Rethinking The Book

from the the-world-is-changing dept

Kevin Kelly has written up a fascinating piece for the NY Times Magazine about issues involved in various book scanning projects. While it covers some ground that’s been covered before, where it shines is not in focusing on the legal dispute and issues of copyright, but in what such a massive online database of books could mean. When it comes to revolutionary applications of technology, it’s never about simply shifting something that could be done one way so it could be done another way, but in creating the ability to do something that could never be done before. Kelly explains how the power of the online searchable database of books isn’t just in putting the books online, but adding the features of the online world to books. That includes being able to link and annotate books. More importantly, it includes the ability to break up books, and mix and match them to create your own personal library — that could include just fragments and chunks of various books, linked to other sources and annotated with your own notes or the notes of others. It’s a powerful possible future — but, as Kelly notes, is pretty much hung up by an incumbent publishing industry that doesn’t want to let go of its existing business model, even if the potential business models in such a world could be even greater. The entire (long) article is worth a read not just for the views on the legality of scanning books, and the economics of the business model clashes involved — but also to get you thinking about the possibilities for such an online library that go well beyond just taking the books that were offline and putting them online.

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Comments on “Rethinking The Book”

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A. K. Assenmacher says:


Even with the books of the world online, people will still want to read PHYSICAL books; it’s infinitley more pleasant than reading off a web page.

That’s not to say indexed searchable books online aren’t without uses. Even in it’s incomplete form google book search is amazing for students seeking reasearch for papers and whathaveyou.

Besides, if someone wants to read a book and NOT pay for it, we have these things called libraries… Maybe it’s a foolish perspective but I can’t see publishers losing much/any profits.

Oh, and booyah first post…

throbi says:

The lazy, the avaricious and the impatient

So far only the “lazy”, the “avaricious” and the “impatient” part of me benefited from projects like the silent library. I’m too cheap to pay for a book, I’m too lazy to travel to the book store and I don’t want to wait for the book to be delivered to me.

So I download the book and I print it out to my favourite yellow paper 🙂

The lazy, the avaricious and the impatient. Can one suggest a business model based on these three? (All ads and pop ups are blocked by my browser).

Dan says:

Re: The lazy, the avaricious and the impatient

I think Apple has hit on the answer with the iTuens model – it is cheap, simple, and provides almost instant gratification. The publisher that can transfer formula this to books will be able to gain the same type of dominance. As it stands now ebooks are too expensive and inconvienent and I will continue to buy the print copies for less. I think things may begin to change soon with the release of the Sony e-book reader – this thing has gotton rave reviews! If a publisher can make it as easy and relatively inexpensive to put books on the Sony reader (or comperable product) as Apple has with music I’m in!

Howard (user link) says:

Still waiting...

I’m a bookworm, and have been most of my life. The last time I moved, a little over half of the weight of my household was books — and that’s after I donated about 200 of them to the local library.

What I would like to have is a device that will display two 8.5×11 pages in a very-high-resolution, high contrast display that folds to ~8.5×11 with a thickness of no more than one inch. Should run off of AAA batteries, and weigh no more than about a pound, and hold several gigabytes worth of information (or maybe use separate memory cards, or even a wireless connection to a central repository). For now, I’d settle for monochrome display if I could get the other features.

I’m not hard-and-fast set on the display, either. A set of “video glasses” might work well enough, but what I’ve seen of that technology still falls short of what I want in resolution and contrast.

The world is slowing coming around to what I want in that regard: I’ve recently purchased a collection of music on DVD. For about $60, I got almost every etude, concerto, and quartet in my current paper collection (I have about $10,000 in sheet music and other paper editions that I have collected over the 45 years that I have played the violin), plus a look of new stuff. I still have to print out the stuff that I want to use, which amounts to about one 3-ring binder worth of stuff at any given time. Too bad my laptop display doesn’t quite make the grade for a display, but it’s still an improvement over the 8 shelf-feet of yellowing paper.

But I’m still waiting for the day I can conveniently carry every book and piece of music I own in a briefcase.

Howard (user link) says:

Another problem...

After reading the whole article (a good read!), and submitting my previous comment, it occurred to me that there was yet another problem that the article did not address: spam. Even my previous comment was flagged as potential spam to be reviewed before posting (it did not even contain a hyperlink!), and I have seen other blogs that have completely suspended comments due to the avalanche of spam.

The technology that will make the ‘universal library’ possible will almost certainly cause it to suffer from the same sort of low-life activity that now plagues email and blogs, bringing about yet another reason to look in earnest for an effective solution to the pond-scum of the information age. In my opinion, the only effective solution is to figure out a way to make spam cost the spammer money, automatically and inescapably.

As we have already seen, it’s a hard problem.

Violins and Accessories

R Ahrens says:

the lazy, etc.

“The lazy, the avaricious and the impatient. Can one suggest a business model based on these three? (All ads and pop ups are blocked by my browser).”

Sure! Just Read the F’in Article! The new business model he talks about especially counts on those such as you! Every time you click on a link, or establish a connection with a tag, the artist or author gets a few pennies – the more useful and/or connected his work is, the more money he makes. The more people click, the more money changes hands. Eventually, the money you pay to stay connected to the Internet may end up getting shared in this way, who knows? This model, like he said, is still developing…

Ron says:

Compatibility is the issue

Sony’s ebook reader won’t make a lick of difference. The problem is the same as why I don’t buy music anymore. It’s a compatibility issue. I buy an ebook and it can come in any of 5 different incompatible proprietary formats. I want to buy books and be able to read them on my Treo, my Zaurus, my Linux computer at home and my Windows computer at work without having to install multiple different applications on each. Applications for some formats aren’t available for some of those platforms so I have to (illegally?) hack the file into a format for those platforms.

The convenience of having 30 books always with me on my phone is to much to pass up but getting the same book everywhere I want to read it is beyond most peoples computer skill levels.

Tom Deaderick says:

Something really nice for readers

One aspect of this that I find very appealing….

When you’re reading a Real World book and the events are moving toward conclusion, there are certain possibilities for the story that you just know aren’t going to happen.

In a digital story, you could set preferences so you’d never know the number of pages remaining. This would add a great deal to the experience. It would be much more realistic, more like real life in that you do not have any idea when the story will end. Maybe the story might just end at any

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