The option that wasn’t

Kobo advanced settings

One of the things I like—a unique feature, as far as I’ve seen—about Kobo’s e-reader software for iPhone OS is that it gives you a choice between vertical scrolling and traditional pagination. Because, really, what do pages mean on a digital reader where the text can reflow according to user preferences? Great. So, I selected vertical scrolling.

Problem is, even if you choose this setting, you will still run into page breaks:
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E-book Abomination Index

I’ve been reading a lot of e-books in the past ten days or so, and I have seen a lot of messy formatting. But the latest one takes the cake: a McGraw-Hill Professional book in which the first letter of every paragraph appears on a line by itself. Thus:

he quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Hella annoying. And there was an egregious typo in the book, repeated three times in one paragraph. Annoying enough that I dug around on the McGraw-Hill site until I found a place to lodge my complaint.

But then I got to thinking, as I filled out their lengthy incident report form, that if I want to report every fucked-up e-book I come across—which is most of them—I could spend the rest of my life chasing around on publishers’ websites for the buried feedback addresses or forms. And then I thought, Why not set up a sort of Hall of Shame where not only I but anyone else who finds a crappy e-book can post the gory details?

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the E-book Abomination Index submission form?
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Are you a bookfuturist?

Old news but good news:

I also want to be a kind of social network for Bookfuturists like me. There are clear markets for writing by techno­logical triumphalists (I call these guys and girls technofuturists) and doomsayers (when it comes to reading, this group can be called book­servatives). It’s easy to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to new technology; it’s a lot harder to try to engage with its strengths and weaknesses, to think of ways it could work better, to situate it in his­tory, to study its effect on a culture.
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Eirk Newth / India Amos
Left: Eirik Newth. Right: Me.
Easy mistake; could happen to anyone, we’re so alike. Except that, y’know, he’s a genius.

Here (with some corrections), in case anybody else interpreted my posts from this weekend in similar ways, is a way-too-long comment I just posted in response to Doyce Testerman’s Publishing, Charlotte, and John. You should start there, or it won’t make much sense. The part of Doyce’s post where poor Eirik gets dragged into things and where my grumbling gets taken somewhat out of context is at the very end:

In the postscript to this piece, Eirik Newth explains why Big Publishing consistently cites costs to create ebooks that fall miles outside my experience and expectation.

Short version: they’re doing it wrong.

Long version:

Publishers are still producing paper books the “X-Acto–and–wax” way and then outsourcing their e-book production to other companies, which probably automate the conversion process, and then they’re not practicing any kind of QA on what comes back, because nobody gives a shit, because the people who make the decisions don’t read e-books.

No wonder they think making an ebook is an expensive, time-consuming process.

Yes, you read that right. Publishers aren’t producing workable electronic files when they produce a paper book — their product essentially has to be OCR’d by a third party company to get an ebook out of it. They start with a hardcopy and make someone else turn it into an electronic version, which they’ll never read.

Oops. So I sez to him I sez, No, actually, you didn’t read that right:
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What’s been gnawing at me lately

cat chewing on an e-reader

One of the things that I find gets more difficult year after year—and I can’t tell if this is more because I’m getting older, or because I’m letting myself be pelted with information faster and harder than ever before, or because I don’t write as regularly as I used to—is synthesizing ideas. I spend hours each day gathering information, and some days it seems like for every page I read on the Web, I open or bookmark two more to read later. Yet when an occasion arises for me to state what I think about what I’ve read, I most often end up blurting out whatever my gut tells me, rather than what’s the result of deliberate analysis and consideration—because who has time to ruminate? I’ve heard the rumor, of course, that our guts know more than we think they do, but as I haven’t yet had time to read up on the subject, I can’t say to what extent or in what circumstances that’s true. My gut is whispering to me, however, that my gut is often misguided or misinformed.

For at least the last few months, as I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to do (a) for my master’s thesis and (b) to pay back my student loans after I finish the damn thing, I’ve been trying to absorb as much information as possible about e-books, e-readers, and the future of the book in general. I’ve read articles, essays, and tweets; listened to podcasts, panels, and lectures; watched videos and (sorry to have to use this word:) webinars; and talked with a lot of people. I’ve done a lot of talking at people, too, pushing and no doubt breaking the limits of courtesy with dozens of unfortunate friends, acquaintances, and strangers as I try to articulate what my gut tells me about all this partially digested input. And I’ve written about a few small things, trying to finely chew at least some corners of the subject.

Just in the last week, thanks to the Digital Book World conference and Apple’s iPad announcement, I’ve skimmed, read, watched, heard, or bookmarked thousands of chunks of content—most of them tweets, since I wasn’t present at either event but followed along through hashtags and Twitter lists—having to do with books in the digital era.

And what do I think about all of it?

I don’t know.
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That part of the future which is here today

page heart

As you may have gathered, if you’ve been following along, the reason I no longer post much around here is that I’m in grad school, in a program that doesn’t have anything to do with books. Not usually, anyway. It’s a two-year master’s deal, and I have to come up with a thesis sometime in the next couple of months, so I’m hoping to find some way to work books back into it. In the meantime, however, most of the connection between school and books is in the readings I do for my classes.

A few of these readings are in the form of actual bound books, most of which I’ve bought because I don’t have time to wait for them to be available at the library. Many more of the texts I have to read are stapled photocopies, just as Gutenberg printed them when I was in college six hundred years ago. But the majority of my readings this semester are online, either on good, old-fashioned Web pages or in dedicated e-book sites such as Safari or Books24x7, to which my university subscribes.

So, uh, I know it’s old news, but reading books onscreen sucks.
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