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Re: Kindle v. Netbook v. ePub, Bookworm and Stanza

From LRC, below. And an update: another reason I expect Kindle to fail: it’s not color, no touch, slow refresh, and unsuitable for any browsing. Media pads/tablets, like the rumoured iPad, the CrunchPad, even things like Archos 5 Internet Tablet, will be the book reader of choice, in my view–many people already use iPhones and iPod Touches for this, despite their small screens.

Re: Kindle v. Netbook v. ePub, Bookworm and Stanza

Posted by Stephan Kinsella on February 27, 2009 10:20 AM

Karen, your post about the Kindle is right on. I’ve been on the fence for a while about getting a Kindle, and when Kindle 2 came out, I was a bit closer. But the more I thought about it–why get it? It is expensive, it is not color, no touch screen, terrible keyboard and searching, DRM, books are not that much cheaper (they ought to be 50 cents not $10), there is no light, browsing is no good on it, you can’t easily take notes, you can’t loan or sell your book after done with it, and normal books are nicer. And I don’t subscribe to newspapers or magazines–and really, how many books do you need on a vacation? Maybe for students it replaces a bunch of textbooks–but so could a notebook or netbook computer. (See also 10 reasons to buy a Kindle 2… and 10 reasons not to.)

And now the nail in the coffin, for me, is this emerging “ePub” format and related platforms. For a brief introduction, listen to MacBreak Weekly 129 from about 1:38:26 to about 1:44:30. They discuss this very cool format called ePub, which is totally non-DRM, but can be used for both public domain or commercial works, and is very friendly for various electronic formats, like desktop, smartphones, laptops, and book readers like the Sony and BeBook readers (listed here). I’ve started to play around with it and here’s what I’ve found so far: First, you can get bookworm, a very cool, free, platform for reading ePub books online. You open an account and upload as many ePub books as you want into it–which you can get from a variety of sources. A good sample to try is Cory Doctorow’s novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town–you can download the ePub version free. Then you can read it from bookworm on your desktop, netbook, iPhone, or book reader such as the Sony and BeBook readers–Kindle doesn’t support this yet–one reason I think it’s doomed unless it gets with the program. See the Bookworm tour here. There is a mobile version for iPhone which works very well, but it also exports to a great platform for iPhone, Stanza, which puts the file in your iPhone so you don’t have to have an internet connection. (And if you are viewing a book on iPhone using bookworm, you can easily export a book to Stanza, to download it directly into your iPhone’s stanza library, if you want.)The books display nicely, optimized for whatever device you’re using–you can re-size the window, columns, font size, etc. The publisher can even embed pages into the ePub files. And I believe you can easily generate a PDF or kindle version of an ePub book; I’m still exploring how to generate ePub files from other formats.

Just as Amazon’s DRM-free music sales helped to push iTunes to adopt DRM-free music, ePub or similar formats may be what kills book DRM or the kindle–or pushes it to change. But as for me, no plans to buy a Kindle–I’ll use my iPhone or my MacBook Air (the best computer I’ve ever owned)… and good old paper books, for now.

Update: Reader Frank Gas:

I have a SONY Reader and it is wonderful. It uses open standards. All you have to do is copy pdf, html, doc or .txt (and a few other types) files onto an SD card using a Mac, Windows or Linux box and it automatically formats and categorizes them. If you use a piece of software called calibre (Mac, Win, Linux) to manage your ebooks, you can also set it up to read multiple blog ‘feeds’ and you can easily add more yourself. (Personally, I never read blogs on it as I would prefer to follow the links on my computer.)

I have tons of Mises pdfs on it. I am now reading Lew’s new book, Human Action and have 24 other Mises books in a ‘collection’ just waiting for me to get to them. In all, I have 250 books on it, including an encyclopedia, thesaurus, almanac, the complete works of Emerson, the complete ‘5 Foot Bookshelf’ (Harvard Classics), the complete Asimov and more. Most pdfs require no additional conversion or formatting except some of the older ones which are converted jpegs. Converting those, is not that hard. 90% of the Mises tiles I’ve tried ‘reflow’ when you select ‘M’ (instead of the default ‘S’).
I like to read history books that are not exactly light. In fact they are unwieldy and difficult to handle. The SONY Reader is a dream. It’s as light as a paperback and you don’t have to move it around–just turn pages with a button that falls naturally under your thumb. Additionally, you can send the NYPL $100/yr and using Adobe Digital Editions software (not sure about compatibility) you can ‘borrow’ pdf books. (I haven’t done this yet.) Maybe your local library also has this service. I also carry my camera’s owners manual and have also scanned a number of books I converted to pdf, including travel guides and translation books.

Unlike a netbook, the screen can be read in bright sunlight, will easily fit my suit jacket pocket and the battery will last for 7,500 page ‘turns’. The page refresh is about as fast as turning a page using a book. A netbook, in comparison will not fit in a pocket, is much thicker, is hot, only runs for 3 or 4 hours (if you’re lucky), is unwieldy to read with. It’s not a netbook or an ebook reader – the two devices are complementary and serve very different purposes. My Reader is also completely silent and turns on immediately. In fact, the page stays up for 30 minutes, using no power at all. Waiting in line at Wal-Mart? Read 10 pages while waiting. You’ll never do that with a netbook.

I paid C$299 (about U$240) at a local SONY Style store. I looked at the newer PRS-700, but bought the cheaper PRS-505 because the display was so much better. The internal light and touch screen on the more expensive model adds a layer of ‘fudge’ that ruins the displays ability to be read in bright light. I was always waiting for an ebook reader that had a screen as large as a hard cover book, but now think that such a size would be too large. The reflow functions works very well (make sure you have the new firmware) and holding one button, you can rotate the page 90 degrees.

Load Lew’s book and a couple more Mises pdfs onto an fat formatted SD card and go to a SONY store. After he escorts you outside into the sun to see the display, tell him to buzz off and just read a few chapters and the manual which is obviously pre-loaded. I’m warnin’ ya, when he comes back, you’ll be handing him a stack of dead presidents. If you don’t like it, you can return it within 30 days with no restocking fee (at least in Canada).

No, I’m not affiliated with any company that sells this product, I’m just very happy with my purchase. It’s changed my life.

I could rhapsodize about it for days. I often do.

The Kindle will fail, for the reasons Tim O’Reilly stated.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • James Garvey September 17, 2009, 7:09 am

    Great posting. I am waiting on the rumoured iPad. I need a multi-use device, not just an ereader. The big Issue Apple has to solve is whether they can provide the easy to read digital ink screen with a color touch screen. I have tried to use a laptop outside and it’s a challenge to see what’s onscreen, much less read a book. For now I am staying analog.

  • Stephan Kinsella September 17, 2009, 7:48 am

    I don’t think iPad will use e-ink. They’ll use a touch LCD (possibly OLED?) .

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