28 April 2011

First Thoughts on iPad + Ebooks

Work bought me a new 64gb iPad 2 (wi-fi only). Not really a bonus for finishing my dissertation, but it feels that way. Impressions? Like everyone says, it's just a big iPhone. If you are used to the iPhone/iTouch, it won't wow you. But it will still fill you with a slow, fizzy elation, if only from the undeniable fact that you are holding the future of reading in your hands.

This fact really hit me when I downloaded a copy of Wired magazine for the iPad. It incorporates innovative navigation and formatting, audio, video, and other rich content in a seamless and compelling way. You read a book review and then just hit a button to download a chapter from the book. A film review will have a stills gallery and trailer, etc. It sounds (duh) like the Web, but the tablet format and touch navigation make it much more compelling experience. It really is comparable to reading a book, but a super-book.

It's way beyond the Kindle. When Tani the Kindle User first saw my iPad, she had zero interest. Ten seconds into browsing Wired, she said, "Oh, I have to get one of these." The future of glossies, clearly, will be on color tablets.

The future of ebooks more generally will be on both color and e-ink tablets, it seems. E-ink readers will soon be cheap as chips, though already, even the Nook Color is just $250. And now that I am actually using a tablet, I confess that my love of analog books is a bit diminished. The ergonomics of tablet reading are great, I'm used to reading on screen (anymore, who isn't?), and the convenience is surprisingly compelling. It's increasing the amount of discretionary reading I do, which I would never have expected. (That may just be Shiny New Toy Syndrome. Time will tell.)

Yet another surprise: I'm seriously reconsidering the future of my physical book collection. I have a whole wall of my large study taken up with books I never read. Many I have never read once. I have hundreds more at work, in boxes, on other bookshelves, etc. A certain subset I own as a collector, and that segment I expect both to keep and to grow. But all those crumbling Baen and Del Rey paperbacks? As physical objects they give me little pleasure, and space is at a premium. Why keep them? Nostalgic commitment to print, even among print lovers, is evaporating before our eyes.

This is why we are using a very, very precious empty staff position
at my institute to hire a digital publishing specialist. We're rapidly
reaching the tipping point where if your publications are not pushed to
portable devices, you are severely limiting your readership. I've been asked to take a point position on the hire. This should be interesting.

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