Do you read with your eyes, or your ears?

This article discusses the decline in ebook sales, and explains some of the potential future challenges, once of which is that the main growth area seems to be audiobooks. Publishers are now seeing audiobooks as their best area for growth rather than ebooks.


This does not make me happy! I am not an old fashioned person who expects a book to be a physical object – I have both a well-stuffed Kindle and a rapidly read-and-returned collection of charity shop purchased books at home. Physical books are merely containers for the exciting contents, and the contents work as well digitally as they do physically. What I don’t have in my home however is any audiobooks. Because I hate the damn things.


I just cannot get on with them. For a while a few years ago I commuted by driving for about 30 minutes each way in often-semi-static traffic. So I thought I’d put some audiobooks on in the car so the time was a little bit more productive. Nope: it didn’t work for me. I was focused on the driving/traffic, so I tuned out everything non-essential to that…which includes voices…which meant I listened to maybe a third of the book the first time around, and the rest was when I rewound/repeated the chapter. Which is not easy to do if you’re concentrating primarily on being in control of a car rather than fiddling with CD player buttons, so often I couldn’t manage to do that. Which meant I got a very disjointed overall experience, and really didn’t have much of a clue if the book was good or bad, because I hadn’t fully experienced it.


Also: oh my GAWD, the narrators talk SO SLOWLY!! I read fast, so I can whizz through books in a few hours. But the equivalent “size” audiobook will take hours to listen to. And hours. And hours. So slow. So frustrating. I feel like I’m wasting so much time listening, when I could be enjoying reading.


The other problem I have is because I’ve not actually read the book myself, but it’s been read to me instead, it means that I don’t keep anywhere near the amount of information/knowledge about it in my head that I would retain if I’d been more “active” in my consumption. It’s like reading the comic book version of a classic novel – the story’s there, but the nuance is gone. I want to remember the whole thing, not just the bits that caught my attention as the words dawdled by me.

So please…take pity on a woman who just likes to read with her eyes, not her ears, and don’t take away my ebooks!

The eternal legal ebook dream


I was recently at a discussion forum, where a legal publisher gave the audience some updates on where they are with their legal ebook offering. The jist of the presentations and discussions was – legal ebooks are great, people love them, if you aren’t using them yet, you will be very soon.


Now this isn’t a new topic to me, I’ve considered how I’d like legal ebooks to work a few times, so forgive me if you’ve heard this from me before. I identified some of the main problems I think legal ebooks would have to overcome before a law firm library would be happy to begin using them, and I want to see if the recent massive rise in the use of mobile computing devices such as smartphones and tablets has addressed any of the issues I first had with ebooks in a legal setting.



Devices vs desktops

Previously, the big push was to get legal textbooks available in an electronic form through web services such as Westlaw, and access them via desktops computers, and laptops. This is still in evidence, but the newly favoured way of accessing content is now through tablet devices, and to a lesser extent, through smartphones.

However, there are still many unresolved issues around the use of tablets and smartphones, some of which were discussed at the forum by the speakers, or in conversations between sessions.


General issues

  • Despite the publishers saving money on printing and distribution costs, the pricing for the ebook is equivalent to the physical book.
  • Only one book can be read at a time, but devices can potentially hold or access many ebooks at a time.
  • Who pays for the purchase of the device?
  • Who maintains the device/supports it?
  • Who pays for the internet connection which the device will usually need in order to download content?
  • Who pays for the cost of the ebooks, if they can only provide benefit to one individual rather than many?
  • Is there any discount for bulk-buying multiple copies of the same text, to be distributed to multiple devices?
  • Who is responsible for training and supporting users of ebooks and mobile devices – the library, or IT?


Benefits

  • Increased portability of materials
    • Users can carry large amounts of books to court, consultations and home without being laden down with massive piles of paper.

  • Ability to access materials immediately
    • Consultations and discussions on-site with clients often mean new legal issues can arise, and will need to be investigated with further research. Being able to check materials immediately rather than wait until the user returns to the office or library means that client matters can be dealt with more efficiently.

  • Mobile working is made easier
    • Notes and annotations made via one device can be synced with other devices the ebook is loaded onto, if multiple devices are allowed to host the content simultaneously.

  • Content updating
    • It could be possible for updates to books (currently issued as supplement) to be integrated to the content of the ebook version seamlessly. Or looseleaf publications could move to an ebook format with regular electronic updates.


Problems

  • Resistance of judiciary to the presence of devices in the court
    • It’s difficult to rely on your materials being available via your tablet, when the Sheriff or Judge may decide to reject their use in their courtroom.

  • Alienation of and increased need for technical support for less technically literate users
    • Some staff will not be confident in using mobile devices, and will resist using them. In order to assist

  • Assumption by device users that because it’s digital, the content is more current than it actually is
    • Merely by being available digitally, there will be a level of belief that the content of the ebook will be current, unlike with physical books where users understand that the contents will only be current at the date printed. Some sort of clear indication of the content currency date must be shown, possibly as a footnote on every page or on every “opening” of the ebook in order to remind users that the content may be dated.

  • Loss of, or damage to device
    • If you lose or break the device holding your ebook collection, what happens? Are those books gone for good? Can the publisher disable them remotely if required? Can they be reloaded onto a new device free of charge?

  • Security of devices
    • If a device cannot be securely locked, if it is ever lost or stolen all the materials on it will be openly accessible to anyone. If the device has ebooks loaded, and the user has been annotating them in relation to a case, sensitive information (both personal or commercial) may be revealed.

Future prospects

As far as I can tell, there’s still no solution to most of the issues I raised earlier in this post.The fact that stockpiling texts on one device means that access to those books is restricted to one user at a time, whereas the paper equivalent has no equivalent access issues for using multiple volumes. The issues around purchase, support and payment for devices and services also seem not to have been resolved either. There seems to be no prospect of any price deal for bulk buying ebooks to make them competitive with their paper versions.
So, what’s my conclusion? Well, to me it seems that currently,  the best format for a legal ebook…isn’t a book. It’s a looseleaf, particularly those used extensively in court. The ability to instantly update a court practitioner handbook like Parliament House Book in a portable format would be a great selling point for users. Even if it had a subscription model that priced electronic updates at the same level as the paper updating service, the saving in admin costs would make it an attractive option.




Is your techie toy reducing your reading habits?

I’ve just read this blog post about a new subscription model for content on e-readers, based on the fact that:

“We have statistically calculated the average consumption for tablet users and smartphone users, which is lower than one book per month,’

Now, I’m not entirely sure which tablet or smartphone users they based their prediction on, but I know that my reading levels have definitely gone up since getting an e-reader. Now, I not only am buying books frequently from charity shops, but I’m downloading free, cheap and even full-price e-books, depending on the urgency of my desire to read them (e.g.if I read the first part of a trilogy and enjoyed it, I’d be highly likely to download the second and third parts, regardless of price, if I really wanted to keep going with the flow of the books). In November, I realised I’d read (at a conservative estimate, as I don’t keep much track of the physical books I read, but I do have a “Read” file on my e-reader) at least 44 books that year, up to that point. By the end of the year I’d read 54 (it woulda been 55 if I hadn’t started reading an ENORMOUS tome at the end of the year), and the fact that the second I’d finished one, I could flip onto the next was a great enabler. Plus the fact that it was convenient to chuck in my handbag, and use on the bus, at lunchtimes while in the kitchen, in bed etc.

So, my question is this: if you have a smartphone and/or a tablet, and e-reader, has it helped you to read more? Or is the calculation above correct: are you to busy to read a book a month?

Edinburgh Festival of Libraries

Starting on Saturday 8th November, the Edinburgh Festival of Libraries will be running a week long programme of talks, walks, tours, presentations roadshows and behind-the-scenes peeks into some of the many different types of library services working in Edinburgh.

Lots of interesting things going on, but I’m kinda ruled out of any of the daytime events by working (I’ve maxed out my holiday allowance for the year, boo, hiss), which is a shame, because there’s plenty I’d have loved to be able to go to!

So, to make sure I still get to do *something*, I’ve emailed to book a place for the finale event on Friday 14th November:

Finale event – Future of the Book

Panel discussion “The Future of the Book”

Print books or e-books? Uplift or download? Writers and readers or interactive interchange? We are pleased to present a panel of informed people who will present and discuss a range of views on this topic.

The discussion will be chaired by Stuart Kelly, Literary Editor of Scotland on Sunday

Panel members include:

Donald Smith, Scottish Storytelling Centre

Francis Bickmore, Canongate Publishers

Hugh Andrews, Birlinn Publishers

Michelle Harper, OCLC

Join their discussion and get thinking about what part you will play in the future of the book. After the panel discussion, you are invited to continue the discussions on an informal basis and to enjoy a glass of wine, some light refreshments and some good company. This event is supported by OCLC and the National Library of Scotland

Scottish Book Trust, Sandeman House, Trunk’s Close, 55 High Street, EH1 1SR

7.00 pm onwards

Free – to book a place please contact 0131 623 4675 or email events@nls.uk

Just my sort of thing, yay!

Do you really own your ebooks?

Via a link on Boing Boing, a post on Gizmodo about research on the ownership of content bought for e-readers such as the Kindle and Sony Reader. It brings up the issue that it would appear that you’re only licensing the content of the books, not buying them in the traditional sense of having outright ownership, with the associated the right to sell on and lend to others.

As the authors of the original research (access appears to be subscription only, but the Gizmodo post includes the article summary) conclude though, if it appears to be a sale, even if it calls itself a licence, it’ll be regarded as a sale.

But you couldn’t sell a copy of your document (some small thing called copyright!), you would have to sell the physical storage device the file was downloaded to. Or perhaps find a way of getting the downloaded file off the reader, leaving no trace / copy of it behind. And as someone points out in the comments, there’s no requirement that says the publishers have to make that process easy for the downloader….

The research is based on US law, and, not being a lawyer, I can’t comment on whether the “first sale” doctrine has an equivalent in the UK.