Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Downloadable Books

I like gadgets, sort of. That is, I like them when they actually solve some problem I had, or serve a function worth their expense. (That is to say: iPod yes, cell phone no.) But I am not in a big hurry to buy the Sony Reader, a trade-paperback-sized device, capable of storing and clearly displaying hundreds of books and other documents, which no one in their right mind would ever use in the bathtub.

But the e-book is coming, in the "it's already been here for ten years" sense, and I suspect devices like the Sony Reader will be in much wider use in another ten years. The main problem with e-books, up until now, has been the fact that nobody likes reading for pleasure on a glowing screen. The Reader's display is a kind of electronic paper, which looks more book-like and is illuminated by ambient light. In other words, you can sit next to a lamp and read with it. I've only seen pictures, but they look pleasantly non-fatiguing so far.

I'm not terribly sentimental about the book itself, but mostly because there is approximately zero chance it's going to go away. I still have plenty of vinyl records, after all. And then there's the tub--and the beach, and the toilet--places you are not going to want a $350 device with you, no matter how pleasant it is to read off of. But I think this thing could be very useful for reading newspaper articles, academic papers, out-of-print titles, one's own manuscripts exported to .pdf--ephemeral or hard-to-find texts we might otherwise have to read on our computers.

Will people eventually actually pay to download bestsellers from the internet? I'd say probably yes. Will Google be involved? Oh my yes they will. Will writers get ripped off? About that, I'm not so sure, in much the same way I'm not so sure I dislike Google Books (and by the way, that link is my first-ever visit to Google Books, and holy geez, that's some scary shit). Time will tell how well writers and readers benefit, or fail to benefit, from these new technologies. Personally, music downloads have enabled me to actually sell some of my songs for the first time in my life, and to enjoy listening to recordings in a new way--so I'm willing to be convinced electronic books will be good for all. So far, though, I'm agnostic.

6 comments:

5 Red Pandas said...

I saw your novel "Mailman" on one of the prominent paperback fiction display tables at the Strand in NYC this morning. Perhaps you'll gain new readers through this display.

rmellis said...

Okay, but why get a special reader then? Why not just put all that stuff on your lap top? One day I might look back and laugh at my naivete, but it kind of reminds me of my MailStation. Yes, at one time I thought it made sense to have a special device just for email.

5 Red Pandas said...

I'm thinking the reason to have a separate device is because of the space the files would take. You wouldn't want to use up your precious laptop space.

SisterRye said...

I want the text to simply float in front of me so I can take a bath with a hologram.

jrlennon said...

Text files don't take up much space at all, compared to music...space is less of an issue these days and will become even less so. And Rhian, I find the laptop screen rather fatigueing, especially after using it all day for work. But you're right...it does look a hell of a lot like the Mailstation...

We'll be laughing at it all from our holoblog, I'm sure. In our e-tub.

5RP, thanks for the Strand tip! I'll take all the publicity I can get...

kjww23 said...

OK...everytime Mailman is mentioned I can't get any farther than that. Loved the book but had to take it back to the library when I became too neurotic to finish it. Am dying to know what happened to Mailman but I'm afraid I'll start reading things I shouldn't like an illegally downloaded e-book. Tried to post this once then ended up with my own blog, see what i mean. Life is out of control!