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Sunday, April 02, 2006

"Progress in Distributing New Book Formats"

There's an article in today's NY Times book section about the Sony Reader, which is about to get a BIG marketing push. Read the article.

Have you seen it? If not, here it is:

There are some horrible things about this, and some great ones. If it's true that some day I can go to the book store and download Harry Crews' Naked in Garden Hills instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a library edition in poor condition, that's great.

But as people who are interested in book design, what does this mean for us?

Don't discuss amongst yourselves. Do it right here. I would love to know what people think about this.


Keith said...

Are these thing still only allowing DRMed content on there? Or can I put other unprotected content I have on there? That'll make it useful or not.

The article didn't seem to address this.

Joseph said...

Engadget has some info:

The unit reads PDF files as well as Sony's proprietary (anyone surprised?) BBeB format (stands for Broadband Electronic Books). They will be releasing software for reading BBeB format on your computer so you can read books you've purchased on your PC as well as on the Reader, but apparently you can only "share" your copy of the book with up to six other devices. When pressed for details about how this "document DRM" actually works, the PR rep we spoke with had zero information -- we asked whether a Mac version of the BBeB-reading software would be released but no word on that either.

Not surpising that many are not exactly going to be lining up for this. From the ZDNet blog:

Isn't it totally obvious that compared to buying a book, which is utterly portable, requires no batteries, has a well-defined user interface, and comes equipped to be understood by most pairs of eyes, buying a crippled digital player that can only handle one kind of media–and can't even surf the Web in 2006–is a stupid idea.

pablo said...

Joseph makes a great point. There have been e-book readers for a while now (I seem to remember getting excited about the Rocket Book in or around 2000), but it's always seemed to me pretty foolish that they're a one trick pony, and not a good one at that. As book designers, we do need to find a solution for bringing printed matter for the masses into the digital realm, but I really think this is not it.

That being said, I think there will always be room for printed hard copy books. I have the sneaking suspicion that eventually what we'll see is two things: the death of the trade paperback, as it gets absorbed by digital media (think reading/listening on a laptop or a souped-up iPod, or -okay- an e-book reader); and the resurgence of small press run, high-end, library friendly hardcover books for a small market (collectors, libraries, luddites, etc).

As book designers, this is a good thing, I think. Consider the following: We design the beautifully typeset, handsome hardcover edition, and instead of having to design a cheaper, faster-to-produce edition for the mass market, you simply deliver the same design (or slightly altered to suit the needs of the media) electronically as a mass media download.

essrog said...

Digital books will make it, but not on a $300 / $400 reader (would it really have been that difficult to fold this feature into their PSPs?)

This mode of delivery lacks certain virtues of physical paperback: ease of disposability, transferability. For these and other reasons, I doubt that digital delivery will be the death of paperback ... or of paperback designs. As a pretty specific and isolated example, but the "Hard Case Crime" paperback line (reissues and original pulp genre fiction) is simply not the same product if it's offered digitally.

Digital books ought to enable booksellers the ability to get creative with pricing. In my fantasy world digital-only editions are cheaper. A sale of a physical (hc / pbk) version should automatically include the right to own / download the digital version (text - not audio). But given the sorry state of "intellectual property" recently you will understand why I describe this as my fantasy world ...

Anyway: no, this doesn't reduce the demand for book cover design. Even given the rise of digital delivery of music, there are still plenty of album covers, not to mention posters and what have you

martin said...

Book design for portable electronic books has not been much of an issue, mainly due to poor resolution, but it seems as if Sonys Reader is going to change that. All discussion on the topic I have seen up to now has concentrated on bringing "normal" books into the new format but the design challenges lie elsewhere. What happens if printed words or pictures are suddenly flexible? Imagine coffee table books where you can zoom into the image or around it, blade-runner-style (Yeah, I know it's b/w but future devices will be color). Or books that are collected in the reader but are comming from different sources, like legal texts that are transfered online to the device. The main thing here is that this device is not a computer so one has to live with limited design options. I actually think that an electronic book reader with halfway decent resolution will cary huge opportunities for book designer (and it may be fun, too).

Mike Purvis said...

I used an electronic NIV Bible on my Handspring PDA for quite a while, and I really liked it. It wasn't as good for browsing, but the full text-search features were just awesome for studies and comparisons.

That said, an entire device devoted just to book-reading? Unless it's $50 or less, I'm not biting. Programs like Plucker can bring any content to a small screen. What about devices like Microsoft's new Origami thing? Can't they fill this role?

Nicole said...

Well, I plopped down $400 for a device to read ebooks, but I ended up with an HP Pocket PC that handles almost all ebook formats easily and can surf the internet.

I like the idea behind the new reader and the e-ink tech, but it doesn't seem to improve any on what I already have other than maybe battery life. But when mine charges up in no time, that's really not an issue either.

kitty said...

Besides reading them, I love shopping for books, dawdling amongst them, picking them up, studying their covers and thumbing through the pages. And when it's a dark and stormy night, there's nothing like curling up with a book. Somehow an electronic gadget just doesn't cut it for me.

chuck said...

Books will always be around in some form or another. 8-tracks are still here :)

Austin Storm said...

In a word: renaissance. =)

Just kidding, of course, but I'm very optimistic. I don't worry about print books, they can take care of themselves, and this new e-book reader technology looks neat.