Monday, October 2, 2006

More on ebooks

I'm actually a very big fan of ebooks. I love having lots of stuff to read with me when I travel; I love being able to read in the dark; I love being able to make the text large enough to read without my glasses; I love having a couple of big dictionaries available as I read.

But the lack of commercial by authors who have reasonable followings but aren't New York Times bestsellers is a problem -- Tor didn't bother to do MINDSCAN as an ebook (or this year's Hugo winner, SPIN, for that matter).

And I acknowledge that reading outdoors is a problem, too.

I'm actually one of those guys who never even creases the spine of his paperbacks, so being careful with my ebook reader isn't a big deal for me (and it's not THAT fragile anyway).

I think the marketing of ebooks has missed the boat: reading in bed when your spouse is sleeping is something middle-aged and older people do mostly; getting big text is something middle-aged and older people want. And expensive gadgets are something middle-aged and older people can often afford.

But the marketing departments have said that that demographic is a lost cause, because its members are perceived as technophobic (although how people with artificial hips, pacemakers, and so on can be seen that way is beyond me), and so they try to sell these to the young, who (a) are the least likely to read books, and (b) would rather have an MP3 player than a reading device.

Now, yes, my trusty Sony Clie TH55 (a Palm OS 5 handheld, and often cited as the best Palm OS device ever made) requires a bunch of third-party software to make it do what I wanted it to do as an ereader. Ergonomically, I had to reprogram the hardware buttons in ways that the built-in software doesn't allow; I use a utility that lets me take the screen brightness down well below what the built-in brightness adjustment normally allows; I use another utility to give me landscape mode in addition to portrait; and besides eReader software from (, my favorite ebook-reading software), I bought two large dictionaries (for about US$50 total) to go with it.

Still, in my humble opinion, Sony was thisclose to having a perfect ebook platform with the Clie line (needing only to solve the bright-sunlight problem), and instead they chucked that altogether and started over from scratch, throwing out (1) color, (2) reading in the dark, (3) the ability to read ebooks in various established formats, and even (4) pocket portability in the process.

Ebook readers should have big dictionaries built in (just as TVs now have TV listings built in); the dictionary companies would make more money licensing their big books at small costs for all readers, instead of selling just a few copies to those who buy them as add-ons. The ridiculous starter dictionaries that come with most ereaders are useless for native English speakers. I already know that a "fox" is a small carnivorous dog-like creature -- but I might not know that "vulpine" means fox-like.

Somebody, someday, is going to get this right. And then everything in the publishing game will change. And I actually very much look forward to that day. :)


At October 02, 2006 7:47 PM , Anonymous GP said...

I said I like good old fashioned books before, but you are right that something like a dictionary built in is very handy. I have WordWeb on my computer so I can look things up with a quick keystroke, and I actually find myself missing it when reading hard copy books. Something I miss even more, especially when I'm done reading, is search capabilities. If e-readers could have that, along with the comfort and accessibility issues you mention, I'd probably be an easy convert. I just don't want to feel like I'm staring at a computer screen.

At October 02, 2006 11:11 PM , Anonymous Judy said...

I have you to thank for turning me onto Fictionwise a few years ago. I went there first to get your short stories, but love the SF selection there. I *love* having reading material at my fingertips on my Palm device at any time. And I also discovered the joys of reading in the dark while nursing my baby (had the Palm plugged in for that!).

But I could never use a single-use ebook reader. For me, the great thing about ebooks is the convenience of having it on hand - even more convenient when I consolidate my palm and cell phone into a single smartphone. That's not going to happen if I have to haul around a dedicated ebook reader.

At October 03, 2006 12:35 AM , Blogger E.Jim Shannon said...

I'm warming to ebooks now that I realize their potentual.If Publishers made ebooks availible at most retail outlets I'd probably buy more ebooks then paper back books. Again it's that availbility factor.

Probably packaging as well.

What with Sd media cards being so afffordable now a days why not package an ebook on an SD media card? Plug that into an ebook reader and your good to go.

I've been looking at the filiment book club but it's an American company and I don't have a credit card.

But now that you got me going on ebooks, I'm going to check at my corner bookstore to see if they carry ebook readers.

An ebook reader shoulod have variable brightness controls, run on a tripple A battery and have a built in sd media card slot.

On a related not, now that the consumer can play some video games on the Ipod (linix hack) why not turn the Ipod (not nano) into an ebook reader? Come on itunes.

Sorry for the rant.

At October 03, 2006 10:40 AM , Blogger Bookyards said...

I am the editor for Bookyards ( ) a free online digital library.

It will be only a matter of time before new and/or recent releases from popular writers will become available online. Everyone is exploring commercial business models to properly compensate writers. We at Bookyards are presently experimenting having a 15 second video commercial presented to the user before downloading of an ebook starts. Our hope is that this will cover overhead costs, royalties, and …of course…. providing a “free” ebook to the user.

As to who are our users, they are either students (16 – 22 years old) or middle age (35 – 45)…..everyone I have found is technically proficient so that handling an ebook will not be an issue.

As for dictionaries, for your info we have 71 of them online located at

At October 03, 2006 2:29 PM , Blogger E.Jim Shannon said...


I'll buy ebooks when they're available at retail outlets. I think a lot of people feel the same way but maybe the demographics say otherwise. Most people have enough technical savvy to download ebooks etc but I won't use "my credit card" to buy books online why would I use it to buy ebooks?

If ebooks were made available at the retail level, then I'd buy.

I don't know what the demographics are for online ordering via credit card/Amazon but affiliates at Amazon Central don't tell very many success stories of reaping huge profits either.

At October 03, 2006 2:41 PM , Anonymous GP said...

To e.jim shannon, the iPod actually already can handle text files, although it probably doesn't make an ideal eReader. There are applications out there to convert text files to iPod "notes". One site explaining how it works:

At October 04, 2006 2:35 AM , Blogger E.Jim Shannon said...

Thanks for the link GP I'll take a look at it.

At October 11, 2006 5:08 PM , Blogger George said...

If you decide to use your Ipod to read ebooks, please heed these warnings:

1. Don't try to stuff 5 full-length novels in your /notes folder. When you first access the notes, the Ipod indexes all the files, which can take about 20 minutes if you overload it. (Yes, I learned the hard way.)

2. It's incredibly hard to read more than about 15 pages of Ipod text. I read an entire short story while my wife was trying on clothing and I felt motion-sick by the end of the experience.

3. Reading text seems to be pretty demanding on the Ipod's battery. I have a 3rd generation one, and the battery's pretty shot, but I could swear I could watch the little battery icon draining while I read.

At October 14, 2006 1:48 PM , Blogger George said...

Robert -- could you leave a list of the software you needed to turn your Clie into the nearly-perfect ebook reader?

My wife has a Clie she's abandoned -- I'm thinking of adopting it, but I don't want to invest in the learning curve of yet another electronic device without a little guidance.

At October 19, 2006 9:22 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Hi, George. Clie PDAs come in multiple varieties. The best reading experience is with a color screen, in my experience, and the best software support is with Palm OS 5, rather than earlier versions (you can't update the OS).

I use a Sony Clie TH55, with eReader Pro software from

You really don't need anything else, although I also have added Fonts4OS5 to give me a wider range of font choices in all my Palm applications. You can get it from Lubak.

And I've added FontSmoother, which you can get here.

I firmly believe in having big dictionaries; from, I've bought both Meriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate and Webster's New World College Dictionary.

And my Clie didn't have landscape support built in; I added it with this.

Finally, you need a NON-glare screen protector. The best are from Brando in Hong Kong, but make sure you get the non-glare one, not the super-clear one.

At August 01, 2007 7:38 PM , Blogger Michael said...

The best ebook device: the little-known Nokia 770 Internet Tablet with freeware fbreader. The newer N800 has the possibility of way more storage, but I find the 770 more ergonomic. I'd love to buy RJS ebooks, and I'm in that middle-aged bracket that Robert cites. Heck, I found this blog by googling "ebooks Robert J Sawyer". You can read ebooks on a plane, on a bus (even at night), in a darkened room - it's the perfect way to read books. - Mike


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