Coming Soon: E-books Available Through Your Local Library

If you own a Kindle you may soon be able to check out e-books through your local library:

Amazon is preparing a new service called Kindle Lending Library that will allow users of its popular e-reader to check out Amazonian ebooks from 11,000 neighborhood and educational libraries.

“We’re excited that millions of Kindle customers will be able to borrow Kindle books from their local libraries,” said Amazon Kindle headman Jay Marine when announcing the service, which is scheduled to launch later this year, and which will be available to all generations of Kindles, plus other platforms running Amazon’s Kindle software.

That’s good news for Kindle owners.  Kindles, in addition to other e-readers, have become more popular with young readers.  By partnering with public libraries, Amazon is providing young readers with easy access to thousands of titles.  Students will be able to read more without having to pay for titles of their choice.

Just imagine: students may soon be able to create individualized reading lists through our own Find a Book tool and then check out the e-book versions, downloading them directly onto their Kindle.

Kudos to Amazon for partnering with public libraries to get more books into the hands of readers everywhere.

Augmented Texts:The Future of Digital Texts

Which do you prefer, the look and feel of the paper and print book, or have you already grown accustomed to the e-book?  If e-books are your preferred medium, you may have already run across the next advance in e-book technology.  Here’s the Wall Street Journal on experiencing ‘augmented digital texts’, that is, interactive electronic books and articles.    

The increasing popularity of e-readers has resulted in a rise in the number of active readers; and ease of access has many readers reporting reading more than they did just five years ago.  Electronic versions of text, however, are cheaper than paper and print versions and the rising popularity of e-books has proven a double-edged sword for publishers.  On the one hand, publishers are experiencing a wave of new readers and an uptick in the volume of sales.  On the other hand, the adjusted pricing model means that, for many publishers, an increase in digital sales actually means less revenue.  Publishers are struggling to create value in ways that make up that lost revenue.  One such possibility is to offer readers enhanced versions of electronic texts. And publishers are now experimenting with just how much consumers are willing to pay for additional, interactive content.  In addition to the prescribed texts, enhanced versions of popular books might, for example, offer audio and video support. 

Enhanced versions may be catching on: there were more than 4 million copies of Jane Leavy’s biography of Mickey Mantle, “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood,” sold.  The music industry offers an analog here.  The music industry has been producing enhanced CDs, or CD Plus, since 1998 and while there isn’t always a difference in cost between the ECD and the standard CD, the ECDs have proven much more popular:

“This is a period of testing,” said David Steinberger, Perseus’s CEO. “We know the audiences for the two products are different. How do you craft the right level of video? What is the right release schedule? If you assume this is closely analogous to what we have today in the market marketplace with hardcovers and paperbacks, chances are that you’ll miss some good opportunities.”

The ubiquity of e-readers and digital texts has presented educators with a fresh set of challenges as well.  Many classroom educators are struggling to integrate these valuable technologies into the classroom in ways that are neither disruptive nor irrelevant.  And many publishing and educational companies are working to do just that – to integrate new technologies with relevant content presented through a variety of mediums.  Inanimate Alice, for instance, offers a good example of the look and feel of augmented text and demonstrates the way that a wide variety of information can be incorporated into an interactive text.  This enhanced e-book takes you through the story of Alice and her imaginary digital friend, Brad. The four episodes offer progressive levels of interactivity, with the first episode offering minimal interaction, but increasing to a high level by the end of episode four.  The progressive level of Inanimate Alice makes it appealing to a wide range of ages and viewers. ‘Inanimate Alice,’ augments traditional storytelling through the use of images, sounds, text, and interaction and allows students to develop multiple literacies (literary, cinematic, artistic, etc.) in combination with the highly collaborative and participatory nature of the online environment.

Consumers of digital media, including students, stand to benefit immensely from the emergence and refinement of enhanced texts.  It’s a trend worth watching.  And we look forward to seeing how these new augmented texts are put to use in classrooms across the country

Coming Soon: Google Editions

Access to digital content is about to get even easier.  It appears that Google is set to soon launch its e-book division.  Google Editions offers an alternative to the existing e-book market in that Google Editions is available through any internet-connected device.  Meaning, one needs only a web browser to access a Google Editions account, an account that does not rely on a specific device for access:

Google Editions hopes to upend the existing e-book market by offering an open, “read anywhere” model that is different from many competitors. Users will be able to buy books directly from Google or from multiple online retailers—including independent bookstores—and add them to an online library tied to a Google account. They will be able to access their Google accounts on most devices with a Web browser, including personal computers, smartphones and tablets.

This latest venture is especially welcome for small publishers and independent book sellers, many of which have been unable to afford entrance into the digital sphere.  For many, Google Editions may offer them a way to make their titles more widely available. 

More importantly, this is good news for readers everywhere.  In addition to the hundreds of thousands of titles Google is expected to make available for purchase, there are millions more that will be available for free.  Now all readers will be able to take advantage of digital content – regardless of whether they own an e-reader device or not.

Amazon Offers ‘Digital Shorts’

In other e-reader news, Amazon has just begun offering a Digital Shorts section through its Kindle e-reader.  Digital Shorts offer readers the ability to buy short selections of digital text, e.g. short stories, pamphlets, essays, etc…  The benefit to consumers is obvious: it may no longer be necessary to purchase expensive anthologies or collected works.  Consumers will be able to pick and choose individual selections for immediate download – think of the iTunes model as applied to books.

Here’s Tech Crunch on Amazon’s latest offering:

Today, Amazon is launching Kindle Singles, which are Kindle books that are in the company’s words, “twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book.” Generally, Amazon characterized Kindle Singles as 10,000 to 30,000 words (roughly 30 to 90 pages).

Amazon says that Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store, which currently has over 700,000 books, and will be priced much less than a typical book (although Amazon didn’t reveal a range of pricing for the new format).

Amazon’s Digital Shorts offers another benefit as well: exposure.  Amazon has already put out a call for serious writers, thinkers, poets to self-publish their work and make it available through the Digital Shorts section.  Here’s TechCrunch again:

It sounds like anyone can submit a story or piece to be included as a Kindle Single, and Amazon is using the announcement as a “call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers” to submit writings. As Amazon writes in the release: Singles are a “perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea, well researched, well argued and well illustrated—whether it’s a business lesson, a political point of view, a scientific argument, or a beautifully crafted essay on a current event.”

The inability to access short-form works or single articles has been one of the chief limitations of the e-reader market.  It’s good to see Amazon taking steps to correct the oversight.  Click here to learn more.

The Promise of E-readers

Here’s Jonah Lehrer making an odd argument against e-readers and digital text:

…And this is where the problems begin. Do we really want reading to be as effortless as possible? The neuroscience of literacy suggests that, sometimes, the best way to make sense of a difficult text is to read it in a difficult format, to force our brain to slow down and process each word. After all, reading isn’t about ease—it’s about understanding. If we’re going to read Kant on the Kindle, or Proust on the iPad, then we should at least experiment with an ugly font.

Every medium eventually influences the message that it carries. I worry that, before long, we’ll become so used to the mindless clarity of e-ink that the technology will feed back onto the content, making us less willing to endure challenging texts. We’ll forget what it’s like to flex those dorsal muscles, to consciously decipher a thorny stretch of prose. And that would be a shame, because not every sentence should be easy to read.

Lehrer’s argument seems to be a variant of the concern that ‘digital text is changing the way we process information’;  but it also appears to contain a bit of nostalgia – a yearning for a time when the experiential fact of the physical book was as much a part of the reading experience as the content itself.  Lehrer’s counsel ‘to flex those dorsal muscles’ seems to suggest that a good way to ensure deep and meaningful reading is to wrestle with an unwieldy formatting style, a figurative speed bump that forces the reader to slow down and fully experience the the various physical facets of the text. (more…)

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