Guest Post: Schrödinger’s Ebook Box

For Marlene’s birthday I got her a new iPad.  Since her work involves reading and reviewing ebooks, and since the iPad has become her primary ebook reader, transferring the books from her old iPad to the new one was critical.  Since she uses a number of ebook apps, this gave us an opportunity to answer the (not-so) age-old question: when you open the new box, are the ebooks still alive and meowing?

We set up the new iPad using one of the recommended approaches:

  1. Sync the old iPad with iTunes.
  2. Make a backup of the old iPad using iTunes.
  3. Hook up the new iPad to the computer and choose to restore from the backup.
  4. After the restoration, wait for iTunes to finish syncing apps and content to the new iPad.

How did the the various apps do?

  • iBooks — success.  All of the titles came over.
  • Amazon Kindle for iPad — success.  The list of titles came over.  It was necessary to re-download them, but that came as no surprise.
  • Barnes and Noble Nook — success.  The list of titles came over; as with the Kindle app, it was necessary to re-download the books.
  • Bluefire Reader — success.  Everything came over, although it was necessary to re-enter the Adobe DRM credentials.
  • Google Play Books — success.  Same story as the Kindle and Nook apps.
  • Kobo for iPad — success.  At least, apparently so.  The default titles came over, but this app is one that Marlene looked at but never actively used.

However, there was one failure: the OverDrive app for iPad.  When we opened it on the new iPad, the bookshelf was empty!

Of course, the primary purpose of this app is to display ebooks and audiobooks from OverDrive’s library service, but it will happily store and open EPUB files, and you don’t even need the OverDrive Media Console application on your PC.  You can just download an EPUB from Safari on the iPad and open it in OverDrive.  Because of apparent capacity issues with Bluefire reader, there was a period of Marlene had started using the OverDrive app to handle some of the overflow; in particular, she used it for non-DRM EPUBs.

But therein lies the rub… as near as I can tell, the OverDrive app turns out to be the Hotel California of iOS EPUB readers.  Since the restore and iTunes sync obviously hadn’t brought the ebooks over, I started looking for ways to manually transfer them.  The first place I looked was in the File Sharing feature in iTunes:

If OverDrive supported app file sharing, I could have used iTunes to copy the ebooks from the old iPad to the new one.  Unfortunately… it doesn’t.

My next step was scanning through the OverDrive app to see if it offered a way to download or email the files.  I came up with nothing.

Finally, I turned to my favorite reference librarian Google… and came up with a lot of folks complaining about how iOS5 and the recent update of the app apparently don’t play well together for audiobooks, but nothing relevant to my efforts.  So, if you’ve made this far into the post and have ideas about how to transfer the books… I’m all ears.

Ultimately, if we don’t find a way to make the transfer, the effective loss will be small, as Marlene has current files for all of the titles in the OverDrive app with the exception of three titles she had downloaded via iOS Safari from NetGalley that have since been removed from the active download list.  One irony is that those three ebooks are in open EPUB format; if only we could get to the files, any EPUB reader app could display them.

This is all a perfect storm of circumstances that could drive somebody who is unlike me (by expecting that software will actually work all the time) back into the comfortable but heavy arms of physical books:

  • Ebook DRM can punish the reader.  Marlene and I are perfectly willing to pay for ebooks (though of course, most of the time she doesn’t have to because of the number of egalleys and ARCs she reviews), but in the case of the OverDrive app, were I to make a charitable guess, DRM inspired a design compromise for the OverDrive app that lead to app file sharing not being enabled, even for non-DRM ebooks.
  • Apple’s iOS backup and syncing model has pitfalls for the unwary.  In particular, backing up to iTunes does not back up everything, and syncing with iTunes does not necessary cover content that wasn’t purchased via iTunes.  Want a real full backup of your iOS device?  It seems like you can get one only if you jailbreak it.  By the way, I really hope to be proven wrong on this.
  • It’s a truism that preserving ebooks require the reader to work harder.  You can leave a physical book sitting around and expect it to stay put (and even a very industrious cat isn’t going to push a book very far); one has to actually think in order to keep one’s ebooks available as time, hardware upgrades, and fashions in digital format pass.  But it’s even harder if one has to work to get one’s hands on the ebook file.
  • Using apps for anything other than their exact intended purpose can have unexpected pitfalls.  As an EPUB reader, the OverDrive app is arguably decent, but at the moment I can no longer recommend it for any purpose other than using OverDrive’s service.  I hope future updates of the app will make it easier to transfer titles to new iOS devices and to back up any non-library ebooks that a user chooses to read in OverDrive.

In conclusion (and to further inflict quantum mechanics metaphors on the reader), despite all of the advantages of ebooks, ebook users must still keep the Ebook Uncertainty Principle in mind: without care (and ideally access to discrete, non-DRM ebook files that you can back up), the long-term availability of ebooks that you purchase is at best a little uncertain.

The Fiction about Friction

Let’s talk about a concept that keeps coming up in the conversation about ebook lending in libraries. The publishers who are currently not participating in the library ebook market all seem to be worrying about the lack of “friction” in the library ebook lending transaction as far as the patrons are concerned.

What do they mean by “friction”?

With physical media, in other words, books and CDs and DVDs, patrons have to come to the library to borrow them and come back to the library to return them. According to the February 10 post in Publisher’s Lunch, forcing patrons to come into the library to borrow ebooks is also the appropriate model for ebook lending. The publishers say they are doing this for the libraries’ own good, to reinforce the concept of the library as destination. Research indicates that ebook users are already “power users” of library resources, regularly visiting their local libraries for programming and to borrow materials, as well as borrowing ebooks online, and doing all those activities in great gulps.

Back to that “friction” thing again. The publishers seem to be laboring under a set of misapprehensions about how “easy” it is to borrow an ebook from a library. Let’s look at that for a moment.

According to the recent report in American Libraries, when ALA President Molly Raphael met with the Big 6 publishers in New York recently, many of the executives from those publishers were laboring under the mistaken belief libraries loaned ebooks to anyone who happened to click through their websites. We all know that’s not the case.

Libraries are responsible to their communities, and their resources are paid for by the taxes raised in those communities. We make our resources available to those who live or own property in the community. Many libraries make arrangements with their neighboring communities to reciprocally serve their patrons.

So it’s not quite as easy as the publishers think. But is it easy?

The so-called “friction” in borrowing an ebook from the library is different than the model the publishers are used to, but it is definitely there.

The hold queues for ebooks are very, very long. A recent article in the Washington Post showed hundreds of people waiting in line for some of the titles. The libraries in the D.C. metro area also have attempted to purchase copies to meet the demand, but the numbers are staggering. Placing a hold for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and seeing yourself listed as number 508 in the queue has to be a shock to anyone.

The second piece of grit that causes no end of friction is the general supply of ebooks. Period. When a person logs into their local library’s ebooks collection and wants to read something, anything, but just get a book, right now, can they? The answer generally is only if they understand the system and are willing to take something they may not be familiar with.

Patrons complain, with justification, that everything is out.  My LPOW has about 10,000 ebooks on OverDrive. However, if I check to see what a patron might check out, the first several screens all tell me to put myself on the waiting list. It is possible to search for only the titles currently available, but you have to know how to do that. And if you do know, you must search for EPUB, PDF, Open EPUB and Open PDF separately. There’s no option for just ebook. Out of those 10,000 ebooks, there are only 50 science fiction and fantasy titles in today. I did a quick scroll through, and a significant chunk of those are unfortunately mis-categorized. They’re really paranormal romance, which wouldn’t bother me, but would disappoint a lot of readers.

That’s not all the friction in this potential transaction.

Those of us who have been on the receiving end, know that dealing with end-users brings its own variety of friction. Whatever the client program is, whether it is OverDrive’s Media Console or the search program or the patron’s device or any other piece of the puzzle, there is a chain. Server to website to search to download to device to human. Any one of those parts can suffer a classic case of “failure to communicate” and when the chain breaks, the patron calls the library.

OverDrive’s Media Console isn’t quite as intuitive to use as the Kindle app, or the Nook app, or Bluefire. It’s pretty decent, and I frequently use it for EPUB format books, but there are a couple of things that get to me. For example, I can rename books in Bluefire and I can’t in OverDrive.

But the transaction to borrow an ebook in OverDrive far from frictionless. There’s no ability to search all of one type of format. So a patron can’t just search for “ebooks” or just search for “audiobooks”. The format limits are EPUB or PDF, and MP3 Audiobook or WMA Audiobook.

Once you find something you want to borrow, there’s the need for a library card number and a PIN, or personal identification number. Some libraries have made this easy by tying it to something the patron can’t forget, some don’t. But once past that hurdle, there’s the whole download business. If you’re reasonably savvy about your device, it is a piece of cake. With an iPhone or an iPad, there is, of course, an app for that.

Dealing with a side load through Adobe Digital Editions into a Classic Nook the first time is not for the faint of of heart, and not the night before you leave on vacation. Especially not if your flight is at “oh dark thirty”. Of those “power users” that LJ surveyed; 23% have given up on borrowing an ebook from the library because the process was “too complicated”.

If our sophisticated users have difficulty with the process, what about the new ereader users? A lot of people who are not tech-savvy got ereaders  because of the convenience factor and the content, but not the “gee-whiz” factor. How “frictionless” will they think the current ebook lending process is?

There is plenty of friction in the ebook borrowing transaction. The libraries are having enough issues ensuring that their interface with living, breathing patrons who use the library is as frictionless as possible.

What we don’t need is publishers telling us that library ebook lending needs more of this so-called “friction” than it already has. What we need is more ebooks in the library market.

Ebooks in Public Libraries: Whither, Which, How

The Digital Public Library of America discussion list has kicked into high gear again, in anticipation of an in-person meeting at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference in mid-January, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.

The piece of the discussion that has caught my interest concerns the future availability of ebooks for public libraries to loan to patrons — and whether lending ebooks to patrons should be part of any public library future.

Statistics are showing double the ereader penetration in the US population from this time last year, not counting multi-function tablet (i.e. iPad) use. Libraries really don’t have the luxury to pretend this isn’t happening. The question remains what they can do about it.

The other question is, what do libraries provide? The “Big 6” publishers are increasingly skittish about providing ebooks for public libraries to lend.

  • Only Random House just plain lets libraries buy their ebooks to lend to patrons.
  • Harper Collins sells to libraries, and every time the copy has been checked out 26 times, the library has to buy it again.
  • Which puts Harper Collins ahead of Penguin and Hachette, who have both stopped selling ebooks to libraries.
  • And even further ahead of Simon and Schuster and Macmillan, who have never sold ebooks to libraries.

But back to the DPLA, which has been discussing the future of ebook publishing as it relates to libraries. There’s been a particular thread about commercial fiction and public library patrons.

The assumption that keeps niggling at me is that all the current trends will continue, and that the only changes we will see will be for the worse from the perspective of the library as institution.

My interpretation of the trendline being predicted is that the publishers will continue their unfortunate circling of their wagons, and that the lending rights that libraries have traditionally enjoyed with physical materials will disappear in the electronic age as publishers attempt to preserve their profit margins. Brilliance Audio’s scheduled January 31, 2012 withdrawal from the library download market is another step in this trend, as is the support of many, many publishers in the library marketplace for SOPA.

Publishers are worrying about their profits because those profits are based on a physical distribution model, and the physical distribution model is collapsing. And the publishers are becoming less optimistic about digital being their savior than they used to be, at least according to recent reports out of Digital Book World. So they are hanging on to every penny they can. Publishers have always feared that books borrowed from libraries have represented sales lost. But with physical books, sales to libraries were impossible to prevent.

With ebooks (and e-audiobooks) publishers don’t have to sell to libraries. So some of them are increasingly choosing not to — especially the big ones who believe that their authors don’t need libraries to help them develop a following.

But there are a lot of authors who do want their books, especially their ebooks, in libraries. I was interviewed by author Lindsay Buroker for an article on her blog about how self-published authors could get their books into their local libraries.

Self-published authors and authors who are published by small independent publishers are searching eagerly for ways to get their books into libraries. Increasingly those books are exclusively ebooks. Many of those authors would even be willing to donate a copy to their local public library (maybe not every public library, mind you, but the one in their own hometown) just to get readers.

In the print world, they used to be able to donate actual books. But in the digital world, what’s the mechanism? They don’t want to donate rights, they want to donate a couple of copies, and quite likely DRM-free copies at that, but how can they do it?

And for anyone who doesn’t think there is money in self-published authors, remember that Amazon has offered special incentives for self-published authors to make their work exclusively available through the Kindle Selects Program for 90-day periods.

This a a world that is changing faster than the “Big 6” can keep up with, which is why they are circling those wagons.

So, in this corner, we have the big publishers who either haven’t entered the library market or are sounding a retreat.

And in this corner, we have a lot of independent publishers and self-published authors who would love to enter the library space and are hungry for readers–readers that libraries know how to provide.

Libraries need  the equivalent of Smashwords for libraries. This may turn out to be something like what OverDrive will be when the big publishers have dropped out of the library market, with the addition of a method for self-published authors to donate copies or for libraries to buy copies of their work and lend it.

From a library institutional perspective, the library would miss the big blockbuster books. But we may not be able to keep those no matter what we do.  What we would get is a lot of popular content of the type that public library patrons read, popular genre fiction of all types. It would even cost less for the library than the current model. It might even be possible to have enough material so that people would have to wait forever for an ebook.

Yes, it would be different from how public libraries do ebooks now. But the future is going to be different. The question is, can we work toward making it different in a way we can have some control over? Can we have a future with a chance at a win-win?

Brilliance Audio, Amazon, and the Great Un-downloading

On January 4, OverDrive sent an email to all of its libraries with a bombshell announcement, (quoted here from Infodocket)

“Effective January 31, 2012, as instructed by the publisher, BrillianceAudio will suspend the availability of all download audiobook titles for library purchase across all vendors. This change does not affect any titles currently in your library’s catalog. You will not, however, be able to add any additional copies.”

Compared to the Harper Collins 26 checkout limit or the Penguin/Kindle “will they/won’t they” drama, the Brilliance withdrawal notice has generated only a few ripples in the pond. The tree fell in the forest, and there were surprisingly few people around to hear it.

And the voices that have spoken up have cried out against OverDrive. Before we “shoot the messenger”, let’s take a look at the message again.

The loss of Brilliance audiobook downloads is bad news for OverDrive. They license a lot of Brilliance audiobooks, and some are definitely going to be missed from library collections. J.D. Robb, Nora Roberts, Nevada Barr, Tom Clancy, Robert Crais, W.E.B. Griffin, Dean Koontz, Jayne Ann Krentz, the list goes on. These are all authors where my LPOW had long hold queues on OverDrive and licensed multiple copies, up to our maximum. And we bought physical audiobooks, and print books, and ebooks if available and every other format imaginable. OverDrive is going to miss their slices of that revenue pie. This Brilliance withdrawal is not in their interest.

So who benefits? Amazon owns Brilliance Audio. Amazon also owns Audible, which sells downloadable audio direct to consumers. (Full disclosure: Reading Reality is both an Amazon Affiliate and an Audible Affiliate)

Amazon has a track record of cutting out intermediaries wherever they can. They are offering self-published authors terrific deals in order to get agents out of the picture. They have become a traditional publisher as well, with several imprints under their banner ranging from romance (Montlake Romance) to mystery (Thomas & Mercer) to science fiction (47North) to international (AmazonCrossing).

This holiday season, Amazon tried to directly cut out local bookstores (not that they haven’t been doing an indirect job of that all along) by encouraging customers to take the Amazon “price check” app into their local bookstore and then compare the local price to the Amazon price for a $5 discount off the Amazon price. Ecosalon called this out as one of their “Most Offensive Ad Campaigns of 2011

Last but not least in the list of Amazon’s effort to remove obstacles between themselves and the direct consumer, there’s the Kindle Lending Library. Which attempts to eliminate libraries. Amazon Prime members can borrow one book per month, as long as they buy everything else.

So, if Amazon owns Brilliance, which makes audiobooks, and Amazon owns Audible, which sells downloadable audiobooks, who would be responsible for the decision to stop letting OverDrive and all other library vendors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor, 3M) license Brilliance downloadable audiobooks to the library market?



What can we do about it?

Attacking OverDrive will not help.  Amazon is a 900 lb. gorilla, if not bigger. There are very, very few entities that have been able to successfully negotiate with Amazon and come away winners. The one time I can think of is when the publishers managed to break Amazon’s lock on Kindle book pricing by withholding content. But the publishers had something that Amazon wanted, bestselling author content.

What do we have that Amazon wants? Can we use our image of “mom and apple pie” and how much we do for the public good to make Amazon see reason?

The Brilliance audio download tree fell in the forest. It’s up to libraries to make Amazon hear our message.



March of the Penguins

This story may sound slightly familiar. Penguin Books has decided to opt out of the Library ebook market. The company is citing “security concerns“, much in the same way that Harper Collins cited the “need to protect their authors” when they imposed the 26-circulation cap on library ebook lending back in February 2011.

The same rules are applying in both cases, Harper Collins picked a date, and any item purchased before that date had unlimited loans–anything after that date was subject to the “Rule of 26”. Penguin is doing the same thing: anything purchased before a specific date, the libraries get to keep (without Kindle lending options). Anything after that date, well there is no after. Any library who has a lot of fans of Penguin authors is going to have a lot of unhappy patrons.

Although most of the focus is on OverDrive, because that’s the way most public libraries get their ebook content and deliver it to patrons, a Penguin statement refers to all library lending, not just OverDrive — and not just the Kindle Lending Library, either.

Random House is now the librarian’s best friend in the ebook marketplace. They are the only one of the “Big 6” publishers that provides new titles and doesn’t cap lending. Hachette Group still allows unfettered access, but they hang on to their new ebooks for a while before libraries get access. That still makes them way friendlier than everyone else in this increasingly cold marketplace.

The irony in this news comes from the survey released last month from Library Journal‘s Patron Profiles. According to the survey data, library users are a publisher’s best customers. Not just because the libraries themselves provide a steady market, but because people who check out books from the library buy more books. And the data says this is just as true for ebooks as it is for print books. This is one of those things that librarians always knew, but it is excellent to see it backed up with statistics.

So, instead of library borrowing cutting into sales, what really happens is that library usage allows readers to find authors they really like. When they find an author they like, they go out and buy more books from that author, whether they are print books or ebooks. Penguin Books has just cut themselves out of that channel for introducing readers to their authors.

Penguin Book Group is the publisher of the Complete Idiot’s Guides. How appropriate.


Introducing Ebook Review Central

So what is “Ebook Review Central“? I’m so glad you asked.

Every Monday, Ebook Review Central will publish a list of all the ebooks published by a particular publisher the previous month, with links to all the published reviews.  Today’s first issue contains all the Carina Press titles for September 2011, along with links to all the reviews as of Sunday, 10/23/11.

In the upcoming weeks I will do the same thing for Dreamspinner Press and Samhain Publishing. I would be interested in hearing from you, the readers, your suggestions for which publisher or publishers to include for week 4. After the 4th week, I’ll cycle around to Carina’s October titles, and back through Dreamspinner and Samhain and “the player to be named later” again.

Why am I doing this? People decide what books to buy based on browsing at a bookstore or recommendations. Ebook-only books can’t be browsed in a bookstore, so we all blog to create more recommendations when we like a book. But each of us blogs about the books we like, and it’s fantastic.

But, when a reader is undecided, where do they go? Amazon or Goodreads, and not all of us post our reviews there. Sometimes none of us. And that debate is for another post someday. Yet an ebook may have tons of reviews.

Also, I’m a librarian by training. Librarians need a place where they can find reviews of ebooks, just like they do print books.  Their budgets are tight. They want to add ebooks from ebook-only publishers, but if they can only buy 3 or 5 Carina Press titles this month and 3 or 5 Dreamspinner titles this month, there is no place to go to find which ones were the best. Ebook Review Central will be that place.

A question that will be asked, because I had to ask myself when I created this, is why the one month delay? Why am I only publishing the September titles now, when it’s already mid-October?

It takes about a month for the blogosphere to generate reviews for all the titles. I wanted to put up last week’s titles this week, but when I started my research, half the titles weren’t reviewed yet.  When I looked at last month’s titles, almost everything had a review someplace. That won’t always be 100% true, but at least it turns out to be a reasonable way to bet.

One other note: Amazon and Goodreads will not be listed as review sources unless that was the only thing I could find.

If you have suggestions, let me know. If you find this useful, definitely let me know. I will update published lists, so if later reviews are published, or if you have a review that should be listed but I missed (Google is good, but it is not perfect), send email to

Kindle OverDrive

Kindle books have arrived at an OverDrive library near you!  Or they will any minute now. The two libraries I have access to (I only moved in June, my old library card hasn’t expired yet) both have it.

Does it work? Yes, it works. I tried it, and got an  ebook. It works for Kindle apps, not just Kindles.

So, what does this mean?

This is a classic good news/bad news scenario. The good news is that more people will want to use the library’s resources. The good news  is that more people will be aware that the library has something that they want. In the ereader marketplace, more than 70% of the market is owned by Amazon and its Kindle.  And it’s a very big market. The Harris Poll released on September 19 shows that one in six Americans has an ereader. More than two-thirds of those ereaders are Kindles. Until this week, Kindle owners were unserved by libraries, today they aren’t. That’s a big influx of users into an already rising tide.

The other huge part of this is mindshare. When most people see someone using an ereader, they automatically think “Kindle”, no matter what the device is. I have an iPad, and to most folks of the even slightly geeky persuasion, iPads are very different from Kindles. But in airports, people will still ask me, “Is that a Kindle?” To a lot of people, Kindles mean ebooks. Now that libraries serve Kindle books, we’ve arrived. We know we were already there, but this is a major PR moment that libraries can grab.

And we need to grab it, because this is going to have some…not so good impacts too. Ebook usage was already rocketing skyward in public libraries. Adding the huge number of Kindle owners to the borrower pool is going to send those numbers into the next galaxy. So this will increase demand on a finite supply. Not a finite supply of bits and bytes, but a finite supply of dollars and cents. Library budgets have been slashed everywhere. If demand for ebooks increases exponentially, that does not mean that demand for print books will decrease exponentially. Yes, it is possible, even probable that some users will switch from print books to ebooks if ebooks are available, but not everyone in every format.

We should use this opportunity to promote ourselves and get all the good spin out of this we can. Amazon certainly is. When a Kindle user selects the “Get for Kindle” option from the library’s OverDrive site, they go through a normal library checkout process, and then they are transferred to Amazon’s site for the download. When the user completes the download, what do they see? Other Amazon Kindle titles recommended for them to purchase, based on whatever they just downloaded from your library.

Today, Kindle users can borrow ebooks from their local library. The Harris Poll also confirmed previous studies that ereader owners read more books and buy more ebooks. Amazon gets the library borrowers out of the library site and onto the Amazon site in order to try to sell them more ebooks. There isn’t anything wrong with that. That’s why Amazon is in business in the first place. OverDrive finally gets to offer a Kindle option. That piece has been missing from their service for eons. This is a very big win for OverDrive.

And this is a big win for libraries. Not just because we can finally say “yes” when Kindle owners ask us if they can borrow ebooks. Saying “yes” is definitely better than saying “no”. But because being part of this revolution/evolution could be a way of getting focus on the library for something relatively cool, and we have a chance to leverage that focus into support.

And they say no one reads the classics anymore

They say no one reads the classics anymore. But they’d be wrong. At least as it applies to ebooks. Or so say the checkout statistics for the Project Gutenberg titles available from OverDrive.

In a recent blog post, OverDrive listed their top 25 circulating titles from Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg digitizes books and other media that are out of copyright in the United States and makes them available for free download.

It’s the list of the “biggest hits” that fascinates.

Obviously, sex still sells. Always and forever. Even when no one actually has to buy anything. The number one book on the list is the Kama Sutra. An ereader or a tablet computer is even better than a brown paper wrapper for hiding what a person is reading. The Kama Sutra is referred to so often, in literature and elsewhere, as the original sex manual, that curiousity alone would prompt many people to idly search for it. And if they could borrow it without anyone else being the wiser, many would be tempted to delve into a copy.

Love still makes the world go ’round. Two classic love stories made the list: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. And just to show that all is fair in love and war, The Art of War by Sun Tzu is also part of the top 25.

The titles that make up this list represent every genre of fiction. Inspector Poirot’s first case, otherwise known as The Mysterious Affair at Styles, barely makes the list at number 23. But The Secret Adversary, Dame Agatha Christie’s first work starring Tommy and Tuppence, weighed in at number 10. And, one of my personal favorites, the world’s first consulting detective Sherlock Holmes is the second most popular book on the list. Considering that The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes includes the case of A Scandal in Bohemia, where Holmes was bested by “The Woman”, otherwise known as Irene Adler, perhaps we are still on the topics of love and war after all.

For any folks wondering about science fiction, fantasy and/or horror, the answer is yes, they are well represented, not just in numbers, but also by some of the greats. H.G. Wells’ journey in The Time Machine, Bram Stoker’s discovery of the nosferatu in Dracula, and Edgar Rice Burroughs sword and planet fantasy of The Princess of Mars.

Yes, the usual suspects are also on the list. The titles that we all know are assigned for classes like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and the Count of Monte Cristo. But people are also taking advantage of the ability to have the entire works of Shakespeare or the Bible (Old and New Testaments) or War and Peace available on their ereader of choice, without having to lug the totality around.

The point is that these aren’t classics because of some esoteric quality they have. They are classics because they are still read.  There is one book on the list I personally wouldn’t touch with someone else’s barge-pole, because it’s not my taste–someone take James Joyce’s Ulysses, please! But most of the books on the list wear their years well.

I’ve never read any of the Tommy and Tuppence books by Agatha Christie. Maybe it’s time to start.


Where ebooks? There ebooks!

Last night, we had our first guest come to the house since we put up our books. It reminded me of an essay I read in Wired a couple of weeks ago that has generated a lot of comments on the Digital Book World group on LinkedIn.

The essay, “5 Reasons Why E-Books Aren’t There Yet,\” by John C. Abell, came to mind because of his 5th reason: you can’t use ebooks as an interior design element. He’s right. One of the first things that people used to say whenever they visited us was something about how many books we had. They were everywhere. Every room in every house had bookshelves, overstuffed bookshelves, including the master bedroom. Every flat surface overflowed. We had boxes of books we never unpacked. And since new books we wanted to read continued to be published, we bought more. But in this move, we shed 1,700 books, and we’re down to 2,300, thanks to our iPads. So the impression of tons of books simply isn’t there. There are four bookcases in the front room, and all the others are in our offices upstairs. The physical collection is shrinking.

What did we lose? We lose that impression of being excruciatingly well-read. Possibly, we lose the impression of being insane. YMMV. In the decision of where to start the alphabet, we were conscious that the end of the alphabet and the miscellany that followed would be on immediate display to anyone who entered the house. Visitors see the Tolkien collection, and all our media books, so Star Trek, Babylon 5, Doctor Who, etc will be right by the door. Anyone who doesn’t know we both like Science Fiction and Fantasy will soon figure it out.

On the other hand, everything from 2010 onwards is missing. It’s on one of our iPads. Did we stop reading? Will anyone care? Or is it the mass of books that impresses? Who knows?  All that can be inferred from the iPads is that we’re both geeks. That’s fairly obvious anyway. We also have every game console known to geek-kind currently hooked up to the TV. But books, books imply an air of erudition that the iPads, consoles and computers just don’t match, no matter what’s concealed within them.

His other reasons were also interesting to think about. His number one reason was something I’ve written about before, that eTBRs don’t command your attention. There’s no pile of books in your physical space getting in your way to jump out at you and say “READ ME!” the way there can be with print books. I borrowed one print book from the local library last week. I finished that one pronto. But that may have more to do with my not owning the thing  (I have over 200 print books I own and haven’t read yet in my house) than it being print.

But Abell’s second reason is the one that I can personally get behind. He comments that a big problem to be solved in the ebook business in general is that if you read ebooks a lot, you don’t have one set of shelves, you have a set of shelves for every app, and no easy way to blend them. He’s right. and it is a right royal pain in the patootie. The joy of using an iPad is that it is supplier-agnostic. I can get ebooks from pretty much anywhere, and I do. But that means I’ve got ebooks in every app imaginable; Nook, Kindle, Google, Overdrive, Bluefire, iBooks, Stanza, etc., with no easy way to combine the lists. In the bad, old print days, my first choice TBR pile was the far end of the kitchen counter. I piled everything there. I need an ebook everything TBR app. Except that it isn’t in the ebooksellers’ best interests to allow me to combine my lists, so that app doesn’t exist yet. I’ll confess that I’ve started using the Overdrive Media Console iPad app as my ereader for any EPUB that isn’t tied to a particular company. It’s a surprisingly good general purpose ereader, and it eliminates my need for a couple of those apps. If only it read PDFs…

Ebooks are here to stay. There are still some issues to be resolved, but there’s no longer a question of whether enough people will adopt ebooks to make them profitable for publishers.

On the other hand, books are here to stay, too. Very few technological revolutions completely wipe out the predecessor. We still have radio, it’s just changed. We still have LPs, they’re just a niche market. We may not ride horses for everyday transportation, but horses are still ridden. Books, both to be read and as treasured objects, will always have a place. I recently watched Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, again. Early in the movie, Spock gives Kirk a copy of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities as a birthday present. Ebooks make good reading, but there’s no way to attach ceremonial weight to them.  For that, you still need a book. 


A visit to Murphyspace

Yesterday, the latest Sookie Stackhouse book by Charlaine Harris was released.  I wanted to read it.  So, of course, I bought it from B&N and tried to download it to by iPad into my Nook app.  No go.  Then I realized that the other two books I had purchased on Monday weren’t there either.  Uh Oh!  I tried downloading them again, and they wanted to open in any available app except Nook.  I thought, “Okay, fine,” and downloaded them into the Overdrive app.  Since Overdrive released a native iPad app, it’s a perfectly good ebook reader.  I regularly use it for epub titles I purchase from places that don’t have an app of their own. (I use Bluefire for PDFs)

Meanwhile, everything looked like it downloaded to Overdrive, but the book wouldn’t open.  And did I mention that I had reached insomnia point by the time I figured out that the book wasn’t actually there?  Also, my iPad suddenly decided it had no network.  Our house has two wireless networks, and I have 3G on the iPad.  If my iPad drops off the net, it’s seriously unwell.  But at post-midnight, I wasn’t going to look into it too deeply, especially since every time I left the bedroom to investigate, the cats all started thinking that I might be willing to play with them, or at least provide lap space.  But really, I was just getting more and more annoyed, and less and less sleepy.

Brilliance is generally in short supply at that hour of the night.  I just wanted to start my book!  I resorted to my trusty Nook.  Yes, the real thing.  It still had a charge after more than a week unplugged, and it found the 3G network just fine.  I downloaded Dead Reckoning and settled in for a couple of chapters.

But my misbehaving iPad was still a problem this morning.  At least it found a network in the morning.  Maybe it needed a night’s sleep more than I did, but that didn’t solve any of the problems with the Nook app.  I guessed that the iPad needed a serious update, probably something to do with Apple getting hinky about apps wanting to sell things without the iStore getting a cut, or a move in that direction.  And so the fun began.  It refused to update.  Four times.  The update kept losing the network, somewhere in the middle of the hour-plus download.  I discovered that not only does the watched pot never boil, neither does the watched update. I shut everything down except the upload and moved to my laptop. Then I left the house!  It finally updated while I was out.

For anyone thinking that print books don’t do this, print books also don’t let you decide to purchase the book at midnight, and keep downloading to alternate devices until one of them finally decides to play ball.  Midnight cravings for particular treats can’t be satisfied until the next day.  Whether they should be, well, your mileage may vary.

Murphy wasn’t done with me yet.  Late this morning I called the property management company about the house we were hoping to rent in Atlanta.  The owner is suddenly not so sure about renting to four cats.  Last week, when we were there and could keep looking, it was okay.  This week, he’s not so sure.  Unless we get a “yes” by tomorrow, we’re going back to Atlanta this weekend to find a house.  Second verse, same as the first.

Murphy is laughing at us.