First With E-Books? Lucky Librarians

Next for E-Books: Audio from IsSound

Corrections or additions?

This article by David McDonough was prepared for the August 30,

2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Reader Meets the E-Book

Trust Stephen King, master of the macabre, to be in

on the ground floor of a twisted and bizarre use of state-of-the-art

technology.

I am referring, of course, to the E-book, that new rage of the digital

age. King is offering his latest novel in downloadable installments

from his website. In our own corner of cyberspace, Leslie Burger,

executive director of the Princeton Public Library, recently put into

circulation six electronic books loaded into compact, hand-held

devices

that are called "Rocket eBooks." Each Rocket eBook, produced

by NuvoMedia Inc., holds five to seven titles.

The idea is this: You go online to www.nuvomedia.com and buy a Rocket

eBook ($269). You select a title through a Web bookseller such as

www.barnesandnoble.com or www.powells.com and have it shipped to your

PC or Macintosh, where you download it onto your Rocket eBook. Or

you can skip the whole process and go to the Princeton Library and

borrow the E-book. Plainsboro Library, too, is getting in on the

revolution

with five Rocket eBooks that will begin circulating in September.

Technologically impressive? Sure. Innovative? Somewhat. Fun to use?

We decided to find out.

I chose one Rocket eBook to take home. I took the one holding seven

mysteries, among them the first of Janet Evanovich’s Trenton-based

Stephanie Plum stories, "One For The Money." Janie Wilkins,

Princeton Public Library’s information services librarian, gave me

a few pointers to put the performing E-seal through its tricks, and

off I went.

The Rocket eBook weighs about 22 ounces, about the same as the average

hardcover printed book, less than a laptop computer. It’s about the

size of a good-size paperback, 5 x 7-1/2 x 1/2 inches. It’s high-tech

looking, an industrial gray rectangle holding a 3-1/2 x 5-1/2-inch

backlit screen.

I took it home and started in on Evanovich’s "page-turning"

novel. First note: the E-book is easy to power on and easy to use.

The E-book gives you a choice for commands: the touch of a hand or

the touch of a stylus, a pencil-like device that comes with the book.

The normal print is easy to read even for my aging eyes; the good

news is that the print can be enlarged to suit the reader.

The first buttons you find yourself making great use of, not

surprisingly,

are the Page Forward and Page Back. When the E-book is turned back

on, it will begin where you left off, a nice touch (though hardly

as pleasing as those decorative paper bookmarks). There is also an

icon for bookmarking, making notes, and underlining text. (Of crucial

interest to librarians: all notations can be electronically removed.)

But now that we have familiarized ourselves with the operating system,

what about comfort of use? One of the first claims that NuvoMedia

makes is that you will want to take the E-book with you everywhere.

My own most important concerns: Could I take it to bed, to the

bathtub,

and to the dining room table? In all cases, the answer is yes. The

E-book is almost as practical as a regular book that you sit propped

up in bed with; in fact, since it’s a little lighter than a book,

it’s slightly easier on your lap.

The only drawback is that the screen does not contain as many

characters

as a printed page, so you have to scroll down more often then you

would turn the pages of a book. This can prove tough on the modern,

spoiled reader, especially late at night when the next-to-the-last

thing you want is any unnecessary exertion. The last thing you want

to do is wake a sleeping spouse. So if you’re sharing a bed, the sound

of a screen being clicked and scrolled is more likely to disturb a

slumberer than the sound of leaves of a book being turned. The click

is not very loud, but in repetition could be disconcerting. I’m not

inclined to see how well an E-book works when thrown at my head.

My E-book experiment was equally successful in the bathtub. Although

a little more cumbersome in this situation than a paperback that can

be held in one hand, bent at the spine, it’s light enough to be

comfortable,

and the screen didn’t steam up. Of course, I have no idea how constant

exposure to dampness would effect its longevity, and naturally, you

would not want to drop it into the water — in fact, I predict

that you will soon be seeing signs at the Princeton Library:

"Please

Don’t Take The Rocket eBook Into The Tub." But hey, you’re pretty

much out of luck if you drop your library book into the tub, too,

although replacing it would be a lot less expensive.

By the way, NuvoMedia encourages you to take your E-book to the beach,

along with the five to ten summer novels you can load on board. If

only I had a decent three-week vacation coming my way, I’d like to

see what happens after a summer’s worth of exposure to sand and salt

air. Remember when everyone was going to take their video cameras

to the shore?

Taking an E-book to dinner proved to be the most problematic. There

are simply too many times during a meal that one needs both hands,

to cut your food, butter the bread, or make an important

conversational

point that requires hand gestures. Somehow the E-book seemed awkward

at the table, rather like an uninvited guest.

The E-book’s bookmarks, notes, and underlining capabilities were fun,

but frankly, they aren’t really needed when you are settling down

with a mystery. I supposed I could have underlined all the

Chambersburg

restaurants mentioned by Evanovich, or scribbled little memos

("Note

to self: try the scungilli"), but I have never scribbled notes

in any work of fiction, and I’m not about to start now. And that

brings

up another point: will verbs like "scribbling" disappear from

the modern vocabulary?

So have I now set one trembling foot in the future? I’m not sure.

Certainly the signs are there. There’s Stephen King, terrifying the

publishing world by selling his new book, "The Plant," the

story of a twisted vine that menaces a publishing house, on the Web.

King is using the honor system, telling his readers to send him a

dollar after each download. Of course, he has a built-in default;

if he doesn’t receive payment from at least 75 percent of his readers,

he won’t finish the book. In other words, if you want to know whether

Little Nell dies, you have to pay — Charles Dickens already went

that route. It paid off.

Time Warner launched iPublish.com last spring, and Random House and

Simon & Schuster have announced plans to create digital imprints.

(Random House is working with Xlibris, the digital publishing firm

that incubated in Trenton and is now headquartered in Philadelphia.)

Barnesandnoble.com is teaming up with Microsoft to open the first

major online store selling digital books. But aside from increasing

the value of said cyberstocks, what has this meant for most of us?

So far not much. The future for digital books, as I see it, lies in

textbooks, manuals, and business reports. The ability to make notes,

bookmark, and underline text will be particular selling points in

this market. Law schools and medical schools will love it, as will

engineers, and business people on public transport — it’s one

more annoying noise to add to the mix of cell phones and Palm Pilots.

But for the ordinary casual reader, it’s too much information, rather

like watching a movie on your computer and reading the accompanying

footnotes. Most of us don’t want to work that hard when we read books.

When you read a novel, there is only one thing you can do — read.

Or think. Or doze. None of which requires the touch of a button, or

a PC.

— David McDonough

Top Of Page
First With E-Books? Lucky Librarians

Patrons of the area’s many public libraries (ones whose

names don’t begin with the letter P) may be wondering why Princeton

and Plainsboro have eBooks and they don’t. The reason, says

Princeton’s

Leslie Burger, is plain old luck.

The E-book trials are a project of the New Jersey State Library system

that has already provided state grants for computer equipment,

Internet

access, electronic databases, and shared catalogs to the public

libraries.

The result is a network of powerful computer hubs around the state.

Now the State Library is conducting a statewide pilot project to test

of the suitability of E-books to library use.

"The New Jersey State Library decided that they would give

libraries

the chance to experiment with the new technology at the state’s

expense,"

says Burger, "because these new devices are primarily designed

for individual use." She adds that New Jersey is one of the first

states, if not the only state, to devote money to this effort.

Qualifying libraries were divided into population groups, so that

no area of the state would be excluded. The state had pre-purchased

the Rocket eBooks, valued at $200 each; and provided another $1,500

for the texts to load onto them. Interested libraries were invited

to Trenton for a meeting and product demonstration.

"It was like `The Price Is Right.’ We didn’t have to write a

grant,

they pulled names out of a hat. You had to be present to win —

and we won!," she exclaims, like any happy winner.

Jinny Baeckler of Plainsboro Public Library, another lucky winner,

has five Rocket eBooks ("Far more exciting in theory than in

practice,"

she’s quick to volunteer) that will begin circulating the first week

of September. "The idea of the project is to generate feedback

so that libraries around the state can act wisely and decide whether

or not to invest their community’s tax dollars in purchasing,"

she adds.

Princeton has six readers, each pre-loaded with up to 10 titles. In

order to make room for more titles, the library offloaded the

dictionaries,

which were found to be rudimentary and incomplete. Just one month

after placing its E-books in circulation, Burger notes the library

had 44 holds on its six books. They can be kept for up to 14 days,

and the overdue fine is $1 per day.

Content categories currently represented are Popular

Fiction (with titles by Michael Cunningham, Sandra Brown, Anita

Diamant,

Nicholas Sparks, and others); Mysteries and Thrillers (containing

the first Janet Evanovich mystery, as well as works by Mary Higgins

Clark and Scott Turow); Horror (featuring two novels by Stephen King,

plus the latest chapter from King’s E-serial, "Riding the

Bullet,"

plus titles by Joe Lansdale and others); Science Fiction and Fantasy

(includes titles by David Coe, Peter Hamilton, Elizabeth Kerner);

Non-Fiction and Biography (with titles by Maria Shriver, Jon Krakauer,

Frank McCourt, and "The Unofficial Business Traveler’s Pocket

Guide"). There is also one E-book that’s a genre sampler and one

for children and teens that carries titles for grades six through

high school from the Princeton Regional School District’s summer

reading

list.

Many of the reading list books are in the public domain and were

available

free from Project Gutenberg or for a couple of dollars in

easier-to-download

formats. For the rest, the cost is comparable to paper editions, $20

to $30 for a hardback, $6 to $10 for a paperback. The software

prevents

duplicating, so a different copy must be purchased for each device.

Because this is a pilot project, each E-book comes with an evaluation

form, developed by the lending library, that the user is asked to

complete. Each library has one year to collect and organize its

patrons’

responses and report them to the state.

Given the popularity of the first month, Burger is already considering

buying additional devices with funds from her library’s own technology

and collection budget. She notes that the readers are evolving fast,

and the library will probably add different kinds of devices that

are already on, or are coming on the market.

When Princeton polls its library users on the desirability of the

E-book, Burger finds herself slightly out of the loop.

"During the few days we had the readers here for the staff to

try out, I didn’t have time. My husband did, and he loved it. Now

I can’t get one. They’re too much in demand."

— Nicole Plett

Top Of Page
Next for E-Books: Audio from IsSound

Strictly used, the term E-book can apply to any online

reading material, whether on a PC, a notebook computer, pocket PC,

or dedicated E-book device. If you owned the dedicated NuvoMedia

device

now available at the libraries, you could download a limited number

of your own documents to it. For instance, if you were going on a

trip you could load on a travel guide, a novel to read on the plane,

and a document with your itinerary and business notes.

One major player in the market, Gemstar International, has no plans

to add audio. It bought NuvoMedia and Softbook Reader. So the next

generation of what the libraries have will be issued under the RCA

label, sans audio.

Another big provider of E-books is, no surprise, MicroSoft, and

MicroSoft

is going to offer a big extra — audio. "MicroSoft is the one

organization that is moving forward and is excited about adding audio

to text," says Markku T. Hakkinen, senior vice president of

IsSound

Corporation on Bear Tavern Road (formerly known as Productivity

Works).

The Barnes & Noble website, www.barnesandnoble.com, is offering a

free current version of Microsoft Reader software with 100 free

digital

titles.

Audio In a future version of the software you will be able to listen

to your book in the car, then pop it in your pocket for airport

reading.

IsSound is helping to develop this technology for MicroSoft, which

is working with most of the major publishing houses. The next version

of MicroSoft’s E-book, expected to be released by the middle of next

year, will contain the technology of IsSound.

But the real future of E-books, Hakkinen thinks, will be combo

devices,

not dedicated E-books. "We believe people don’t want to carry

around several devices," he says. He envisions one handheld device

that combines the functions of a cell phone, Palm Pilot, CD player,

and notebook computer with web access and leisure or business reading.

He contrasts the dedicated E-book reader, priced at about $300, to

the pocket PC, which lets you listen to MP3 music, have standard Palm

Pilot functions, browse the web, and read E-books, all for $500.

"We

believe that will be a device with more mass appeal," says

Hakkinen.

Still, he does hope that IsSound can license its technology to

dedicated

E-book manufacturers.

So why use an E-book instead of merely listening to a book on tape?

Even if you don’t have visual problems, you may want to switch

seamlessly,

back and forth, from listening to reading. If you do have visual

problems,

the IsSound-based software lets you move with digital ease from one

part of the book to another, from chapter to chapter, paragraph to

paragraph, sentence to sentence. In contrast, a book on audio tape

has a linear stream of sound. "Our technology says there is more

to a book than just the sound," says Hakkinen.

— Barbara Fox

IsSound Corporation (Productivity Works), 830 Bear

Tavern Road, Suite 301, Ewing 08628.

609-637-0099; fax, 609-984-8048. Home page: www.issound.com.


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