10 June 2009
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Will We Have to Re-Buy Our Books?

I saw the Sony book reader yesterday.  It had an impressively blank screen.  It was on display at the local BJs, and I was really curious to see how the screen looked.  But apparently nobody bothered to charge it and it wouldn't turn on.  Since Amazon introduced the two new Kindle models, I've been giving serious thought to the issue of book readers, if not necessarily to the purchase of one.

Here We Go Again

More by accident than by sagacity I avoided re-purchasing all my music.  When the CD format became generally available in the early '80s, I decided to re-purchase Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.  Improvement though it was, I didn't feel the need to buy more than a tiny handful of vinyl records in the CD format, and those only because the vinyl was getting a bit scritchy.  Having no video collection at all, I got the DVD version of Forbidden Planet for the extra material and ended my profligacy right there.  At present, my music reposes thus:

  • About half has been converted, ripped, recorded, etc., to MP3 and lives on my computers, MP3 players, cell phones, and other gadgetry.

  • The other half, about two thousand vinyl records of uneven quality and ancient vintage, remain in boxes, and presumably will until I have not just a spasm but a year of unrelenting zeal and get around to digitizing them as I did the first thousand.

Except for those two thousand unheard-for-decades vinyls, I am happy with my media choices with one exception:  Books.  It is something of an oddity that video (enormous bandwidth) and music (substantial bandwidth) should have found a home on hard drives while full books, which each requires the bandwidth of only a few seconds of music, remain resolutely on shelves.  This is a shame because shelves are large, space-consuming objects that tend to remain in one place until someone (not mentioning names) decides that the wall behind them must be painted.  But I digress. 

House:  Capacity 10 book cases at $100 each Hard Drive: Capacity 1 TB for under $100
6 Shelves per book case 1 MB per book, more or less, uncompressed
20 Books per shelf 1000 books per GB, or 1 million books per TB
Grand total:  1200 books per house, more or less With some simple compression, 10 million books per drive
You can't carry more than a book or two. You can carry a book "player" and thus millions of books.  Easily.

Instead of hundreds of videos or thousands of songs, we're talking millions of books.  If I wanted to carry millions of books with me, I wouldn't be surprised if the writers (excuse me - "owners of the intellectual property") wanted a few herns for their effort in supplying them.

But what if I want to carry with me the 1200 books I already own?  Do I have to pay for them again as downloads?  And if I do, who gets the money?  I do want to carry my books with me along with the music I already carry.  But I don't want to pay anyone

I'm Patient

By not rushing to buy CDs, I ended up with my music being portable.  And I'm not rushing to buy a Kindle, Sony, or other book reader until this problem is resolved.  I love the idea of a portable library and a book reader that will not compromise the life-long experience and habit of turning pages.  ("They" should ask me about the user interface, but I'm sure that will never happen.  Even Ford was too lazy to talk to me about the Escape Hybrid navigation system.)  Portable book readers are at the very beginning of their development, and we can count on improved resolution, battery life, and convenience.  (We probably don't need more storage; it will take lifetimes to read the books that one can store on a tiny memory card right now.)  But far more important will be the resolution of the "portable library" problem.  Digitizing books is a big nuisance, although making a book "ripper" wouldn't be much of a challenge if it were to be mass marketed.  (And, if it were a ripper literally as well as colloquially, it would solve the problem of what to do with the remanent hardcopy that will otherwise distress the lawyers and booksellers.) 

Google's Plot

Alternatively, Google already has fully digitized most of the books that I own.  This is the continuing result of a controversial project whose legal parameters have just recently been resolved.  (At least one lawsuit remains unresolved, but Google has lots of money.)  Maybe I've hit upon their unstated, long-term strategy for the project!  They could exchange a digital file for each old book and then burn the books for energy to power their server farms.  Or maybe they will build and sell a portable book reader and hire local "certified book exchangers" to give you the files they have already made at essentially zero cost in return for surrendering the original.

Google could even take away your now unneeded bookshelves and rent back to you the extra space in your home.  But they claim not to be "evil."  And besides, I thought of it first.

"Baron Saturday"
The Pretty Things




If anyone is a friend of a friend, it is I.  I actually paid for this T-shirt.  Along with all these books.  In fact, the shirt may have cost more.  It's a total coincidence that this shirt came up today on a book-themed blog.  But you can see why I'm not keen on buying the same books again! 

Richard Factor

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