the Google
Book Search Partner Program, some publishers have been contributing electronic
versions of their books to the Google database, with the promise that the future
revenue would be shared.
The service could be especially useful to students and researchers who find
information they need through a Google search, but it is also likely to include
material suited for leisure reading. It will be separate from an effort called
the Google Book Search Library Project, which is digitizing the collections of
some libraries. That program has angered publishers and led to several pending
lawsuits over copyright issues.
Both the programs of Google and Amazon are drawing attention, and some
skepticism, from traditional book retailers. Barnes & Noble, the largest
bookseller in the United States, once invested in early e-book creator NuvoMedia
and sold its RocketBook in stores before getting out of the business in 2003.
Stephen Riggio, chief executive at Barnes & Noble, argues that for most people
the value of traditional paper books will never be replicated in digital form.
Nevertheless, he plans to compete with Google and Amazon. Mr. Riggio said in an
interview that the full texts of many books will become available on the
company’s Web site over the next year to 18 months. He also said that Barnes &
Noble was considering introducing its own electronic book reader — but only when
it can sell one at a low price.
“If an affordable device can come to the market, sure we’d love to bring it to
our customers, and we will,” Mr. Riggio said. “But right now we don’t see an
affordable device in the immediate future.”
“The market for downloadable books will grow
by 400 percent in each of the next two years, to over $25 billion by 2008,”
predicted the keynote speaker at the 2001 Women’s National Book Association
meeting. “Within a few years after the end of this decade, e-books will be the
preponderant delivery format for book content.”
The great e-book fantasy burst shortly after that speech, along with the rest of
the dot-com bubble. In 2003, Barnes & Noble shut its e-book store, Palm sold its
e-book business to a Web site and most people left the whole idea for dead.
Not everybody, however. Some die-hards at Sony still believe that, properly
designed, the e-book has a future. Their solution is the Sony Reader, a small,
sleek, portable screen that will be introduced this month in some malls, at
Borders bookstores and at sonystyle.com for $350.
E-books may have flopped the first time around, but you can’t deny that they
offer some intriguing advantages. You can add dozens of them to your luggage
without adding any more weight or bulk. You can adjust the type size. You can
search the whole book in seconds, or insert an infinite number of bookmarks. No
trees are destroyed to make e-books. And you can read during lunch without
having to prop open your novel with a dangerously full can of soda.
If you’re sold on the idea, then you’ll find a lot to like in the Sony Reader —
and a few things to dislike.
It’s a handsome half-inch-thick nine-ounce slab, a bit smaller than 5 inches by
7 inches, “bound” in a protective leatherette cover. You can turn pages
individually, or jump ahead 10 percent of the book at a time. A “mark” button
produces a visual dog-ear on the page corner.
What distinguishes Sony’s effort from all the failed e-book readers of years
gone by, however, is the screen.
The Reader employs a remarkable new display technology from a company called E
Ink. Sandwiched between layers of plastic film are millions of transparent,
nearly microscopic liquid-filled spheres. White and black particles float inside
them, as though inside the world’s tiniest snow globes. Depending on how the
electrical charge is applied to the plastic film, either the black or white
particles rise to the top of the little spheres, forming crisp patterns of black
The result looks like ink on light gray paper. The “ink” is so close to the
surface of the screen, it looks as if it’s been printed there. The reading
experience is pleasant, natural and nothing like reading a computer screen.
There’s no backlight, however; you can read only by ambient light. Sony would
probably argue that this trait makes the Reader even more like a traditional
book, but it also means that you can’t read in bed with the lights off, as you
can with a laptop or palmtop.
On the other hand, once those microspheres have formed the image of a page, they
stay put without consuming any power. Amazingly enough, that means that you
don’t have to turn the Reader off, ever. When you’re done for the night, just
lay it on your bedside table; the current page remains on the screen without
draining any battery power. (According to Sony, one prototype Reader in Japan
has been displaying the same page for three years on a single charge.) Every
instinct in your body will scream against leaving your gadget turned on all the
time, but you’ll get over it.
The only time the Reader uses electricity, in fact, is when you actually turn a
page. One charge is good for 7,500 page turns. That’s enough power to get you
through “The Da Vinci Code” 16 times (electrical power, anyway). You can
recharge the battery either from its power cord or from a computer’s U.S.B.
The Reader can also display digital photos — they look surprisingly good,
considering they’re being depicted using only four shades of gray — and play
music files (noncopy-protected MP3 or AAC format) through headphones. With a
good deal of preparation, you could even read along as the same audio book
There are two ways to load up the Reader. You can copy your texts, photos and
music to a memory card (Memory Stick or SD), which goes into a slot on the left
side. That’s also how you can expand the Reader’s built-in storage (64
megabytes, enough for 80 books).
The other option is to import files into a somewhat buggy Windows program called
Sony Connect. It’s the home base for the Reader in much the way iTunes is the
home base for the iPod, although Sony Connect requires you to drag files
manually; it doesn’t offer automatic synchronizing with the Reader.
This software is also the gateway to the Reader’s online bookstore. The catalog
includes more than 10,000 books from a variety of publishers. Some, like
“Freakonomics,” are priced like hardcover editions ($16); others, like “The
Devil Wears Prada,” are priced like the paperbacks ($8). If you buy a Reader
before the end of the year, Sony will include a coupon for $50 worth of books.
These books are copy-protected, of course. You can read them on a total of six
machines, counting Readers that you own and Windows computers. You can’t give
away or sell a book when you’re done with it, much less return it to the store.
The Reader also accepts standard plain text files and Word documents (only basic
formatting survives), which means that you can help yourself to the 19,000 free,
out-of-copyright books at Gutenberg.org. The Windows software can also download
Web news stories (RSS feeds), which you can copy to the reader for daily train
reading. PDF documents open on the Reader, too, but most are too big for the
Reader screen, so the text winds up shrunk down to illegibility.
That’s not the only fine print, though. The Sony Reader has a few kinks to be
Like an Etch A Sketch, the Reader’s screen has to wipe away each page before
drawing the next one. Unfortunately, the result is a one-second
white-black-white blink that quickly becomes annoying.
Tapping the “size” button cycles through three font sizes; holding it down
rotates the page 90 degrees. The largest type is soothing to over-40 eyes, but
also means that you have to turn pages more often, enduring even more of those
distracting double blinks.
Sony has dreamed up some fairly baffling controls, too — not an easy feat on
what should be a very simple machine. For example, the next/previous page
buttons are at 2 and 8 o’clock on a dime-size desk. A circular control might
make sense if it had buttons at all four points of the compass — but only two?
There’s no search function, video or clickable links, either. So much for those
key e-book advantages.
Still, Sony got the big stuff right: the feel of the machine, the pleasantness
of reading, the clarity of type. It’s not the only company hoping to resurrect
the dream of electronic books, either. A spinoff from Royal Philips Electronics,
iRex Technologies, sells a “work in progress” called the iLiad, which uses the
same E Ink technology but offers wireless networking, a bigger screen, 16 shades
of gray and a touch screen for scribbling notes, for $700. And last month,
bloggers discovered that Amazon.com is working on an e-book reader (and store)
of its own. (Search Google for “Amazon Kindle.”)
Is that it, then? Is the paper book doomed? Was it only a transitional gadget, a
placeholder that came between stone tablets and e-books?
Not any time soon. The Sony Reader is an impressive achievement, and an
important step toward a convenient alternative to bound books. It will make
certain niche groups very happy: gadget freaks, lawyers with massive document
stashes, doctors and pilots who check hefty reference texts, high school
students with 35-pound backpacks and anyone who likes to read by the pool for 20
weeks at a time.
The masses, however, may continue to prefer the more established
portable-document format. Those older reading machines never run out of power,
cost about 2 percent as much and don’t break when dropped. You know: p-books.