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Doctorow: Ebooks Neither E Nor Books 190

xanderwilson writes "Author Cory Doctorow has released his paper/speech for the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference this year into the public domain. A very interesting read about his experience with Magic Kingdom (which he is soon re-releasing under a more lenient Creative Commons license), the failure of e-books, and filesharing as a tool for creators."
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Doctorow: Ebooks Neither E Nor Books

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  • Word wrap? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:19PM (#8270096) Homepage Journal
    I wouldn't read e-books either if they have this same problem with no-word-wrap. Horizontal scrolling to read in my humble experience is annoying, too bad someone didn't do a better job of formatting it.

    I can't think of many examples where I've prefered an e-reference over printed matter. The paradigm is that paper is portable and requires no power (aside from a light source) to read, never expires, never needs an upgrade (other than me needing glasses, which would apply equally in either case) and is durable (drop my Zaurus or laptop and I'll cry, drop my book and I'll just pick it back up.)

    Complimenting e-books and paper seems reasonable, though I'll go to the paper first every time.

    • Re:Word wrap? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rm007 ( 616365 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:27PM (#8270205) Journal
      Complimenting e-books and paper seems reasonable, though I'll go to the paper first every time

      Definitely, paper if you actually want to read the thing, electronic to give you more flexibility in using the text, as you and the author of the article mention. We all know what staring at a screen for long periods does to your eyes, even if you have a large, hi-res monitor. Given the choice of one, it has to be paper.
      • Two things:

        1. While I haven't seen it myself, a professor of mine in college got a chance at some research lab who did display/rendering work to read a document rendered on-screen at 600 DPI (yes, six HUNDRED)! That's the exact same density as the pages your printer typically spits out. Consumer systems at the moment do what, somewhere between 72 and 96DPI on-screen? He said that all of his objections about eye-strain completely vanished in a moment.

        2. Even for those of us who won't have access to on

      • Most devices that are used for ebooks have LCD screens so there is no fatigue.
    • Re:Word wrap? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DuSTman31 ( 578936 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:45PM (#8270394)
      never expires, never needs an upgrade

      Unless it's a computer book.. I know I've got books that act as references to software that no-one uses anymore because newer versions have come out, as well as references for APIs that I end up not using because expansions in newer versions have rendered it incomplete

      It may be true, of course, that they've not become incorrect, and that they may be of historical interest, but that's all the use they are now, and it seems a great waste

      Sure, it may not seem as natural to read off a screen as it is to read off paper (primarily, I think, because you can hold a book in your hand, and remember the position you were reading from by that reference), but I'd rather have E-books, or even a web page or stand alone reference program for that, as it avoids the wastage.

      • never expires, never needs an upgrade

        Unless it's a computer book...

        Or a college textbook. It's particularly annoying when a university class requires, say, the fifth edition of book X, when the only substantive difference between the 5th and 4th editions appears to be inconsequential additions that throw the page numbering so reading and exercise assignment references by the professor^Wgrad student assitant are relevant only to the 5th edition. "No, you can't buy the used 4th edition for $40, you have t

    • Re:Word wrap? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pla ( 258480 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:52PM (#8270468) Journal
      Horizontal scrolling to read in my humble experience is annoying, too bad someone didn't do a better job of formatting it.

      Umm... How big of a font do you use in your browser?

      A lot of people have complained about the formatting, but I use an out-of-the-box Netscape 7.0, and it looks fine - Standard 80-column plaintext, just like you'd get from an old DOS text file, or anything from Project Gutenberg. No long lines, no funky characters, no gaudy color schemes...

      Sure, making it a tad prettier wouldn't hurt, but I don't know why everyone has complained about it so far. Have people actually grown so used to having pretty NP fonts, with a nice background and internal hyperlinks, that they can't stand what once-upon-a-time existed as the dominant form of text on the PC?
      • How big of a font do you use in your browser?

        The correct answer to this question is "a font size that's comfortable for me to read."

        Perhaps on your desktop, 80-column text is easy to read -- but what about on my pocketpc/smartphone/tiny device? It can't display more than 40 characters per line even if I wanted it to...
      • Have people actually grown so used to having pretty NP fonts, with a nice background and internal hyperlinks, that they can't stand what once-upon-a-time existed as the dominant form of text on the PC?


    • by etLux ( 751445 )
      Word wrap? The convenience of readability? Good Pluto's rectum-fired ghost, man, is that all you're concerned over? Let's see you wrap fish or line the litter box with an e-book... To me, these issues are far, far more critical.
  • Ebooks (Score:5, Informative)

    by mknewman ( 557587 ) * on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:19PM (#8270100)
    I'm a regular Ebook purchaser, mainly PeanutPress which is now owned by Palm, but also a few for MS's book reader. I read them on my PC and on my PocketPC. It's quite a good Ebook reader platform, nice bright screen and fast paging. Marc
  • More info on Cory (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rope_a_Dope ( 522981 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:23PM (#8270155)
    He runs a fairly popular blog at [] where you can read about his exploits at the ETCON conference.
    Also, his book is actually titled Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. More information about his original release of the book, and re-release with the Creative Commons license can be read on his blog, and give good insight into what authors can expect when they release a book with a less restrictive license.
    • Re:More info on Cory (Score:5, Informative)

      by pigpogm ( 70382 ) <> on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:31PM (#8270242) Homepage
      His second book [] is now out, too - Eastern Standard Tribe.

      The first was so successful, that he's releasing this one the same way - free to download, or buy the printed version.
      • While releasing his books under a creative commons license worked well for him I wonder what would happen if a normal (read unfamous) person attempted the same thing. Would a CC license help an unknown writer or hurt their chances of getting a book deal?
        • by CleverNickName ( 129189 ) * <wil AT wilwheaton DOT net> on Friday February 13, 2004 @03:25PM (#8272426) Homepage Journal

          While releasing his books under a creative commons license worked well for him I wonder what would happen if a normal (read unfamous) person attempted the same thing. Would a CC license help an unknown writer or hurt their chances of getting a book deal?

          IIRC, Cory was relatively unknown prior to the publication of Down and Out. He was known within circles of SF readers, but not so much in the coveted "mainstream."

          By doing this crazy thing and releasing his book -- for free! -- online, he made some very big waves in the publishing world, and people started paying attention to him. As a result, Down and Out sold tons of dead tree copies, and I think the downloads are into the millions.

          When I tried my hand at publishing, I wondered the same thing. Sure, some people may have known me because of my acting work, or because of my weblog, but I didn't know if it would translate into mainstream sales. While I didn't offer Dancing Barefoot for free download, it was mostly online already, scattered across two years of weblog entries. When my book was first shipping, I would get e-mails from people who said "I just read your site, liked what I saw, and consequently bought your book." Sure, it's not the same as giving away the whole book, but I think it's similar.

          All those people who bought it (over 3000 in just under four months) caught the attention of O'Reilly, and now I have a three book deal with them. None of that would have happened without the Internet, so I think a CC license will definately HELP an unknown writer.
    • Cory is also a regular visitor to TechTV's The Screen Savers to explain position statements from the EFF.
  • by hymie3 ( 187934 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:27PM (#8270197)
    To say that releasing under the Creative Commons is less restricive is certainly disingenuous. While this statement is true, it totally disregards *how* lenient it is.

    Basically, anyone, anywhere, can take this work and do anything (noncommercial) with the work. Write a screenplay. Make a rap version of it. Write fanfic. Anything.

    Although some franchises turn a blind eye to such activies (startrek fanfic, for example, is allowed to exist), Doctorow is, literally, giving us all a license to whatever we want.

    In today's world of "sue first, ask questions later", this move is amazing and should be applauded. Good job! I hope that this proves to be a success, both from a creative perspective and an economic one.
    • by farmgeek ( 318817 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @01:03PM (#8270584) Journal
      No, if you bother to read you'll see that it was already under a Creative Commons license, just a more restrictive one that allowed copies to be made and shared, but nothing else.

      The license it is now under allows for pretty much any non-commercial use. Basically, do what ever you want to with it as long as you're not making any money off of it.
  • Paper manuals (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:29PM (#8270220)
    Several open source projects like MySQLhave found a way to make money by selling their maunal as a printed book, even though all of the content of said book is already available online. Some people just like having their documentation on paper so they have more screen space for other things.
    • Re:Paper manuals (Score:2, Informative)

      by Endive4Ever ( 742304 )
      The FSF sells printed, bound copies of the GNU Emacs Manual. They have for years. My copy is over 15 years old now.
    • Some people just like having their documentation on paper

      *Raises hand* Somewhat OT, but one thing that has bugged me in my first forays into Linux OSes over the past few months is the utter lack of comprehensive and up-to-date documentation in any form, paper or electronic. And I do much prefer paper, wherever possible. I bought Running Linux, 4th Ed. and Linux in a Nutshell in paper form and both have come in handy, though neither are up-to-the-minute. I even bought FreeBSD Mall's FreeBSD 5.1 box t

  • tease value (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shojo ( 730836 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:31PM (#8270251) Journal
    Perhaps it is the general preference for the printed page that gives the electronic release its power. It may tease the reader into buying the whole book later on. Also, it can't hurt the buzz.

    Of course some say print is dead. But if print is dead then so too is the novel. No one wants to read 300 plus pages on a screen. And more importantly, no one wants to re-read a novel on screen. Very little interaction with the object there. No sense of "consumption."
    • Re:tease value (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DdJ ( 10790 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @01:05PM (#8270601) Homepage Journal
      Of course some say print is dead. But if print is dead then so too is the novel. No one wants to read 300 plus pages on a screen. And more importantly, no one wants to re-read a novel on screen. Very little interaction with the object there. No sense of "consumption."
      I can only say that I hope you're right as far as most of the population is concerned, because I know you're wrong as far as I'm concerned. I've gotten to the point where I actually prefer to read novels on my handheld. A recent novel I bought came with a CD-ROM containing the same novel in electronic form. I loaded it on to my palm and then proceeded to totally ignore the actual book.

      I've read several full-length novels this way now, and speaking only for myself, I absolutely prefer it, by a fairly wide margin. I have an entire library in my pocket all the time, the book mark never falls out, and I can read in the dark. Hurah for the Baen free library []!
    • Re:tease value (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nathan s ( 719490 )

      I've seen thousands of times people saying that they don't read books on the computer. I honestly don't understand this. My eyes are equally uncomfortable after 8-hour marathon reading sessions and spending 8 hours staring at a screen. There is little to no difference to me as to whether I'll read something online or offline, rather than cost and the 'reading room' factor [don't really feel like carrying digital devices in there]. So effectively I end up reading almost every book I've read in the past th

  • eBooks, failure? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bnlrules ( 13041 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:32PM (#8270260)
    I work for a large corporate library with a large collection of eBooks. They are easily more popular than the hard copies. For quick reference they can't be beat!
    • by Shadow2097 ( 561710 ) <shadow2097@gmail. c o m> on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:58PM (#8270530)
      bnlrules sez:
      "For quick reference they can't be beat!"

      I think you've hit the nail on the head. If I have a hard copy of the LotR trilogy and an electronic copy, I'll get exactly the same story, same information. Heck, probably even the same font.

      Aside from the information, their uses can be vastly divergent. Lets say that I'm writing a college term paper on the LotR. With the electronic copy, I can search through it with a few key strokes and be 100% accurate. Doing the same thing with a hard copy would require days/weeks of annotating with pen/paper as you read it. And having done such a thing, its much less enjoyable to read when you have to stop every few minutes to make notes rather than just let the story flow.

      I don't think ebooks are failures, they just have different strengths compared to dead tree copies.


  • by StuWho ( 748218 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:39PM (#8270333) Journal
    Ebooks will never succeed until there is a way of reading them that is as comfortable, convenient, and cheap as a printed book.

    E-book publishers fail to take into account the fact that for many readers books are an object of beauty in themselves - we love the smell, feel, and character of a well made book. As things stand I can only see one or two future uses for the medium outside niche markets such as computing textbooks.

    1)Electronic versions of books included with the printed version in place of an index - with an html or similar interface for searching.

    2)If some genius could come up with a device which stored ebooks on a drive, and which was capable of having an old book put in the top (to be pulped, recycled, then reprinted with the text of a new ebook and re-bound). Can't see this happening though!

    • Ebooks will never succeed until there is a way of reading them that is as comfortable, convenient, and cheap as a printed book.

      Cheap!? $7.99 for the average paperback, an average of $40 for a hardcover. If you read a book a week it gets to be pretty expensive.

      • Re:Cheap? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by StuWho ( 748218 )
        Cheap compared to having to buy a PC or PDA just to read a book anyway!

        You're right about the prices for printed books being extortionate though.

        • I don't think prices are "extortionate."

          Sure, they're higher than they used to be, but isn't a good book worth $10?

          I suppose there will always be someone whining about how anything's "too expensive," but jesus. If you're that cheap, there are always libraries.
    • StuWho wrote: > Ebooks will never succeed until there is a way of reading them that is as comfortable, convenient, and cheap as a printed book. I disagree. I think a correct version of this statement is: Printed books will never die until there is a way of reading ebooks that is as comfortable, convenient, and cheap as a printed book. I think it is obvious that these two statements are not equivalent. Your statement makes the assumption that for ebooks to succeed, printed books must die.
  • by Tarwn ( 458323 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:42PM (#8270371) Homepage
    I prefer my references to be electronic and my reading-for-enjoyment material to be paper.

    I am not entirely sure why I prefer paper for enjoyment reading, but the reference material should be obvious (Ctrl+F).

    I've tried reading eBooks for enjoyment, but while I can sit and read an 800 page book in one sitting I often find that I can't read an eBook for anywhere near as long.
    One of the reasons, of course, being that unless I want a workout I can't lie on my back on my bed and read an eBook, my monitor is too heavy :P
    Another being the distraction level on a computer is a lot higher, email coming, games at my fingertips, etc.
    And then there is the brightness factor, maybe it is just psychological, but I find that trying to sit down and read an eBook after already staring at a screen for 14 hours not only makes my head hurt, but it doesn't de-stress me nearly as well because I am still sitting in front of the computer...
  • by pmaccabe ( 747075 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:43PM (#8270381) Journal
    I don't know about e-books as a marketing tool for books or method to mkae money, but I do not think you can say e-books are a failure truthfully.

    Just look at Project Gutenberg. I know I, and other college students, use it often to read books that are public domain yet sold at amazingly inflated prices at the college bookstore. With such a large selection of interesting topics it is easy to find most of the classics and select ones you want to read.

    Perhaps e-books aren't the great moneymaker of the Internet, or it might be that no one has found the right business model. Either way they are from failures at promoting higher literacy and education among students.
  • by heironymouscoward ( 683461 ) <heironymouscoward@yah o o . com> on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:45PM (#8270395) Journal
    Are very interesting. Not just for software, articles, books, but also for music and art.

    Basically this is the extension of the GPL into other domains, based much on the same premise: I license you my work to use if you agree to license your derived works on the same basis.

    It's a wonderful thing, and I believe it's workable, even in commercialized fields like music and publishing. The number of artists who are unable to get their (good) work published is extraordinary. Using a CC license they can publish it, and while making no less money than if it was not published, create many more opportunities for fame and fortune.

    The established media businesses are as much a barrier to sucess for new artists as they are a source of income to established ones. The CC licenses provide the basis for a change.

    It remains to be see whether we will see a creative explosion in other fields as we have seen in software. Finally, Free Music, Free Art, and Free Words.
  • by Lord Apathy ( 584315 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:46PM (#8270409)

    Ebooks aren't dead. People just haven't caught on to the real reasons to read ebooks on your palm pilot other than a real book. Compactness, you can cram about a 100 ebooks on an average 128mb memory stick. This is the eqivilant of carrying a small library with you every where you go. An this is very important. Nothing is worse than being suck on the can with nothing to read.

    This goes to my second reason with compactness. You can stick a palm pilot in you pocket when you head to the can at work. It looks less suspicous when you head to the head to take a shi than if you had a book under your arm. Boss won't notice as much.

    • Yes, compactness can be useful, but you can't read 128 MB of e-books in an hour. You can easily listen to 128 MB of MP3s in an hour, however. A good-sized book can take at least a week to read at a leisurely pace, and you're not going to go through a library of books per day. They might be useful for reference, sure, but is there really any advantage in reading an e-book on a PDA during your morning commute, versus reading a paperback? It's possible if you already have a PDA, but otherwise it's just not
      • There is one more reason that has to do with compactness of ebooks that I didn't mention. All those physical books take up space, lots of space. Now while I would love to have a bigass library of books I don't have the space for such a thing. I imagine many of my fellow geeks don't ether.

        For example, last summer I cleaned out my book storage. I gave away 25 years of books that I had been hording. It come to about 3500 books that served no purpose in my closets but to take up space. I can fit that man

    • Ebooks aren't dead. People just haven't caught on to the real reasons to read ebooks on your palm pilot

      And page turning can be done (easily) with the same hand that holds the book, leaving the other hand free. Free to hold a sandwich, perverts.

      And contra Doctorow's speech, ebooks are easier to read in the bathtub or hottub. If you're really worried, put in a ziplock.

      And with an ebook, as my eyes get tired, I can increase the font size. When I get tired of hitting the next page button too frequently, I c
  • by jorlando ( 145683 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:47PM (#8270422)
    ebook will fail along they still expensive. you can buy a cheap edition of some book, even a best seller, read it during an airplane trip and discard it. you can't do it with a ebook reader.

    ebook reader's are expensive. I remember a model that had a cover with "leather smell", to appeal to paper book readers, another marketing moron displaying it's stupidity: a reader reads a book because of the contents. judging a book for it's cover is for illiterates... or marketing morons.

    reading on a gorgeous wide and tall screen of a palm sized device doesn't fit in my sense of confort.

    an last but not least, random access... you can flip through the pages of a book as you wish, looking for random passages or particular points of the text. the close to a book flip that you can do with a ebook reader is the fast forward, backward, or select a given page... not that bad.

    ebooks can be a huge success when cheap reader appear. something with a screen the size of a pocket book, with good contrast, backlight could be a plus, but not essential. also an ebook not tied to some proprietary DRMed format. I want to download some of the classicals available at the project Guthenberg or simmilars and read it. and a cheaper price tag. if the costs of distribution, stocking are being cutted, I want my share.
    • I read my eBooks on my PDA. This reader, in some sense, was free -- I bought it for other purposes, and only later thought about using it for eBooks, so I paid a grand total of $0 specifically to be able to read eBooks.

      You can also read them on a laptop (or even a desktop), which most of you have, and that would also fall under the "free in a sense" category.

      If you're looking for eBooks to use on non-dedicated devices such as computers and PDAs, check out Palm Digital Media [].
    • Well, I think the main reason's e-books have not taken off is a mismanagement of the end user experiance. What am I talking about?

      The e-book reading experiance.

      We need readers of some sort - for techs PDA's make sense, but I hesitate to say that should be the answer for everyone. One of the best readers in my opinion was the RCA REB 1100 e-book. It was easy to use, it was comfortable and well designed overall. Too bad they decided on stupid DRM and couldn't market it right.

      A disclaimer - I am not a bu
  • The big problem... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hiro Antagonist ( 310179 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:51PM (#8270447) Journal
    The big problem with ebooks lies in the readers; devices capable of reading ebooks are bulky, fragile, expensive, and nominally not as easy on the eyes as paper; in addition, most of them are read-only, which means that you can't write notes in the margin or hilight passages for later use.

    Personally, I'd like to see a low-power (eight to sixteen hours on a single charge) tablet-PC-like device, one which is as easy on the eyes as a normal book (not that hard, really[1]), has a small-but-useful amount of storage (say, 8M of RAM and 512M of compactflash), and into which I can upload textbooks and course notes for all of my college courses. It has to be durable as well; I should be able to accidentally knock this thing off a table into an aquarium, and it should still work.

    Give it some simple handwriting recognition, some decent calculation software, and the ability to link up with a desktop via a USB cable, and you could sell tons of these things to college students. I know I'd jump at the opportunity to not lug around a 40lb backpack, laptop case, two-inch binder filled with notes...oh, and a rew reference manuals...even if it cost me a few hundred bucks. Textbook publishers could also get in on the game; charge half as much for an E-book (which can't be resold), and use this as incentive to sell the tablet devices. Everyone wins -- the publishers make more money (no printing, shipping, or warehousing costs), the tablet maker wins, and the students win (less back strain, cheaper textbooks, ability to have an entire library in a satchel).

    [1] If you're willing to keep it black-and-white, just use a farly high-resolution LCD, and use a plain white sheet of paper as a background; the paper will reflect ambient light properly, except where the LCD is active -- presto, paper-like black-on-white text, just like a book.
    • by orthogonal ( 588627 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @03:17PM (#8272329) Journal
      The big problem with ebooks lies in the readers; devices capable of reading ebooks are bulky, fragile, expensive, and nominally not as easy on the eyes as paper; in addition, most of them are read-only, which means that you can't write notes in the margin or hilight passages for later use.

      Dude, 1999 called. It wants its information back. ;)

      Seriously. I've got a Zaurus. It weighs 7.1 ounces (comparable to a paperback), fits in my pocket (unlike a paperback), has 96KB of memory and a(n aftermarket) 512 MB SD card for the books. It's not a brick, but I've dropped it from four or five feet to wooden and carpeted floors too many times, and it's fine. It's true it's not as easy n the eyes as paper, but it's full (65,536) color and 320 x 240 with several anti-aliased fonts. It's not read only, in fact it has a thumb keyboard built in, and the ebook reader software (opie reader) allows annotations.

      With the Wifi card plugged in, I can read ebooks on the net, on my PC (via samba mount) or copy them to the SD card. I'm currently reading Doctorow's latest, in fact.

      Its battery life is a little low (4-6 hours), and it costs $400-$500. An alternative is a $100 Palm Pilot, with a longer battery life and a lower, black and white resolution; you can find after-market fonts for a Palm too. (I read books on a Handspring before I got the Zaurus).
      • We're still dealing with small screens, battery life, and durability problems. A 320x240 screen is way too small for a textbook or classroom note-taking; there's a reason why most students still use full-size notebooks, even though smaller ones exist), and four to six hours of battery life wouldn't even get me through one day of classes, much less a night of studying from an uncomfortable, small screen.

        Furthermore, I've used a Zaurus[1], and while it's one of the most durable PDAs I've run across, I still
    • I love ebooks- I've got Eastern Standard Tribe, several other novels, and many shorter texts on my Treo. Nothing is better for interstitial time: grocery lines, red lights, airplane trips, stretches of empty interstate like 50 across Nevada...

      But if you have to read a lot of text at once- for either work or personal use- paper still wins, because paper isn't just a little bit faster: reading speeds are significantly faster for paper [].

      Electronic text formats that try to make e-pages look just like paper pag

      • I catch you reading while driving and I'm going to swerve at you or get in front and slam on my brakes. No matter how desolate the road, reading a book is totally inexcusable while driving a car.

        Take a fucking bus if you want to read on the road, or have someone else drive.
  • by bigbigbison ( 104532 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:51PM (#8270458) Homepage
    I am a phd student and as a result I am often writing research papers with lots of references. I know that I would LOVE to have ebook versions of the books I read so that I wouldn't have to spend so much time trying to find one line or one paragraph in a book that talked about something I want to cite. I would love to be able to do a keywork seach for these books. It would help sooo much.
  • My response. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nilspace ( 676196 )
    Open speech in Firefox. -A -C Open Word processor -V Click "little-r" (for ebook reader) Conversion to eBook & sync'd to iPaq. Now I can read why eBooks didn't make it on my handheld, like I have for all of his books, as well as about 3 dozen others.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books --Paper for the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference, 2004
    February 12, 2004 - San Diego, CA
    Cory Doctorow
    This talk was initially given at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology
    Conference [ ], along
    with a set of slides that, for copyright reasons (ironic!) can't
    be released alongside of this file. However, you will find,
    interspersed in this text, notations describing the places where
    new slides should be
  • by -tji ( 139690 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @12:57PM (#8270520) Journal
    As someone who recently purchased his "Down and out in the Magic Kingdom", I would say the e-book had almost no influence on my purchase. I knew about it being available online, and it did give Cory "cool points" for being involved in the creative commons and other excellent projects. But, I never even looked at the online version.

    I purchased in the traditional way.. I browsed it on the shelves of my local small bookstore. I then checked if it was available at my local used bookstore. When it wasn't there, I returned to the small bookstore & purchased it there. (The two stores are next door to each other.. very handy.)

    As Cory acknowledges, noone is going to read a text of significant duration online. Until there is an e-book reader device that can better replicate the look/feel/portability/durability of paper and won't strain my eyes, then I'm sticking to paperbacks.
    • I completely disagree with you.

      I read "Down and Out..." on my laptop, start to finish, and I thought it was a great book.

      Also, I have an HP Jornada PDA, with an eBook reader. I found a collection of something like 3,000 eBooks on Kazaa about a year and a half ago, and I've now probably read about 150 of them, on my PDA. The screen is bright and easy to read, and my PDA is always with me, so I always have a large selection of books to read. It's much easier to carry around a small, thin PDA than a 600 p
  • The Holy Roman empire was neither holy, nor was it Roman. Discuss.

    /Coffee Talk


  • E-books are great and all, but they pretty much destroy the simplicity of a regular book. It doesn't matter if I'm laying in bed, walking around town, sitting in a car (not while driving like some idiots do), or waiting for a class to start, I can open up a book and never have to worry about battery charge. The boot up time on a regular paperback is lightning fast, too. Plus the most expensive accesory you need for it is maybe a $5 bookmark, or a bookbag if you want to get really fancy. There are some t
  • by jridley ( 9305 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @01:07PM (#8270647)
    I read books only on my Palm anymore. I certainly would prefer to read on paper instead of my IIIxe's greenish screen (I'm upgrading soon), but I never carry books around with me, and if I do, just in my bag so I only have them at my desk.

    With 3 or 4 books in my Palm, I've got a book to read everywhere. I've read 10 times more books since using the Palm than when on paper.

    Also we're way over capacity on paper books in our house; we just don't have room for what we have. We have about 300 linear feet of shelf space, much of it double-shelved, and another couple hundred pounds of books in boxes. I'm just not going to add to that by buying more paper.

    Thank God for Baen books. I'd decided not to buy from Peanut Press anymore because I dislike having to remember credit card numbers from 5 years ago to unlock books, and I dislike paying as much for eBooks as for paper; I should at least get a few bucks off.

    Baen publishes much of their catalog electronically, in open formats, at reasonable prices.
  • by MsGeek ( 162936 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @01:08PM (#8270652) Homepage Journal
    Now that "Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom" (DaOitMK) has been released under the least-restrictive Creative Commons licence, the possibilities of completely legal fanfic emerge. You know what? It's a good thing.

    Cory Doctorow created a very interesting "universe" that other writers can play around in. A society where nobody really dies, where we've outgrown the need to work to earn our food and shelter, and where a person's reputation is more important than their net worth? Think about it: it's a very rich world to write stories in.

    Yeah, most fanfic sucks. But sometimes people write fics that are as good as the movie or TV show they are riffing on. I can think of two people who wrote "Daria" fic who have a great future ahead of them as writers: CE Forman and Kara Wild. If there ever is a revival of the series (which won't happen and there are very good reasons why it shouldn't) they should be brought on board as official writers for the series.

    Fanfic is often a way for a less-than-secure writer to exercise their writing muscles without the fuss, muss or bother of creating characters and environments for the characters to interact in. I know...I've written a little in my day, although I'm not proud enough to link to it so that you can see it.

    Who knows what will happen once the DaOitMK universe starts expanding thanks to the work of fanfic writers? I suspect this endeavor might even spawn some writers who might not have gotten into writing otherwise.

    Thank you, Cory Doctorow. You have given quite a generous gift...maybe more generous than you will ever know.
  • by YllabianBitPipe ( 647462 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @01:19PM (#8270828)
    eBooks can work, and will work as soon as someone gets all the pieces in place. The obvious model would be to follow Apple's iTunes / iPod. Make a hardware reader that has a great screen, light, and relatively inexpensive, and is a joy to use. Have it read as many formats as possible: HTML, RTF, Word Docs, don't dick around with DRM and proprietary formats. Have it read saved web pages. Have an internal hard drive. Next, have software on the computer that acts as a library much like iTunes. Make it easy to share and even read on your computer if need be, via a web browser.

    Get all this crap in place and you will make a mint. Sell the books for 99 cents even. Heck I bet Apple is already working on this (They do audio books).
    • What I would really like to see apple do with the above is a garageband for writers. A place where they can upload their stuff, get exposure, and if they are good make some money.

      -Colin []
    • This would be nothing like the Itunes music store. First of all, the iPod is focused on AAC and MP3. AFAIK there is no OGG support. And there is DRM built into Itunes...
    • Have it read as many formats as possible: HTML, RTF, Word Docs, don't dick around with DRM and proprietary formats.

      Isn't that self-contradictory?

      Have an internal hard drive.

      Oh god no.

      One 64MB CompactFlash card will hold more texts than an average person can read in a month. Having a hard drive built into an electronic book might be interesting from a "gee-whiz" perspective, but it's simply impractical.

      Of course, if you took a device that already had a hard drive, like an iPod, and enhanced the LCD
  • One of the big problems I have had with the idea of e-books is that there is no agreement in the industry on how we should accomplish the sale and distribution of those texts. I am a fan of the Safari website, but I know that I can't get those books for offline reading. I like to download some books for Microsoft Reader, but I know that I might not always be able to access that book, and have no guarentee that I will be able to read it on more than one computer.

    E-books are a wonderful tool for research an
  • I read that Cory's coming to town soon -- he's having signings all over the country to celebrate his newest book.

    Remember to bring your public key and a couple forms of ID!

  • Seriously-my palm zire 71 was just too small [although for reading in the bathtub it can't be beat]. But my motion tabletpc works great for this. the screen is big enough, and its among the lighter tablets-meaning its truly workable for reading with. My favorite author sold a hardback book with a CD of all of his older books-I was in heaven. You can even read comic books without the size relationship being distorted. They have a close out fo older motion m1200's going on for like $1300. yeah its spend
  • by rjnagle ( 122374 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @01:28PM (#8270963) Homepage
    This is an exceptionally fine piece, and I greatly enjoyed reading it.

    Some impressions:

    Although I'm happy that Mr. Doctorow has made a profit off his creative commons releases, I have a feeling that his case is an exception rather than the rule, and that once the the novelty value of creative commons content released by commercial publishers die down fewer people will be inclined to try first, buy later. (That is not worse than the status quo however). As pda's and ereaders become more user friendly, the temptation not to buy the hard copy will become irresistable for creative commons works.

    I advocate a tip-based model of artistic compensation Perhaps voluntary "pay-what-you-want" scenario is unrealistic, but compensation becomes viable when the pricepoint is low enough to seem insignificant.

    A few years ago, memberships to porn sites cost 30-50$ a month; nowadays even most of them offer 1 day or 1 week memberships for gigabytes of movies. One could use emule to get these things, but when the price point starts resembling chump change, that's when people start voluntarily paying for online content.

    If you look at this audio book site, for example g=1&mg=2
    downloading mp3 audios for entire novels cost only about $5. That's close to the level of chump change.

    Right now POD books easily sell for $10-12, but 100% virtual content could probably go for $2-3. Content needs to be priced in a way that appears to be chump change for the buyer/reader but gains enough readership for chump change to add up to something substantial. Fortunately, the existence of weblogs like and viral marketing make it easier to get your content out there.

    The future is weblogs people.
    • to further use the porn example, the lowering of price of online porn has NOT resulted in a decrease in porn quality. I realize this is a subjective opinion, but I think the same effect will apply to many kinds of content, not just porn.

      Therefore, when I say, wait until the price point becomes chump change, I am not implying that reduction in price implies a reduction in content standards. It may not even imply a reduction in compensation for creators. (It really is amazing how many things we can learn ab
      • to further use the porn example, the lowering of price of online porn has NOT resulted in a decrease in porn quality. I realize this is a subjective opinion, but I think the same effect will apply to many kinds of content, not just porn.

        Therefore, when I say, wait until the price point becomes chump change, I am not implying that reduction in price implies a reduction in content standards. It may not even imply a reduction in compensation for creators. (It really is amazing how many things we can learn ab
  • I wrote the O'Reilly book XForms Essentials [] and released it under the GFDL. I can say from experience that freeing the text has helped promote the book to audiences that would not have otherwise heard of it.

    In order to deal with the rapidly changing technology, I launched a companion web site XForms Institute [].

    Particularly with technical books, "multimodal" publishing is smart. I'm glad to see Cory try it with fiction. -m

  • older books (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pruss ( 246395 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @02:38PM (#8271838) Homepage
    I think that more than half of my reading, apart from what I read to prepare for class, is older books that I can get in ebook format and that are in the public domain. The only things I like paper books more for is being able to read in the bathtub (oh, for a waterproof Clie), ease of marginal annotation, and ability to flip through quickly (my Clie screen is too small to find things quickly by flipping through).

    Searching is helpful. Having a book in one's pocket always is great. Some of the things I read are parts of enormous multi-volume sets that I wouldn't have room on a bookshelf for. For instance, dozens of volumes of Cardinal Newman or of the Jesuit Relations. Various classic books, too, are greatly improved by hyperlinking. For instance, Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae which has lots of back-references.

    At one point my wife claimed to find it to be more fun to read in ebook format on a Clie NX60/70 (using Plucker) than to read the dead-tree editions. Autoscrolling was particularly nice when our baby was small and we had no hands free while doing things for the baby.

    And, yes, it's nice to have a big library with one. I've got some 600mb of flash on my NX70. It's expensive, but when one considers the cost of printed books, it's not so bad. (For instance, I bet the complete works of Cardinal Newman would set me back a couple of hundred dollars in print format for the books themselves, and more when one considers the cost of another bookcase.) I just wish everybody published in ebook format. Then I wouldn't have to buy physical books almost at all.
  • by bl968 ( 190792 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @02:39PM (#8271855) Journal
    Something I wrote back in May 2003.

    The failure of E-books, Downloadable software, and Online Music.

    We all have seen the many publisher provided services for purchasing E-books, E-Music, and Software Downloads.

    These services try to limit your options and choices or even to remove them from you totally. With many of these services you must agree that you do not even own that which you wish to purchase in order to buy it. Instead they license you right to use their private property.

    We see the prices on the virtual which rival that of the physical. We instinctively know that the production cost of a E-book, Downloaded software, or MP3s is so much less than the cost of a compact disc or a printed book both of which require paper, ink, artwork, packaging and so much more that is totally lacking from the ethereal versions.

    Their sales decline. "Stop the thieves" they cry out into the night! Make more and harsher laws to protect that which is already protected they demand of our governments. Protect our property and damn their rights is their idea of an ideal. I am a honest person is my vehement reply. So why attempt punish me for the crimes of others.

    They attempt to smother new technology on the premise that it may possibly be used for illegal activity.

    While it is not my intention to justify the theft of their material I must point out it's their own fault really. I blame their lack of foresight and their lack of anything resembling common sense. They do not exploit the markets available for them or if they do it's a halfhearted attempt. In the real world people are not buying what you sale one common step generally taken is to consider lowering your prices until your sales pick up. This also applies on the Internet.

    In a concise conclusion I state that I personally prefer to compensate the authors and composers of the material that I so enjoy in my daily life. Currently I do so off-line. So Publishing and recording industries I say make it worth my while and convenient to do so and I will be one of the first in line online.
  • by footage ( 317314 ) on Friday February 13, 2004 @03:04PM (#8272198)
    In 2001 my film archives and stock footage company partnered with the Internet Archive to put 1001 (ultimately 1800) of our most popular films online ( for free downloading and reuse. Until then we'd been extremely protective of these images. Since starting to give footage away, our stock footage sales are way up, our income increased, and people stop me on Valencia Street to thank me for making the archives available. Hundreds (maybe thousands) of producers have made cool and interesting work that would have been hard to make without free footage. Most don't have any money to spend, so they wouldn't have paid anyway. Others doing higher-profile work need written license agreements, so they can and do pay.

    I'm convinced that the gift economy can generate returns. Cory is right.
  • Zaurus as reader (Score:2, Interesting)

    by FromWithin ( 627720 )

    My Zaurus SL-C750 [] has completely changed the way I read. I'm starting to get really annoyed by the physicality of real books now, in the same way that my jukebox MP3 player has made me get annoyed with CDs. There is an excellent reader program [] which reads all sorts of formats (including Plucker and AportisDoc), and the smooth text scrolling is supremely smooth because of the 640x480 display. And of course, I can use it in portrait or landscape mode (when the screen is rotated, the display auto-rotates).


  • by gidds ( 56397 ) <slashdot AT gidds DOT me DOT uk> on Friday February 13, 2004 @05:40PM (#8274260) Homepage
    It's always the same when someone mentions ebooks... Maybe I can try to save people some effort by summarising all the replies people want to post:
    • Ebook hardware is crap. The screen is to small, &c &c.
    • EBook files are far too restricted -- I don't want to lose all my books when I upgrade to a new machine or reader.
    • EBooks are far too expensive.
    • You can't fold down the page corners on an ebook.
    All these complaints are about some current implementations of ebooks, not inherent in the format. Yes, some reader hardware isn't good, some ebook files are overly-protected, and some reader apps are limited. But all this is changing, and will change more in future. There's nothing that says you have to have dedicated hardware; many different types of pocket computer are already good for reading ebooks, and I expect many more will become available. There's an awful lot of books available as plain text, both legally (free like Project Gutenberg, or paid like Fictionwise []), and otherwise (P2P &c), which is both platform- and future-proofed. And some reader apps already handle bookmarks, annotations, &c. Most of these objections may seem silly in a few years.
    • No-one would ever read an entire book on screen. Paper is much easier on the eye.
    • There's nothing like being able to pick up a book and hold it.
    • You can't give ebooks as presents.
    These are mostly a matter of personal taste. Many people find that a good screen (whether desktop or palmtop) is easy enough on the eye that the other advantages of ebooks outweigh that objection. If you can pick up a book, then you have to have some space to put it into in the first place; some people have far more HD space available than bookshelf space. And people already give 'virtual' presents -- just think of book tokens, for example.

    In short, almost all the objections people are making are valid but limited -- to certain types of people, and/or current technology. I doubt ebooks will replace dead-tree books in the foreseeable future, but there's no reason why they may not provide a popular alternative.

    Personally, I've read far more on the screen of my Psion than I have on paper for the last few years; my library is over 80MB of compressed text. I always have something to read, wherever I am, and I can edit things as I wish (e.g. converting to British English spelling []). The only place where paper is still better for me is on the loo; elsewhere, ebooks are more useful -- especially for reading in bed, where the backlight lets me read in the dark!

The moon may be smaller than Earth, but it's further away.