September 12th, 2014

Decluttering and books

Recently, David Caolo over at Unclutterer invited comments on ebooks.

He got a few dozen, mostly people who were not early adopters, but eventually their aging eyes and/or the management issues of a large library convinced them to switch or at least go to a mix of ebooks and pbooks.

Two comments stood out.

Brian Ogilvie said this, in whole:

"I borrow ebooks but buy them rarely, and usually when I need something immediately or I am traveling. That’s partly because as a scholar, I like annotating my books, and ebooks generally don’t handle footnotes or endnotes well. But it’s largely because I find it annoying to read something more than 20 pages long online. Ebooks are great for searching (as long as you know what term to search), but not so good for sustained reading, at least for me. The two formats are complementary. My university library has access to many ebooks by subscription; I’ll often read one long enough to decide whether it’s worth my time, and then either order my own print copy or ask the library to get it, if I think my students should read it.

But on a more fundamental level, I don’t like the idea of licensing a book rather than buying it. And I don’t like the idea that I might be locked into a particular platform; even a PDF or epub file might have DRM locking it down.

It’s bad enough when I upgrade computers and have to jump through hoops to reinstall the dozen or so computer programs that I rely on. Imagine doing that with a library of thousands of books!"

The annotation issue is an interesting one. It would have been helpful to know if he had ever tried an e-ink reader. Many of us who cannot read longform on anything else _love_ reading on e-ink readers. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I suspect him of not trying. The second paragraph (license vs. buy) suggests there is a severe lack of understanding of the online ecosystem. Moving from one device to another, one computer to any, has been the dream to end all dreams of convenience both using iTunes Match and the kindle ecosystem. (And I say that even though I'm having download errors on a They Might Be Giants track AND the U2 album just flat isn't accessible to me At All. These things happen, but they tend to resolve themselves faster than I find books I have misfiled in my library.)

Harry says, in whole:

"Anti-ebook except for long travel.

Some problems are inherent:
Ebooks are hard to mark up, annotate, tab, skim quickly, or find a specific unmarked page. You can’t go into someone else’s house and peruse their ebook collection (perusing someone’s bookshelves is a fruitful source of conversation fodder and discovering new books). You can’t loan them out, resell them, buy them used, or donate them. You can’t pick up a random ebook in a store to look through. They’re highly suseptible to technological change or loss, yet we can read physical books from thousands of years ago. A physical book can be read in many environments, ebooks not so much. Either the pages are small or the readers are inconveniently large.

Some problems are in current implementation, namely, DRM and invasion of privacy:
You don’t own your ebook, you “license” it. This severely restricts your ability to fully use your ebook – you can’t legally resell, lend, or donate it. The actual owner (Amazon, for example) can reach into your ereader and grab your book back (which Amazon did with an illegally sold version of “1984”); by the EULA they don’t need to tell you why. Ebooks are hard to give as gifts and even when you can, it’s physically unimpressive. You cannot transfer ebooks from one medium to another and it’s practically impossible to switch from one manufacturer to another. You cannot buy an ebook anonymously. The actual owners keep track of what you buy, what you read, when you read it, how long you spend on a page and which pages you mark, and notes you make in the ebook – even though it’s really none of their damn business."

Inherent! Okay, I don't have trouble finding specific pages (I search based on a low frequency word I remember being on that page or near it and then page towards what I wanted). I don't mark up or annotate books -- I keep notes on separate paper or device. I don't have trouble skimming. Many people over the years have complained to me about creepy people staring at their books and talking about them (made me cringe! I've done it often enough). More people have extolled ebooks for making their reading habits easier to privacy-control: they decide who knows what they are reading. Easiest damn thing in the work to "Look inside this book" or search on google books. As for technological change, there's been a lot of product refreshes since my first kindle; my first books still look great to me. I have paperbacks from a bit older that have more or less dissolved from rereading, so I declare that one a wash.

I don't need to transfer ebooks from one medium to another -- I can access my books on lots of devices. If I really needed to print something out, I could do that too. I could also easily download software to strip it and then I could manage the books however I liked (which I don't like, thank you very much -- someone else can do that for me).

If you haven't figured out how to buy an ebook anonymously, you haven't tried very hard. As for complaining about the platform monitoring how much you did or didn't read, well, funny hearing that from someone who would love to know things about other people's reading habits that they didn't like sharing with him.

Honestly, I haven't been able to enjoy mocking ebook coverage in a long time. I feel sort of bad doing it, because these days, it isn't punching up -- it's punching down. What a change 7 years makes.