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.