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Did technology kill the book or give it new life? (bbc.co.uk)
33 points by joshcrowder on Aug 14, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments



I love ebooks and I'm way too prone to impulse-buying them on my Kindle, but recent price movements are trying hard to kill the market.

I'm not going to pay £15 for a text file, sorry. I honestly don't care how good your editing is, chances are it's awful anyway: one I got recently, by a mainstream author from a mainstream publisher, has "renaissance" spelled "re nais san ce" (with spaces) throughout the entire book, clearly an hyphenation fail (and let's not go into "wrong" words you can clearly recognise as spellchecking fails).

So in the end, you publisher-and-author are just shuffling a text file from A to B and you want me to believe your profit is the same as when you were cutting trees, pressing ink and transporting heavy boxes around the land. I just feel insulted. I know cost and price are different and what the market will bear and yadda yadda, I just don't think a text file is worth more than a few quid.


Hear hear. If the Kindle version of a book is not 10-20% less than the new paperback price, I don't buy the book. It's a simple as that.

Thankfully, there are enough books for which this isn't the case.


I'd rather buy several used books, or just get the physical copy of a new book instead of paying $15 for an ebook.

Brick and mortar used bookstores seem to be able to profit on a modest volume of physical books at $3-$12.

I'm really surprised digital textbooks at a reasonable price ($20-$80) aren't more of a thing yet. Especially as interactive apps.


>, has "renaissance" spelled "re nais san ce"

if only that was the only issue. In my experience, ebook editing (both epub & mobi) is always pitiful. Theorically, pdfs can be nice but unless you are extremely lucky and the document size matches the device you are trying to read it on, you are out of luck. Even providing a reasonably sized cover seems impossible.

Do we need a new format dedicated to ebooks ? or do publishers simply need to start editing for the digital era ?


I believe that the right book at the right time can change your perspective, maybe your life. £15 is a pretty small price to dive into a well-written book on a subject, practically the moment your interest is sparked in the subject. Other conveniences - the fact that you don't have to trudge hundreds of pounds of books every time you move, the ability to read on any device - arguably make them more valuable than their physical counterparts to me, at least.


I would pay 15 pounds for a life-changing book, but not for my next pulp fantasy. That's just way too much, especially when the paper book costs around the same or less.


For me the only "ebook" that truly exists is a PDF/file that I can handle the way I want. I never considered the kindle-amazon combo to be an option. From amazon I only buy physical books, and will continue to do so until the stuff I buy can be used the way I want, on linux, with the reader I want.

There's no point in buying inferior media, especially when the price difference is so small.

An mind, I regularly use PDFs for searching/references, but I still read books just fine. I would need 4-5 e-ink readers to be able to do what I currently do with regular books, they would need to be A4 size at least, and will never settle for anything which is not a dumb PDF visualizer with no strings attached.

Until then, books will continue to live strong on my bookshelf.


PDFs are horrible when it comes to different screen sizes, though. I mean, horrible to the point of near unusablility.

The ebook formats (both EPUB and Kindle) work very well indeed on devices ranging from a small phone screen to a large desktop monitor. They're not "inferior" to PDF in the slightest in that respect.

There are still niches where PDF wins, but that's certainly not the case for casual fiction.


I don't care so much about the format. I never used epub because nothing I ever used came in epub. I usually get PDFs along with books I buy (which is ironic, but appreciated), but never epub so far.

My main complaint is that these readers come with DRM. As far as the format is concerned, I would be fine with almost anything.


I stopped buying technical books approximately 15 years ago. Nowadays I much prefer (online) tutorials along with the (online) reference manual with user comments. In fact, you could quite easily crowd author and publish these things. We could use better software for that, though, because Wikipedia's mediawiki is only so so for that purpose. Furthermore, most reference manuals and tutorial collections do not sufficiently solicit user commenting and other user participation. Books printed on paper do not allow for user involvement at all. Even for novels, I would prefer to read them with user involvement in one way or another. I cannot imagine one type of book that would not benefit from user interaction.


For adult fiction, I doubt any of us care how or where people read. It's an uncomplicated example. Instead, consider something like scientific research. The possibilities seem endless when it comes to putting research online: richer multimedia, raw data sets, crowdsourcing, timely publication, etc. But paper (and parchment) is still a more reliable archival format, which could be crucial on some unfortunate day in the (hopefully distant) future.

For content that matters, I wonder how long paper will be able to keep up with digital, and what the long-term effects will be either way.


Scientific journals haven't done diddly with the internet but use it as a glorified magazine printing device in the time they've been on it so far. It's possible that's just because they're stupid, but I wonder how much of it is creating scarcity. e.g: You don't make money by sharing your raw data with the world and having it networked with other data to make it easily searchable, you make money by keeping a stranglehold on the data and charging £20 a pop to read a summary with the analysis you want people to have of it stapled to the front.


Do scientific journals count as books? Have they ever been novelized? I feel like they might fall outside the scope of the topic.


The only thing I miss when using my kindle is going to the used bookstores and hunting for treasures (generally obscure sci-fi for $1 per paperback).

But my kindle 4 lets me stay in sync with my phone (which I can use in the dark and outside the house unprepared, both of which come up a lot). So I tend to read kindle books still, despite a rather large collection of unread fiction.


While I used to be the guy that would carry a book on my mass-transit commute, I found that the (admittedly minor) headaches of doing so were contributing to my reading less and less.

Having to carry a book around is fine if it's a small paperback, but for books I just couldn't wait for, I found that my laptop bag was cramped enough without trying to carry the hardback Game of Thrones, so I ended up prioritizing taking smaller books on the commute, which meant that I had books at home that I wasn't reading. Meanwhile, the Kindle is smaller than a paperback. Advantage: Kindle.

If I was nearing the end of a book, I would just stop taking it, because (for me at least), the idea that I might take a book into my commute, finish it, and not have a book to read on the way home was a hassle. Moreover, I had to carry the already-read book around for the rest of the day. With the Kindle, I could finish one book and start the next. Advantage: Kindle.

Bookmarking / placeholding doesn't need much discussion, but I definitely found that on the Metro, I lost my place a lot more often than reading on my porch. Advantage: Kindle.

Goodreads integration. I like sharing my thoughts on books, but more specifically, I like sharing my ratings of books... mostly for myself, so that when I'm looking for a new book and nothing is jumping out at me, I can check out my Goodreads review, find other books by authors I rated highly, and just grab the next book from an author I previously enjoyed. With paper books, I found that I would often forget to update my rankings, while my Kindle asks at the end of every book. Advantage: Kindle.

To those who suggest that paper is better on the eyes than e-ink, I can't assert scientifically either way, but as a programmer who spends too much time in front of a screen, I can only say that having begun with the Kindle software on an iPad, and eventually moved to the Kindle hardware, the Kindle is MUCH better on the eyes than the iPad. On the scale of paper to iPad, the Kindle feels like it comes closer to paper than iPad, if it's not exactly the same.

While I acknowledge that the above quibbles are in fact quibbles, and possibly unique only to me, on the whole, I've found that keeping my Kindle on me just means that I end up reading more, which is the far better alternative.


I have a Kobo but that doesn't matter (correct me if I'm wrong). I really miss the ability to flip pages to re-read relevant passages before getting back to where I left off my reading. I also like the weight of the books and visually and mentally mapping where I am in the book by comparing read pages and unread pages.

I don't know how it is on the Kindle but I have a small notebook where I jot down thoughts and notes. The Kobo software sucks for that (and 2 Kobo crashes deleting my notes and everything else taught me not to use the note taking feature, bookmarking and getpocket integration).

I think e-reader are convenient but paper is still a better experience. Except for lying in bed on one side :). And page turning makes no sound.


The Kindle has highlighting and note-taking ability built-in.

The responsiveness on the e-ink keyboard isn't fantastic, but it's decent enough for short note-taking, and highlighting is dead simple.


To those who suggest that paper is better on the eyes than e-ink

Is there anybody who actually knows what e-ink is who suggests this?


There was another comment (since deleted) and this one[1] when I posted that.

[1] - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10060281


Other than the occasional technical book, I refuse to buy e-books when reading for pleasure.

After spending all day in front of a screen, the last thing I want is another screen in my face when trying to relax with a good book at the end of the day.


Have you used a (non-backlit) Kindle or other e-ink display for any length of time? It's difficult for people who haven't tried it to believe, but it feels nothing like staring at a screen. I spend all day in front of a screen as well, but reading my Kindle at the end of the day is no harder on my eyes than looking at a dead-tree book.


It really is completely different. It's like looking at an Etch-A-Sketch, which in the end, is not much different than looking at paper with ink or graphite particles in it.

E-Readers are one of those technologies that I'm completely unconflicted and wholly supportive of. E-books should be priced better though, to account for the inability to lend them out to people.


Between the limitations and the lack of a used market, ebooks do seem really expensive compared to dead-tree.


There is a huge selection of public domain ebooks (although admittedly less than there ought to be, with the ridiculous copyright extensions). Project Gutenberg has a lot of fairly decent quality .mobi and .epub versions out these days.

You can also get a decent amount of stuff from various Amazon programs, like Kindle Unlimited. The selection isn't always perfect, but it's not terrible either.

And of course, there are always slightly less legitimate venues for obtaining free ebooks. Your morality may vary, but I'm not sure I see a problem with torrenting an ebook if I already own the paper copy. (Thankfully, some publishers are starting to be reasonable about this, like Manning, and providing a free download if you've got the purchase code from the paper book. Others are not so great - I've tried to buy the ebook versions of some of my Apress books, and the questions that they ask to verify that you own the book, i.e. what page is figure 7-3 on?, cannot be answered correctly using the page numbers from the print edition...). There's also not the same level of organization by book publishers as the MPAA and RIAA.


> There is a huge selection of public domain ebooks (although admittedly less than there ought to be, with the ridiculous copyright extensions). Project Gutenberg has a lot of fairly decent quality .mobi and .epub versions out these days.

Poor formatting, usually, though even commercial ebooks are often bad at that (another reason I don't like them) and at least the proofreading isn't as bad as the commercial ones. Tolerable in some cases—I've read a few.

But if it's a work originally written in a language you don't read, the best translations (easiest to read, most accurate, best balance of the two, take your pick) are usually still covered by copyright. The quality difference between those and what's available from PG is often large.


Yeah, I just had corrective eye surgery and the Kindle is just as easy on my eyes as a book. Easier, even because I can enlarge the text when my eyes get tired.


I understand where you are coming from, really, I do. My eyes are strained too and I recently got a Kindle (purposely without the backlight) and it is amazing. I'd recommend to give it a try - but I can't really speak for the backlit versions.


Seconded. My (non-backlit) Kindle really doesn't feel like I'm reading from a screen. It's a totally different experience from reading on my phone or laptop.


I have the paperwhite, and the backlight is really easy on the eyes, I actually prefer the backlight somewhere between 8-12 (the max setting is 20), as opposed to using the lowest setting, because it makes the page seem whiter, instead of like it is emitting light.

I did recently crack a small section of my kindle's screen when I dropped something heavy on it, and now the backlight bleeds through the small hole with the intensity of a thousand suns.... But before then, it was very comfortable, and I'll probably buy a replacement.


No epaper Kindle has a backlight. The Paperwhite and Voyage are front-lit and are AMAZING!


It's worth making the distinction between frontlit and backlit ereaders too. I have a frontlit Nook and other than the lights being a bit bluer than I'd like, it's much more comfortable to read on than my tablet at the lowest brightness.


What about audio books? I've read more in the last few years than the decade before, since I switched almost entirely to audio books. In many cases they are much better than the printed version. Case in point, Ulysses by James Joyce. The audible.com spoken version is a masterpiece, and this is definitely a book that's meant to be listened to.


Audio books has made "reading" a hobby for me. I never thought I was the type that really enjoyed reading a good book. After switching from radio to audio books while driving, traffic has almost become enjoyable (not quite, but you get the idea). I've read so many books the past few years, it's amazing. It feels like it increases your brain's learning rate, or at the very least, it gives you some very interesting topics to talk about.


Twenty years ago I listened to an audiobook version of a poetic translation of the Iliad. It was just eye-opening, vastly better than reading the book -- went from frequently being tricky to focus on to just right. Not surprising, seeing that's how it was originally meant to be heard.

I've been meaning to follow-up with Beowulf, but haven't gotten around to it yet...


> Adult fiction - particularly romantic and erotic - has migrated strongly to the e-book, whereas cookery and religious books still do well in print, as do books with illustrations. All for fairly obvious reasons.

Like writing on a notepad, reading a physical book does a good job of communicating with body language what you're doing. And if you believe in judging books by their cover, the book cover provides further information about its subject. And you can leave physical books in public places to start conversations.

Additionally, large books like cookbooks and illustrated books often come in a large form factor that tablets struggle to match. That's not too surprising, given that humans have been making books for about half a century, but only making tablets for maybe a decade.

And it's mostly the books we don't want others to know we're reading (adult fiction) for which we use the e-reader, where others can't tell what we're reading.


Slight correction, but humans have been making books for over half a millennium. We've got way more experience making them than tablets.

I use my kindle for everything though, I like that it doesn't give strangers any starting point for a conversation, regardless of what I'm reading.


I have multiple readers, including a Kindle DX and a Sony PRS-505 (still works like new!).

Print books are still awesome though, and I just pulled a few off the shelf for re-reading. But now there is freedom of balance. We have a whole carload of books on its way to the Good Will. There isn't an inherent reason to simply hold on to them anymore. So now we can keep what we want to keep; and let the rest be digital (which is easier to archive anyway).

I can't see being extreme either way. My Kindle DX works great for technical books; and I can keep another copy ready for viewing on the computer while I'm coding. My little Sony will show whatever fiction/non-fiction I throw at it (after conversion) and the battery is somehow still healthy. I'm looking to get a used Nook Glow though; as I'm tired of providing my own light.

But I'll still stop in the book store and browse the fiction. It's not only easier that digital browsing, but more fun.


Both for me.

For good or ill there are books that only exist in dead tree form. I still buy them. I don't entirely miss them to be honest, but for casual reading or it seems super technical things from ages ago, dead tree is where its at.

For recent things though relating to programming, I honestly can't be arsed to use dead tree form. Being able to have updates to books, sync notes/highlights/blah electronic books beat regular books entirely.

In my mind technology just expanded the definition of what a book is.




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