Reading Experiences: Kindle App

After years of purposely ignoring ebooks, seeing readers come and go out of the corner of my eye – and library collections and packages tried and rejected – I’m finally experimenting with a few new ways of consuming monograph-length content.  Today, I consider the Kindle App for iPhone.

Why lug around a separate device that costs hundreds of dollars when you can get a free app for the device that’s already attached to your person 24×7? I guess some people have their reasons, but after hearing a Kindle-owning colleague say that she was thinking about selling her Kindle because she usually uses the app, I decided it was time to give it a try.  And you know what?  I like it!  Here’s what I like, after reading one full-length monograph and starting a second:

  • I can read the beginning of books before I decide to buy. Not the standing-in-the-aisle kind of reading, which might get me all of one page in, or flipping-through-the-chapters kind of reading (which would be nice to have, a la Look Inside the Book), but enough of a first chapter for me to figure out if I really want to read it, and read it now. If I read to the end of excerpt and want to keep going, it’s a good indicator that my money would be well spent. I’m buying the book at “point of read.”  If it looks interesting, but I’m not ready to keep going, I’ll keep the excerpt to remind me to revisit it later. So far, this model works better for me than the 30-second song snippet as a good predictor of my interest.
  • I can annotate and highlight with abandon. It’s a fact: I cannot bring myself to write in or highlight most of the books I own, no matter how useful the notes might be. Occasionally, I read with a pencil in hand, ever-so-lightly marking spots of interest, never to find them again. Most of the time, I don’t need to make notes or highlight, but when I do, it’s great to feel free to go crazy without defacing an object.  Plus, the Kindle app treats my highlights as bookmarks, allowing me easy access to them later.  I’d like to read a book club book this way to see how it affects my contributions to the group. 🙂
  • I can travel more lightly. At this time of the year, I’m frequently lugging a pair of shoes in addition to my lunch, plus maybe some Yak Trax, an umbrella, or pilates gear. A paperback more or less may not seem like a big difference, but for one less thing in the bag and one less thing to remember, it’s nice to use the phone.  Even if I intended to take something in print, there’s always content on the phone that doesn’t require the internet.
  • I can read it easily wherever I want. OK, I haven’t taken my phone to the bathtub and have no intention of doing so anytime soon, but otherwise, the phone is stacking up pretty well against a typical trade paperback. I was talking ebooks with some family members at Thanksgiving and my aunt expressed reservations about reading an ebook during, say, a quiet dinner for one.  But think about trying to eat and read for a minute.  A magazine works pretty well: it’s a reasonable page size and it lies flat. (For the record: The New Yorker is not on the list of things I’ll prefer in e-format anytime soon.) A print newspaper? Forget it – I’ve never understood the allure of reading the paper over breakfast. SO unwieldy.  Then we have books.  When it comes to paperbacks, I don’t see too many advantages for print over the phone.   I can set the phone beside me and scroll at my convenience. I don’t have to hold onto it throughout my meal or keep turning it face down to hold my place while I cut my veggies. Curling up in bed with it? Why not? The beach? Show me an upper-middle class professional who doesn’t take their smartphone to the beach and I’ll show you one who never leaves the office. Perhaps if I had an expensive, dedicated ebook device I’d think twice about the beach, but the reality is that the phone is going to go with me anyway.

So, what don’t I like?

  • I miss browsability. I don’t mean the browsing that happens when you see what’s shelved next to a print book.  I mean the experience of scanning and flipping through a book – that I  haven’t found any e-substitute for.  My eyes are terrible, but they’re still great at quickly taking in information from the printed page, almost as fast as I can flip through a book to find a passage that caught my eye. Is that passage early or late in the text? Was it before or after another point of interest?  The place in a book and its context can be quickly constructed and ascertained.  This loss is the number one thing I dislike about reading on the Kindle App.
  • The DRM thing. I believe in fair use and first sale.  I don’t like purchasing items under contract or with terms of use that limit copyright law. This isn’t a post about the thorny issues of intellectual property and electronic formats. There are real issues and I think they’ll get worked out, but until that happens, my purchases will be very limited. For the foreseeable future, I expect to download a lot of free samples and then buy them in print.

Customer vs. container, content vs. service

Lots of interesting ideas floating around this week about the future of publishing, much applicable and relevant to libraries.

First up, the Scholarly Kitchen’s blogging of the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s IN conference keynotes, with an interesting comment about “diffintermediation” in between.

Keynote 1 by John Wilkins of Creative Commons

Keynote 2 by John Maeda of RISD

The tweet stream is worth a look, too: #SSPIN09

Next up, the write up at Personanondata of Seth Godin’s lunchtime talk to the Digital Publishing Group.  Excerpt of write up: “The major error being made by established publishers (and agents and authors I would add) using conventional business models, Godin says, is to see new technology and the internet as a way to make old business models work better instead of as an opportunity to destroy (no sentimentality here) and reinvent the old.”  Video excerpts here (see also tweets: #digpub)

Finally, the post “a clean well-lighted place for books” at if:book – the book as a place, the evolution of bookstores, and publishers’ brands.  Plus a response from a bookseller at Vroman’s Bookstore in Southern California, who also references Godin’s talk.

*Bonus: fantastic set of slides putting the use of social media in the larger context of being customer-focused from author Tara Hunt (via Lorcan Dempsey)

Industry-Sponsored Professional Development

Back in March, I attended an “e-book summit” in Boston that was sponsored by Springer.  Springer did a fantastic job of putting together a program of topics and speakers who touched on various aspects of e-book access and management. They included plenty of time for discussion and brainstorming among the attendees.  The best part? Attendance was free.

Programs like this strike me as a win-win for librarians and commercial industry professionals, provided they meet or exceed the high standard Springer set.  In the current economy, many of us face limited or non-existent travel budgets, yet we still want and need to do professional development activities.  Publishers and vendors, meanwhile, need to conduct focus groups and other market research activities to avoid costly missteps in their product development and content offerings.

What made the e-book summit so successful?

  • Several organizations were represented among the speaker line-up, including another e-book provider (ebrary –  who carries Springer content as well as many other publishers’). It wasn’t an all Springer, all day event.
  • The topic was one Springer clearly wanted librarian feedback on, but also one that librarians wanted to talk to each other about: How are you handling Vendor X’s pricing model? What are you doing about catalog records? Should there be an e-book A to Z list? We weren’t just there for the free lunch!
  • The mix of formats – single speaker, panel, discussion – plus lunch and a reception gave the day the feel of a mini-conference. Learning, brainstorming, networking: all without leaving town.
  • By framing the day as a summit, Springer signaled that they understood the unsettled nature of e-books, and the content demonstrated that indeed they “got it.”

I imagine that Springer more than made up the costs of the program with the feedback they got through the open discussion and brainstorming that took place.  At the same time, they successfully walked a fine line,  asking some of their librarian customers to present at the summit, but keeping the content neutral enough that attendees didn’t leave feeling subjected to a day-long sales pitch.

I haven’t seen a lot of programs like this, but I bet they’d be pretty popular, as the Springer summit was. Sure, vendors will continue to recruit development partners and conduct smaller selected focus groups, but pick a hot topic, order lunch, and open the doors and you will probably find the investment worthwhile.

E-LIS E-Prints for Library & Info Science

I had heard of E-LIS but forgot about it. From the site:

E-LIS relies on the voluntary work of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and is non-commercial. It is not a funded project of an organization. It is community-owned and community-driven. We serve LIS researchers by facilitating their self-archiving, ensuring the long-term preservation of their documents and by providing word-wide easy access to their papers.

If you publish, consider putting a copy of your pre-print (or post-print) into E-LIS so that everyone can have access.


Gosh darn it, one of my unwritten rules for this blog is not to reference other blogs too often. I often appreciate such referencing in the blogs I read, I just don’t want to do it too much myself. But along comes if:book and I find myself wanting to pass on its commentary every time I read it (perhaps because I don’t see it referenced too often in other places). So please, dear reader, if the tidbits below tickle your fancy, please pop over to if:book and subscribe yourself.

On Wikipedia

I think there is a lot to be learned by studying the points of dissent; indeed the “truth” is likely to be found in the interstices, where different points of view collide. Network-authored works need to be read in a new way that allows one to focus on the process as well as the end product.

Indeed, what I prize most about the Wikipedia is that it acknowledges the messiness of knowledge and the process by which useful knowledge and wisdom accrete over time.

(“Messiness of knowledge”… I don’t see that phrase too often on library blogs!)

On UC, Google, and the Open Content Alliance

During this period of uncertainty, the OCA seems content to let Google be the legal lightning rod. If Google prevails, however, Microsoft and Yahoo will have a lot of catching up to do in stocking their book databases. But the two efforts may not be in such close competition as it would initially seem.

On Cliff Lynch on computational analysis of scholarly literature

Using the metaphor of Google Earth, where one can zoom out from the entire Earth down to a single home, what can we gain from being able to view the sphere of scholarly literature? …What are the potential insights can we learn from viewing the entire corpus of scholarly knowledge from above?

Siva Vaidhyanathan on Google and Copyright

On June 15, I heard Dr. Siva Vaidhyanathan give the keynote address at the 2006 SUNYLA conference. (Vaidhyanathan is a professor of communications at NYU; you can read more about him, and hear the correct pronunciation of his name, at his blog, He discussed Google’s Book Search initiative and its implications for libraries, copyright law, and even the future of web searching. He noted that while debate about what Google is doing is often portrayed as two-sided, the situation is more complicated.

While Vaidhyanathan could be described as often on the “copyleft” (my description, not his), he is not supportive of Google’s initiative as far as it involves copyrighted works. For one thing, he is not optimistic that they will win. Google’s case will be heard by a court that is usually favorable to copyright owners–the 2nd Circuit, if I remember correctly. If the case does go Google’s way, Vaidhyanathan believes it is likely that Congress will step in. Will the case eventually have repercussions for web searching in general? Will the effect be the overturning of precedent that allows search engines to display thumbnails and snippets of web pages in their search results?

By way of conclusion, Vaidhyanathan noted that Google’s project is the human genome project of intellectual property, and he believes that there should be a comparable public initiative. The tragedy is that some people think there’s no need for an initiative because Google is already doing it. His hope is that Google will back off the digitization of copyrighted works and instead make a statement about the current state of copyright law.


Bonus: For an interesting take on copyright in the print world, look for the 6/19 New Yorker article, “The Injustice Collector,” about the grandson of James Joyce.