‘The sound and the fury of e-book naysayers’

Post at Teleread discussing an ebook article in American Libraries called, "The Elusive E-book".

The adrenaline-pumper of the week? American Libraries has just run an article titled “The Elusive E-book,” by Stephen Sottong, former associate librarian at California State University, Los Angeles, whose faculty home page appears with the headline, “Retiring on September 26, 2003.”

Dissecting the Sottong piece, an information manager named Stephen Leary writes: “People won’t read entire books on these readers, Sottong assures us, yet that’s exactly what I have done myself. I’ve read dozens of books on my Sony reader, and on my desktop computer as well. Somehow I didn’t make it into Sottong’s academic research. Like other book lovers, I read many at one time. A reader is a great leap forward for many like me who don’t want to carry around a load of print books.” Exactly.

Full Teleread article here.


In the arguments for or against e-books, I don't see often the mention of their benefit for people with failing vision. My mother is an avid reader and has been getting worse vision in recent years. Her husband bought her a reader for Christmas and she uses it daily. She can crank the font up to some ridiculous level and see the text fine. I think that is an important advantage to these. I know it doesn't directly relate to article, but felt I should mention it.

Matthew your comment about text size relates. The Teleread article specifically brought this up. I think that it is a very important issue. I have a ebook reader and whenever I use it I crank the font bigger than I even need. I figure why strain my eyes.

Library Journal and American Libraries aren't the same magazine. The LISNews story starts out with "Library Journal," but it sounds as though the story's actually in American Libraries (the mules haven't made it over the Rockies with my own copy of the May AL yet, so I haven't seen the article).

I won't comment on the article because I haven't read it. If he actually says nobody wants to use ebooks, he's clearly wrong--as I've always said, there are real markets for ebooks, and those could potentially be quite large markets without "the death of print" being involved. I make that note because Leary's coverage seems as much interested in slamming me as 100% against ebooks as in commenting on the AL article--and Leary's blog doesn't allow comments, so I can't comment there. (I'm used to being a whipping boy for David "not the sane medical librarian" Rothman by now, but the Leary slam came as a surprise.)

Yes, I said print books work. They do. And I objected to the 1995 prediction that half of the print book market would disappear by the turn of the century, because I thought it was nonsense--which it was. (The prediction was not that half of all reading material would be delivered electronically--that's quite a different thing.)

And yes, in my latest ebook coverage I noted (certainly not "admitted") that I don't own a Kindle and don't think I'm the target market. Oddly enough, I didn't say the Kindle was bound to be a failure or that it was a terrible device, because I don't believe either of those statements to be true. I didn't offer any opinion of the Kindle at all. I don't have an opinion of the Kindle: I haven't used one.

Neither did I project a cloudy future for ebooks or ebook readers (except to the extent that I fail to project market domination)--but, of course, Leary's got his story and wouldn't want to let facts get in the way.

Error on my part. I corrected it above.

I haven't seen a Kindle or Sony reader, but I thought what was interesting in the Sottong piece was that he primarily discussed price: it's too expensive. But we all know that these things have a tendency to come 'way down in price. And concerning the prices of the books, what if pdf files and djvu files can be read on these devices, and there are zillions of these e-books available for free all over the place (thanks to libraries around the world!). If people decided to try some of these fabulous books for free, (and I think that many people who just want a little light reading just might try a free book--nothing to lose, after all) maybe they would find out that they are not quite so enamored of the latest Stephen King or Michael Crichton novel.

On another point, I know that students would love these things instead of having to carry around a heavy, horrible textbook.

Are the technological problems really solved? Is it now really just a matter of price?

Mr. Leary made several factual errors in his review of my article. Unfortunatly, his blog is public and my article is for paying customers only. In my article, I made a clear distinction between hand-held devices and computers with fixed monitors. It is computers with fixed monitors that people do not read on but instead scan content. The reason for this has to do with the physical functioning of the eye (see http://www.allscan.ca/ergo/vangle2.htm for details). People will read on hand-held devices and, as pointed out by several commenters, they have advantages for individuals with limited sight.

Price was not the only consideration I gave for the failure of the Kindle and Sony Reader. They also have lousey graphics and are single purpose devices. People don't want to carry multiple devices. The cell phone has become phone, PDA, MP3 player, GPS, etc. In a market where device functions are consolodating, a single use device like an ebook reader makes no sense. I hope some day there will be a successful ebook technology, but we aren't there yet. For more on the stages of technology, you can read my earlier article which is available online http://www.lita.org/ala/lita/litapublications/ital/2002sottong.cfm

Stephen Sottong