Friday, October 15, 2010
"What's this?" you ask. "Another post about books? Isn't he interested in anything else?" Well, I am interested in lots of things, just not all at the same time. Right now I like books. It's important for bloggers to write about interesting stuff. Otherwise it's no good at all. For example, I will now write a paragraph on American football.
American football (which I shall just call football for the rest of this paragraph) is a popular sport in the United States. People like to play it and watch it on television, presumably because they find it entertaining. There are two teams, and they compete against each other. They play on a field with grass, or sometimes turf. The grass has lines on it. The lines are parallel to each other and run across the field from one side to the other. They are spaced 10 yards apart. The teams line up when they decide that's a good idea and then attempt to run into each other, unless they are holding the ball, in which case they try to not get run into. Sometimes they throw the ball, and sometimes they don't. Just when it starts to get interesting, the referee blows his whistle to make everyone stop attacking each other. Eventually, the teams move the ball to the other end of the field and receive points. Sometimes they kick the ball too. The ball is pointy on the ends so that players can throw it with one hand. The game is apparently so tedious that the audience has difficulty cheering. To address this issue, the teams employ "cheer leaders", who lead the cheering, like a conductor leads an orchestra, only their batons have exploded on one end and have streamers sticking out. The teams play the game until the timer says they can stop.
That is what happens when bloggers write about things they don't care about. So no more imaginary, hypothetical complaints out of you.
In recent years, there has been a revolution in the format of books the like of which has not been seen since the printing press. E-readers are changing everything, the good and the bad things. E-reading makes buying and reading books way more convenient. However, this is not without cost. As people begin to move towards e-readers, they consequently buy fewer physical ones. This means that physical bookstores are going to start disappearing, which means you can't go and peruse real books or have author book signings. Disneyland claims to be the happiest place on earth, but bookstores are even better. They are even better than libraries, which are the second happiest place on earth. Disneyland can come in third I guess. And since we are ranking happy places, the best bookstore I have ever seen is University Book Store next to the University of Washington in Seattle. But what can be done to save bookstores? I don't know. Hopefully we won't lose bookstores altogether. But I admit I am part of the problem, since I buy most of my books electronically now. There is an upside. E-readers are so convenient that people are more likely to buy a book rather than drive to the library, so authors and publishers should make more money, which is good.
Speaking of e-readers, there has been some confusion about what they are for. As more and more devices become integrated (e.g. phones, cameras, PDAs), people expect electronics to do everything. However, the Kindle, Nook, and other dedicated reading devices are really lousy at doing anything else. In fact, they are not even good at some kinds of reading. They are excellent for black and white, sequentially-read books. But any book you want to flip around pages in quickly (like a text book) is awkward since you can't just flip anywhere instantly like with a real book. And for color magazine articles, the screen is too small and not color. The Kindle DX fixes the size issue, but is still black and white. When the iPad was announced, Steve Jobs decided to try to break into the e-books market (he sort of broke in, but mostly he just broke it. See my first post). He touted the tablet as an e-reader, even though it does not have the e-ink screen that is the main feature of e-reading devices. LCD screens like the iPad has are good for lots of things, and are better for magazines and comics which need color. However, they are still backlit, which means that they are not as comfortable on the eyes as paper or e-ink. So the iPad is a tablet device that can display books, but is not really designed for reading novels. Remember, e-readers didn't even bother existing until e-ink came out just for this reason. But Steve Jobs said it was an e-reader and confused everyone into thinking it was a Kindle competitor, despite the very different goals of the devices. People even thought the Kindle 3 might "upgrade" to LCD (a much older and less appropriate technology), and Jeff Bezos had to come out and explain why the Kindle 3 continued to use e-ink screens (basically, so the Kindle would be a great e-reader, rather than a lousy iPad clone). It's kind of like the head of Honda explaining why the new Accords are still using engines. It should be obvious, yet enough technical writers questioned it that he felt he needed to offer a response (mini-rant: tech writers can be awfully dense at times, like the ones who jumped on the Vista-hating bandwagon and doomed the world to XP for 3 more years). Anyway, this is my attempt to clear up the confusion, for the 3 or so people who actually read this blog. Kindles are good for reading books page-by-page, and not much else. The screen really looks like paper with ink, so it is as easy on the eyes as a real book. iPads are good for everything except comfortable reading because they have the jack-of-all-trades but not-as-easy-to-look-at LCD screen. So if you plan on reading books electronically, get a Kindle. If you want to read mostly magazines and web articles or need a multipurpose device, then the iPad is a better choice because it has color and is faster at navigation. Basically, you are choosing between a book-like experience with the Kindle and a computer-like experience with the iPad.
So perhaps the one problem will help solve the other. People will buy iPads, try an e-book or two, get tired of reading novels on the screen, and go buy books at their local bookstore and keep it in business. Yay!