Sunday, November 18, 2007

Oy Yoi Yoi! Bezos Declares Himself the New Gutenberg!

OK. Who doesn't want to be the Leonardo, Gutenberg or Edison of his day? But do you get there by declaring it to be so? Or do you wait around for posterity to declare that you're special? It seems to me that humility is an important aspect of greatness. At least in the present. Edison may have been a keen self-promoter, but history proved him correct in whatever he may have thought about his accomplishments. Heck. Did he need to brag about the lightbulb? His invention was destined to place him the history books, because it worked.

The Amazon Kindle hasn't even been released yet, and he's already got Newsweek quoting him as saying that he's going to improve the book, the way he "improved" the bookstore. Good grief.

First of all, is an improvement over Borders, Tattered Covers or Barnes and Noble? It may be an easy way to shop while you're at work, but I'm not sure that it's an improvement on wandering the stacks of Tattered Covers or Strand bookstores.

Second, how do you improve on a book? By making it digital? How does that improve a technology that's been around before Gutenberg? Think about it. The old-fashioned book works every time, requires no power source and is simple to use. (I've never had a patron ask for help using a book! The most ignorant patron in the world can figure out how to lift a cover....) They can be dropped and work with light. Anything digital is going to rely on a myriad number of associated technologies for them to operate. And if they're not all working in harmony. Who knows what kind of kind technological "adventures" are in store? What's more, will a Kindle be guaranteed to work in 200 years? My copy Bushrod Washington's biography of George Washington still works as well today as it did when published nearly 200 years ago.

Call me a cynic, but I just don't yet buy Jeff Bezos as the new Gutenberg. I'm sure it will sell some books. But it's not going to make me toss any of my prized books any time soon. It's a gimmick, Jeff. Not a revolution.

Of course, I'd sure love to have one....

Whole New Meaning to "Ripping Books"?

Gizmodo reports that Atiz Innovation Co., Ltd., a leading manufacturer of book digitization hardware and software, has announced the development of "BookSnap", a personal book scanner that allows the user to digitize, "rip," her own books. The Atiz website,, declares, on it's home page, that "It's not a scanner. It's a book ripper." It also declares that it allows the user to transform books into PDF's at 500 pages per hour. Assuming that you can turn the pages that fast, that means that you can convert your copy of "No Country for Old Men" into a digital book in about a half-hour.

The website is silent on the platform on which their software runs, or what kinds o ebook readers that the resulting books can be displayed. Since BookSnap converts books into PDF's, we know that books ripped in this way can be read on your computer or any device that will handle PDF's.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Of "On Demand Publishing" and "Over Publishing" posted this interesting article which highlights Espresso, the on-demand book publishing machine that was announced recently. The ironies are frightening. Kinko's can become a bookstore, bookstores can become publishers and libraries faux bookstores. Publishers can make more money by licensing all these activities and selling direct to consumers. Ironic, isn't it? Amazon is the one major player that would be taken out of the market by this scenario....

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Ideal Book

This past weekend, I attended a meeting of the Mid America Association of Law Libraries, where Rivkah Sass was the keynote speaker. Wow! If you ever get a chance to hear her speak about change, don't miss it.

But she got me thinking about an old idea I've had about the perfect blending of old and new technology. You see, many people tend to see the coming "revolution" as some sort of an all or nothing thing: you are digital and like everything to be on computer, or you're a book person, who disdains computers and wants everything in print. That's dumb in my opinion. Who declared war? There's no battle going on, there's simply life, lived in reality.

We need to regularly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of various technologies and formats and adopt or collect those that work, and drop those that don't. But sometimes, hybrids make most sense. Consider this: ALR, CJS or things like annotated codes are fine research tools, but their indexes suck. What if instead of an index, there was a volume that was really a solid state computer with it's flash memory stuffed with indexing information? Such a device could be cheaply made and easily updated either wirelessly or with little flash upgrades. It could have a BW touch screen that allowed you to search the text of the treatise or encyclopedia in full text and provide lists of citations. You could even build a little thermal printer in the top that would print lists of cites of a roll of paper like a cash register receipt. End of indexes, without killing the book. Such a device would cost about fifty to one hundred bucks to manufacture and next to nothing to maintain. At today's costs, such a device could added into the cost of maintaining the subscription and hardly be noticed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Real "Free" Library?

Brewster Kahle, creator of the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine is one of the is apparently one of the masterminds behind the UNESCO digital library initiative reported below. Way to go, Brewster! The only question remains: will anyone be content reading books online?

I once read "Greystoke, the Legend of Tarzan" on a Palm Pilot (in full color, I should add), just to say I did it. Once was enough for me....

Competition b/t "Free" Digital Online Libraries Heats Up

This interesting article over at ZDNet points out a little known issue facing the "one world, one library – for free" idealists. Google and Microsoft's initiative for the online libraries, are a pretty good deal for the libraries whose materials they scan: it's free! However, the agreement limits the availability to their own services. OCA's digital initiative, on the other hand, costs libraries about $30 per book to scan, but without limitations.... Hmm, free, or not to free....

Monday, October 22, 2007

Apple, Intel and Google Aiding in the World Digital Library Initiative

According to, Apple is a major supporter of the World Digital Library, reported below. What's more, it apparently has a name after all....

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Looks Like Google's Got Competition....

UNESCO, the Library of Congress, Bibliotheque Nationale, National Library of Brazil, Egypt's Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the National Library of Russia and Russian State Library have teamed up to an create online global library. James Billington, Librarian of Congress, has been instrumental in the creation of the digital library that appears to be, as yet unnamed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Gizmodo: New Sony Reader

Gizmodo reports that pictures of the new Sony E-Book reader have been leaked. Apparently the device is much improved, but asks the critical question: will a new and improved dumb device actually make it better?

It has always seemed to me that the promise of e-books is that the books will be more easily distributed and widely available. But so far, e-book vendors' strategies have gone contrary to this promise: First, e-books are expensive; and, second the devices themselves don't work with all computers (most don't work with Macs, for example). Each device also has insisted on using it's own proprietary software, in an apparent attempt to steer customers to stick with their platform, thus limiting the choices of consumers of e-books.

Now, with Google and Amazon getting into the market, consumers are stuck in a position of having to make arbitrary decisions between several different hardware and software platforms. And given the cost of hardware and software, the decision is essentially a lifelong one.

It's almost analogous to Border's or Barnes and Noble refusing to sell all their books in English, but arbitrarily selling them in various languages and codes.... I'm not sure the e-book is going to be ready for prime time, any time soon....

Monday, September 10, 2007

Google eBooks?

C|Net reports that Google is about to enter the eBook market.  The Google Book Search of a few years ago, apparently taught them a thing or two about business possibilities and now they are exploring ways to spruce up their book offerings and sell them to viewers.  There's also a rumor that they are looking to develop a new device on which customers will be able to read the books they buy online.  There are two things that I can guarantee:  There will be some sort of digital restriction on usage (say you can read the book three times then it locks up, or you have three months to read it before it locks up), and they will probably develop their own proprietary software - because Sony's or Amazon's won't be good enough and, of course, they're just looking out for the consumer.....  Oy vey, here we go again.

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Amazon to the Rescue!

Ever wonder about why eBooks aren't taking off? Well, it's because Amazon hasn't been involved in the marketing of this fabulous, tree-saving, shelf-space-saving tool of the future! And everyone knows that the future is all about digital, right?

And if that exciting announcement in itself isn't enough, get ready for the BIG news: The rumors are that the Amazon eBook will have proprietary software! Nothing that's been done before is good enough for their new machine, so it's great news that users who are already "hooked" on eBooks will have to download new software. (This awesome twist is logical from a company who has been hauling in the sales with their incredible "Unbox" video service.) What genius.

But this article's punch line is the hint that Google is also looking to get into the market.

Incredible. In case you don't pick up on the sarcasm, I'm appalled that Amazon is so thick as to attempt more proprietary software. Their "Unbox" service is so illogical that it will probably win a Darwin award before too long. Think about it: They sell iPods. iPods have sold about 100 million so far. Huge market. So they decide to get into the video market and create a service that doesn't run on iPods. Makes sense to me.

Whatever Amazon calls their eBook, it will not succeed for the simple reason that they are working at odds with their customers. Rule number one of good marketing is to not confuse your customers. But Amazon's smarter than we are, right?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Books On Demand? The Espresso Book Machine

One may ask if this is an example of computers replacing books, or of books dominating technology as the format of choice for literature....

The Columbia (SC) Free Times reports that a company called On Demand Books has developed something called the "Espresso Book Machine," a device that is capable of printing "15-20 paperbacks in an hour – in any language and with a four-color cover." The machine is expected to sell for $100,000 each. According to the article, NY Public Library has already installed one in their Science, Industry and Business Library.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Paper is a Drag"

Please read Bob Berring's article in the recent issue of The Green Bag. In it he raises some critical issues that are facing the world of legal information. As governments of all stripes, municipal, state, county, federal, make the "inevitable" switch from print to online publication of their laws, we're finding that the law is getting lost; the old law, that is. Obviously, the governments are concerned with publishing their current laws and regulations, but they are not doing a good job of preserving old versions, and history is disappearing into the vapor.

The interesting issue in all this is that there is a very simple solution to this disappearing law: print it as the version of record, and allow the web version to serve as prima facia evidence of what the current version of the laws are.

Let's face it. The web is ephemera. Did anyone really envision it as a substitute for hard, cold reality? The web is the web, and it will never be anchored in a way that is as permanent and reliable of a record of the past as a printed version of the laws. The simple statement that "paper is a drag" (whatever that means) is not enough of a reason to ditch print forever. Particularly when the stakes are too high.

OK, It's Been A Long Time, Hasn't It?

What can I say? It's difficult to maintain a blog, and I got bored. But I'm back and hope to maintain this discussion regularly from here on out.