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Illustration: Anna Parini


I Was a Digital Best Seller!


JUNE 19, 2014



















Illustration: Jordan Awan


Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?


27 July 2008
















Are E-Book Subscriptions Worth It?        NYT        7 August 2014




Are E-Book Subscriptions Worth It?        Video        Molly Wood        The New York Times        7 August 2014


Molly Wood debates the value of digital book subscription services.


Produced by: Rebekah Fergusson and Vanessa Perez

Read the story here: http://nyti.ms/1pE9ltJ

Watch more videos at: http://nytimes.com/video


















online library






scan / scan





Google's digitisation of books        UK






Google's digitisation of books > Book Search    UK






Open Library > Digitising the text of books / Book-scanning        UK






Darwin's entire works go online        2006






Domesday Book goes digital        2006






The Open Library






Project Gutenberg
















E-reader video review with Natalie Haynes - E-reader Review    G    18 November 2013




E-reader video review with Natalie Haynes - E-reader Review        18 November 2013


E-reader video review with Natalie Haynes


Writer, broadcaster, comedian

and 2013 Man Booker Prize judge Natalie Haynes

casts her critical eye over the latest e-readers on the market.


Examining the Kobo Aura, the Sony reader, the iPad mini,

the Nook and brand new Kindle Paperwhite,

Natalie finds picking a winner almost as tricky

as choosing the Booker itself




















Illustration: David Plunkert


Amazon, a Friendly Giant as Long as It’s Fed


JULY 12, 2014






















e-book / ebook














































e-book age        USA






e-book market        USA






Borders Launches E - Bookstore        July 2010
















electronic book reader / e-reader































electronic reading device > Nook        USA






Print v iPads        UK        July 2010






Kindle        UK / USA










Amazon        USA






paper books        USA












vook        USA






wearable books        USA






libraries > digital lending        USA

















Jeff Stahler

comment cartoon

The Columbus Dispatch



28 September 2010















Encyclopedia Britannica

halts print publication

after 244 years

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
Tom McCarthy
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 crossroads.

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 internal numbers.

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 student).

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 grow."

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 adjacent page?

"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."

Encyclopedia Britannica halts print publication after 244 years,
G, 13.3.2012,






Sunday Dialogue:

Reading Books in the Digital Age


December 24, 2011

The New York Times

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?


The Letter

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.


Readers React

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.

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 ever been.

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 technologies.

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 both right.

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 online.

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 mount indefinitely.

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 decades.

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 convenient.

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.

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.

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!”

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 would understand.

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.

East Hanover, N.J., Dec. 22, 2011

    Sunday Dialogue: Reading Books in the Digital Age, NYT, 24.12.2011,






E-Books, Shmee-Books:

Readers Return to the Stores


December 12, 2011
The New York Times


Facing economic gloom and competition from cheap e-readers, brick-and-mortar booksellers entered this holiday season with the humblest of expectations.

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 Christmas.”

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 coexist.

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 January.

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 times.

“I’m not seeing the price resistance that usually occurs,” Ms. Langer said. “Maybe people are just tired of being afraid to spend money.”

    E-Books, Shmee-Books: Readers Return to the Stores, NYT, 12.12.2011,






In E-Books, Publishers Have Rivals:

News Sites


September 18, 2011
The New York Times


Book 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 organizations.

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 time.”

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 presidential race.

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 far.

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.”

    In E-Books, Publishers Have Rivals: News Sites, NYT, 18.9.2011,






Michael Hart,

a Pioneer of E-Books,

Dies at 64


September 8, 2011
The New York Times


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 project’s books.

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.

    Michael Hart, a Pioneer of E-Books, Dies at 64, NYT, 8.9.2011,






The Dog-Eared Paperback,

Newly Endangered in an E-Book Age


September 2, 2011
The New York Times


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 natural fit.

“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 publishing industry.

“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 paperbacks.

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 paperback.

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.”

    The Dog-Eared Paperback, Newly Endangered in an E-Book Age, NYT, 2.9.2011,






E-Readers Catch Younger Eyes

and Go in Backpacks


February 4, 2011
The New York Times


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 free.

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 middle grades.

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.”

    E-Readers Catch Younger Eyes and Go in Backpacks, NYT, 4.2.2011,






Ebook revolution

accelerates in sales and status

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
15.59 GMT
Benedicte Page
This article was published on guardian.co.uk
at 15.59 GMT on Friday 28 January 2011.


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 submissions.

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.

    Ebook revolution accelerates in sales and status, G, 28.1.2011,






Legal Battles Over E-Book Rights

to Older Books


December 13, 2009
The New York Times


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, “Darkness Visible.”

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 technology.

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 full-court press.”

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 sales.

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 backlist titles.

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 House’s request.

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 significant way.”

    Legal Battles Over E-Book Rights to Older Books, NYT, 13.12.2009,






Libraries and Readers

Wade Into Digital Lending


October 15, 2009
The New York Times


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 budget.

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 digitally.

“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 books.”

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 spokesman.

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 online.

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.”

    Libraries and Readers Wade Into Digital Lending, NYT, 15.10.2009,






Curling Up With Hybrid Books,

Videos Included


October 1, 2009
The New York Times


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 entertainment.

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 skin-care potions.

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 readers.

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 computers.”

Curling Up With Hybrid Books, Videos Included,
NYT, 1.10.2009,






A New World: Scheduling E-Books


July 15, 2009

The New York Times



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 million copies.

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 Krakauer.

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 those expectations.”

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.”

A New World: Scheduling E-Books,
NYT, 15.7.2009,






Preparing to Sell E-Books,

Google Takes on Amazon


June 1, 2009
The New York Times


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 reading device.

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 competitor.

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 browsers.

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 “exorbitant.”


Miguel Helft contributed reporting.

Preparing to Sell E-Books, Google Takes on Amazon,
NYT, 1.6.2009,






Amazon’s New Kindle

Is Faster, Smarter, Thinner


February 10, 2009
The New York Times


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 which ones.

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 system.

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 those items.”

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 all areas.”

“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.

Amazon’s New Kindle Is Faster, Smarter, Thinner,
NYT, 9.2.2009,

















Although Amazon will not disclose sales figures,

the Kindle has at least lived up to its name

by creating broad interest in electronic books.


Alan Zale for The New York Times


After Slow Start, E-Books Turn Page and Find Fans

NYT        24 December 2008















After Slow Start,

E-Books Turn Page and Find Fans


December 24, 2008
The New York Times


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 year.

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 last year.

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 Internet-connected computer.

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 agents say.

“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 Briefs.

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 iPhone.

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 in 2010.

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.”

After Slow Start, E-Books Turn Page and Find Fans,
NYT, 24.12.2008,




















How to Publish Without Perishing


30 November 2008















Op-Ed Contributor

How to Publish Without Perishing


November 30, 2008
The New York Times


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 goodbye.)

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 literary forms.

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 CDs, either.

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 finish.

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 that covered.

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,”

is on the board of the Authors Guild.

How to Publish Without Perishing,
NYT, 30.11.2008,







It’s Why We Read, Online and Off


July 31, 2008
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?” (“The Future of Reading” series, front page, July 27):

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.

Mark Hussey
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 delight.

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.

Joanne Yatvin
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 bookcase.

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.

Alex Dering
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 dramatically.

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, rush.

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 Internet swift.

Reading is reading is not always reading.

John Gabriel
Chicago, July 27, 2008

The writer is the chairman of the teacher education department at DePaul University.

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 significance.

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?

Brad Bradford
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.

Mark Seidenberg
Madison, Wis., July 29, 2008

The writer is a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin.

It’s Why We Read, Online and Off,
NYT, 31.7.2008,






Literacy Debate:

Online, R U Really Reading?


July 27, 2008
The New York Times


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 Reading Association.

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 write.

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.

Setting Expectations

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 digital-age jobs.

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 like.”

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 quizilla.com.

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 it.”

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 that.”

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 more one-way.”

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 world today.”

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 skills unfair.

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 it all.”

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 Bitton-Jackson.

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.

Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?,
NYT, 27.7.2008,







Electronic Papyrus:

The Digital Book, Unfurled


July 6, 2008
The New York Times


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 containers.

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 future commercialization.

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 BlackBerry.”

Electronic Papyrus: The Digital Book, Unfurled,
NYT, 6.7.2008,






Digital Domain

Freed From the Page,

but a Book Nonetheless


January 27, 2008
The New York Times


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 failure.

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 business.

Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley

and a professor of business at San Jose State University.

Freed From the Page, but a Book Nonetheless,
NYT, 27.1.2008,






Are Books Passé?

Web Giants Envision the Next Chapter


September 6, 2007
The New York Times


SAN 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 formats.

“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 years.

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 device.

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.”

Are Books Passé? Web Giants Envision the Next Chapter,
NYT, 6.9.2007,


















The Sony Reader

uses a new technology that renders text on a screen with more crispness.

Its battery is good for 7,500 “page turns” and the size of the text is adjustable.


Stuart Goldenberg

October 11, 2006


Trying Again to Make Books Obsolete        NYT        12.10.2006
















State of the Art

Trying Again to Make Books Obsolete


October 12, 2006
The New York Times


“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 and white.

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. jack.

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 plays.

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 ironed out.

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.

Trying Again to Make Books Obsolete,
NYT, 12.10.2006,










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