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Third time lucky?

When it comes to talking about tech gadgets, I confess to a poor track record: I have a low saving throw vs. shiny!, and so I fall into that category so beloved of the IT industry, the early adopter who'll buy anything. (I'd even buy a Palm Foleo .... if they hadn't paid more attention to all the skeptics and cancelled the thing.) You should therefore consume the rest of this post with an appropriate sprinkling of sodium chloride.

I spent last week bouncing from signing to reading to interview like a demented flea, trying to cram as much promotional work into six days as was humanly possible. Along the way, somehow my luggage expanded — one of the occupational hazards of being a bibliophile on a signing tour is that grateful bookshop proprietors will sometimes offer you a discount on purchases — and when I woke up back home, I discovered I'd acquired a Sony PRS-505 ebook reader.

Let's get one thing out of the way first: Sony used to be a really kick-ass consumer electronics and design company. But since their merger with a film conglomerate, they've widely become seen as Evil™ among those of us who take an interest in technology-as-legislation and openness; they're relentless champions of DRM and closed standards, even when it amounts to shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly. (The big irony is that their media division accounts for a much smaller proportion of their turnover than their hardware side; it's very much a case of the tail wagging the dog.) As debacles like the great rootkit scandal demonstrate, this seems to be a matter of company policy and until they learn better all their products are going to be tainted by this nonsense to some degree. But their electronics and design still kicks ass. What to do?

Back in the dark ages of the early 2000's, Sony produced an early ebook reader called the Librie.

Now, ebook readers are an interesting category of device. Nobody has yet built a perfect one. The Librie was unusual for its time in eschewing the traditional liquid crystal display (which requires current as long as it's displaying an image) and using E-Ink's electronic paper technology. Electronic paper is very slow and unresponsive, black and white only ... but only draws current when it's changing state. It's also flexible, has a contrast ratio similar to paper, and in mass production should be cheap. The selling point of the Librie was that you could load books into it, and turn several thousand pages before it needed a re-charge (equivalent to reading for several tens to hundreds of hours). Other ebook reader display technologies, or PDAs, tend to require re-charges after 2-8 hours, which is somewhat annoying.

The Librie, not to put it too pointedly, sucked. It could only read ebooks in one, proprietary format, available only from an ebook store run by Sony. You bought a book ... and it expired after 60 days! So it sold like last year's day planner, even in its launch market, Japan.

Someone at Sony was at least willing to put good money after bad. So in early 2006, they emitted Librie 2.0, the PRS-500 ebook reader. They dropped the tiny keyboard (used for annotations), improved the Windows-only host software so that it could import PDFs and RTF files (but you still needed a Windows PC) and some of the content no longer expired. More importantly, the display was a little better, the ebook file formats were documented, and hackers got their hands on the PRS-500 and wrote tools (notably libprs500) that allowed Mac, Linux, and UNIX users to convert files into something the PRS-500 could read, and to load and unload them from the device over a USB cable. It turns out that the PRS-500, like other ebook readers (such as the iRex Iliad and the forthcoming Bookeen Cybook 3) runs an embedded Linux kernel and custom software and is to some extent customizable.

I took a look at the PRS-500 and rolled the dice. I made my saving throw: the piggy bank breathed a sigh of relief. But then, last Friday, I saw a PRS-505.

The PRS-505 is Sony's third attempt at a consumer ebook reader, and it's pretty good. It's not ready for the mass market, but it'll convince bleeding-edge enthusiasts like myself to part with their money. It's not only got a Memory Stick slot for storing books, but a real SD card slot — a tacit admission that Memory Stick is a proprietary turkey that nobody uses — and all the storage areas (internal memory running to 192Mb, plus both cards) show up as ordinary USB mass storage devices when you plug the gizmo into a computer. It charges over USB, too, meaning there's one less wall wart to carry. The display is improved, with higher contrast and faster page transitions.

And ... it can read PDFs and RTF files natively. Just dump your files onto a memory card and stick it in; the spinning cursor will run for a while as the reader (which has a relatively gutless CPU) scans it, and then the files will all show up. Formatting a novel in RTF for display takes several seconds (as I said, it's not fast), but it works. PDFs are faster, although I'm not terribly happy with the PDF viewer's zoom. For the first time Sony have emitted an ebook reader that you can plug into a Mac or Linux box and use right away.

On the down side: they're still trying to make money through their walled garden of an ebook store. The PRS-505 sells for $350, and comes with a voucher for $200 of ebooks in the company store. That's $200 of books that you can't read on another device or do anything useful with, and you can't get the credit outside the US, and you have to use a Windows application to get it ... it's all rather annoying. But at least there's a back door now, and the door's open wide; with libprs500 I can convert files to the native BBeB format the PRS-505 uses (which display faster), and it's usable as-is.

As for why I bought it?

I spent an 11 hour flight from Heathrow to Seattle reading ebooks on my trusty old Palm TX. After six hours I had to recharge the battery; the recharger gizmo weighs twice as much as the PDA. And my eyesight is beginning to succumb to middle-aged bit rot; the four inch screen was a bit of a strain. Then, when I arrived, I was expected to do a whole bunch of public readings from Halting State. Now, I don't generally read from the book itself; I abridge and tweak the text, to make it flow more smoothly when I'm speaking, so I don't have to stop and gasp for breath halfway through a long sentence. I hit those readings with a subnotebook computer in hand, and I was constantly worried that I'd have battery problems, or that an unforseen software whoopsie would cause a kernel panic and I'd have to stop to reboot in the middle of things. I also had no fun at all with overhead lights reflecting off the backlit screen. In principle I could have prepared my reading drafts and printed them out on paper before I set off ... but in practice, I left it too late.

Being able to dump those files onto the PRS-505, formatted for reading on a device that has a battery life measured in months and can be read outdoors in direct sunlight or on a podium under spotlights, would have been really useful. (Alas, I didn't buy it until the last day of the tour, and this use didn't occur to me until I was on the flight home.) And indeed, I think this is what I'll be doing in future. Even if it doesn't do much else, the PRS-505 is half the weight and half the size of an A4 folder full of papers. (And it can play MP3s. Did I say it could play MP3s?)

So what's wrong with it?

As a basic ebook reader, I'd have to say nothing. But it's not going to take the market by storm, or get much love beyond the already-extant ebook afficionados, for a simple reason: to get books onto it you need a host computer. Even if you've got Project Gutenburg mirrored on a Linux box, rather than relying on Sony's DRM-locked company store, you need a host computer. What we really need is an ebook reader with Wifi or a phone subsystem, and Amazon — or better still, a reader's account at the Library of Congress or the British Library — on tap. There are strong rumours that Amazon are working on such a device, but if so, it hasn't surfaced yet. Meanwhile, the PRS-505 is a got-it-right-at-the-third-attempt success; Sony finally got a clue about what the customers wanted and, however grudgingly, gave them a flash of the old brilliance that made Akio Morita's firm what it was in the 1980s.

71 Comments

1:

No search function yet?

2:

I've had the PRS-500 for a while and I'm pretty happy with it, would like the 505, but there doesn't seem to be enough changed to make it worth it, the only thing I miss is the USB storage function, the 500 you have to use either drag n drop onto SD, Connect or libprs500, none of which are ideal.

3:

How is the flicker on page turns? that was the killer for me with the 500- just too distracting to have that happen every page.

4:

Couldn't agree with you more, on all counts, as per discussion last time at http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2007/03/why_the_commercial_ebook_marke.html :-)

Nothing wrong with this new Sony device, by the sounds of it at least, in terms of technology. But, but, but... it needs a phone in it (not wifi, not yet, not until there's pervasive no-passphrase-required wifi, which there ain't) and you need to be able to get every book on it.

I still think there's mileage in me selling these devices and providing an "interface server" where you buy a book from me (via the built-in phone) and I turn around and immediately buy it from Amazon E-Books or Baen or Fictionwise or something -- you don't even have to know I'm doing that. You said last time that it required the complete overturning of the current copyright regime, but does this require copyright changes? I'm buying something and immediately selling it on without looking in it -- isn't that permitted by the doctrine of first sale in the US, if nothing else?

Oh, and I have now read Rainbows End as recommended. You were right: I needed to. :)

I still have no answer to how to provide this without it costing more than a hardback book, without me striking oil in the back garden or something.

5:

Of course the Palm TX will load directly from WiFi using manybooks.net and if saved as RTF would work with the PRS-505.

6:

Bleh. Proprietary formats and DRM FTLose. Not to mention buying books that disappear after 60 days. Who the hell thinks these are good ideas?

7:

I agree with the idea that a phone-type system would be a good thing for an ebook reader. I want to subscribe to RSS feeds from my favourite authors, and get few chapters (or the whole thing in Cory Doctorow's case) delivered to my device automatically. This sample should come with a link/button that would enable me to buy the book (assuming I like what I've just read) with one click.

One question- why do they have such a puny amount of memory when flash storage costs so little these days? Why not just put in 2GB or more of memory (which would translate to a LOT of ebooks) and dispense with the need for card slots altogether?

8:

JustAnotherJohn: I blame the MPAA and RIAA for drinking the kool-aid proffered by the software industry marketing sharks who figured that DRM pipe-dreams were something plausible-sounding that they could sell to technologically illiterate executives.

There is an industry behind DRM -- a multi-million dollar software industry -- and those are the folks you want to blame.

Sony's problem is that a good hardware company was hijacked by the executives from BMG after the merger. At least with the PRS-505 they seem to have finally, however grudgingly, given up on the idea that all content must be DRM-locked and proprietary.

9:

I hear ya Charlie. I just pray for the day when the artists, content providers, and people who actually want to EMPOWER their customers are able to rise up and throw off the shackles of their DRM-enforcing overlords. I hope we are beginning to see this, with some DRM free iTunes, upcoming DRM free Amazon .mp3s, and artists like Radiohead throwing off the yoke.

10:

Why in the world would one buy the Sony, which only reads DRMed eBooks in Sony's proprietary DRMed format (surprise, surprise) and which requires one to run Windows in order to purchase said eBooks? The iRex iLiad seems a far more sensible choice, especially as it supports marginally-less-stupid/evil Mobipocket DRM, which means there are more than 5 books available, heh.

11:

Because the Sony can actually read text, word and PDF files without conversion from the SD card going from memory last time I checked. You can also buy multiformat books from Fictionwise who allow you to download in the Sony LRF (non-DRM) format. :)

12:

Simon@11 - what do you mean? The iLiad reads .pdf, .txt, .html, Mobipocket, and does so without conversion, does it not?

13:

@Roland - I know the Iliad is good, I more meant that the Sony Reader isn't quite as limited as it sounds, I use mine mostly without connecting with the windows software, I just download books to my SD card with my Palm and swap cards over. The main reason I got a Sony over Iliad was simple, the price :)

14:

Simon@13: Are there as many LRF books available from Fictionwise as PRC books from Mobipocket? I know that Sony will probably be the first device to support the upcoming Adobe eBook format, and that there will be a lot of content available in that format at launch.

15:

@Roland: If you buy a book as multiformat from fictionwise, you can download it in various non-DRM formats, including Mobipocket PRC, PalmDoc, LIT, PDF, etc so if you want to future proof yourself multiformat is a good way to go, with the drawback that not everyone is willing to make their books available like that, lots still prefer DRM unfortunately (as you no doubt well know!)

16:

I just want something that I can read my Mobipocket stuff on that doesn't cost a bazillion dollars. I'm still using my Palm Zire 71, and I have a Palm Tungsten E2 as a backup. But I'm starting to want something different.

17:

I'm still shocked that some enterprising young company hasn't come out with a plain, simple 7" or 10" screen ebook reader with PDF, RTF, and plaintext support, selling for less than $200 (with a target price of $99 in a year or so). The tech is there, apparently, it's just that nobody has bothered to put it in one box.

18:

I have a PRS-500, use it all the time, and have been thinking of getting a PRS-505. The new revision seems to have fixed the biggest problems with the 500: you can interact with the storage directly without a separate card reader, the page-flip time is supposedly far improved, and there is more screen contrast.

The Adobe PDF support is still horrible -- they seriously shouldn't have partnered with Adobe to do this. Adobe is dedicated to perfect PDF rendering, which is useless for normal-sized PDFs on a small screen. It would have been easy for a third party to do better. Right now, none of your PDFs can be viewed on the Sony Reader with readable font-sizes.

I don't know why Sony hasn't included an LED light yet, although they sell a clip-on for $15. On my PRS-500, I use a clip-on light I bought from Walmart.

I do know why there is no search function: eInk devices can't really use a keyboard without a separate LCD screen. If you want search, you can use the Connect software on your computer, or buy an eBookwise 1150 -- the apex of LCD ebook readers. And it's $200 cheaper than the Sony Reader. Except for having an LCD screen (and that's a big except), the eBookwise is better than the Reader in just about every way. You'll have to buy the GEB ebook librarian software to put your own books on it, but that's more than worth it. I gave my 1150 to my dad when I got the Sony Reader.

I imagine that the Connect software is still a horrible and useless iTunes clone (which is itself a fairly bad program on Windows). But maybe Sony has improved it. Doesn't matter much, give that you can now put your files on the Reader directly, which is all the Connect software was good for anyway.

My girlfriend has graciously accepted the possible donation of a second-hand PRS-500, but I'll probably wait until the next-next Sony Reader revision before buying another, or at least until my current device conks out.

Meanwhile, I would be reading Halting State right now if I had it in electronic format instead of dead tree format back home.

19:

Hey Charlie,

Have you considered an OLPC?

20:

How does ease of use compare between this and the Palm TX?

The benefit of a longer-lasting, easier-to-read screen almost has me sold that I should buy a dedicated device, but I'm pretty happy with the built-in ebook reader on the TX, and so far haven't had any major problems with the screen size... and the Sony is a bunch of money for a single-use item...

21:

Any chance you could sumarize what you've been reading?

22:

D. Williams: if they were on sale in Borders, I'd buy one. Alas, XO-1's are not on the market. (As yet.)

Marisa: the TX is a more powerful beast that does many more things than the PRS-505. It's better in almost every way. The only thing the PRS-505 is better at is displaying a page of text under random lighting conditions -- but at that one task, it kicks the TX's ass right out of the sports arena and halfway across the car park.

If you read a lot and have aging eyes, you may want the PRS-505 (or a Bookeen Cybook 3 when they ship, or the rumoured Amazon Kindle). If you want a PDA, stick to the TX. Or carry both -- they're still lighter, together, than a typical laptop's battery.

B. Dewhirst: see previous postings in this blog.

23:

Looks pretty nice. I wonder if it will display bitmapped files. I guess it could be made to do that - if it works for illustrated books, it has the capability.

The reason I speculate is that I've long wished for the ability to just digitize my books and recycle the pulp. I'd rather be able to buy them electronically in a reasonable format and at a reasonable price, but that seems like an idea that's still science fiction. So the ability to just scan it and store it in a one bit per pixel bitmapped image and then display it would be really nice.

If you're willing to saw off the binding, apparently you can get a really good sheet-feeding scanner for about $800.

(Can you tell that I really liked Rainbow's End?)

24:

I don't mind an ebook reader which uses a proprietary DRM formet.

But, as an occasional crator of digital content, I loath the idea of an ebook reader which requires me to buy the right to publish. DRM=only is just plain wrong.

Such locked ebook systems are not like the cost of paying a printer, which is the traditional barrier to self-publishing. There's nothing wrong about paying the cost of production and distribution, and being in control.

Such locked ebook systems are also not quite a vanity publishing scam. But they feel pretty damn close.

25:

Makes me feel silly for shelling out for the 500 model, that's for sure.

The key to using the Reader with Fictionwise, where often neither Sony Reader nor Multiformat is available, is to buy the .LIT version and use any of the various cracking tools to convert it to something readable.

It's amusing and a little sad that Sony is still trying to flog their own eBook store with this thing. Device manufacturers trying to control the content market has become a running joke, and everyone but the manufacturers seems to know it.

26:

@7: Brian, flash memory isn't that cheap and it's getting more expensive. It makes a lot more sense, cost-wise, to support SD cards.

27:

It will be a long long time before I forgive Sony for putting rootkit malware on their CDs. Hate. Hate. Hate.

28:

How come flash memory is getting more expensive? That would be quite an exceptional behaviour for high technology items.

29:

I regularly read PDF ebooks on the Sony PRS-500. They're typically unreadable in default portrait orientation, but switching to landscape (by holding down the "Size" button) makes all the difference. In this view, the text is slightly small but quite readable.

30:

I saw one at Barnes & Noble the other day, it looked really neat. The first ebook reader I could see myself using.

Still a bit pricey for most avid readers, I think. And I'd like to see more features and more open formats. Full color illustrations would be a nice addition.

What I'd also like to see are wireless ebook readers that could interface with Microsoft or Google's digitalization projects. They're scanning hundreds of thousands if not millions of books, many of them rare and out of print for a century.

31:

David @ 28: So many devices are using flash memory now that supply can't keep up with demand. Phones, music players, video players, portable storage, even hard drives...

32:

BrianR: I would definitely not argue for removing the card slot and adding more internal memory. The world is full of SD cards that people no longer use since they got a bigger one for their camera or something, but they still have a usable size for ebooks. A text ebook would be a few 100K. Most digital cameras come with at least 16M SD which everyone promptly replaces with at least 1G. For me, 16M would fit enough books for quite a bit of traveling, and packing a couple of extra cards doesn't exactly add lots of weight. And of course, if I think it's a hassle having more than one card I can always get a bigger one. As for me, I like the environmental non-impact of reusing the small ones I already have.

As for phone/Wifi/etc I'm sure that would be nice, but then the device will immediately start being a surfboard and people will complain that the display sucks since it's slow. Being able to get more ebooks via Project Gutenberg or whatever wherever I am could be nice but I don't see that as a must-have. More interesting would probably be the option to beam books to other devices, either manually or based on general personal preferences. Imagine just telling the device what you like to read and then carrying it across town to see what new interesting stuff it picked up for you. ;-)

33:

BrianR: I would definitely not argue for removing the card slot and adding more internal memory. The world is full of SD cards that people no longer use since they got a bigger one for their camera or something, but they still have a usable size for ebooks. A text ebook would be a few 100K. Most digital cameras come with at least 16M SD which everyone promptly replaces with at least 1G. For me, 16M would fit enough books for quite a bit of traveling, and packing a couple of extra cards doesn't exactly add lots of weight. And of course, if I think it's a hassle having more than one card I can always get a bigger one. As for me, I like the environmental non-impact of reusing the small ones I already have. Also, an SD card is a very stable interface that'll work in just about any other system.

As for phone/Wifi/etc I'm sure that would be nice, but then the device will immediately start being a surfboard and people will complain that the display sucks since it's slow. Being able to get more ebooks via Project Gutenberg or whatever wherever I am could be nice but I don't see that as a must-have. More interesting would probably be the option to beam books to other devices, either manually or based on general personal preferences. Imagine just telling the device what you like to read and then carrying it across town to see what new interesting stuff it picked up for you. ;-)

34:

Just to give an idea of what the future might bring if storage becomes cheap enough, the estimate of the digitalization project we're doing here is that around 100,000 books scanned as full color JPEG2000 files with full metadata and OCR for searching would be about 30 terabytes. So in a decade or two it should be simple enough for everyone to carry around the equivalent of an entire public or small university library in their pockets...

35:

Which subnotebook computer do you use for your readings? I looking into subnotebooks right now. So, I'm curious what you're using for your readings.

36:

John: on this trip I used a Kohjinsha SH-6 I picked up in Japan -- available over here as the Data Evolution Cathena CX-7007. Battery life's not good, though, and I really need to get round to sticking Ubuntu on it.

For future trips, I suspect an Asus Eee features in next year's budget.

37:

The Eee whose spec drops as the price rises? So far, all the "ultra portable" machines I've seen have had their price rapidly rise into terratory occupied by full size low-end laptops. I'm not impressed :/

The PRS-505 dosn't look bad, and it's a nice price on ebay. But I really can't afford it these days.

38:

Andrew: I think you mean "whose price rises as the dollar drops". (There was a final product announcement including availability dates, prices, and specs today, BTW.)

39:

Charlie:
please do relate your successes with the Kohjinsha once you've gotten Ubuntu loaded and running. Your SH-6 looked both shiny! and sweet, and it seemed quite legible during your reading at Borders in sf.ca.us.

40:

Charles ("Pardon me while I lubricate") wrote:

I don't generally read from the book itself; I abridge and tweak the text, to make it flow more smoothly when I'm speaking, so I don't have to stop and gasp for breath halfway through a long sentence.
Notwithstanding the fact you had had to do this (at least) once scant hours before: your reading was excellent.

...
Was it just me bla[cn]king out at the wrong moment, or did you in fact transition seamlessly from explaining why the second-person narrative technique was so appropriate into the reading itself? No pause, no opening pitch, just (IIRC):

[...] You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike.
You are sitting, half-asleep, in an armchair. Your eyes are closed, and you feel very unsteady. [...] And you are asking yourself, like the witchy weird voice in a video of an old Laurie Anderson performance: "What am I doing here?"



P.S.: Thank you for the pronunciation of Jack's first vocalization in his debut chapter. (It's a much shorter utterance than I'd have guessed.)

41:

Christopher: yep, you got it exactly right.

That was the second time I did a one-hour solid reading/Q&A session that day, and I had two interviews in-between: my throat was in danger of crumbling to dust and blowing away.

42:

I, err, work in the company in the UK that is currently the sole distributer of the Asus Eee.

They are really rather good - the only downside is (especially as an e-reader) their battery life. Which is currently running at about 2.5 hours.

I'm hoping that there's going to be some work on this, or at the very least I'm going to try and convince folk to buy an extra battery - one to use and one to charge.

The current model (well two) runs a flavour of linux, includes Open office and is really ultra portable. I hope to get one before xmas.

Hand's up who's my friend...I though not.

If the battery life issue can be figured, they really will make superb multi-purpose machines though. They're not quite laptops, but they're much better than PDA's.

43:

We salute all Northern Hemisphere guinea p... err.. early adopters for when that far off epoch arrives that any such animals becomes available.

:)

44:

Blue @43 - are you talking about the Eee?

If so, that far off epoch is November the 1st :P

45:

Serraphin: an Eee is on my shopping list. Any info you can supply me would be welcome (especially where to throw my money) ...

46:

Mr S - I'll drop you a mail at some point today, just to avoid me loosing my job if I make a comment not considered PC (Which I don't think would happen...but you know how life goes)!

47:

I've dropped you a mail Mr S titled "Asus Eee" - I think I have the right address, but drop me a line if it's non existant.

48:

Mail received and replied to -- ta!

49:

So why bother with a Sony PRS-500/505 when the Cybook Gen3 is now up to firmware version 0.99 and is close to being released?!?

Yep, I've been testing out the Cybook (from Bookeen) for NAEB for almost two months now. (Check out the images and comments at MobileRead's forum.) They support both format-yourself mobi (prc) ebooks *AND* Secure Mobipocket ebooks as purchased from Fictionwise, Amazon or Mobipocket (or any other Secure Mobipocket retailer) and they handle unsecured eReader (format it yourself), txt and simple htm/html files. By simple, I mean ebooks which contain the entire story in one html file. They should shortly be able to handle the multiple-html-file ebooks (a la BAEN) within a few weeks as well as rtf files.

Right now, the PDF reading sucks on the Cybook because they haven't yet implemented zoom and pan, but that will be available shortly (within the next two weeks). And the Cybook also handles typical jpeg image files and mp3 audio. (Okay, the MP3 hasn't yet been implemented, but it's due in the next firmware update - which will arrive *before* the Cybook goes retail.) So that means users will be able to play music or audiobooks on it as well.

Prices will be in the $350 range (US) but it's a darned nice device and as soon as the FBReader (FB2) module is implemented that will give even more reading capability.

Derek

50:

Derek: if the Cybook 3 was, like, actually in the shops I'd probably have bought one instead of the Sony Reader. My point is, the Sony Reader has matured enough to be usable. The Cybook remains vapourware until and unless they start shipping to real live customers: promising vapourware, but it's still vapourware if I can't buy one.

An epaper machine with FBReader would, indeed, be delicious. But so would colour, Wifi, and so on ... and you know what? If you want all that, and don't mind the battery life issue, a Nokia N800 will do it all today.

51:

Charlie,

I'm sorry, but it's not quite vaporware. It *will* be released, possibly before the Amazon Kindle hits the market, and probably before the the Hanlin V9 (that one's due out sometime between December '07 and 1st Quarter '08) hits. Whether it can compete against the Sony remains to be seen. I believe that until the Sony reliably addresses the inability to support Mobipocket, eReader or other widely-available ebook format, Sony's 'marketing genius' will prove to be as long-term unviable as that of Betamax.

I've lived with Betamax for years, and it is arguably *better* than VHS, but better tapes and hardware couldn't make up for all the baggage Sony put into it. Same with stuffing rootkits into the Sony VAIOs and their music CDs.

I don't necessarily *like* the DRM that Mobipocket uses, but I can *GET* the wide array of titles I can't get with Sony PRS. Hell, even eHarlequin is going with Mobipocket. (Don't tell anyone, but I'm really crazy for vampire romance and paranormal romance mysteries.)

Derek

52:

What about marketing to academics? One of our guys mentioned casually that "it's all in Bourbaki", and it would be really nice if someone were to digitize it.

Which got me to thinking about the expense of reference texts, their bulkiness, their ability to consume large amounts of my personal budget.

With these new technologies, conceivably one could have the entire Springer-Verlag catalogue On One Reader!!!!!!! I know a few people who would pay for that :-)

53:

ScentOfViolets,

Yep. And for all those juicy textbooks with lots of graphics, I *would* recommend an iLiad, from iRex. It's got the bigger screen and thus the PDF versions display quite nicely, without needing to be zoomed. Of course, the iLiad will set you back between $700-$1,300 (Europeans pay 700 Euros).

Still, a nice dedicated ebook reader containing all of S-Vs catalog would be quite nice to have. Love their programming list!

Derek

54:

Serraphin at 44 :

No, I am talking about anything ever making it to Australia pick-up-off-shelfable. :)

55:

I have been for the last few years looking for a tablet PC format (about the size of the sony) that I could use to sit in my recliner or lie in my hammock, connect to my home wireless network, and read from the web, or from PDFs on my home computer. I have been wearing reading glass since I was around 42 (14 years), so a PDA is pretty useless for me. I guess you would also want offline mode -- this is what the Sony is ?!?!?

I saw something a few months ago that I thought would work -- at a local doc-in-the-box. It was a tablet PC (or large PDA?) slightly larger than the Sony reader, maybe 1.5 cm thick, that had a stylus when mobile, or plugged into a docking station with a keyboard for entering patient notes. I have tried to track it down at computer stores, they all say, nobody is selling anything like this anymore, it's a total niche market. So at some point here, I'm going to go back to the doc-in-the-box, ask to see one, and get the model number, etc, and see if I can pick up one used somewhere.

The tablets that are still on the market are > $2000, too much for something like this. I will provide more info if I find anything interesting.

56:

Chris @55,

There are the UMPC tablet PCs out there. They run between a 5" and 7" screen, eat battery power like you own a nuclear power plant, support WiFi and are fully-functional Windows PCs. They tend to run between $1,100 and $3,999, but you can kick back on that hammock, if you so desire. Personally, for just *reading*, I'd shell out the $300-$400 for a 6" eInk ebook reader like the Sony, Hanlin or - no surprise here - Bookeen Cybook Gen3.

BTW, UMPC stands for Ultra-Mobile PC.

Derek

57:

Seraphin:

I'll be your best friend if I can get an Asus Eee before Xmas. I love the concept. I'd probably use it for just e-mail, browsing and reading ebooks. And it looks great too.

Charlie:

I can see that e-book readers are going to be really easy to manufacture in the long run, possibly with colour, posibbly with touch screen and able to store a whole library. But the main question has got to be how do the authors make money if there's no DRM. I agree, DRM is the devil's work, but I'd also like to see a business model similar to Radiohead and their 'pay what you like' for the product then make money from gigs. Can writers do that d'you think?
Just finished Jennifer Morgue and loved it. Keep up the good work.

B

58:

Brent: just tip-toe over to www.webcription.net and read Eric Flint's editorials on selling books without DRM. Hint: he makes money. Another hint: Baen (through their Webscription subsidiary) have the most profitable ebook storefront on the web that I know of, and other publishers are joining in (including Tor, again, if my information is correct).

Most readers are honest and are willing to contribute to authors to ensure a steady supply of future titles. There is a problem insofar as (a) the pricing model for ebooks is somewhat broken and (b) readers have no idea how much or how little of their money goes to the author, or how many people buy books, or indeed what publishers and authors have to do to produce the stuff they enjoy reading ... but these speed-bumps can be smoothed over.

59:

It's really depressing how far Sony has fallen since they started hanging out with the "content" owners.

I traded many fine hours at low wages in 1988 for a nice matte black cassette Walkman. Very Gibsonian--it had weird rectangular rechargable batteries because cylindrical ones would bloat the form factor. It was smaller than any other tape player in the world aside from Sony's own "hurt me plenty" line at a few hundred dollars more.

To an extent difficult to imagine now, Sony *was* high quality portable electronics. Apple never would have had an entrance to this market had Sony embraced MP3 and a non-assholic sync tool.

60:

Jay: Sony didn't start "hanging out" with content owners -- they underwent a reverse takeover by one. That is to say, Sony bought Universal Studios during a cash-rich takeover spree. Trouble is, Universal Studios then began wagging the dog at a policy level, and the electronics side of the business were made to tow the line.

It's the same sort of reverse takeover that turned Apple from a failing vendor of confusing beige boxes running an obsolete OS into what it is today (with one surreal difference: the CEO of the taken-over company that ate Apple from inside was also one of the original co-founders of the company).

Sony still make high quality portable electronics -- you just have to be able and willing to pay for their professional gear.

61:

Charlie:
In that case, I see the main stumbling block being the hesitancy of both the publishers and the hardware manufacurers. If (good)readers were manufactured for about $100 and the content was made available for a reasonable price, whilst paying the writer a reasonable amount, then it's a win/win situation. Not to mention opening up the market to new forms of entertainment.

I'm hoping I won't have to carry a single book in 5 years time. Also, it'd be nice for students to be able to carry every free text book they own on one device. OK, maybe a little optimistic :)

62:

The Asus Eee is pretty, but as a minor kvetch, I don't like how they've given up space from the screen for speakers.

I just picked up a cute little Nokia 770 pda, and I'm still sorting it out. Decent battery life, needs a keyboard (which the newest model, the N810, has built in). I haven't read any full-length books on it yet, but at $150, it was something of an impulse buy.

One thing which bugs me is that I compare it to some of the linux-based "Personal Media Players" which are out, which would make dandy PDAs with gigs of storage, but they're not really set up to used that way.

63:

Sebastian; I think it's more a case of them putting the speakers in the screen bezel to use some of the empty space. Otherwise the screen would look pretty lonely in that big shell. (There are rumours of a higher resolution/larger screen version of the Eee coming out some time around the middle of next year.)

64:

Has anyone found anywhere other than RM making the Eee available in the UK?

65:

Stuart: Eee's are listed already on www.ebay.co.uk -- grey market imports at rather more than the price RM is charging, but if you want one right now and damn the expense, you can have one.

66:

Charlie: cheers. I never thought to check eBay. Not sure about damning the expense, although this is nominally at least for my daughter for Christmas :)

67:

Asus Eee
They're on e-buyer and overclockers.co.uk

They look great, and I'm sure they'll do very well. I'm gettting one for myself, one for Mum and one for my nephew. Ultra portable. Gets my vote.

B

68:

The PRS-500 supports RTF, PDF, &c besides just the proprietary BeBB or whatever format. My Laptop has an SD card reader, so does my PDA, my phone takes mini SD cards and can surf the web, i've no trouble getting books on the reader. Since I'm not horribly picky about format, I usually just stick with RTF - "It works."

I've read probably a dozen books. Frankly, I'm doing most of my purchasing through webscriptions.net (The company that Baen sells through.)

Also selling through them is Tor, Del Rey, and a number of other semi-recognizable.

fwiw, the sony prs-500 is damn nice. Just remember to hit the next page button about the same time you'd get ready to turn the page on a real book and you don't really notice the "lag" to turn the page.

I'm waiting to see what comes out after the 505 before I upgrade, but I've got pretty much only *nix machines, and despite hundreds of people saying "You can only use it on windows" and "You have to use their software" I havn't found anything of the like.

It's not exactly expensive to buy a 12-in-1 card reader and dump your RTF's or what not on the card, stick it in and bing, there it is.

I recommend cycling through the various sizes at the beginning - the CPU is rather gutless, as mentioned above, but once it does it's calculations it stores them in an XML config file and doesn't have to redo the calculations again.

(Yes. XML.)

69:

I bought an Eee through RM: the good news is that it's a vanilla Asus build and doesn't have any RM badging. It's a great little machine, and I'm extremely happy with it. There's a fairly thriving user community over at http://www,eeeuser.com. It comes loaded with FBReader, and the screen is a joy to use despite the 800x480 res.

70:

While I drool over the idea of using a decent eBook, I also need colour for my comic collection, so hopefully the next decent eBook will have colour ;-)

BTW Charlie, **love** your work. Your least best might only be interesting, but your best is so brain-burningly awesome that my friends & family look at me strangely when I start to rave about your writings.

71:

Like @27, I boycott Sony, and recommend against their products whenever someone asks me for advice on consumer electronics (which happens often, my saving throws are even worse than yours). I also root against their proposed "standards" like Blu-Ray, although not to the extent of actually committing my money to HD-DVD.

I read my ebooks off my phone when waiting for a bus, and thus I'd rather use a device I already have rather than yet another unitasking piece of electronics to haul around. In any case, DRM-ed eBooks are not acceptable under any conditions.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 15, 2007 11:49 AM.

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