Friday, March 18, 2011

Booking It

My iPad 2 has been ordered and is expected to ship in a couple of weeks. It's hard to predict what I'll actually do with it until I've got it in my hot little hands, but my plan is to keep using my iPod touches for productivity-type stuff (checking email, tracking contact info, etc.) and to use the iPad for entertainment: making and watching videos, surfing the web, and especially reading. I love being able to store an entire library on a pocket-sized iPod touch and I find ebooks quite readable even on the small screen (being able to adjust the font size helps!), so I'm hoping the experience will be even more enjoyable on the iPad. has set a pretty high bar for ebooks with their Kindle e-reader. Once your Kindle is set up, you can browse the online store right from your device and download books in less than a minute. Talk about instant gratification! I use the Kindle iPhone app and have downloaded a lot of free/public domain titles, but I haven't bought any current releases; I hesitate to buy books that I can borrow for free. My local library has offered downloadable audiobooks for some time but only started offering ebooks late last year, and obtaining them is...well, it's free, which is important for a cheapskate like me, but the process is less than straightforward.

For one thing, I can't even set up a standard username/password combination on my library account like I can on nearly every other web site I use; they want my library card number instead. At least I can store that securely online and copy/paste it on the library login screen, but it would be so much easier to pick a combination that I can actually remember. Somewhere in the online library catalog, there's a way to specify that I want to search just for ebooks, but search results include audiobooks (which I don't want), so I usually end up browsing the "recently added" section to see what's new. The only iPhone app that can be used to view library ebooks is free but limited, especially in comparison with the Kindle iPhone app. Since I often start reading a book on my laptop and switch to my iPod touch when I'm reading in bed or away from home, I especially miss the Kindle's "Whispersync" feature that keeps track of my place when I switch from one device to another. Selecting the library ebooks I want to download is a lot harder than it should be, and the app frequently needs several tries if my WiFi signal strength is anything less than "excellent."

At least I'm capable of working through these issues by myself. I feel sorry for librarians who not only have to try to help patrons with a variety of e-reading devices and apps, but are also dealing with a quickly changing landscape as electronic media becomes more popular. HarperCollins, one of the world's leading English-language publishers, has announced a new licensing policy under which new ebooks will only be allowed to circulate 26 times before their licenses expire. Since digital media doesn't suffer from wear and tear as physical books do, publishers are scrambling to ensure a steady income. As we move from printed to electronic media, we're going to have to devise ways to deal with content, not just with the containers it comes in.

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