New (Amazon) Prime Reading Service Debuts

 

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Screen Shot of New Prime Reading Page

There’s more good news today for those of us who pay our hundred bucks (or so) a year to maintain our Amazon Prime memberships.  In addition to free movies, music, two-day shipping on most Amazon purchases, video games, photo storage, and one free Kindle book a month, we now get more even free books from the new Amazon service called Prime Reading.

According to CNET.com, Prime Reading works this way:

…provides a rotating library of over a thousand books, with current titles including “The Hobbit,” “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “The Millionaire Next Door.” The free service, available only to Prime members in the US, also includes changing selections of comics, kids’ books and magazines, including National Geographic Traveler, People and Sports Illustrated.

The service is available on iOS and Android devices using the free Kindle app, as well as on any Amazon Kindle e-reader or Fire tablet.”

[…]

“Using a similar tactic, Amazon last month introduced a slimmed-down, free-for-Prime version of its paid audiobook services called Audible Channels. A full Audible membership costs $14.95 a month.

In addition to Prime Reading, Amazon will continue to provide the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. That Prime service lets people borrow one e-book a month from a much wider selection of hundreds of thousands of titles.”

(I am a very satisfied Amazon Prime member but this posting is not meant as an endorsement of Amazon Prime. It’s a simple heads-up for those who may have not have yet heard about the latest enhancements to the service.)

All the Hoopla About “Hoopla” – It’s True!

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Have you guys all heard the hoopla about Hoopla yet?  No matter how much I try (and how much I pride myself) on keeping up with the latest in online apps and technology, it seems that I’m surprised at least once a month by something that rocks my limited little world.  It happened today when I was browsing my library’s website in search of a Michael Dirda book I’d seen referenced elsewhere earlier this morning.  All of a sudden, I notice a little icon next to the book title that said simply “Download.”

Well, who could resist pushing that to see what might happen.  You mean no waiting lines of several weeks is involved…well, sign me up.

Unfortunately/fortunately, nothing much happened – or so I thought.  I was redirected to something called hoopladigital.com and told that I could check out this particular audiobook immediately – and get this, seven more items this month – if I just got off my butt and signed up via my library name and card number.  I did that, and less than five minutes later I was listening to  Browsings by Michael Dirda.

1605988448-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_(The best part is that I started listening on my PC but couldn’t listen for long because I had to run an errand by noon.  I found the Hoopla app for my iPhone, downloaded it, and signed on to the site via the new app.  And, because the app remembered exactly where I had left off the audiobook on my PC, I was able to listen to it, via a bluetooth hookup to my car radio, the whole time I was on the road.  Yes, I LOVE Hoopla.)

But wait, because it gets even better.  Not only are audiobooks available; there are e-books, movies, music, comics, and television shows just waiting for you.  Now granted, there aren’t a ton of titles, but there are some relatively popular ones waiting to be snapped up before Hoopla pulls them from the virtual stacks.  For instance, there are audiobooks like Go Set a Watchman, Girl on a Train, A Man Called Ove, and American Gods; movies like The Giver, St. Vincent, and Parkland; e-books like Crazy Horse and Custer and Toddlers Are A**holes; comics like Saga, Suicide Squad, and Yuge; music like Hamilton, Suicide Squad, and Monkees 50; and television shows like Inspector Lewis, The Librarians, and Small Island. 

How are you going to beat that?

So if this is new to you, do check with your local library system to see if your library card grants you the keys to this treasure chest. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was…and if not, why didn’t one of you tell me about this?

Lost in the Cloud: E-Book Finds

My recent posts about my relationship with this whole e-books thing got me to wondering this morning what books might be hiding out there in my Amazon Cloud – long neglected and now totally forgotten.  So I took a look and found a few gems I really need to read.  But since they have no physical form to shame me into picking them up and turning that first page, it may not happen any time soon.

Don’t get me wrong, though; I have actually read twenty-five e-books already this year, albeit most of them were review copies forwarded by various publishers.  And I understand why ARCs are being pushed out this way…tried to mail a book to a friend lately?  It’s not cheap.

But anyway, take a look at some of what I discovered way up in that magic cloud.  I particularly remember meaning to read these first five as soon as I downloaded them, but…

 

And then there is a whole bunch of titles that I know sounded great to me when I acquired them (many of them were free from Amazon as part of the Amazon Prime program – this is not a commercial or endorsement of that program, however):

These are just seventeen (there are another 200, at least, including some rather obscure work by the the likes of Jack London and others) of the books I want to read, books that don’t exist in the real world of physical copies.  And that makes me wonder what I’m doing buying so many e-books in the first place. I realize that authors probably don’t much care if I read any of these (hopefully, I’m wrong about that), but come on…is it ever going to happen?  Looks like that old “out of sight, out of mind” adage is very true in my case.

And the topper? I bought two e-books this morning.  Am I especially can’t wait to read the book on Anne Perry’s teenage New Zealand murder conviction.  Am I nuts or what?

 

My Love/Hate Relationship with E-Books Is Intensifying

I have had a love/hate relationship with e-books almost from the moment they appeared on the scene as an option for book-buying.  I love many things about their convenience, and because I’m a bit of a new technology nut (often jumping on the early bandwagon of products that go on to fail miserably and leave me holding the empty wallet), I purchased a very expensive Sony Reader when that was the only real option out there.  But I hate e-books as books because I couldn’t tell you right now how many I own, their titles, or where the heck I need to go to find them again. For me, buying e-books is like burning money…they just disappear into the ether, many never to be seen again.

One of the books I’m reading right now is Joe Queenan’s One for the Books (2012), in which Joe addresses many of my objections to replacing tree-books with e-books.  And, man, does he say it well.  Take a look:

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Joe Queenan

“Certain things are perfect the way they are and need no improvement.  The sky, the Pacific Ocean, procreation, and the Goldberg Variations all fit this bill, and so do books.  Books are sublime, but books are also visceral.  They are physically appealing, emotionally evocative objects that constituted a perfect delivery system.  Electronic books are ideal for people who value the information contained in them, or who have vision problems, or who like to read on the subway, or who do not want other people to see how they are amusing themselves, or who have storage and clutter issues, but they are useless for people who are engaged in an intensive, lifelong love affair with books.  Books that we can touch, books that we can smell; books that we can depend on.”

That’s it.  All my e-books look alike, smell alike, and feel alike.  No wonder I can’t remember which ones I have paid good money for.  They are just that damned generic, and I’m starting to resent them for their sameness.

Kindle Unlimited Is Crap

I realize that I’m going to offend some people when I say this, but here it comes: Kindle Unlimited is pretty much a garbage service.  Hell, let’s take it a step further: So many of the e-books being sold by Amazon are self-published crap that browsing the site for new, unknown e-books is largely a waste of time.  In fact, I quit browsing through Amazon for new books a long time ago because the experience, even on a good day, is frustrating…and don’t ask me what word I would use to describe it on a bad day.

So now I use Kindle Books only to go through the back catalogs of authors I’m already familiar with or to buy titles I already know about.  That’s not good for me, for authors, or for Amazon.  But this story from BoingBoing tells me that the situation is even worse than I imagined:


Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service allows subscribers to download as many books as they want, and then pays writers based on the number of their pages that readers have read. 

The service surveils your reading habits by checking the “furthest page visited” status on every book in your library, meaning that if you skip to the last page, the book considers you to have finished the whole thing. 
Crapflooding scammers have therefore supplied a glut of “books” that run up to 3,000 pages (the longest Amazon will permit), filled with garbage, which open with a link to the last page. By paying (or tricking) people to download their “books” and click the link, they rack up 3,000 pages’ worth of credit to their author accounts. At $0.005/page, it can add up.

So now we have idiots uploading 3,000-page “books” and tricking people into downloading them from Kindle Unlimited.  Then through more trickery they manage to get people to click over to the last page of the book so that it appears that the entire book has been read.  Bingo: that means a nice little payday from Amazon of $15 for every crapbook unwittingly downloaded by a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.  

I like e-books and I read a lot of them.  But I hate shopping or searching for e-book titles amid the huge mound of garbage that Amazon is content to dump on top of the real books for sale.  Self-publishing can be a good thing, but more often than not, it is just the opposite.  Most unpublished books are unpublished for good reasons, and they deserve to stay unpublished – they are that bad – and I don’t need them polluting the haystack I have to search through every time I want to buy an e-book.

But as long as Amazon is willing to pay scammers to puff up its own sales figures, that’s the world we live in.  And I’m sick of it.  I’m looking at you, Mr. Amazon.

College Students Not Crazy About E-Textbooks

I remember about a year ago reading (and posting) about the news that e-book sales were no longer increasing on a year-to-year basis.  At that time, such sales, while not actually in decline, seemed to have reached plateau levels. Well, this year the news is that every single one of the major e-book publishers had slight declines in e-book sales when the numbers are compared to the previous year. None of the drops are significant in terms of percentage sale, but it is striking that the decline happened straight across the board to all of them without exception.

Today I ran across this article from the Los Angeles Times about a claim that fully 92% of college students prefer printed books to e-books.  That surprises me a little considering the exorbitant amount charged these days for college texts because, for the most part, e-book versions of college texts are considerably cheaper than their printed versions.  But I know from experience that printed books work much better than e-books when it comes to detailed study, highlighting, page-marking, and the like, so the survey makes sense.

The finding comes from American University linguistics professor Naomi S. Baron, author of the book “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.” Baron led a team that asked 300 college students in the United States, Slovakia, Japan and Germany how they preferred to read.
Physical books were the choice of 92% of the respondents, who selected paper over an array of electronic devices.

Interestingly, this L.A. Times article is based on a book called Words Onscreen that I reviewed way back on January 20, 2015, so the claim is not a new one.

Here is my review of that book. 

Alexa, Read My Kindle Book

I received an interesting email regarding my Amazon Echo yesterday, an announcement from Amazon that Alexa could now read most of my Kindle books aloud to me.  

I was a little skeptical at first but a quick glance at the Echo app on my iPad indicated that the majority of the books on my Kindle can be accessed this way.  The primary exception seems to be those books downloaded to my Kindle as “personal documents” rather than as “books.”  That pretty much means that I won’t often be able to use the Echo to read ARCs aloud since most publishers push those to Kindle in the document format rather than in Amazon’s standard Kindle format for books.

It is all pretty simple.  Just say something like “Alexa, read my Kindle book (title inserted), and she’s off and reading. The reading can be stopped via the usual “stop” command and resumed at the point the reader left off by saying, “Alexa read my Kindle book.”  The only problem I’ve run into is that some of my book titles are the same as song titles, or they contain place names or compass points that confuse the Echo into looking for directions, etc.  When that happens, the user has to work with the Echo until the correct title is understood and accessed.  And sometimes that demands a good bit of patience.

But although I find the “pause” and “resume” commands useful, I do wish that I could specify a specific chapter for the app to begin with or jump forward to because, without that capability, the user is forced to use the app for one Kindle book at a time rather than having the choice of switching between books before completing any of them.  The app appears capable of placing only one “bookmark” at a time, meaning that a book only partially read is resumed at page one if another book has been opened in the meantime.

And believe it or not, the robotic rendering of the books is easy to get used to; after a few minutes, it is almost like having someone with a slight foreign accent read aloud to you.  I was one of early adopters of the Amazon Echo and I have been pleased with all the improvements made to the app software since I acquired it – something that seems to be happening at an ever accelerating pace these days.

In my estimation, this is good news for Kindle users.


Ebooks with Soundtracks and Sound Effects – Are They for You?

Depending on whom you listen to, ebook popularity is either fading or sales numbers for them have reached a plateau. Either way, that’s probably good news for brick and mortar bookstores everywhere.  But don’t expect ebook publishers and sellers to just sit back and watch what is happening to ebook sales.  Instead, publishers are looking for new ways to enhance the experience of reading an ebook – and what could be better, some of them say, than sound effects specifically produced for the ebook you are reading?

According to The Independent, popularity of soundtrack enhanced ebooks in the U.K. is second only to their popularity in the United States (where have I been on this one?):

So if ebook popularity has faded slightly, how have soundtracked books captured a growing market? Their growth, it seems, goes hand in hand with a resurgence in audiobooks and podcasts. Both have been given a leg up by improved access through iTunes and landmark releases such as the now-classic Stephen Fry-read Harry Potter series and true-crime genre-reinventing podcast Serial. It appears that we still want in-depth, long-form stories, simply in new and different ways from the printed page alone. Some 10 per cent of those surveyed by Nielsen said that they were willing to pay extra for new and interactive ebook features.

Not everyone agrees with the concept, however, and some of spoken out rather loudly about the BookTracks app.  Here’s a bit of what Tech Crunch’s  Paul Carr has to say:

It, hopefully, goes without saying (not least because so many people have already said it) that Booktrack is a laughably stupid idea. The whole point of reading fiction is to remove the reader from reality — for the physical book to drop away and the sights, sounds and smells of the story to play out in the mind. As such, soundtracks and animated arrows urging you to read at a fixed (“it’s adjustable!” the PR will be yelling at this point) pace are an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction. In fact, they’re so at odds with the way that people read books that one has to wonder whether the company’s founders have ever done so.
YouTube Demo Video



So there you have the two very different points-of-view. I do think I’m going to download the app to see for myself if this is something I might on occasion enjoy. Take a look at the YouTube promotion for BookTrack and read the two articles, and if anyone out there tries it, or has already tried it, please do let me know what you think of the app – and the overall experience.  Thanks.

Printed Books Are Still Popular

I spotted an interesting article from Shreveport Times columnist Gary Calligas this morning.  In it, Mr. Calligas, who publishes a free monthly magazine for “mature adults” and hosts a Saturday morning radio show aimed at the same audience, talks about his fear that the youngest generations are now doing pretty much all of their reading on one electronic device or another.  According to Calligas, and I agree with him here, such youngsters are completely missing out on the more tactile pleasures associated with reading a book – pleasures that they will never even know they are missing unless someone makes sure that they get a few physical books in their hands before it is too late.

He greatly encourages grandparents (many of whom personally know nothing of the advantages of electronic reading) to buy books for their grandchildren – books they can discuss with them and enjoy together, no matter the age of those grandchildren.  He goes on describes what he saw at a local library sale:

“I was so happy to learn many seniors who were grandparents or great grandparents buying printed books for their grandkids. I know their grandkids are going to be thrilled about receiving them for an upcoming special occasion. One gentleman told me his grandson needs to learn more about American and World History from other sources than what they are teaching in school. So, he added these books will give him the opportunity to talk with his grandson about those certain times in history and to comment on their importance.”

In fairness, Mr. Calligas does mention that many young people are driven to reading e-books more as a matter of convenience and lower pricing than for any real pleasures to be derived from electronic reading itself.   He is quick to point out, too, that he has tried reading e-books and neither enjoys reading them or finds the process to be an easy one.

Gary Calligas


All of the author’s points are well taken, but I do think that most of us these days, young people included, tend to read both e-books and tree-books.  About one-third of my own reading, for instance, is done via a Kindle or an iPad app allowing me to access my e-books.  On the other hand, my youngest grandson, a seventh-grade student, does his reading exclusively with physical books.  He loves the heft and feel of the books he’s reading and especially enjoys collecting them in series.  I enjoy the convenience of having a large number of books on one device without having to worry about finding shelf-space for them all.  (When I want to add a book to my permanent collection, I buy a physical copy even if I have already read it electronically.)  I realize that this is only anecdotal evidence, but I’ve noticed the same reading habits in my granddaughter, a high school junior who much prefers physical books both when it comes to reading for pleasure and when it comes to reading for study – as I well know since I’m the one financially supporting most of her reading.

Personally, what I’m seeing is that the market share of e-books may have very well peaked for now.  E-books will always be around, and they certainly have their advantages, but at least for now, the very existence of the physical book is not being threatened – despite all the dire predictions otherwise that were so common just three or four years ago.  And that is a wonderful thing.  

These are wonderful times for readers.

E-Book Prices Are High and They Are on the Increase

I’ve had a feeling for a while now that e-books are getting more and more expensive.  Every time that I price one of the more recently published e-books, the price is so close to that of a hardcover edition of the same book that I opt for the hardcover – or nothing.  

CBS Money Watch has pinned the sharp increases to one decision:

The higher prices have rolled out over the past several months as Amazon (AMZN) struck new e-book distribution deals with the country’s biggest publishers, which gave the latter the right to set their own prices, said Peter Hildick-Smith, chief executive of industry researcher Codex Group.

[…]

With the new deals, the publishers set the prices for e-books and pay Amazon a percentage for serving as a transfer agent. The publisher “doesn’t have the depth of pocket” to offer the same discounts as Amazon, Hildick-Smith said.

I don’t have anything against e-books, and in fact, I prefer e-books over physical books when I don’t expect the book to be something that would ever earn a portion of my limited bookshelf space.  This is especially the case with most of the Advance Review Copies of books that I receive  – something that most publishers see as a way to keep their promotional budgets under control.

But would anyone actually prefer to pay the same price as a hardcover, or more, for an electronic copy of a book?  Honestly, I have a hard time imagining that.  And that’s exactly what Terry Pratchett’s publisher did when pricing Mr. Pratchett’s last novel (according to that CBS article it is $11.99 for the e-book and $10.65 for the hardcover).  That just seems weird to me.

As CBS amusingly phrases it, “Readers…can’t be blamed for thinking that publishers have lost the story line.”  I agree.  Do you?

 

New Fonts for E-books…Can Page Numbering Be Far Behind?

For the last four or five years, I have consistently read more e-books than in the year before.  Too, I have migrated all the way from one of the original Sony Readers, to an upgraded Sony Reader, to a Kindle Paperwhite, and even to a Kindle Fire in the last few years.  So it’s not like I’m even remotely close to being anti e-book.

But that doesn’t mean that I love everything about reading e-books. For instance, I have never liked the generic font used in e-books, and I absolutely hate it when an e-book does not have real page numbers.  Who wants to be bothered with “position” numbers, percentages of completion, and estimated reading time remaining?  Well, for one, not me.

So it’s good to see that positive changes are on the horizon.  According to this Wall Street Journal article, for instance, the font issue is well in hand:

The upgrades aren’t just aesthetic. Typography can affect how fast you read. Some fonts propel the eye forward; others cause fatigue. Using eye-tracking tests, Amazon determined that its new font, Bookerly, allows readers to progress 2% faster than its previous default, the clunky but well-performing workhorse font Caecilia.

Bookerly has received positive reviews but the typography world is even more excited about something else Amazon is releasing at the same time: new software that dictates how text appears on the page. This is the company’s first crack at introducing hyphenation—splitting a word in two to fit more characters on a line and eliminate the wide spaces that occur when there are too few words on a full-justified line. 

These may seem like little things, but if e-books are ever to approach the readability comfort level of books on paper, this is a really big deal.  

Now let’s outlaw the publication of e-books that do not include real page numbering…come on, I know you guys can do it.

Free Previews of Future Bestsellers

Good news for fans of e-books…


Starting tomorrow, the major online booksellers (Amazon, Apple, and others) will be offering free downloads of two compilations featuring long excerpts from books that are to be published later this year.

Buzz Books 2015 Fall/Winter is said to feature new work from the likes of Geraldine Brooks, Mitch Albom, and Alice Hoffman.  In addition, YA readers will be able to download Buzz Books 2015: Young Adult Fall/Winter.  All told, the two compilations are said to include excerpts from 54 forthcoming releases of fiction and nonfiction.  

I downloaded the 2014 catalog about this time last year and really enjoyed browsing the work of a bunch of new-to-me authors.  I suspect that this kind of thing appeals largely to avid readers who are forever adding to their TBR lists.  If you’re one of those, tomorrow is the day to get your free copy.

(Tip:  Those of you with NetGalley accounts can download the compilations right now.)

Even if the Sky Falls Down

Susan Jackson Bybee’s Even if the Sky Falls Down was a nice surprise because I had no idea what to expect from it.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I will mention that I have been an internet buddy of Susan’s for about eight years now and I knew that she had been working on a novel for a while.  I will also confess that if I had not enjoyed Even if the Sky Falls Down, I would probably have chosen not to review the novel at all.  Thankfully, that did not turn out to be the case, because as she proves in her debut novel, Susan Jackson Bybee is a writer.  No doubt about it.
Lily Thompson, formerly a teacher of English to kindergarten students in Seoul, South Korea, badly needs a job.  She loves children and cannot wait to get back into the classroom, but after several job interviews she has come to the realization that the cast on her broken leg is scaring away potential employers.  And now, although Lily really wants to stay in Seoul, figuring that children are children wherever they live, she is desperate enough to interview for a job in the Korean countryside.   But when she learns that she will be working with some of the oldest people in the country rather than with tiny children, Lily, after initially turning down the job, only reluctantly accepts it. 
And she will never be the same.
Part of Lily’s new job is to complete the project that her Canadian predecessor has been forced to abandon in which a group of elderly people are asked to provide an oral history of their experiences during Korea’s terrible civil war.  As the weeks go by, Lily is surprised by how deeply she is bonding with some of her students (and vice versa) and that the process is teaching her as much about herself as it does about Korea’s past. 
Susan Jackson Bybee and Friend
But it is by inserting short transcripts of numerous oral histories into Lily’s story that Bybee deftly changes the novel from one in which readers are likely to focus only on the immediate problems of its central character into one filled with a score of interesting characters.  Each of the elderly Koreans has a unique story to tell and, for the most part, they tell their story in a voice that displays a personality and temperament all their own.  They are survivors and their stories are a reminder that, as always, not all the victims of warfare wear the uniform of one side or the other.

Bottom Line:  Even if the Sky Falls Down is a nicely plotted debut novel that I enjoyed and learned from.  I look forward to more from Susan Jackson Bybee.

Amazon Is At It Again: Kindle Convert

Amazon has just announced a new piece of software (that goes for $19 now while it is on sale at an introductory price) that will allow the user to convert his own tree-books into Kindle-compatible e-books.

When I first saw the headline, I thought this might be something useful for people like me who own a few books that were printed in the second half of the nineteenth century.  But then I read the details and spotted a few “problems.”

1.  The software only works on computers running Windows 7 or Windows 8.  Mac (and Linux) users need not apply.

2.  So first I have to drag out that Windows 8 PC that I hate so much BECAUSE it uses Windows, and then wait forever for it to finally finish its frustrating start-up procedure.

3.  Then I have to very slowly and precisely scan each page of the book so that the software can convert everything into an e-book for me.  (Do you have any idea how long it will take to scan a 500-page book, even two pages at a time?)

4.  Then, depending on how much luck I had in scanning every page correctly, I have to hope that the software will do its own job correctly – and by then I will have already invested what are likely to be several hours in the process.  (I wonder if individual pages can be rescanned if I mess up somewhere around page 360.)

5.  Today’s flatbed scanners don’t really lend themselves to massive scanning projects like those this software requires.

I have a better idea, PUBLISHERS.  Why not make an e-book available at no extra cost for every new tree-book that I purchase from you?  Sure, I know you will kick up the price of the physical book a few bucks…but shouldn’t, say, three dollars cover this since you are going to sell many more e-book copies this way than you otherwise would have? 

Or, AMAZON why can’t you do this for all the tree-books I’ve purchased from you already?  You did something very similar with all the music CDs I have purchased from you in the last decade.  You want to lock me in as an e-book and tree-book purchaser?  Just say yes.  Do it.  Then I would have my permanent copy of a book on the shelves, where it belongs, but have a spare reading copy always at my fingertips.

The Kindle Convert software is still somewhat intriguing, I admit, but it is a nonstarter for me because of the scanner limitations with which I would have to cope in order to make the process work.  And no matter how good the software might be in the future, if it remains incompatible with Apple’s operating system…no thank you.

Barnes & Noble Is at It Again

It seems like the biggest bookselling chain still standing has been trying to figure out what to do with its Nook e-reader for a long time.  And for at least the last couple of years, many have been expecting Barnes & Noble to spin off the Nook portion of its business into a separate company.  That process got more  complicated in 2012 after Microsoft and British publisher Pearson each bought substantial stakes in the Nook.  But now that B&N has bought those interests back (at substantially less than they sold them for to Microsoft and Pearson, by the way), that spinoff might finally happen.  

According to this short Wall Street Journal note:

The company is planning to split into companies, one with Nook and its college bookstores and another consisting of the retail stores and website, by the end of August (2015).

We’ll have to wait to see if it actually happens this time.  I, for one, am pulling for Barnes & Noble to pull off this thing because I pretty desperately want to see the chain survive for the long haul – I cannot imagine living without easy access to a large brick and mortar bookstore.  I’m not a user of the Nook (having succumbed to the charms of a Kindle Fire for whatever e-book reading that I do),  but if the Nook can save the rest of the chain, I will sing its praises here on Book Chase forever.

The Expanding Book Universe

The overall book universe is expanding, and I love it.  

According to the Guardian, tree-books are doing very well these days, thank you.  And now that e-book market penetration seems to have plateaued at something like thirty percent of the entire book market, the future of tree-books, for a change, appears to be a bright one.  

“…if you examine the underlying figures for, say, 2012 and 2013, stripping out the exceptional impact of Fifty Shades of Grey, then it is quite possible to conclude that the book-buying universe – digital and printed – is expanding, not contracting. It isn’t a question of either/or. It is a question of both…”

[…]

The plateau is real. And one sentence sums up an essential difference. “Targeting is not a solution for discovery, except in a technologist’s head. Discovery is motivated by an exemplary browsing environment, something that online is very poor at.” 

[…]

 One problem for the Kindle revolution is the tablet revolution that came just behind, providing a wide range of other diversions besides books available on a single screen – which, in turn, cuts into reading time itself. The tablet is enemy as well as friend: and no one can tell where technology will go to next. 

As the article says, “It isn’t a question of either/or.  It is a question of both…”  That’s exactly the way it works with me.

I still very much prefer reading physical books over reading their electronic versions.  The reading experience is more rewarding and comfortable to me when I hold a physical book in my hands and can feel its weight, the texture of its paper, and even experience its individual smell.  When possible, I always go for a tree-book over an e-book and I probably always will.

There are times, however, when a physical book is less practical than its electronic cousin.  E-books at bargain prices are so common that I sometimes can’t justify spending more money to have a physical copy of the same books.  Sometimes I’m traveling and want to travel lightly.  Sometimes I really don’t want the public to know what I’m reading.  Sometimes I’m stuck in a long line, and I’m happy that I remembered to stuff my e-book reader deep inside a coat pocket.

But the crazy thing?  I’m reading more books than ever – and, believe me, I have read a whole lot of books in my life.  Still, I never dreamed I would be so consistently reading at a 125-150 books-per-year pace like I’ve done since e-books came along.  And, precisely because my reading pace has picked up, I’m more willing than ever to try new-to-me and debut authors – that so many debut novels are available in readily affordable e-book version doesn’t hurt either.

So, no, it’s not “either/or” for people like me; it’s more like “all of it,” please…and thank you very much.  

E-Books Are Becoming a Bigger and Bigger Part of My Reading – Reluctantly and Finally

I’m not the biggest of e-book fans out there, but every year it turns out that e-books account for about 10% of my total reading.  This year, for some reason, that figure will be closer to 15%.  

And that percentage may be even higher next year, because I just got an early Christmas present of a brand new Kindle Fire HD7 – and I’m floored by how much better the reading experience is on the HD7 than on the Kindle Paperwhite or on my old Sony Reader.  There’s just no comparison.

I’m also surprised at how much more pleasant an experience shopping the Kindle store is on the HD7 than on the Paperwhite.  And who knew how big a difference color would make in the overall electronic reader experience?  Not me, that’s for sure, or I would have had a Fire long before now.

My wife, I’m positive, chose the gift because she knows that I am totally out of bookshelf space and she is tired of asking me to move stacks of books out of sight.  So this is one of those win-win Christmas presents guaranteed to make the giver even happier than the receiver.  Now I need to do some e-book shopping, see what my library system has available in e-books, and maybe even work in a little actual reading before the family Christmas Eve festivities begin.

Merry Christmas, guys!

"How E-Books May Disrupt Your Sleep"

According to this column in the New York Times, reading an e-book before bedtime is probably a mistake for those who really want a good night’s sleep.

Compared with a printed book, a light-emitting e-book decreased sleepiness, reduced REM sleep (often called dream sleep), and substantially suppressed the normal bedtime rise of melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep and wake cycle. The e-book users took longer to fall asleep and felt sleepier in the morning.

Although I don’t have any scientific data to back up this theory, my own experiences pretty much verify what is described in the above paragraph.  Reading a tree-book in bed makes me sleepy…every time…never fails.  On the other hand, reading from my Kindle or iPad not only allows me to read much longer before falling asleep, it also guarantees that I’m going to sleep so lightly that I’ll be tired when I climb out of bed in the morning.  That happens almost every time.

I figured this out the hard way a long time ago.  Anyone else notice the same thing?

Enhancing the E-Book Experience: Long Way to Go

Publishers are actually doing a little better job these days when it comes to the “covers” they attach to their e-books, but seeing a cheesy, cheap looking cover on an e-book is still one of my biggest turnoffs.  

So let’s take it one step further, publishers because, let’s face it, reading an e-book is not nearly the experience that reading a physical book is.  There’s just too much about physical books that cannot be replicated.  But…there are a couple of things you can do easily and cheaply to bring the two experiences a little bit closer to being the same:

  • Emphasize the cover art by taking as much care with it as you do with your physical book covers – front AND back.  Have the cover appear at logical break points in the e-book presentation, be it at the beginning of chapters or, at least, before already-designated section breaks.  Those books that are written to be presented in multiple parts now generally use nothing to emphasize the section breaks other than two or three blank pages.
  • Take advantage of chapter breaks, especially in books that don’t have more than a dozen or so chapters.  Show the cover between chapters or, at the very least, have a separate page between chapters that show the chapter number – and maybe put the cover there every three chapters, or so.

“When reading a book in print, we interact with the cover every time we open and close the book – we see it all the time, it reinforces our perception of the book in our minds,” Pelican book designer Matt Young told Creative Review. “Whereas when reading an ebook, the cover often has a much smaller role to play – reduced to a thumbnail, and sometimes never seen again once the book has been purchased. With Pelican, the cover is echoed throughout the entire book: each chapter begins with a full-page/full-screen chapter opener, acting as an important visual signpost and echoing the cover, reinforcing the brand and the series style.”

This is a great marketing tool that should create some brand consciousness for e-books, Pelican.  And here’s hoping that other publishers take your ideas and run with them.  






When the Last Bookstore Closes…What Then?

How can something like this happen?  With the impending closing of the Barnes & Noble Bay Plaza bookstore, the Bronx, a New York borough of almost 1.5 million people is about to become “bookless.”  Yes, you read that correctly – because, believe it or not, the borough’s last independent book store, one called “Books in the Hood” closed three years ago.

According to the New York Daily News: (whole article)

“Prestige (Prestige Properties, developer of the mall) allegedly jacked up the bookselling behemoth’s rent during lease negotiations, according to David Deason, Barnes & Noble’s vice president of development.
“Our lease is expiring and we worked diligently to extend the lease,” said David Deason, the vice president of development at Barnes & Noble. “The property owner informed us that they had other users who were willing to pay in excess of what Barnes & Noble was paying for the leased space.”

There is still a glimmer of hope for the Bronx because B&N management claims to be looking for new rental space somewhere in the area, and promises to reopen as soon as possible.  I’m left wondering, however, what this really means.  Is this a glimpse into the future for all of us living in mid-to-large cities across the country?  Are e-books, smart phones, instant digital downloads, and multi-purpose tablets on the verge of changing the publishing industry forever?  

Will those of us (and I truly wish there were more of us) who prefer reading the physical books we find by browsing the shelves of brick and mortar bookstores forever lose what we consider to be one of life’s greatest pleasures?  

Twenty years ago I never suspected that old fashioned record stores were on the verge of disappearing – nor how badly I would miss them when they did. It all seemed to happen so suddenly, but in retrospect, we should have seen it coming.  I fondly remember the countless Saturday mornings I spent in record stores flipping through the stacks and listening to new music.  I discovered dozens and dozens  of new artists that way, performers I would have otherwise probably never heard of.  And I still use bookstores that way: to identify new writers and books and to keep up with what’s newly published and what’s in, or soon to be in, the book pipeline.  

What is going to happen when the last bookstore shuts its doors?  Electronic browsing of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Apple Books just doesn’t work the same way.  Every Tom, Dick, and Harry fancies himself a writer and, by the time I wade through all the garbage they have self-published, I am in no mood (nor do I have the time) to find the needles, the good stuff, in that giant haystack of crap.

Bookless in the Bronx?  God help us all…