Category Archives: Books

Books I am reading or have read.

CES and ALA Midwinter 2011

The next week or so for me is completely insane, as I’m attending both CES2011 and ALA Midwinter 2011, even though they actually overlap. I’ll be flying from Nashville to Las Vegas on Tuesday for CES, hopping from Vegas to San Diego on Friday for ALA Midwinter, and then taking the red-eye late on Monday night to get back to Nashville and then home early Tuesday morning.

Then I’m gonna sleep about 20 hours.

There are a lot of things I’m excited about for both trips…CES is a bazaar of tech, and I’m attending a number of exciting Press Conferences from Sony, Lenovo, ASUS, and other major tech companies. I’m going to be doing reporting on the trip over at Perpetual Beta, including (if the wifi holds up) some livestreaming. I will send a tweet out when I start a livestream, so if you are interested, follow me over at twitter and you’ll get the head’s up when I go live with anything.

At ALA Midwinter, there’s also a lot to be excited about. I have two favors to ask of anyone that happens to read this and will be in San Diego:

The first: if you are a LITA member, consider coming to the Saturday morning LITA Board of Directors meeting at 8:00am in the SDCC Room 11b. It’s early, and I don’t begrudge anyone their sleep, but if you want to see how LITA works, and help to make it better, come hang out with the Board for the morning.

The second is: Come see me stumble over my fanboy self while I interview Dr. Vernor Vinge, on Saturday in the SDCC at 1:30pm in room 29 A-D. Go to that link and leave me a question you’d like to see Dr. Vinge answer, check here and at LITABlog for a live stream of the interview, and help make this an awesome event for librarians everywhere. Dr. Vinge is a 4 time Hugo Award winner, and his writing has within it possible futures for information, libraries, and books that we should really pay attention to.

I hope to see a lot of friends as well…if you see me, please wave me down and say hello.

Interviewing Dr. Vernor Vinge

Dr. Vernor VingeIn one of the more surreal occurrences in my working life, I will have the opportunity to interview one of the titans of the Science Fiction world, Dr. Vernor Vinge, at the ALA Midwinter Meeting 2011 in San Diego, CA. The interview itself will be on Saturday, Jan 8th, from 1:30-3:30pm Pacific time in the San Diego Convention Center Room 29 A-D.

Plans are in place to livestream the interview at the LITA Ustream channel, and in addition to a set of questions from myself, I’ve decided to set up ways to take questions from just about anyone who wants. At the bottom of this post is an embedded Google Form where you can ask your question of Dr. Vinge…I’ll sort through any in the next 2 weeks and pick the best of the bunch for inclusion. In addition, during the interview itself, we will be taking questions not only from the live audience but also from Twitter (use the hashtag #alamw_vinge) and from the Facebook Event page.

So: hit the form below, and ask your question now. Watch the interview live on Saturday, January 8th at 1:30 Pacific time, and ask your questions as they occur to you. I, along with several awesome librarians, will try our best to collapse all of these streams into an entertaining and informative couple of hours for all.

Kindle 2 for $89 on Black Friday

I posted this first over at Perpetual Beta, but I felt the need to repost here.

Amazon announced today via Facebook and Twitter that one of their Black Friday deals was going to be blowing out their inventory of the Kindle 2 (the last generation of Kindle) for $89. These are new units, not refurbs, and include 3G access with the device.

This deal is going to get pounded, and who knows how many they have left in stock. If you want to try and grab one, the deal starts 11/26 at 9 am PST.

While I feel that one-day sale prices don’t quite get me where I thought we’d be when I made my < $100 eReader prediction back at ALA Midwinter 2009 as a part of the LITA Top Tech Trends panel, I’d like to think I could take this as partial validation of the prediction.

COSLINE 2010 Ebooks Presentation

I had the pleasure of presenting on eBooks to the Council of State Library Agencies of the Northeast recently, and being on vacation this past week has made me later than I wanted at getting my slides online. I had a great time, met some really thoughtful and smart librarians…if this group is the leadership for public libraries in New England, they are in very capable hands.

Here are my slides, for what they are worth. I attempted to do an audio recording of my presentation, but jumping in and out of Keynote makes the timing on it all wonky. I’ll see if I can’t edit it together into something that makes some sense, but that may take some time. For now, here are the slides, sans voice:

Must watch, right now

My favorite talk I’ve heard in a long, long time was at the LJ/SLJ Ebook Summit, from Eli Neiberger, about How Ebooks Effect Libraries. He’s recently put the recording and slides up on Youtube in two parts. Every librarians needs to watch these, and take notes…Eli gets the issues, lays them out, and doesn’t pull punches. Love. This. Presentation.

Part One

Part Two

For the record, I haven’t forgotten about my ongoing discussion with Bobbi Newman (and now spreading across the web onto other blogs). I’ve still got lots to say, but I’ve been tied up. Will get the words out ASAP, promise.

MSU Libraries Emerging Technology Summit 2010

Here are my slides from the Mississippi State University Libraries Emerging Technologies Summit 2010. They very graciously asked me to keynote the Summit, and I’m hoping that the talk was thought provoking and helped kick off what looks to me a really great day of programming.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I’ll make sure to find the answer!

Serialized Literature makes a comeback

Way back in 2008 at the Online Information conference in London, I talked a little about where I thought we’d see writing in general go, given the technologies that were mature/maturing: eReaders (the Amazon Kindle had been for just a year at that point), blogs and blog software, and more. I predicted that we would see a revitalization of the sort of serialized long-form content that was prevalent in 19th century literature, like Dickens and Doyle. It made sense to me at the time, given that one could subscribe to an ongoing series, have it automatically delivered as written/released, enjoy it on your container of choice (eReader, mobile phone, etc).

While there have been a few attempts at serialized writing in the last few years, it’s only very recently that I think authors have hit on a model that might work well. There are two that I’m aware of that take slightly different paths but are, in the end, paving a path to an old way, but a new channel, of publishing.

The first, and most exciting to me, is The Mongoliad. From the wikipedia entry:

The Mongoliad is an experimental fiction project of the Subutai Corporation, scheduled for release in 2010. The corporation is an application company based in San Francisco and Seattle, whose chairman is speculative fiction author Neal Stephenson. Stephenson is the guiding force of the project, in which he is joined by colleagues including Greg Bear.

The work is intended to be distributed primarily as a series of applications (“apps”) for smartphones, which the Corporation views as a new model for publishing storytelling. At the project’s core is a narrative of adventure fiction following the exploits of a small group of fighters and mystics in medieval Europe around the time of the Mongol conquests. As well as speculative fiction authors Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Nicole Galland, Mark Teppo and others, collaborators include filmmakers, computer programmers, graphic artists, martial artists and combat choreographers, video game designers, and a professional editor. In a departure from conventional fiction, much of the content of The Mongoliad will be in forms other than text, not bound to any single medium and not in the service of the central narrative. Once the project develops momentum, the Corporation envisages fans of the work to contribute, expanding and enriching the narrative and the fictional universe in which it takes place.

So this is collaborative, multimedia, world creating…which just happens to be led by two of the biggest names in genre fiction. I’m a complete sucker for Stephenson, and I signed up as soon as the site went live. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this project goes.

The other interesting serialized novel being done is also in the genre fiction realm, the DragonsBard project by Tracy & Laura Hickman. Tracy Hickman is probably best known for being half of the Weiss & Hickman writing duo that gave fantasy the Dragonlance world of novels. Unlike the Foreworld stuff above, which is a subscription model, the DragonsBard publishing model is a single price upfront, which gives you access to the ongoing story and a limited-edition signed & numbered hardcover of the story when it’s over.

There are two things that I find interesting about this model of publishing. The first is it’s leveraging of technology to provide not only different sorts of distribution, but also different types of content completely (images, video, etc). The second is how it allows for the complete disintermediation of the publishing house.

I look forward to seeing if other authors take this approach. I also look forward to seeing how these sorts of works get cataloged. :-)

eBooks, filetype, and DRM

This morning I got a tweet from Bobbi Newman that said:


Can someone explain to me the tech reasons Kindle doesn’t work with library ebooks, know its DRM, want more specific plz & thnx @griffey

More than you ever wanted to know about filetypes, DRM, and eBooks…here we go.

There are two different things going on when someone tries to open an eBook file on an eReader. One is filetype…how the file itself is organized internally, how the information contained within is encoded. This is analogous to the difference between a Word file saved as a .doc file, a Word file saved as a .docx file, and an Powerpoint file (.ppt). All are different filetypes…the program involved in the creation, editing, and display of those files describes the information contained inside. Right now, there are two main filetypes being used to describe eBook files: the Amazon eBook standard, or .amz file, and the ePub file (.epub) that is used by just about every other eBook vendor.

Amazon  purchased Mobipocket (an early ebook vendor/distributor) way back in 2005, and used their format as the basis for their current proprietary .amz filetype. ePub, on the other hand, is an open, XML based eBook standard, and is used by a huge number of eBook vendors…indeed, it’s easily the standard for current ebook publishing.

But filetype is only half the battle. In addition to the way the file is organized/structured internally, there is also Digital Rights Management to deal with. Think of DRM on an eBook as a lock, with your eReader having the key to open the lock and display the file. Without the lock, the eReader can’t open the file at all…can’t even see what it is. And if it has the key, but can’t read the filetype, that’s no good either…in that case, you can view the contents of the file, but will have no idea how to render it on the screen properly.

Amazon, in addition to using a proprietary filetype, also uses a proprietary DRM mechanism. This means in order to read an Amazon-purchased eBook, you have to have an eReader with the right key, as well as the right interpreter for the file. So far, that means that you have to be using a Kindle, or alternatively, using the Kindle software provided for any number of other devices (Windows, Mac, iOS devices, Android devices). This doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be. Amazon could choose, tomorrow, to remove all DRM from their files. This would mean that you’d still need a program to interpret the .amz, but you wouldn’t need the key anymore. Conversely, Amazon could license their DRM to other eReaders, in effect handing them the key…but it would still be up to the eReader itself to be able to display the .amz file.

Vendors that use the ePub format have chosen different sorts of DRM to lock up their content. Apple and their iBook app use the ePub format, but wrap it up with their Apple-specific Fairplay DRM. This means that while the file itself would be readable by any device that can interpret an .epub file, without that particular key on their keyring, the eReader can’t do anything. Sony, Barnes & Noble, Overdrive, and other eBook vendors have chosen a shared DRM solution. They license their DRM from Adobe, and run Adobe Content servers that provide the keys to epub files that they sell. This means that if an eReader has the key to one of those stores, it has the key to all of them…think of it as a shared master key for any Adobe DRM’d file.

This illustrates why, although both Apple and B&N use epub as their filetype, you can’t buy a book from the B&N store and then move it over to your iBook app on your iPad. Conversely, you can’t buy something on the iBook store, and then move it to your Nook. Same filetype, different lock.

Overdrive, in supporting Adobe DRM’d epub files, work with Sony eReaders as well as the B&N Nook…same filetype, same DRM key to unlock them.

With all that said: any eReader that will read a given filetype will read said filetype if the file doesn’t have any DRM. So if you convert an existing document to an epub using software like Calibre, Sigil, or InDesign, that file will able to be read on a Nook, Sony Reader, AND the Apple iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch. If you have some text and you convert it to, say, a Mobipocket file (.mobi or .pdb) then it would be readable on the Kindle AND the Apple iBooks app…but not on the Nook. For a complete list of eReaders and their corresponding filetypes, there is no better place than Wikipedia’s Comparison of eBook Formats article.

While a DRM free eBook ecosystem would clearly be the best for the consumer (choice of device, free movement of files from device to device, etc), the second best option is an ecosystem where the DRM is ubiquitous and the patron doesn’t even realize it’s there. This was the case with Apple and the early battles for music sales on the ‘net…they had the store and the distribution network (iTunes) as well as the device used to access the content (iPod). All of the content was, originally, DRM’d, but largely no one noticed since it was completely invisible for the average user.

The biggest issue with eReaders and library patrons is that this chain isn’t seamless. The content providers and their DRM servers are huge headaches for the average eReader user. My hope is that publishing goes the same way that music did, we we find both a common filetype and lose the DRM. But it took digital music years and years to get there…so I’m not holding my breath.

I hope that helped, but if it didn’t and you still have specific questions about your situation with eReaders/eBooks, ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Ebook (in)sanity

I just had a brief piece published over at Library Journal entitled Ebook Sanity. It was something that just poured out of my head unchecked one day, and I was lucky enough to find a home for it as a part of the build up to the upcoming Library Journal Ebook Summit. Here’s a very short teaser:

…consider the idea that the First Sale principle doesn’t apply to ebooks and other digital content. Maybe this is the fact: information in the digital age is such a different beast than in the print age that we not only shouldn’t draw analogies but we actually can’t.

I hope that you head over and read it. Also take a look at the other excellent essays linked off the side from Eric Hellman, Barbara Fister, and Char Booth (holy hell how did I end up in a set with those people? I’m so not worthy). I would love to hear any thoughts you might have on the topic…I’m still forming my conclusions around some of these issues. How do you think libraries can and should react to ebooks?