Life is a Mystery

25 October 2009

Big book byte week

Two bits of book news caught my eye this week, the Barnes and Nobel nook reader came out of the closet and my old friend HP announced that they are presenting University of Michigan books scanned by Google in their BookPrep system.

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To my eye the nook is a much more pleasant e-book reader than Amazon’s Kindle. I can’t imagine reading on the Kindle simply because it has all those buttons and keys on it. It feels way too much like a machine. The Nook is all smooth, with what appears to be a calm touch interface. Much more my speed. Not that I can imagine spending $250 on a single-purpose device anyway. I’d sooner read my e-books on an iPod Touch.

As much as I appreciate the Nook’s aesthetics, what really impresses me in the social aspect of Nook. For the first time that I know of, a mainstream e-book provider is planning to differentiate itself by allowing e-books with digital restrictions to be shared:

Lend eBooks to friends, nook lets you loan eBooks to friends, free of charge. Remember, what goes around comes around.

Publishers complain about the first sale doctrine which has given book owners the right to share and resell books. They have seen digital restrictions as a way to prevent the same behavior in the e-book world. I think this is horribly short sighted, since the social behavior of sharing is the best way possible to spread word about titles and authors that you love. It is great to see even a small break in this facade.

Another kind of electronic book is made accessible by HP in the BookPrep system. I didn’t notice BookPrep until the UMich announcement, but it is a great demonstration by HP that even the roughly scanned material from Google and other scanning projects will have a long digital life. They have developed a process to clean up the images of scanning projects so that the pages are legible and even pleasant to read online. I am really glad to see UMich being so proactive about getting the trove of material from the Google project into public view. Thank you John Price Wilkin and everyone else at the UMich Libraries.

Especially charming about BookPrep is the fact that after going to all the trouble to clean images of artifacts like page edges and binding curvature, the presentation software puts artificial versions of these elements back to make the experience of reading these volumes more bookish. Does the experience of reading a book really require the form of the book around it?

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I think nook indicates otherwise. I look forward to the day that nook can present all the content from BookPrep, Google Books, the Internet Archive, and all the other scanning projects out there. I think the form of the book will begin to fade, but the content still has a long life ahead.

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Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org