BiblioTech: The Country’s First Bookless Library Opens in Texas

This week, an all-digital public library in Bexar County, Texas opened its doors. The facility offers 10,000 free e-books for the 1.7 million residents of the county (which includes San Antonio). NPR has more:

On its website, the Bexar County BiblioTech library explains how its patrons can access free eBooks and audio books. To read an eBook on their own device, users must have the 3M Cloud Library app, which they can link to their library card.

The app includes a countdown of days a reader has to finish a book — starting with 14 days, according to My San Antonio.

The library has a physical presence, as well, with 600 e-readers and 48 computer stations, in addition to laptops and tablets. People can also come for things like kids’ story time and computer classes, according to the library’s website.

Is this the future of the library? I sure hope that physical books will remain a core of the library for years to come.

Another Reason of DRM Stupidity

Another day, another story makes the news on why Digital Rights Management (DRM) is bad. The Consumerist reports of B&N denying access to a purchased e-book because the purchaser’s credit card has expired:

Yesterday, I tried to download an ebook I paid for, and previously put on my Nook, a few months ago. When I tried, I got an error message stating I could not download the book because the credit card on file had expired. But, I already paid for it. Who cares if the credit card is expired? It has long since been paid for, so the status of the card on file has nothing to do with my ability to download said book. I didn’t see anything in the terms of service about this either, but it’s possible I missed it.

There’s a good discussion of this DRM stupidity at TechDirt.

From earlier this year, you might want to check out this Lifehacker article explaining how to strip DRM from your ebooks.

The Worst of DRM

This blog post offers a cautionary story on how Amazon can wipe out your entire account:

As a long-term writer about technology, DRM, privacy and user rights, this Amazon example shows the very worst of DRM. If the retailer, in this case Amazon, thinks you’re a crook, they will throw you out and take away everything that you bought. And if you disagree, you’re totally outlawed. Not only is your account closed, all your books that you paid for are gone. With DRM, you don’t buy and own books, you merely rent them for as long as the retailer finds it convenient.

One reason I still prefer to own physical books versus e-books.

Your E-Book Is Reading You

With the increased proliferation of e-books, publishers are using data analytics to determine what and how people are reading on their e-book devices. The Wall Street Journal provides some detail:

Barnes & Noble, which accounts for 25% to 30% of the e-book market through its Nook e-reader, has recently started studying customers’ digital reading behavior. Data collected from Nooks reveals, for example, how far readers get in particular books, how quickly they read and how readers of particular genres engage with books. Jim Hilt, the company’s vice president of e-books, says the company is starting to share their insights with publishers to help them create books that better hold people’s attention.

Some details on which books tend to get dropped by readers:

Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books.

Those insights are already shaping the types of books that Barnes & Noble sells on its Nook. Mr. Hilt says that when the data showed that Nook readers routinely quit long works of nonfiction, the company began looking for ways to engage readers in nonfiction and long-form journalism. They decided to launch “Nook Snaps,” short works on topics ranging from weight loss and religion to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Not very surprising, I suppose. I’d be interested in finding out what the criteria for a drop are: is it starting to read another book? No change in page numbers in a week? Longer?

Another thing to consider: giving readers what they want based on analytics can backfire. Imagine someone who’s read a longer book than they otherwise would have and their sense of accomplishment after finishing versus a publisher that tells authors to limit how and what they put on the page. As one astute publisher noted: “We’re not going to shorten War and Peace because someone didn’t finish it.”

Flat-Out Love for Amazon

Jessica Park, author of Flat-Out Love, writes about the publishing industry in her post “How Amazon Saved My Life.” It’s well worth the read in entirety, but here are the highlights:

Publishers pay terribly and infrequently. They are shockingly dumb when it comes to pricing, and if I see one more friend’s NY-pubbed ebook priced at $12.99, I’m going to scream. They do minimal marketing and leave the vast majority of work up to the author. Unless, of course, you are already a big name author. Then they fly you around the country for signings and treat you like the precious moneymaking gem that you are. The rest of us get next to nothing in terms of promotion. If your book takes off, they get the credit. If it tanks, you get the blame.

On her incredible success publishing with Amazon:

Because of Amazon and other sites, I’m making enough money that I can continue writing. I’m averaging sales of 3,500 books a month, not including the month that Amazon featured Flat-Out Love in a list of books for $3.99 and under. That month I sold 45,000 Kindle copies, and sold over 10,000 the next month. Those numbers are insane to me. Absolutely insane. The fact that I continue to sell well a year after the book’s release is humbling. Yes, I wrote a book that has earned me excellent reviews, so I take credit for that, and I worked myself to death finding bloggers to review my book (God bless my loyal bloggers who took a chance on me!), but I have to credit Amazon with giving me such a strong platform with such overwhelming visibility. I can be a writer. I am a writer.

On being connected and encouraged by the fans:

Oh, the fans are simply unbelievable. We are so directly connected to them, and the ease of communication and feedback is unparalleled. I’m learning what readers want, and I can incorporate that into my work without worrying that an editor will nix all the good stuff. Their support and enthusiasm breathes life into days when I feel particularly challenged.

And who said that the traditional publishing industry is changing?

E-Books Can’t Burn

Another pro-ebook argument, this time courtesy of Tim Parks at New York Review of Books:

Only the sequence of the words must remain inviolate. We can change everything about a text but the words themselves and the order they appear in. The literary experience does not lie in any one moment of perception, or any physical contact with a material object (even less in the “possession” of handsome masterpieces lined up on our bookshelves), but in the movement of the mind through a sequence of words from beginning to end. More than any other art form it is pure mental material, as close as one can get to thought itself. Memorized, a poem is as surely a piece of literature in our minds as it is on the page. If we say the words in sequence, even silently without opening our mouths, then we have had a literary experience—perhaps even a more intense one than a reading from the page. It’s true that our owning the object—War and Peace or Moby Dick—and organizing these and other classics according to chronology and nation of origin will give us an illusion of control: as if we had now “acquired” and “digested” and “placed” a piece of culture. Perhaps that is what people are attached to. But in fact we all know that once the sequence of words is over and the book closed what actually remains in our possession is very difficult, wonderfully difficult to pin down, a richness (or sometimes irritation) that has nothing to do with the heavy block of paper on our shelves.

The e-book, by eliminating all variations in the appearance and weight of the material object we hold in our hand and by discouraging anything but our focus on where we are in the sequence of words (the page once read disappears, the page to come has yet to appear) would seem to bring us closer than the paper book to the essence of the literary experience. Certainly it offers a more austere, direct engagement with the words appearing before us and disappearing behind us than the traditional paper book offers, giving no fetishistic gratification as we cover our walls with famous names. It is as if one had been freed from everything extraneous and distracting surrounding the text to focus on the pleasure of the words themselves. In this sense the passage from paper to e-book is not unlike the moment when we passed from illustrated children’s books to the adult version of the page that is only text. This is a medium for grown-ups.

I am not in complete agreement with the argument (especially the part I bolded above). For instance, there is something intangible that makes me want to read the classics in a hardcover versus an e-book… And what about the sense of smell? I love opening up old editions and partaking in the reading experience: sight, smell, and touch.