I guess it had to happen. There should be a new rule: If content providers can collect analytic data about anything, then they will. Or, to put it more crudely, If they can watch you, they will. Welcome to the digital panopticon.
An article in the Wall Street Journal explains how Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble collect analytic data when you read ebooks. How far you get in a book, how fast you read it, whether you buy a sequel, and which search terms or highlights you use when reading a book.
Analytics is a technique that is used on the web, and with some software – notably that on mobile devices – to track what users do. You can see how long users stay on a web site, which links they click, where they come from and more. But for books? Do publishers really need to know how fast people read books? Or whether you read them straight through or flip back and forth between books?
Two things worry me here. First, that this data is collected without users being aware of it. It is said that this data is anonymous, but we know that this anonymity is not something we can take for granted. I checked on my iPad and my Kindle and saw no options to turn off this data collection. While I expect Amazon to follow my purchases in order to recommend other books or CDs, I find it annoying that they may be checking on how I read ebooks.
The second issue is more fundamental. Once you have analytic data, you want to do something with it. In order to justify the cost of crunching this data, and paying for people to analyze it, you need to have an objective. You need to be able to translate this data into actionable tasks. And what could the goals be? To go back to writers and tell them to write differently? Granted, for some mass-consumed books and genres, writers might be willing to adjust their styles, or the length of their books if they think they’ll sell more. But I think this is a red herring. Good books sell; bad books don’t. If a book is good, whether it is long or short, people will tell others about it. Gone With the Wind is a huge book, nearly 1,500 pages in the mass-market paperback edition. Should an author be prevented from telling the story they want because some metrics geek thinks it’s too long?
I think this is none of their business. The way I read should be private. I can’t see how this information will help me as a reader, or me as a writer. If this metrics collection is going to continue, readers should at least have an option to opt out.
Posted: 7/4/2012 by kirk | Filed under: books, iPad, Miscellanea Tags: books, ebooks, iPad, Kindle | 1 Comment »
TechCrunch is reporting that an upcoming Apple event, to be held in January, will focus on ebooks, and the company’s iBooks app. My first thought is that there’s not much they can do with iBooks to warrant a media event, with a presentation and announcement, but then I thought a bit more. What if Apple were going to unveil iBooks Match?
You’re probably familiar with iTunes Match. For $25, you can have iTunes match your music library, making your music available in the “cloud,” either matching tracks with music from the iTunes Store, or uploading those tracks that are not available in the latter. Why not do something similar with iBooks? I have literally thousands of dead-tree books, and some of them are big and unwieldy, and I would love to be able to read them on my iPad, rather than on paper. (In fact, I’ve been wanting to read Shelby Foote’s Civil War Trilogy for some time, but the books are humongous.)
iBooks Match could work like this. Using the camera built in to all recent and current Macs – or even iOS devices – the iBooks program either grabs a picture of the cover, or scans the bar code (the latter would be much easier, and this technology exists already, in the Delicious Library catalog software). It then searches the iTunes Store’s books section to find matches, and, if any are found, adds them to your library.
Of course, this is certainly unlikely, as book publishers are even more reticent to offer any such type of service than the record labels were to offer iTunes Match (though they did accept Apple’s offer, which I find surprising). But allowing users to transfer their print libraries to digital would be a big leap forward for ebooks in general, as most serious readers would have, instead of a handful of ebooks, hundreds of them, if not more.
The second possibility I see is a sort of paid lending library system. Personally, as agreeable as I find reading on my iPad, I don’t buy many ebooks, because the price, when compared to print books, is either very close, or more expensive. And this for books that I’ll read once, and never be able to do anything with (sell used, loan or give away). A paid lending library that gives you access to a certain number of books per month, for example, would solve this problem, and since you don’t actually “own” ebooks, wouldn’t change much for users. It would also guarantee a bigger revenue stream for publishers. (Amazon has free ebook loans for members of Amazon Prime, which offers free shipping, streaming videos, and a loan of one book per month. So why can’t Apple do better?)
No matter what, I find it interesting that ebooks are important enough to warrant an Apple event. Of course, this could also be a way of presenting a new iPad 3 with a retina display. While reading on the current iPad is acceptable, a retina display would make it much more comfortable.
Posted: 1/3/2012 by kirk | Filed under: Apple & Mac OS X Tags: Apple, ebooks, iBooks | 2 Comments »
In my latest Macworld article, I take a stroll through the aisles of Apple’s iBookstore, the gateway to buying ebooks on the iPad. It’s ok, but I have some reservations. Check it out if you’re interested in ebooks.
Posted: 4/29/2010 by kirk | Filed under: iPad Tags: Apple, ebooks, iPad | No Comments »
One of the main reasons I wanted to buy Apple’s iPad is to use the device as an ebook reader. I’m a big reader, and have thousands of books, but would like to be able to read some books on a portable device. Aside from any discussion of the merits of this, I thought I would look at the two main apps for reading ebooks, Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBooks. (I’m leaving aside the many other apps that allow you to read free ebooks, or those which offer limited catalogs. I’m just looking at the two that let you read the broadest selection. And I won’t discuss selection here either, because the iPad is too new to have the selection that Amazon offers.)
First, Amazon currently has the edge in device ubiquity, with a Kindle app for the iPhone and iPod touch, as well as for the iPad. Apple’s iBooks will, however, be available for these devices in the fall, when the company releases a new version of their software. Amazon also, however, lets you read ebooks on their own device – the Kindle – or on a Mac or PC, with a program that that works on those platforms. Apple will presumably follow suit, with a Mac version of iBooks in the fall, and perhaps even a Windows version.
But the main question remains that of display. Reading an ebook, you want the broadest range of display options, so you can get the maximum reading pleasure from the books you buy.
Posted: 4/11/2010 by kirk | Filed under: books, iPad Tags: Amazon, Apple, ebooks, iPad, Kindle | 8 Comments »
Let’s begin with the Kindle app. Display looks more rudimentary with the Kindle, and layout of many books is not ideal, with improper paragraph spacing and widows and orphans (paragraphs display just a single line at the beginning or end of a page). Here are two examples of the same page of a book, showing both portrait and landscape view:
Several things stand out: first, the image looks somewhat dark and grayish, rather like it does on a standalone Kindle device. The actual image on screen looks brighter, but there is a gradient that fades away toward the edges. Second, the layout is stark, utilitarian, and doesn’t look like a “book”. This is not a bad thing, actually, as there are no extraneous filigrees to distract you. When you change pages, they just wipe from one side to the other. Also, Amazon’s landscape view displays a rather wide page, which cannot be adjusted. In some cases, the lines are too long to read comfortably, and I would rather be able to set the margins in that view to keep them narrower.
With the Kindle, you have limited options to change the display. You can change the font size, but only to five sizes, and you can change the color of the display: black fonts on a white background, white fonts on a black background, and sepia fonts on a beige background. The latter is nice, but the fonts aren’t dark enough, and they fade into the background. You can also change the brightness from the application, while you’re reading, to adapt to your current ambient lighting conditions.
Now let’s see how Apple does it with iBooks. Here are two examples of a book page:
The first thing that strikes you is the book metaphor: the pages and shadows that try to give you the impression that you’re reading something other than an ebook. I don’t see this as being essential, and in fact it is a bit distracting. There is a toolbar at the top of the page, and a progress bar at the bottom. You can tap in the center of the page to make these go away, leaving just the title of the book at the top, and a page counter (ie, 10 of 252) at the bottom. In addition, in landscape view, the book shows two “pages”. Again, this looks more like a book, and solves the problem of the Kindle’s wide pages, but this makes for very narrow lines. I don’t find this very readable.
But overall, Apple’s iBooks provides more options for displaying text. Apple gives you ten font sizes, from tiny to huge, and lets you choose from five fonts (Amazon imposes their font). As with the Kindle, you can adjust brightness with a slider. However, you cannot change the color of the page or the font. Apple continues with their book metaphor when you change pages. You can tap and drag a page, and watch a very detailed animation of a page-turn, at whatever speed you want. You can also just tap on the left or right of a page to have it “turn” with a sort of animated wipe. This eye candy is attractive at first, but the “wow” factor quickly gets stale.
Overall, I prefer the iBooks display, mainly for the ability to choose a font and a more precise size. I wish the toolbar would go away, or that there were an option to display it or not. I think different display colors could be useful, if the user is allowed to choose them, rather than just select from the three presets that Amazon offers. I don’t find the page turning animation useful, other than to show of the iPad’s abilities. Both apps display text crisply, because of the iPad’s screen, making reading quite easy.
In the end, the decision to buy a book from one or another will be, in part, fueled by a book’s availability (Amazon has far more books than Apple). But given the choice, at the same price, I’d choose to buy books for iBooks, because the reading experience is more flexible, and the display of text more attractive.
Apple today released iTunes 9.1, which is ready for the iPad due out later this week. One new feature is the “Books” library, which, instead of just holding audiobooks as before, now handles ebooks as well. iTunes – and the iPad – can read the ePub format, which is an open format that can have DRM (as will books sold by Apple, presumably) or not.
One way to get books in ePub format is from Gutenberg.org. For example, I downloaded a copy of Henry James’ The Aspern Papers, and tried to see what would happen if I added it to iTunes. Dragging it on iTunes’ icon did indeed add it, and here’s what iTunes looks like now:
As you can see, there is a section for books, above, and for audiobooks below.
So, I await my iPad to try out its ebook reader features, and hope, as well, that the iPhone and iPod touch will get an ebook reader that syncs with iTunes.
Posted: 3/30/2010 by kirk | Filed under: iPad, iPod & iTunes Tags: ebooks, iTunes | 6 Comments »