Just books

Books are books are books.

Bumping around in my head: we should stop saying ebook(s).

Stories, albums, articles. None of them have an “e” in front. And while there are some hiccups in implementation, there isn’t a fundamental difference between print and digital books, at least no more than there are between different types of print and digital books; consider that print can be formatted to different standards, with different materials, while digital versions have different features in rendering.

One group has a stake in calling them ebooks: publishers. It is the same reason Macs aren’t called PCs, despite them being personal computers. They are presented as a different artifact, one which uses different rules. I propose we stop playing that particular game.

More space, less “books”

We cleaned up, and shipped out. Books, that is. And a bag of useful things that others might use. Okay, “shipped out” wasn’t a great description.

We did some house cleaning today, which consisted of clearing off the main work/dining/play table. It had collected a few months worth of physical mail and random things from my pockets. We had the shredder going for a good half hour, but we made it.

In the process of cleaning the living room we starting using a large bag for taking to the donation box on Channing. I already had two stacks of books (mostly manga) that I wanted to redistribute, but it was too much for me to carry anywhere that would take them. So we decided to get a car from City Car Share for an hour to run the bag over and go to Half Price Books.

We ended up filling two banker’s boxes full of books. I left Susan alone for a few minutes when I went to the car for the second box, but fortunately she only found six books to take home. They were all children’s books, so at least two-thirds of our family will enjoy them.

Now I have large holes in my books shelves, but I have more banker’s boxes in the closet full of crap, very little of which will fill in the gaps. One thing that I am habituated to is using the tablet for nearly everything I used paper for before, which was reading and writing. I sometimes made paper airplanes, and I will make sure to keep paper around if the very act of its destruction causes so much laughter in our home.

It is really nice to have a device that simplifies my life and allows me to remove things that I need to be responsible for. To quote one particular schizo, “the things you own end up owning you.”

A magic formula for ebooks

Putting it together, a particular formula for decentralized book version-ing, as well as sharing curated collections of content in a smart way.

I don’t like the word “ebook”. I am one of the few people who still hyphenate e-mail, and so when I see ebook I think of it as a trendy word with plenty of hyperbole connected to it. Electronic isn’t what we use to describe this stuff, we call it digital. And yet d-mail never caught on…

Anyhow, when I say ebook, I really just mean long form text that utilizes this new set of standards and formats to essentially give the digital version of books and magazines. And when I say “magic formula”, I mean here are some thoughts on what would just be so kick ass, I gotta get this idea out there.

As for the actual formula:

OPDS-enabled server + “Code” repository + Reader application/device

What this adds up to is a collaborative and shared digital libraries. If you replace those values with actual software/hardware, you could get something set up that is relatively easy to maintain:

Calibre/Lucicat/Pathagar + Git + FBReader

Um, why?

The idea for this came to me when as I’ve been reading the Google Bookstore version of Pride and Prejudice. After just a single chapter I switched from the EPUB file to the scans of the original pages. There are just too many errors, and for some inexplicable reason, the last paragraph of each chapter is cut off. It sucks, because I really enjoy the interface, with the auto-formatting pages and optimal font size. Fortunately, on the tablet the original pages seem to be at scale, so it is fine reading it that way.

At any rate, I started thinking to myself, I wish I could submit the errors… and then it all came crashing down onto me. I don’t have to rewrite the entire book, checking for errors left and right. But if I catch one here and there, and everyone is doing the same thing, we could have a decent book, edited and published in no time at all! Of course, this is what the internet is for! We can map editions to versions! And push the changes to the readers so their books are always up to date!

! ! !

I am just so excited about this, because it is such a new way of thinking about books. Of course it raises a whole new set of issues, but this is a problem worth tackling! And while it would be a great way to decentralize the effort transcribe the classics, it also offers a new way of publishing for authors.

The other thing that I am excited about is the ability to share my personal library with people. I plan on collecting Public Domain and Creative Commons-licensed books, making my personal best of collection. With OPDS I can serve as a curator for my “friends” (meaning anyone on the internet). This is amazing.

One more thing! While I am not sure where this sits in the formula, or even if it just replaces it altogether, something to keep an eye out for is SiSu (Structured Information, Serialized Units). This seems to be ahead of the curve, and I am going to be investigating it more. The ability to create multiple formats and citing at a granular level is great, but I want to know how accessible the software is; we have to always try to make the software easier to use and available to more people.

We can truly achieve a paperless society in my lifetime.

Alternate Payment System: Pay Now AND Later

Some thoughts on a hybrid payment system, to get people used to exposing their work more.

I am reading up a lot on OPDS and other digital book topics. I am fascinated by this stuff, and I keep going over different scenarios in my head where a person releases their works online that takes into account a new paradigm of publishing that discounts the traditional distribution channels.

One such idea I had seemed like a hybrid model that I hadn’t heard about before, so I wanted to share it: Pay Now and Later. The concept is simple, you set a value of a given work, and create a portion of it as the bottom line on how much you would like people to purchase it for. Then, if they enjoy it, or want to continue supporting you, or whatever reason they may have, they can pay the remainder of the price.

So, if I write a light novel and value it at $10, I could set the low price at $2. If people enjoy it, they can pay me the remaining $8 at some other time (like after their done reading it).

I am not going for depth here, it is just an idea of how to start massaging people to open up a bit with their pricing models. The world I want to create is one where people create and share, and those who appreciate and consume their creations will support the artist, without a series of middle-entities skimming from the profits and lobbying to keep a broken system intact.

In the words of Oscar Goldman, “…We have the technology…”

Relearning the joy of reading

I have Pride and Prejudice on my tablet. Now I can be like the cool kids (who know English and are into reading, or something).

I am going to admit something…


I stopped enjoying reading books.


I am not sure when it happened, but it was sometime in the last couple of years. I’ve read books in that time, but not as much as manga, some magazines, and oh my god so much Wikipedia. I’ve read a lot! But I have gravitated away from books.

It is funny, because I am often the person who surprises people when the question of books come up. I don’t want any more books. I don’t want any manga, CDs, game discs, any media that is not art work or an art book, really. I want those things because they are still relevant to me, I have a physical ritual that I share with other people. However, I am past the ritual of holding a book in my hand; I am especially past the ritual of gathering dead trees and storing them on IKEA shelves. I like looking at my collection of books, but if I could replace that media, I would.

See, I know that we can translate nearly all of our media into the abstract electrical (hat tip to Paul). I believe the reason we don’t isn’t because we can’t, nor is it that people are not comfortable. It is because our tendency is to try to monetize the hell out of our culture. But hey, you know me! Creative Commons, libre and free culture, blah blah blah. We are getting there.

Recently I was chatting about beta males (I am not sure I fully acknowledge that categorization). I admitted I hadn’t read Pride and Prejudice, and it was recommended to me.

I was kinda bummed, because I knew that I probably wouldn’t. I’ve looked for it at Half-Price books, and found plenty of copies, but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy it. I didn’t want to carry it around, I didn’t want to bookmark my place, and I didn’t want to store it afterward (though that isn’t a problem, I could have passed it on).

In other words, I don’t enjoy physical books.

Well, I am in luck! I am holding in my hand a copy of Pride and Prejudice. It is beautiful and slick, and has adjustable brightness. Also, the typeface is great and easy to read, though I can look at the original pages if I am so inclined. This is because I have a copy of the book through the Google ebookstore, and it is on my Galaxy Tab.


So, yeah. I am not drinking the Google kool-aid or anything. I just think they are in a good position to offer a large collection of media, much of which is DRM-free. It gives us a chance to show publishers that we want to support creators who release their work without DRM (bring on the CC licensed books!). I am not betting my hopes that Google avoids douchebaggery. Rather, it is a step in the right direction. And in the meantime, I can read all of Jane Austen’s novels.

Goodbye dead tree collection; hello electrons and pulsing light.

Edit: Release early, release often. Hopefully the ebookstore will get more fields and searchable parameters. There is apparently no way to see if a book is DRM-free at this point: How do I make sure I’m only buying DRM-Free titles?

Sucks, because the Mark Twain autobiography sounds dope!

Another edit: Let’s hear it for sanity! From Takedowns and removals:

Sometimes a publisher will decide to take a book off sale for their own commercial reasons, or Google will take a book off sale, because for instance we find it violates our content policies. In such cases you will no longer be able to purchase the book at Google eBooks. However, if you have already purchased the book, you will still be able to access it in your shelves, you will still be able to read it on the web reader and on all supported devices, and you will still be able to make downloads. Your use of the book will not be affected.

In certain very rare circumstances it may be necessary for Google to remove an ebook you have purchased from your shelves. This could happen if someone represented themselves as the rightsholder in offering the book for sale, but someone else came forward and disputed their ownership of the rights and sent us a legal demand for removal. In these circumstances we would make efforts to persuade the disputing party to allow the book to remain on your shelf, but if unsuccessful we would be obliged to remove it, and we would not be allowed to inform you in advance. You would no longer see the book on your shelves, and you would then be unable to download the book again or to read it in the web reader. We would contact you to inform you that this had happened, we would refund your purchase, and in addition we would make efforts to find you an alternate copy of the book, whether available in ebook form from another provider, or as a physical paperback or hardback, new or used. We would ensure you kept access to any reviewer comments or other content about the book that you had entered into Google Books.

Seriously, what was Amazon thinking?