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1. Could technology save the short story?

There was a time when an author could make a substantial living off short stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald was famously chained to the financial gravy train that his short stories produced and was unable to work on the more glamorous novels that he yearned to write. This idolizing of the novel demonstrates the bum rap that short stories have gotten over the past 100 years or so.

As literary magazines closed down, newspapers shut their doors to fiction, and pop culture magazines became all pop and no culture the avenues for short story writers to publish their works have all but dried up. For most short stories to really work you need a cheap and fast distribution method that provides a quick turnaround time allowing the writer to keep their finger on the pulse of their audience.

Modern short story writers mainly had to rely on publishing collections of short stories bound together as a full book, which kind of sells the medium short. You have all the length, and cost, of a novel but without the ability to develop characters or build the story arch as eloquently. It’s hard to argue that in a one to one fight the novel would often win.

It’s a shame but I have witnessed this first hand. My first experience with P. G. Wodehouse was when a friend of mine lent me an omnibus of Jeeves and Wooster stories. I loved the first dozen or so short stories but only got about a third of the way though the book before getting bogged down with flat characters. I still like Wodehouse, and whenever I have a Wooster story thrust in my direction I enjoy it; but I need small doses.

But the tides are starting to change and technology may be the savior of the short story. The rise of eReaders has provided short story authors with a very cheap method of delivering their wares to eager readers in bite sized chunks. The New York Times recently wrote a nice piece on this topic in which is a quote which I feel sums up the relationship between the short story and the eReader.

“The single-serving quality of a short narrative is the perfect art form for the digital age,” said Ms. Dermont, whose collection is due out next month. “Stories are models of concision, can be read in one sitting, and are infinitely downloadable and easily consumed on screens.”
Stories are also perfect for the digital age, she added, because readers “want to connect and want that connection to be intense and to move on.” That is, after all, what a short story is all about.

I am as guilty as the next man when it comes to failing to seek out short stories, yet enjoying them when they fall into my lap.  Perhaps an eReader might be the solution to my own lethargy providing me with a parade of short fiction for my mid transit reading.  What do you think?  Would you read more short stories if they were more easily accessible?

You can read the full New York Times article here

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2. Bookbinding can flourish in the digital age

I just found a very interesting interview with bookbinder Michael Greer.  While some folks are quick to suggest that high quality bookbinding is a dying art Greer feels that this doesn't have to be the case.  He sees the expansion of print-on-demand publishing as the perfect partner for his luxury craft.

In the US, hand bookbinding as a trade has been nearly dead for many years. A few of us quixotic dreamers hang on. Still, the revolution in the last decade in on-demand publishing could create a space for us. Twenty years ago, self-publishers paid a hefty sum to print maybe 250 copies of their family history. They gave away ten and the rest went into the attic. For about the same amount of money, I can print and bind ten full leather volumes and create others on demand. The difficulty is letting people know that this kind of thing exists. When I do fairs, people often approach my table full of books with a mystified smile and say, “I didn’t know anybody did this stuff anymore.” If bookbinders can get the word out, we might be able to carve out a place for our services in the growing world of digital publishing.

I think this is a fantastic coupling of old and new technologies.  Imagine your own family history album, complete with photos, bound beautifully in leather and preserved for your grandchildren.

(Via Moby Lives)

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3. The Library of the Future with robotic shelving system

Apparently the future is now and it's library is the University of Chicago’s new Joe and Rika Mansueto Library.  You enter into a 8,000 square foot dome called the Grand Reading Room, which is nicely lit and contains a vast number of tables with chairs and computer terminals.  The thing you won't find in this dome are bookshelves. 

The books themselves are housed in an underground storage facility located directly beneath the dome, and when you want to pull one of the 3.5 million books you just make a request on your computer terminal and a computer activated robotic crane pulls the book and sends it up to the circulation desk.  The whole process apparently takes about five minutes, which should give you enough time to get up and walk to the circulation desk.  The same crane system re-shelves the book when you are finished with it too.

There are a few more details as well as a neat video showing some of the underground storage in this article from Singularity Hub

 

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4. HarperCollins to limit libraries on number of e-checkouts. Librarians boycott

HarperCollins has announced that its ebooks will only be able to be checked out by library patrons 26 times before a library would have to re-purchase the ebook title if they want to lend it again.  This has caused an outcry among librarians who have, in some cases, started boycotting Harper Collins ebooks.

I understand that in the publishers mind this is their way of trying to approximate for wear and tear on printed books which might require a library to repurchase copies which have been extremely well read but I thought 26 seemed to be a fairly low figure, even before watching this video by the Pioneer Library System of Oklahoma in which Swimming to Catalina by Stuart Woods was checked out 120 times and still going strong. 

You would think there would be a better way to do this.  Even if they just charged a dollar or two more for library version of the ebook which would offer unlimited lending, publishers would win on some longer tail titles and the libraries would continue to get their value for dollar on the popular titles.  Whatever the solution libraries and publishes are going to have to find a better one if we ever want to be able to borrow ebooks like we do their paper cousins.

[Now Reading: The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi ... in hardcover, which I checked out of my local library]

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5. Libraries without librarians

So many aspects of life are becoming self service.  Yesterday I checked out my own groceries at a self-service till and received new eye glasses, that I picked out online after measuring my own pupil distance, in the mail and even in my job I work for a website that helps people search for their own books. What about a self service library?

This morning on the Brave New World blog I see that some cities are playing with this concept.  In Seoul they have an automated library book dispenser and in St. Paul they have opened a branch where members collect books they have pre-ordered from book lockers.

       Book dispenser             Library express

I think these are both innovative ways for libraries to stretch their budgets, extend hours, and make their books available to more people.  However I am sure you will agree that a self service library can NOT replace one with a skilled librarian for a patrons needs.  Just like in the grocery store, I love the self-service tills when I want to quickly escape with milk and a loaf of bread but I learned the hard way to never try and self-check out a full cart.

[Now Reading: Second Foundation by Issac Asimov]

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6. How to sign an ebook

Not one week after my post about signing eBooks I see this on the Baltimore Sun Read Street blog...


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7. Intel Reader for visually impaired

Again from the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas.  Intel has proposed a reader designed for the visually impaired.  With this devise you can take a photo of any text (menus, letters, magazines) and have the gadget read the text aloud to you or change the font size digitally.  Users can also download e-books to be read or listened to.

From the Guardian

Tracy Counts, the Intel Reader’s marketing manager, told the Guardian that the product’s developer is dyslexic and knows how hard it is “to get printed text in a format he could listen to and understand. He went to the general manager of our group and pitched the idea, and Intel Health got behind it because it fits with the whole idea of digital health, which is helping people to be independent.”

The $1,500 price tag is a deterrent, but the Guardian suggests that schools and libraries might find it a worthwhile tool. Over at Engadget, there is an informative video explaining all of the Intel Reader’s functions.

It will also be interesting to see if Intel runs into any legal flak, as Amazon did when it was forced to remove the text-to-speech feature on a number of Kindle titles after several publishers cried foul over claims of audio book rights not being respected.  I hope they don't as this could be a great tool for the visually impaired, and even those with gradually worsening eyesight.

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8. Samsung e-reader debuted at Consumer Electronics Show

Samsung enters the e-reader battle royal... although it's not yet available commercially the "Papyrus" has the standard e-ink screen but with the added bonus that allows the user to write on the ebook (underline, add notes, etc) with a stylus.  This new feature addresses one of the main complaints ebooks, but if you take a look at the video that Galley Cat posted with their review the Papyrus the device's refresh rate still falls short of the mark (at least for me).

When it does become available though rumours are it will be "only" $300 (cheaper than Sony Reader and Kindle).

Samsung_papyrus


[Now Reading: Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut]

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9. Steven Covey signs exclusive e-rights deal

I caught this article in The Bookseller this morning.  Stephen Covey has just signed a digital rights deal guaranteeing Amazon exclusivity to his two bestselling titles,  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Principle-Centered Leadership, in ebook form.

Covey has moved e-book rights to two of his bestselling books from his print publisher, Simon & Schuster Inc, to digital publisher RosettaBooks, which will sell the e-books via Amazon.com for one year.

According to the New York Times, this gives Amazon exclusive rights to sell electronic editions of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Principle-Centered Leadership. Covey is expected to gradually make other e-books available exclusively to Amazon, which will promote them on its web site.

The NYT said the move would "raise the already high anxiety level among publishers about the economics of digital publishing and could offer authors a way to earn more profits from their works than they do under the traditional system".

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  These two titles are are both readily available as cheap used copies and therefore the exclusivity deal is only mildly interesting, but should Covey extend this agreement to his freshly written works courting mega selling authors could be a game influencing strategy in the e-reader war.

Who will be the Betamax of e-readers? I think the technology is still young and it's still too early in the game to to call (plus I haven't actually seen a Nook yet) but I would love to hear your thoughts.

[Now Reading: Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay]

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10. Do books have to look like books?

Charlie and I spend a lot of time talking about books. Specifically, what makes a book a book. It may be because of his predilection for reading (heavy!) thousand-page fantasy novels, but he's been dabbling with hardware- and software-based ebook platforms for a while now. Charlie's last foray into the land of the e-book reading platform, the Sony Reader, was pretty much a failure. It sustained his interest for a while, but eventually never managed to fit into his workflow, due to bad desktop client software and lack of interesting content. Unusable as a book reader, then he tried to use it as a "computer-lite" to display RSS feeds; it worked up to a point, but was very inelegant, largely because of inherent device limitations.

Charlie's mental jump—from seeing the Sony Reader as an electronic book, to a portable computer text display device—reflects the same insight that Virginia Hefferman's son had, in her recent article on the Amazon Kindle:

"In their book 'Freakonomics,' Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt write that kids who grow up in houses packed with books fare better on school tests than those who grow up with fewer books. But they also contend that reading aloud to children and limiting their TV time has no correlation with success on tests. If both of these observations hold, it’s worth determining what books really are, the better to decisively decorate with them. The widespread digitization of text has complicated the matter. Will Ben benefit if I load my Kindle with hundreds of books that he can’t see? Or does he need the spectacle of hard- and softcover dust magnets eliminating floor space in our small apartment to get the full 'Freakonomics' effect? I sadly suspect he needs the shelves and dust.

Anyway, Ben doesn’t distinguish between my Kindle and a BlackBerry. My immersion in the Kindle is not (to him) an example of impressive role-model literacy. It’s Mom e-mailing, or texting, or for all he knows playing video games. In fact, the only time he describes what he and I do together as 'reading' is when we’re sitting with a clutch of pages bound between covers, open in front of us like a hymnal." (more...)

There's a social role for books, books that look and feel like books. I fully expect to buy an ebook reader sometime in the next few years (I'm rarely an early adopter), but I'm acutely aware of the fact that you lose things along the way. I've had long conversations with friends about the role of record cover art; those who grew up in the age of records have a very different relationship with it compared to those who saw cover art shrink down to fit cassettes, CDs, and iPod screens. I'm not ready to make a value judgment on how important cover art really is, but I do know that eighteen year olds seem to have a disproportionate amount of 60s-70s rock cover art posters on their walls, versus cover art from the 2000s. If nothing else, I fully expect to see some print editions of classic angsty lit in college dorm rooms in the 2040s.

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11. Print on Demand offers new possibilities

Print on demand technology is getting better and better by the day, and while it evokes the ire of book collectors, POD has opened a lot of doors.

The most commonly realized beneficiaries are academics and graduate students who are now more easily able to order affordable copies of highly specialized reports and research projects.  The other groups to benefit are emerging novelists and poets who can offer their work to a large number of readers for a limited financial investment giving them a chance to build up their fan base potentially increasing their chances of picking up a publisher.

However one aspect of print on demand which I think is still in its relative infancy is the use of POD technology as a marketing tool for mainstream publishing.

I got thinking about this while reading my morning blogroll and seeing that romance novelist Brenda Novak is setting up an online charity auction for diabetes research where the winning bidder will be flown to a romance convention, have her photo taken with a cover model and get 10 copies of the book with "her" cover. 

Another scheme that has been hatched as of late is authors auctioning or raffling off the chance to name a character in their novel.  Stephen King, Amy Tan, Lemony Snicket, John Grisham, and Margaret Atwood have all done this for charity and today I read in Quill and Quire that Nathan Tyree (The author of Zombie Lust and the New Flesh and How to Make Love Like a Zombie) is taking this one step further and actually writing "you" into his next book, and he's pocketing the money.

The winner will have to provide me with their name, a photo of themselves, a description of their personality and mannerisms, a bio (background info and such). I will write the novel and guarantee publication within one year of the end of the auction. Then they will also receive a free copy of the book.

So my question is how long will it be before we see this kind of marketing translated into POD. 

Just say a regular copy of the new Stephen King book will cost you $15, but for $35 you can have the personalized copy where your name is substituted in place for that of the beat cop who catches the telekinetic werewolf serial killer goes for $30.  The same could be done with Novak’s cover scheme, have a premium option with a personalized cover.  Depending on the author, I could see it being popular.

[Now reading: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley]

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12. FLEPia the full color eBook reader

I'm working on some research about eBooks for a BookFinder.com info page that we will be posting later on to help you guys muddle your way though all the different readers and file types.  While doing this I came across a neat video that I thought you might want to see. 

It's for the FLEPia, Fujitsu's new full color eReader that was launched last month in Japan.  It seems to have some pretty major drawbacks, such as the $1000 price tag and the 1.8-8 second page load times.  If you can get past the ultra cheesy music, monotone dialogue and glaring camera work the device itself is a pretty monster step in the right direction for eReaders.


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13. Yes you can, be a part of Obama's new book

 Sometimes the future comes sooner than you think, Print on demand is entering the mainstream.  It was just last week when I wrote about authors personalizing POD novels as a marketing tactic and how it could help bring print on demand into mainstream aplication.  

This week brings the anouncement of  The Obama Time Capsule, a custom, 200 page, print on demand picture book which allows the customer to incorporate their own images and text into the body of the work.

According to this USA Today article, when you order the book you are given 10 days to customize it to your liking.

After ordering the book at Amazon, you'll receive an e-mail with a link that takes you to the Time Capsule website. You'll have 10 days to customize the book there or it will get shipped as is. You get to write a dedication, and your name appears on the cover (and an inside page) as one of the authors, next to Smolan and co-project director Jennifer Erwitt.

You can upload one image to appear on the back cover and another that will appear on a page next to pictures of Sean Penn, George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities. There's also a place-holder for your kid's Obama-related artwork.

At this point the personalization is pretty basic, but I see the options in the future as nearly limitless. 

Imagine a kiosk outside the Superbowl where after you have watched the game you can upload your personal photos from your digital camera and mix them in with pro shots taken by photographers that day at the game and have a finished book mailed to you a week later.... Or better yet, have something like the Espresso Book Machine on hand and print the copy right there so you have something to look over while you fight your way out of the parking lot.

Publishers Weekly made the announcement earlier this week that the number of Print on Demand titles on offer overtook the number of titles published in the traditional way last year.  The vast (and I mean VAST) majority of these POD titles were super short run books on the extreme end of the long tail, but with the creators of The Obama Time Capsule alerady boasting that they might have the first NY Times bestselling POD in history, its becoming harder to deny that POD really is hitting the mainstream whether we like it or not.

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14. Indigo to launch Canadian eReader

In what seems to be a daily event these days news of yet another eReader is on the horizon.  Chapters Indigo are apparently in talks with manufacturers and are working out who will make their own version of the product.

CTVs Tech Life Blog explains...

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15. Brit's get new ereader from Borders

With the Kindle staying securely put in North America British readers have been complaining about a relative lack of good alternatives to the Sony ereader, with the iLiad device being one of the few other good choices but a hefty price tag to boot.

However I now see in yesterdays Times a review for the new Borders ebook reader, which so far sounds like a good option.

The screen size is the same as that of the Amazon Kindle, but overall the device isn’t as wide. It makes it possible to fit into a large jacket pocket and is easier to hold. Finally, it is a tiny bit cheaper - costing £189, compared with the Sony Reader at £199.

But there’s no love at first sight with the Borders reader. The feel is more matted and plastic than metallic and shiny.

To see and touch the Sony Reader or the Amazon Kindle, is to be attracted to smart and seductive looking devices. You will never desire the Border’s device in the same way. To my mind that is a good thing.

It is just not that special but it doesn’t try to be. It is what is on the inside that counts.

It feels sturdier than its rivals and looks like it can deal with the rough and tumble of travel. It will need to be able to as it does not come in a case.


Since we're book lovers, and gadget nerds, we have put together a little page on BookFinder.com to try and keep you guys up to date on all of the new ereaders, ebook stores, ebook formats, etc.  The technology is still in infancy and there are a lot of different formats and readers out there so hopefully this will at least go part of the way to help you figure out which ereader is the one for you.

And for thoes of you who would rather have your hadcover pried from your cold dead hands than read off a screen, never fear our database of over 150 million new, used, rare, and out of print books isnt going anywhere.

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16. Introducing Ditto, yet another ereader

Last Friday I told you about Boarder's launching a new ereader in the UK and today we have yet another reader coming to the fold, The Ditto (or Digital Interface Total Text Organizer).

From the Publishers Weekly report it sounds that The Ditto is much like the Cool-ER reader which debuted at BookExpo this year: costs about the same, has similar features (6" screen, reads txt, pdf and mp3, upgradable memory, etc).

One thing the Ditto does have going for it though is that it supports the epub file format.

As I said on Friday, if some of of this sounds like Greek to you, check out our ebooks FAQ page.

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17. School books get a little greener

Because I like to start my day out with some good news.  Here is a neat article about a company in the UK who are making school exercise books out of a sugar cane byproduct rather than conventional wood-based pulp, and the best feature is that the books are no more expensive.

From the BBC

Ms Teal said using agricultural crops rather than wood gave the added advantage of reducing deforestation, and helped protect fragile ecosystems that would otherwise break down as a result of logging in forested areas.

"In this instance it costs no more to buy an eco-friendly green product than a conventional wood-based paper product," said Ms Teal.

"The Consortium is the first supplier to source this product and with sustainability becoming increasingly important in the classroom, we think that once schools have tried these exercise books, there will be no going back."

I hope the project has legs, if it works out well we may see publishers start producing textbooks from this material as well.

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18. Sony Reader to adopt ePub format

The New York Times is reporting that Sony will be selling ebooks for their reader in the open ePub format only.  This means that they will also be scrapping "proprietary anticopying software in favor of technology from the software maker Adobe that restricts how often e-books can be shared or copied."

This means that books purchased after the change will be able to be read on a variety of other ereaders, opening up options for consumers.

“There is going to be a proliferation of different reading devices, with different features and capabilities and prices for a different set of consumer requirements,” said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading unit. “If people are going to this e-book shopping mall, they are going to want to shop at all the stores, and not just be required to shop at one store.”

Sony opening up to a common standard creates a very different playing field in the ebooks market.  As Charlie mentioned last week Sony just came out with a cheaper version of its ereader, and the Times suggests that a reader with wireless capability is also on its way.  It seems the ebook wars are far from over.

(Thanks to GallyCat for the tip)

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19. Google president lies like a cheap rug

Not sure if any of you read the advertorial op-ed column in the New York Times last week where Google Technology President Sergey Brin voiced his thoughts on the Google books campaign but one sentence really irked me.

Today, if you want to access a typical out-of-print book, you have only one choice — fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks.


He cannot possibly believe that? All you have to do is type "Out-of-print books" into his own service and see AbeBooks, Alibris, Amazon, Biblio, BookFinder, etc offering more OOP options that you could shake a virtual stick at.  The rest of the article reads like a cheap advertorial.

I'm not even versed enough in the whole Google Books rights controversy to say whether i'm for or against it (note: book lunch with Charlie, learn more) but this essay is trash.

[Now Reading: Our Man in Havana by Grahame Greene]

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20. The Nook e-reader

Released today is Barnes and Noble's entry into the e-reader wars.  Dubbed "The Nook" it combines a color navigation panel (for browsing color book covers) with a 6" e-ink screen, mp3, and support for a number of non-proprietary formats including ePub and PDF

Like the Kindle ,The Nook is wireless with the added feature that it seems you can share books with friends over a variety of other devices (iPhones, Blackberry's, etc) if you download some free software. The Nook however does not have the Kindles text to speech, has a shorter battery life, and is a bit heavier.  The one piece of information I have not yet found is if the divice is supported outside of the US, drop a comment if you find out.

Several major news sources have been reviewing The Nook and are suggesting that it might give the Kindle a run for its money.  We shall see what happens this Christmas I suppose.

Nook



If you want to see it at work Gizmodo, posted a neat video.  I will be posting some more Nook specs on our E-books page tomorrow.

[Now Reading: Following the Equator by Mark Twain]

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