Posts Tagged ‘e-books’

Manual of the Warrior of Light

June 7, 2015
Manual of the Warrior of Light

Manual of the Warrior of Light

Paulo Coelho has always been a maverick in the world of publishing. But he has also been able to see much further than others.

He does not mind if his books are pirated.

A couple of years ago he released his entire e-book back catalogue at a book for the price of a song.

His argument then, and my argument too, e-books are obscenely overpriced.

He has now done it again. He has released Manual of Warrior of Light as a free e-book. Better still, he has released as ePub, which is an open source format.

Note: If you require in Kindle format (which is a propriety format of Amazon), download Calibre.

Note: To download the free e-book, click through the book.

A pity more writers do not have the vision of Paulo Coelho.

But at the end of the e-book, instead of a link to Amazon, iTunes et al, it would have been better to have encouraged to go out and buy Manual of Warrior of Light in an indy book shop.

If I buy a book, a physical book, why is there not a code, that lets me download the e-book for free? I prefer real books, nevertheless I would find useful, to be able to access all my books as e-books.

The Way of the Bow has been produced as a collaborative effort. People can download for free. If they wish, they can make a donation to support the kids in a favela.

Try before you buy, is not unique to books. Bandcamp you can listen to entire albums, pay what you think it is worth.

Selling Right Now: Monsters sold for £25, £20 over the asking price.

Selling Right Now: Monsters sold for £25, £20 over the asking price.

Jewelia did this with her album Monsters.

Amazon v Hachette-publishers-readers-writers

August 28, 2014


Amazon is locked into a bitter dispute with French publisher Hachette, but this is not the first dispute, previously it was with Macmillan.

What Amazon is trying to do is drive down the price it pays, it demands ever larger discounts, whilst pretending it is acting for readers.

The techniques Amazon adopts are those of medieval siege warfare.

With MacMillan, the buy button for any of their titles no longer worked.

With Hachette, long delays on a book, advance orders not possible.

The Penguin Random House merger, was an attempt to produce an even bigger conglomerate to challenge Amazon, or at least put up a fight.

Amazon has now not only upset publishers, it has upset writers whose books are not available, it has upset readers who are seeing much loved indie bookshops close.

The current issue is the price of e-books. Amazon wants to set the price at $9.99, Hachette wants $14-99.

Both are wrong, there are zero marginal costs associated with e-books, the price for an e-book should be less than a dollar.

The figure of $9-99 came from if a song is a 99 cents, then let us make a book $9-99. It is also a holy grail $9-99.

There are other players in the market, though they are small fry.

Publish a book and apart from well known best-selling authors, you take a risk. The majority of books go from published to remainder, or published to recycled.

Crowd sourcing removes the risk, you do not publish until you have a guaranteed number of buyers. That is the route Unbound have followed, though their books are expensive, and they have published very few books.

Writers can cut out the middle men, publish a book direct on Amazon, they retain 70%, much better than traditional publisher, but not as good as leanpub.

Disadvantage of Amazon, it is a proprietary format for a Kindle.

Kindle is an inferior e-book reader to a Kobo Touch, and the Kobo Touch uses epub, an open source format.

Leanpub, download in various formats, and with a minimum price, the reader can set what they wish to pay, and they see what goes to the publisher, what goes to the writer. The writer retains the rights.

For an audio book, there is bandcamp. Leanpub is very much offering for the written word what bandcamp offers for music and the spoken word. As with leanpub, the author retains the rights.

Publishers and the book chains have very much themselves to blame for the dire straits everyone now finds themselves in.

Adultery is an international best-seller from an international best selling author. Now if you are in the business of selling books, do you not, if you have an international best seller on your hands, pile it up and sell it fast? Not if you are Waterstone’s or WHSmith.

With Waterstone’s, you may find it on display with new releases, you may find someone who knows what your are asking for.

With WHSmith, it is far far worse. You will not find a member of staff who knows what you are asking for, you will search high and low in the store and not find it, you will probably find it not even in stock. And yet, WHSmith has Adultery on special offer at half price, and a further 20% off with a 20% off voucher. This is less than buying from Amazon. I repeat, cheaper than buying from Amazon.

Publishers are to blame. They offer the chains who cannot deliver, deep discounts, leaving indie bookshops to go bust. Offer the same discounts to indie bookshops, where they know about books, and you will sell more books.

An analogy would be indie coffee shops. An indie coffee shop, serving quality coffee, is more than able to see off the big chains with their disgusting coffee.

Amazon started with books. Books are cheap, easy to ship, fairly indestructible.

Amazon may have overstepped the mark. They are seen as a bully. They have poor working conditions, they dodge tax. They are now abusing their near monopoly position and stranglehold on the book market. Writers who are not published by Hachette may not be seeing their books blacklisted, for now. Their turn will come when the Amazon siege engines pitch up outside their publishers. And if this is what happens to the giant publishing conglomerates, what of the little publishers, where they care about books, where books have not been reduced to commodities, pile em high, sell em cheap?

Books are important, like music and art, they are part of our culture.

Pathetic attempt to justify copy protection

May 7, 2014

I listened lunchtime on BBC Radio 4 You and Yours a pathetic attempt by video industry to justify copy protection. It was a mix of myth, lies and half truths.

Long overdue, a change in the law to make it legal to copy for own personal use. But does not go far enough, we need a removal of copy protection and digital rights management from DVDs and e-books.

The person from the video industry was floundering. It was as though did not believe the garbage that was being spouted.

You can download a copy on-line.

Why should you? And it is not free if you have to pay for the data, and somewhere someone is paying for the data.

People do not choose to watch films on computers.

Really? I watch on my laptop, others watch on phones, tablets.

DRM gives the consumer choice.

Er no. DRM restricts what the consumer can do, where can watch, on what can read.

We also have the old chestnuts of pirates running off millions of illegal copies and selling them.

The reality is a greedy dinosaur industry that for years has been ripping people off, and its only answer is to criminalise potential customers.

All DRM and copy protection does, is cause major headache to users.

Want to break regional coding and copy protection, try

To copy, try

One day these behemoths will realise they are long past their sell-by date and the world has moved on.

Cappuccino and cookie at Harris + Hoole

February 7, 2014
cappuccino and cookie and Kobo Touch

cappuccino and cookie and Kobo Touch

I do not arrive until gone six o’clock, having spent most of the afternoon exchanging Kobo Touch at WHSmith, then installing software.

I try connecting Kobo Touch to Harris + Hoole wifi.

No problem, but accessing Kobo Store a waste of time.

I now see advantage of the kack-handed two stage download.

Use Kobo Store via laptop or computer to select e-book and transfer book to Kobo Library. Then, using Harris + Hoole wifi, download book to Kobo Touch.

Something to try another day.

Kobo Touch better than Kindle, has the BIG advantage of open source format for e-books, whereas Amazon Kindle is a propriety format.

Kobo Touch currently £30 in WHSmith (it was £90), the equivalent and inferior Kindle Touch is double the price.

I also recommend, download and install Calibre for e-book management.

Afternoon in Guildford

February 7, 2014
Guildford Wharf and boatman, River Wey within inches of overflowing, upstream and downstream had overflowed

Guildford Wharf and boatman, River Wey within inches of overflowing, upstream and downstream had overflowed

River Wey, Milmead road flooded

River Wey, Milmead road flooded

River Wey

River Wey

temporary flood barriers in place outside Debenhams to stop town centre flooding

temporary flood barriers in place outside Debenhams to stop town centre flooding

Days of heavy rain, last night, another storm hit, torrential rain. I am beginning to understand how Noah felt.

Today, a brief interlude between storms.

River Blackwater at North Camp Station, running high and very fast. I learn later, River Blackwater has burst its banks downstream.

North Camp to Ash, fields either flooded or waterlogged.

Guard on the train fails to walk through the train. As the train pulls into Guildford, I go off in search of the guard. He is unbelievably rude, refuses to sell me a ticket, tells me to buy at the station. Only problem is, risk harassment at barriers for not having a ticket, and have to then queue to buy a ticket.

River Wey very high, already overflowing banks. Outside Debenhams, temporary flood barriers in place.

WHSmith to exchange Kobo Touch. Now on third e-reader. But at least confirms what I had suspected, it had been taken out of the box, and tampered with, before I bought.

I had hoped to only be a few minutes at WHSmith. There over an hour.

Very late for lunch at Guildford Institute.

An exhibition of wildlife photographs, but almost impossible to see due to reflection off glass. When are people going to learn? Do not use glass! The photographs emphasises the need for rewilding of the countryside, reintroduction of lynx, beavers and wolves.

Rewilding, re-afforestation would go some way to mitigating the floods.

What we are seeing is window dressing. Time for honesty, the Somerset Levels have to be allowed to flood, the farmers have to change their farming practices, learn to work with nature, not against.

We also have to make our towns more porous. Every time a garden is paved, that increases the water run off.

The wildlife photographer, will be giving a talk next week, Wednesday afternoon.

Guildford Library. I plug in the Kobo Touch. It charges for 45 minutes, but not fully charged. I am unable to complete set up, as requires me to download and install Kobo Desktop, not possible in public library.

From Kobo Store, Alice in Wonderland.

An odd, kack-handed two stage download. Transfer to a Kobo Library, then download. I try to download, but fails.

I learn later, there is an advantage to this kack-handed method.

Back to WHSmith. Another hour, over an hour.

Using Kobo Desktop. Set up installs software on Kobo Reader, then downloads books from Kobo Library.

E-books on Kobo Store rip off prices:

  • Manuscript Found in Accra – Paulo Coelho —> £6-99
  • My Autobiography – Alex Ferguson —> £9-49
  • My Life – David Jason —> £11-99

Manuscript Found in Accra has been on offer in WHSmith at half price, and currently in Waterstone’s and WHSmith at Buy One, Get One Free, ie the paperback is less than an e-book!

The e-book on Amazon and iTunes at 99p.

What we must never forget, zero costs for e-books. Authors need to get a grip, retain the digital rights, release on leanpub, and do themselves and their readers a BIG favour.

Cappuccino and cookie in Harris + Hoole. Kobo Touch connects ok to wifi. I now find an advantage of kack-handed two stage download. Using to Kobo Touch to find books on Kobo Store, total waste of time. On the other hand, had I chosen a book, transferred to Kobo Libary, as I did earlier with Alice in Wonderland, I could then have simply downloaded from the Kobo Library using Harris + Hoole wifi to Kobo Touch.

I had intended to catch train at four o’clock, as next storm due to hit later in the day.

I catch 1900 train. It has already been raining.

At Aldershot, I see a bus leaving. Another bus in 20 minutes. Bus fails to show. Wait until 2000, a 40 minute wait for a bus.

Luckily I do make it before next storm hits. Late night, storm hits, more heavy rain.


August 21, 2013

Leanpub is not as good as bandcamp is for music, but it is the closest I have yet to find.

What I like, is that it lets the purchaser set the price, and shows how much is going to the writer.

Leanpub pays 90% royalty to authors, less a 50 cent flat fee.

The writer retains the ownership of their work.

Where I disagree with Leanpub, is write the book with audience participation (that that would work for some books) and aim at a market.

Too many books are written for a market (that could be argued for music) or written to a formula. This is a recipe for at best mediocrity.

The best books, those that stand head-and-shoulders above the rest, is where the writer (or musician) writes what they want to write, and when the reader (or listener) reads (or hears) it brings it to life.

A book (or music) is not a product, though you could be forgiven for thinking music was from programmes like X-Factor or Has Britain (not) Got Talent, but then it helps to remember these programmes showcases neither music nor talent.

One of the problems with books (and music) is they have become a commodity peddled by big publishing companies.

If you are writing software books or computer books need fast turnaround, due to software and computers dating fast. This is not true for example for a novel, though if it was to tie in with something contemporary, then yes, cannot spend a lifetime writing it.

When Charles Dickens wrote, and this was also true of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and many other writers, they did not write what we now see as complete novels, these were serialised in monthly magazines.

Wilkie Collins wrote his novels in serial form.

In fact, it is misleading to think of the novel. The novel started life as a serial, which was then collected together in a book to form a novel.

If we look at what is seen as the golden age of science fiction, this was serialised in magazines.

Today, we have writers serialising their works through blogs, taking on board reader feedback on the way (and hopefully ignoring the trolls).

We have crowd sourcing being used to fund music, and Imogen Heap even using as input for her music as we see with HeapSongs. We have musicians using soundcloud for work in progress. Musicians will also use youtube or vimeo, which may then be collected into an album, developing traction for the album.

Alex Boye has used his videos to showcase, to raise money via kickstarter for an album.

Excellent talk by Peter Armstrong co-founder of Leanpub.

Rock and Roll is Dead and The 360 Deal are good examples of e-books published by Leanpub.

The 360 Deal is a work in progress. It was decided to get the book out early. It is then available, it also gives publicity and draws in other authors. New chapters are added as updates, in much the same way that software has updates.

Serial publishing is back. Serial publishing is story telling.

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens

April 21, 2013

E-readers and tablets are becoming more popular as such technologies improve, but research suggests that reading on paper still boasts unique advantages.

In a viral YouTube video from October 2011 a one-year-old girl sweeps her fingers across an iPad’s touchscreen, shuffling groups of icons. In the following scenes she appears to pinch, swipe and prod the pages of paper magazines as though they too were screens. When nothing happens, she pushes against her leg, confirming that her finger works just fine—or so a title card would have us believe.

The girl’s father, Jean-Louis Constanza, presents “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work” as naturalistic observation—a Jane Goodall among the chimps moment—that reveals a generational transition. “Technology codes our minds,” he writes in the video’s description. “Magazines are now useless and impossible to understand, for digital natives”—that is, for people who have been interacting with digital technologies from a very early age.

Perhaps his daughter really did expect the paper magazines to respond the same way an iPad would. Or maybe she had no expectations at all—maybe she just wanted to touch the magazines. Babies touch everything. Young children who have never seen a tablet like the iPad or an e-reader like the Kindle will still reach out and run their fingers across the pages of a paper book; they will jab at an illustration they like; heck, they will even taste the corner of a book. Today’s so-called digital natives still interact with a mix of paper magazines and books, as well as tablets, smartphones and e-readers; using one kind of technology does not preclude them from understanding another.

Nevertheless, the video brings into focus an important question: How exactly does the technology we use to read change the way we read? How reading on screens differs from reading on paper is relevant not just to the youngest among us, but to just about everyone who reads—to anyone who routinely switches between working long hours in front of a computer at the office and leisurely reading paper magazines and books at home; to people who have embraced e-readers for their convenience and portability, but admit that for some reason they still prefer reading on paper; and to those who have already vowed to forgo tree pulp entirely. As digital texts and technologies become more prevalent, we gain new and more mobile ways of reading—but are we still reading as attentively and thoroughly? How do our brains respond differently to onscreen text than to words on paper? Should we be worried about dividing our attention between pixels and ink or is the validity of such concerns paper-thin?

Since at least the 1980s researchers in many different fields—including psychology, computer engineering, and library and information science—have investigated such questions in more than one hundred published studies. The matter is by no means settled. Before 1992 most studies concluded that people read slower, less accurately and less comprehensively on screens than on paper. Studies published since the early 1990s, however, have produced more inconsistent results: a slight majority has confirmed earlier conclusions, but almost as many have found few significant differences in reading speed or comprehension between paper and screens. And recent surveys suggest that although most people still prefer paper—especially when reading intensively—attitudes are changing as tablets and e-reading technology improve and reading digital books for facts and fun becomes more common. In the U.S., e-books currently make up between 15 and 20 percent of all trade book sales.

Even so, evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done. A parallel line of research focuses on people’s attitudes toward different kinds of media. Whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper.

“There is physicality in reading,” says developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, “maybe even more than we want to think about as we lurch into digital reading—as we move forward perhaps with too little reflection. I would like to preserve the absolute best of older forms, but know when to use the new.”

Navigating textual landscapes

Understanding how reading on paper is different from reading on screens requires some explanation of how the brain interprets written language. We often think of reading as a cerebral activity concerned with the abstract—with thoughts and ideas, tone and themes, metaphors and motifs. As far as our brains are concerned, however, text is a tangible part of the physical world we inhabit. In fact, the brain essentially regards letters as physical objects because it does not really have another way of understanding them. As Wolf explains in her book Proust and the Squid, we are not born with brain circuits dedicated to reading. After all, we did not invent writing until relatively recently in our evolutionary history, around the fourth millennium B.C. So the human brain improvises a brand-new circuit for reading by weaving together various regions of neural tissue devoted to other abilities, such as spoken language, motor coordination and vision.

Some of these repurposed brain regions are specialized for object recognition—they are networks of neurons that help us instantly distinguish an apple from an orange, for example, yet classify both as fruit. Just as we learn that certain features—roundness, a twiggy stem, smooth skin—characterize an apple, we learn to recognize each letter by its particular arrangement of lines, curves and hollow spaces. Some of the earliest forms of writing, such as Sumerian cuneiform, began as characters shaped like the objects they represented—a person’s head, an ear of barley, a fish. Some researchers see traces of these origins in modern alphabets: C as crescent moon, S as snake. Especially intricate characters—such as Chinese hanzi and Japanese kanji—activate motor regions in the brain involved in forming those characters on paper: The brain literally goes through the motions of writing when reading, even if the hands are empty. Researchers recently discovered that the same thing happens in a milder way when some people read cursive.

Beyond treating individual letters as physical objects, the human brain may also perceive a text in its entirety as a kind of physical landscape. When we read, we construct a mental representation of the text in which meaning is anchored to structure. The exact nature of such representations remains unclear, but they are likely similar to the mental maps we create of terrain—such as mountains and trails—and of man-made physical spaces, such as apartments and offices. Both anecdotally and in published studies, people report that when trying to locate a particular piece of written information they often remember where in the text it appeared. We might recall that we passed the red farmhouse near the start of the trail before we started climbing uphill through the forest; in a similar way, we remember that we read about Mr. Darcy rebuffing Elizabeth Bennett on the bottom of the left-hand page in one of the earlier chapters.

In most cases, paper books have more obvious topography than onscreen text. An open paperback presents a reader with two clearly defined domains—the left and right pages—and a total of eight corners with which to orient oneself. A reader can focus on a single page of a paper book without losing sight of the whole text: one can see where the book begins and ends and where one page is in relation to those borders. One can even feel the thickness of the pages read in one hand and pages to be read in the other. Turning the pages of a paper book is like leaving one footprint after another on the trail—there’s a rhythm to it and a visible record of how far one has traveled. All these features not only make text in a paper book easily navigable, they also make it easier to form a coherent mental map of the text.

In contrast, most screens, e-readers, smartphones and tablets interfere with intuitive navigation of a text and inhibit people from mapping the journey in their minds. A reader of digital text might scroll through a seamless stream of words, tap forward one page at a time or use the search function to immediately locate a particular phrase—but it is difficult to see any one passage in the context of the entire text. As an analogy, imagine if Google Maps allowed people to navigate street by individual street, as well as to teleport to any specific address, but prevented them from zooming out to see a neighborhood, state or country. Although e-readers like the Kindle and tablets like the iPad re-create pagination—sometimes complete with page numbers, headers and illustrations—the screen only displays a single virtual page: it is there and then it is gone. Instead of hiking the trail yourself, the trees, rocks and moss move past you in flashes with no trace of what came before and no way to see what lies ahead.

“The implicit feel of where you are in a physical book turns out to be more important than we realized,” says Abigail Sellen of Microsoft Research Cambridge in England and co-author of The Myth of the Paperless Office. “Only when you get an e-book do you start to miss it. I don’t think e-book manufacturers have thought enough about how you might visualize where you are in a book.”

At least a few studies suggest that by limiting the way people navigate texts, screens impair comprehension. In a study published in January 2013 Anne Mangen of the University of Stavanger in Norway and her colleagues asked 72 10th-grade students of similar reading ability to study one narrative and one expository text, each about 1,500 words in length. Half the students read the texts on paper and half read them in pdf files on computers with 15-inch liquid-crystal display (LCD) monitors. Afterward, students completed reading-comprehension tests consisting of multiple-choice and short-answer questions, during which they had access to the texts. Students who read the texts on computers performed a little worse than students who read on paper.

Based on observations during the study, Mangen thinks that students reading pdf files had a more difficult time finding particular information when referencing the texts. Volunteers on computers could only scroll or click through the pdfs one section at a time, whereas students reading on paper could hold the text in its entirety in their hands and quickly switch between different pages. Because of their easy navigability, paper books and documents may be better suited to absorption in a text. “The ease with which you can find out the beginning, end and everything inbetween and the constant connection to your path, your progress in the text, might be some way of making it less taxing cognitively, so you have more free capacity for comprehension,” Mangen says.

Supporting this research, surveys indicate that screens and e-readers interfere with two other important aspects of navigating texts: serendipity and a sense of control. People report that they enjoy flipping to a previous section of a paper book when a sentence surfaces a memory of something they read earlier, for example, or quickly scanning ahead on a whim. People also like to have as much control over a text as possible—to highlight with chemical ink, easily write notes to themselves in the margins as well as deform the paper however they choose.

Because of these preferences—and because getting away from multipurpose screens improves concentration—people consistently say that when they really want to dive into a text, they read it on paper. In a 2011 survey of graduate students at National Taiwan University, the majority reported browsing a few paragraphs online before printing out the whole text for more in-depth reading. A 2008 survey of millennials (people born between 1980 and the early 2000s) at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island concluded that, “when it comes to reading a book, even they prefer good, old-fashioned print”. And in a 2003 study conducted at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, nearly 80 percent of 687 surveyed students preferred to read text on paper as opposed to on a screen in order to “understand it with clarity”.

Surveys and consumer reports also suggest that the sensory experiences typically associated with reading—especially tactile experiences—matter to people more than one might assume. Text on a computer, an e-reader and—somewhat ironically—on any touch-screen device is far more intangible than text on paper. Whereas a paper book is made from pages of printed letters fixed in a particular arrangement, the text that appears on a screen is not part of the device’s hardware—it is an ephemeral image. When reading a paper book, one can feel the paper and ink and smooth or fold a page with one’s fingers; the pages make a distinctive sound when turned; and underlining or highlighting a sentence with ink permanently alters the paper’s chemistry. So far, digital texts have not satisfyingly replicated this kind of tactility (although some companies are innovating, at least with keyboards).

Paper books also have an immediately discernible size, shape and weight. We might refer to a hardcover edition of War and Peace as a hefty tome or a paperback Heart of Darkness as a slim volume. In contrast, although a digital text has a length—which is sometimes represented with a scroll or progress bar—it has no obvious shape or thickness. An e-reader always weighs the same, regardless of whether you are reading Proust’s magnum opus or one of Hemingway’s short stories. Some researchers have found that these discrepancies create enough “haptic dissonance” to dissuade some people from using e-readers. People expect books to look, feel and even smell a certain way; when they do not, reading sometimes becomes less enjoyable or even unpleasant. For others, the convenience of a slim portable e-reader outweighs any attachment they might have to the feel of paper books.

Exhaustive reading

Although many old and recent studies conclude that people understand what they read on paper more thoroughly than what they read on screens, the differences are often small. Some experiments, however, suggest that researchers should look not just at immediate reading comprehension, but also at long-term memory. In a 2003 study Kate Garland of the University of Leicester and her colleagues asked 50 British college students to read study material from an introductory economics course either on a computer monitor or in a spiral-bound booklet. After 20 minutes of reading Garland and her colleagues quizzed the students with multiple-choice questions. Students scored equally well regardless of the medium, but differed in how they remembered the information.

Psychologists distinguish between remembering something—which is to recall a piece of information along with contextual details, such as where, when and how one learned it—and knowing something, which is feeling that something is true without remembering how one learned the information. Generally, remembering is a weaker form of memory that is likely to fade unless it is converted into more stable, long-term memory that is “known” from then on. When taking the quiz, volunteers who had read study material on a monitor relied much more on remembering than on knowing, whereas students who read on paper depended equally on remembering and knowing. Garland and her colleagues think that students who read on paper learned the study material more thoroughly more quickly; they did not have to spend a lot of time searching their minds for information from the text, trying to trigger the right memory—they often just knew the answers.

Other researchers have suggested that people comprehend less when they read on a screen because screen-based reading is more physically and mentally taxing than reading on paper. E-ink is easy on the eyes because it reflects ambient light just like a paper book, but computer screens, smartphones and tablets like the iPad shine light directly into people’s faces. Depending on the model of the device, glare, pixilation and flickers can also tire the eyes. LCDs are certainly gentler on eyes than their predecessor, cathode-ray tubes (CRT), but prolonged reading on glossy self-illuminated screens can cause eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision. Such symptoms are so common among people who read on screens—affecting around 70 percent of people who work long hours in front of computers—that the American Optometric Association officially recognizes computer vision syndrome.

Erik Wästlund of Karlstad University in Sweden has conducted some particularly rigorous research on whether paper or screens demand more physical and cognitive resources. In one of his experiments 72 volunteers completed the Higher Education Entrance Examination READ test—a 30-minute, Swedish-language reading-comprehension exam consisting of multiple-choice questions about five texts averaging 1,000 words each. People who took the test on a computer scored lower and reported higher levels of stress and tiredness than people who completed it on paper.

In another set of experiments 82 volunteers completed the READ test on computers, either as a paginated document or as a continuous piece of text. Afterward researchers assessed the students’ attention and working memory, which is a collection of mental talents that allow people to temporarily store and manipulate information in their minds. Volunteers had to quickly close a series of pop-up windows, for example, sort virtual cards or remember digits that flashed on a screen. Like many cognitive abilities, working memory is a finite resource that diminishes with exertion.

Although people in both groups performed equally well on the READ test, those who had to scroll through the continuous text did not do as well on the attention and working-memory tests. Wästlund thinks that scrolling—which requires a reader to consciously focus on both the text and how they are moving it—drains more mental resources than turning or clicking a page, which are simpler and more automatic gestures. A 2004 study conducted at the University of Central Florida reached similar conclusions.

Attitude adjustments

An emerging collection of studies emphasizes that in addition to screens possibly taxing people’s attention more than paper, people do not always bring as much mental effort to screens in the first place. Subconsciously, many people may think of reading on a computer or tablet as a less serious affair than reading on paper. Based on a detailed 2005 survey of 113 people in northern California, Ziming Liu of San Jose State University concluded that people reading on screens take a lot of shortcuts—they spend more time browsing, scanning and hunting for keywords compared with people reading on paper, and are more likely to read a document once, and only once.

When reading on screens, people seem less inclined to engage in what psychologists call metacognitive learning regulation—strategies such as setting specific goals, rereading difficult sections and checking how much one has understood along the way. In a 2011 experiment at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, college students took multiple-choice exams about expository texts either on computers or on paper. Researchers limited half the volunteers to a meager seven minutes of study time; the other half could review the text for as long as they liked. When under pressure to read quickly, students using computers and paper performed equally well. When managing their own study time, however, volunteers using paper scored about 10 percentage points higher. Presumably, students using paper approached the exam with a more studious frame of mind than their screen-reading peers, and more effectively directed their attention and working memory.

Perhaps, then, any discrepancies in reading comprehension between paper and screens will shrink as people’s attitudes continue to change. The star of “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work” is three-and-a-half years old today and no longer interacts with paper magazines as though they were touchscreens, her father says. Perhaps she and her peers will grow up without the subtle bias against screens that seems to lurk in the minds of older generations. In current research for Microsoft, Sellen has learned that many people do not feel much ownership of e-books because of their impermanence and intangibility: “They think of using an e-book, not owning an e-book,” she says. Participants in her studies say that when they really like an electronic book, they go out and get the paper version. This reminds Sellen of people’s early opinions of digital music, which she has also studied. Despite initial resistance, people love curating, organizing and sharing digital music today. Attitudes toward e-books may transition in a similar way, especially if e-readers and tablets allow more sharing and social interaction than they currently do. Books on the Kindle can only be loaned once, for example.

To date, many engineers, designers and user-interface experts have worked hard to make reading on an e-reader or tablet as close to reading on paper as possible. E-ink resembles chemical ink and the simple layout of the Kindle’s screen looks like a page in a paperback. Likewise, Apple’s iBooks attempts to simulate the overall aesthetic of paper books, including somewhat realistic page-turning. Jaejeung Kim of KAIST Institute of Information Technology Convergence in South Korea and his colleagues have designed an innovative and unreleased interface that makes iBooks seem primitive. When using their interface, one can see the many individual pages one has read on the left side of the tablet and all the unread pages on the right side, as if holding a paperback in one’s hands. A reader can also flip bundles of pages at a time with a flick of a finger.

But why, one could ask, are we working so hard to make reading with new technologies like tablets and e-readers so similar to the experience of reading on the very ancient technology that is paper? Why not keep paper and evolve screen-based reading into something else entirely? Screens obviously offer readers experiences that paper cannot. Scrolling may not be the ideal way to navigate a text as long and dense as Moby Dick, but the New York Times, Washington Post, ESPN and other media outlets have created beautiful, highly visual articles that depend entirely on scrolling and could not appear in print in the same way. Some Web comics and infographics turn scrolling into a strength rather than a weakness. Similarly, Robin Sloan has pioneered the tap essay for mobile devices. The immensely popular interactive Scale of the Universe tool could not have been made on paper in any practical way. New e-publishing companies like Atavist offer tablet readers long-form journalism with embedded interactive graphics, maps, timelines, animations and sound tracks. And some writers are pairing up with computer programmers to produce ever more sophisticated interactive fiction and nonfiction in which one’s choices determine what one reads, hears and sees next.

When it comes to intensively reading long pieces of plain text, paper and ink may still have the advantage. But text is not the only way to read.

— Ferris Jabr

Published in Scientific American.

Don’t Burn Your Books—Print Is Here to Stay

January 6, 2013
The Book of the Future

The Book of the Future

The e-book had its moment, but sales are slowing. Readers still want to turn those crisp, bound pages.

Lovers of ink and paper, take heart. Reports of the death of the printed book may be exaggerated.

Ever since Amazon introduced its popular Kindle e-reader five years ago, pundits have assumed that the future of book publishing is digital. Opinions about the speed of the shift from page to screen have varied. But the consensus has been that digitization, having had its way with music and photographs and maps, would in due course have its way with books as well. By 2015, one media maven predicted a few years back, traditional books would be gone.

Half a decade into the e-book revolution, though, the prognosis for traditional books is suddenly looking brighter. Hardcover books are displaying surprising resiliency. The growth in e-book sales is slowing markedly. And purchases of e-readers are actually shrinking, as consumers opt instead for multipurpose tablets. It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audio books—a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.

How attached are Americans to old-fashioned books? Just look at the results of a Pew Research Center survey released last month. The report showed that the percentage of adults who have read an e-book rose modestly over the past year, from 16% to 23%. But it also revealed that fully 89% of regular book readers said that they had read at least one printed book during the preceding 12 months. Only 30% reported reading even a single e-book in the past year.

What’s more, the Association of American Publishers reported that the annual growth rate for e-book sales fell abruptly during 2012, to about 34%. That’s still a healthy clip, but it is a sharp decline from the triple-digit growth rates of the preceding four years.

The initial e-book explosion is starting to look like an aberration. The technology’s early adopters, a small but enthusiastic bunch, made the move to e-books quickly and in a concentrated period. Further converts will be harder to come by. A 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research revealed that just 16% of Americans have actually purchased an e-book and that a whopping 59% say they have “no interest” in buying one.

Meanwhile, the shift from e-readers to tablets may also be dampening e-book purchases. Sales of e-readers plunged 36% in 2012, according to estimates from IHS iSuppli, while tablet sales exploded. When forced to compete with the easy pleasures of games, videos and Facebook on devices like the iPad and the Kindle Fire, e-books lose a lot of their allure. The fact that an e-book can’t be sold or given away after it’s read also reduces the perceived value of the product.

Beyond the practical reasons for the decline in e-book growth, something deeper may be going on. We may have misjudged the nature of the electronic book.

From the start, e-book purchases have skewed disproportionately toward fiction, with novels representing close to two-thirds of sales. Digital best-seller lists are dominated in particular by genre novels, like thrillers and romances. Screen reading seems particularly well-suited to the kind of light entertainments that have traditionally been sold in supermarkets and airports as mass-market paperbacks.

These are, by design, the most disposable of books. We read them quickly and have no desire to hang onto them after we’ve turned the last page. We may even be a little embarrassed to be seen reading them, which makes anonymous digital versions all the more appealing. The “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon probably wouldn’t have happened if e-books didn’t exist.

Readers of weightier fare, including literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, have been less inclined to go digital. They seem to prefer the heft and durability, the tactile pleasures, of what we still call “real books”—the kind you can set on a shelf.

E-books, in other words, may turn out to be just another format—an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback. That would fit with the discovery that once people start buying digital books, they don’t necessarily stop buying printed ones. In fact, according to Pew, nearly 90% of e-book readers continue to read physical volumes. The two forms seem to serve different purposes.

Having survived 500 years of technological upheaval, Gutenberg’s invention may withstand the digital onslaught as well. There’s something about a crisply printed, tightly bound book that we don’t seem eager to let go of.

— Nicholas Carr is the author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

A breath of fresh air from Nicholas Carr in the Wall Street Journal.

Forget the hype that has surrounded e-books, real books, those books you hold in your hands, are here to stay.

I recently downloaded from tax dodging Amazon NeverSeconds at a special price of 99p.

Can I simply download onto laptop and do as I wish? Oh no. I have to download to a Kindle, or first download and install a Kindle reader then download NeverSeconds to the Kindle reader.

The Kindle reader is a joke. The layout of NeverSeconds is abysmal. Whether this is the Kindle reader or the e-book I do not know.

I decided to transfer to Calibre which has a superior reader. Not possible.

I searched for NeverSeconds, found it, though hidden by a code name. Dragged and dropped into Calibre. Success? Err no. I hit the obscenity of DRM, it will not let me read NeverSeconds. Yes, I can strip off the DRM, but why should I be put to all this trouble?

When I buy a book, I expect to be free to do as I wish with it. Only with an e-book, you have not bought it, you have leased it (often at an obscene price) and are not free to do with it as you wish. Oh and to add to the obscenity, books downloaded from tax dodger Amazon are a propriety format, not an Open Source format like ePub which can be read on many devices, and Amazon at a whim can delete all the books on your Kindle.

Attendance at the e-book debate at the Guildford Book Festival illustrated the interest or lack thereof in e-books. It was very poorly attended.

Sales of e-readers peaked in 2011 at 25 million and have now gone into decline. 25 million is infinitesimal to the number of people who read. A fad that never really took off, hype and nothing more, and now is in terminal decline.

The irony is that failing book chain Waterstone’s decided to promote the Kindle in 2012 in its stores. An act of sheer desperation to promote a product of a rival, to encourage download of e-books from a rival.

Waterstone’s lacks any businesses acumen, no understanding of books or the book trade. With NeverSeconds, Waterstone’s had a potential Christmas best seller on their hands. It was not on display, the staff not a clue. It would be difficult to imagine any writer had more publicity than Martha Payne, and yet Waterstone’s failed to capitalise on it. A repeat of what happened in 2011 with Aleph. An international best seller, a world renowned author, but not on display, the staff not a clue.

The future of books is likely to be many small publishers (who do not treat books as a commodity), small publishers like Cargo Publishing, and a return of small indie bookshops, who know their books, love books.

We can see this with many indie coffee shops springing up, serving quality coffee, home made cakes. Very often these coffee shops are little artistic and literary oasis, with art on display, books to read, even to borrow. For example Café 44 has art on display.

We see this with music. A site like bandcamp provides a platform for artists to share and sell their music. Last year bandcamp passed $20 million direct into the pocket of grass root musicians. This month it may pass $30 million.

Audio books too on bandcamp, for example The Way of the Bow.

Where e-books will have a future is as a niche for specialist low volume, for those who really do prefer a Kindle to a real book, but mainly as low price, less than a dollar, no DRM, ePub Open Source format easily shared, read, and if you like, go out and buy a real book.

We saw a glimpse of this future last year when Paulo Coelho made his entire back catalogue available at less than 99 cents per e-book. Excluded The Alchemist and unfortunately restricted to North America. Within a few days downloads had increased by 4,000%, but more importantly, it led to increase in sales of real books.

E-books as hyped are a gimmick, and like all gimmicks they will pass their sell-by date and fade away.

Books are here to stay, why the surprise?

Download NeverSeconds for 99p

December 30, 2012

Technically, Cargo lose money on each sold today. We don’t care, not when 25 kids get a meal with each one. — Cargo Publishing

Thanks to the generosity of Cargo Publishing it is possible to download NeverSeconds for 99p.

NeverSeconds is for 12 days available for download from Amazon at 99p. Double good news, it will still pay for 25 dinners in Africa.

NeverSeconds co-authored by Martha and David Payne, is the story behind the food blog NeverSeconds.

For each copy of NeverSeconds sold, a donation of 25 meals to Mary’s Meals to feed 25 schoolchildren in Africa.

Pay Your Taxes by Asher Gowan is available for free download from Amazon until 1 January 2013.

Get downloading, pass to your friends, let’s get NeverSeconds and Pay Your Taxes into the Top Two places on Amazon.

Amazon e-book download is a propriety format. Download and install Calibre to manage e-books, which can also be used to convert format to ePub format which is an Open Source non-propriety format used by e-readers such as Kobo.

The Alchemist and Aleph on special offer

December 22, 2012
The Alchemist

The Alchemist

The entire Paulo Coelho back catalogue, with the exception of The Alchemist, was made available earlier this year at download for 99 cents per e-book, but restricted to US only.

The 10th anniversary edition of The Alchemist is available for download at $3.99. This is not restricted to US only.

If you receive an e-reader for Christmas and nothing to read, then download The Alchemist.

Still expensive for an e-book, but better than the usual price.

E-books are way over-priced. They are priced at what the market will bear and bear no resemblance to the actual cost of e-books which is close to zero. The manuscript is delivered to the publisher electronically, robots convert to the appropriate download format, the cost of the download platforms have been written off years ago. Contrast this with real books where there are real costs: printing, warehousing, distribution, retail.

At the e-book debate at the Guildford Book Festival the former head of digital marketing at HarperCollins said no matter how off the scale were their forecasts for e-books sales, these were far exceeded.

Calibre is a must for managing e-book libraries, stripping off DRM and converting between e-book formats.

If using a Kindle, be aware that Amazon can at any time without rhyme nor reason delete all your e-books. Keep the wifi turned off (saves battery too), download to computer, then transfer to Kindle via cable. Other reasons for not using a Kindle: a propriety format not an Open Source format for example ePub, Amazon dodge UK tax.

Aleph is available in The Works at £2.99. UK only.

The Works is a remainder bookshop chain, 99% rubbish but occasionally something worth having. The last two books of the trilogy by Carlos Ruiz Zafón set in Barcelona, The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven are on offer, but not The Shadow of the Wind.

And do not forget audio book of The Way of the Bow is free!

Out next year, Manuscript Found in Accra.

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