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Why eBooks Still Suck

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  • Book
Last response: in Other Consumer Electronics
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September 8, 2005 5:44:12 PM

Good article, but it's missing a HUGE piece of information.

With an iPod, if I purchase a song, chances are I already heard it and I know what it is and I know I'll like it.

With a book? Whooooaaaa....hold it there.

Chances are I'll walk into a bookstore, pick up a book if I like the cover, thumb through it, read a few sections I choose to, go back and forth between pages, indexes, table of contents, maybe even buy a cup of coffee at the bookstore, read the book some, then pay for it and take it home to finish reading it. Or I'll drop it after reading it for 20 minutes and pick out someting else.

Can you do that with an ebook? No. You are limited to only one display surface. You can't use the convenience of several fingers as quick bookmarks. You can't really know what's in the book until you purchase it. You can't sit at Barnes and Noble and read an entire ebook for free to only leave the store.

To offer an analogy, if we had no radio stations or MTV, would people be buying as much music? I don't think so; you hear the song, you fall in love with it, you buy it.

You look through a book, you fall in love with it, you buy it.

You read an arbitrary section of an arbitrarily titled ebook and buy it hoping you like the rest? Hmm, then why are people buying individual songs over entire CDs?

The concept of eBooks, the way it's engineered, sucks. And that's just it. No amount of technology can really change that.

Students requiring academic text already rely on online tutorials, excerpts, and PDF files. A significant number of students rarely to never use their textbooks, anyway - they buy them for a semester, and then sell them back; or use a friend's. So no, the eBooks have no room here either.

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September 8, 2005 7:14:36 PM

Sorry Nick, I'm going to have to completely disagree with almost every point you have stated.

An ebook is a book, nothing less and a lot more. You can jump to any page and start reading, you can do anything with an ebook that you can with a normal book except you are limited to the fact that it is not paper. I think many are close-minded when it comes to letting go of paper because it is a deeply traditional medium of reading.

Also the printed word is currently thought of as a very cheep form of disseminating readable information (news, magazine, fliers). However, if you ever take a look at the paper product costs of any large organization, you’ll reconsider that viewpoint.

I'm an IT professional in the industry for over a decade. While managing several software development projects in parallel, I am inundated with project docs, white papers and industry information that comes my way on an hourly basis, it would be nice not to lug around mountains of papers, books and binders just to extract my much needed data.

I'm also returning back to university to brush up on fading areas of knowledge that have become foggy over time. It is very inconvenient to coming from the office with a briefcase full of docs to a backpack full of 5 pound books.

To be able to switch from different docs, books and articles on the same device and have it remember my bookmarks for each is a wonderful time saver.

I see this technology as a benefit, for students and professionals alike. It would be nice to build it with some sort of note pad ability for notes per chapter/page. This would allow me to make notes on project docs, articles or books that I can take to my work station or home office pc.

I have a laptop but it’s not capable of doing what an ebook does without some client-side software and I don’t like it’s bulk. It is difficult to read on the train on my way to and from work.

Good article, hope this technology continues to be expanded.
September 8, 2005 7:43:29 PM

I think the big problem is two-fold: the perceived need for dedicated hardware and the lack of advertising by e-book providers.

Why oh why would you spend $400 on an Ebook reader when a PalmOS device is under $200? I've been using a Handspring visor as an ebook reader for years. The b&w display works well outdoors (color washes out a lot).

Want kids to read e-books? Put the software on a PSP ($300) or DS ($160). Both have decent screens (4.3" PSP, 2x 3" DS) with more than adequate resolution for reading text.

There are publishers who understand e-books, just not a lot of them. Baen.com has a large selection of books available for purchase (~200 I think) and are often available before hardbacks. Plus, they have a half-dozen chapters of the books posted so you can decide if it sucks or not. Did I mention no DRM and they cost less than paperbacks? I generally buy a dozen ebooks from Baen a year for ~$5 a book. Even paperbacks are $7 these days!

Oh, and for multi-book series they have the first book posted completely for free.

Is this an ad for Baen? No, this is a wake-up call to the rest of the publishers. According to Baen sales and royalties are up as a result, more and more authors are hopping on board, many of whom are well established in the sci-fi genre. (Nivens, Turtledove, Weber, etc)

So the answer is: use hardware people will already carry (PDAs for adults, handheld games for kids) and use the drug-dealer method of giving away a little bit for free.

Which does NOT mean slapping DRM on the stuff we pay for! I will not buy ebooks that tie me to one piece of hardware or any 3rd party authetication! Watermark the data with my buyer info if you feel some need to identify SharerZero but any distribution of copyrighted material has been illegal for decades and should be enough of a stick. Try more carrots.
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September 8, 2005 9:24:34 PM

Don't take me wrong, I don't like paper either. Publishing my MS thesis is costing me well over $200 in printing supplies, postage, binding, and other expenses (all that for essentually less than a dozzen copies of a research paper which will sit on a bookshelf somewhere most likely collecting dust! Luckily, my college is starting to implement electronic deposit.) As for user's manuals and technical documents, I still hate paper, because chances are there's updated information online by the time I've even had a chance to read the printed copy; not to mention advanced knowledge bases and searching capabilities. Even for my daily news, I still go online to read those. If I'm on the go, my cell phone does a good job at this.

As far as note-taking, there are always tablet PCs, for those people who prefer electronic media. There's also an increasing number of classes where students do all their homework and reading on a computer, never mind that most classes are centered around a professor teaching and students taking notes (no textbooks required in class).

At this point, I'm sorry, but I honestly don't see a use for an ebook device. Buying a PDF file online - I've done it. But, an ebook? Nah.
September 9, 2005 2:56:31 PM

eBooks don't really suck, and haven't since Project Gutenberg. I've read lots of real books on Palm V, Clie, and iPaq HX4700 (VGA screen), as well as on PC monitors. Lots of people use AvantGo and PCs to read newspapers - that's the biggest success so far of eBooks.

The big breakthrough will be when textbooks become popular in eBook form. Textbooks easily cost as much each year for each student in high school and college as any eBook reader short of a PC. A set of textbooks can weigh twenty pounds. High schools have to get new books every few years because of wear, and increasingly go without textbooks, using copiers instead, while college texts have bi-yearly new editions, forcing students to purchase new books rather than roll-over used for new each semester the way they used to.

Certainly all the reader software I've used has defects - too hard to turn pages, too hard to bookmark, too hard to get decent page formatting. Nothing I've found for Windows Mobile comes close to the readers I used on Palm, either. Even AvantGo is slower and clumsier on Windows Mobile. The iPaq hx4700 is worst, due to the lack of physical buttons or thumbwheel, and the paucity of software designed to format text for the VGA screen. Interestingly, having a VGA rather than QVGA screen does not significantly improve the experience. I've gotten used to clicking to page-down every few lines, and find it less of a bother than turning paper pages (which isn't much trouble, either).

I think the preferred eBook format would be the size of a paperback book, two screens hinged, with a weeklong (or at least daylong) battery, a half-inch thick and under half a pound. The reader software should accept annotation and linking layers, making it useful for textbooks. I think textooks are the key for eBook success.
September 12, 2005 3:56:30 AM

I originally thought same until a friend showed me ebooks on his Palm. As several others have pointed out, the point is that there are alot of ebooks out there, both free and for reasonable prices. Just about any portable device has an ebook reader software. I am able to carry thousands of books on my Palm Tungsten C. There is even software out there to convert to any format you want to use. Unfortunately, the majority still are thinking hardware, instead of software. The various PDA's, Pocket PC's, etc, all have ability to use ebook software, thereby adding another useful function. Someone has mentioned Project Gutenburg(http://gutenberg.net/) which is a growing collection-all free. Then there are several site featuring at a price. Three come to mind, Fictionwise(http://www.fictionwise.com), Mobipocket(http://www.mobipocket.com), and Palm eBooks(http://www.eReader.com). MP3 sites could learn from how eBooks have been sold.
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