Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

More on ebooks

by Rob - October 2nd, 2006.
Filed under: Uncategorized.

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. :)

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