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Tag: ebooks

eBooks with a Sound Track?

Posted by Andrew at 4:53 PM on August 31, 2011

US company Booktrack has just released a new concept onto the literary market – ebooks with a sound track. Yes, you read that right, ebooks with a sound track. To quote from their website, “Booktrack represents a new chapter in the evolution of storytelling, and an industry “first” in publishing, by creating synchronized soundtracks for e-books that dramatically boost the reader’s imagination and engagement. The company’s proprietary technology combines music, sound effects and ambient sound, automatically paced to an individual’s reading speed.

One of the first Booktracked novels is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of the Speckled Band. Plenty of scope there for creepy sound effects but…

…does anyone else think this sounds (sorry) doomed to fail? I’m all for new ways of experiencing stories but we’ve done pretty well with books, radio and TV / film. Each medium has its own strengths and for me, the attraction of a good book is that your imagination creates the world in your head. Now when I read that the door creaks open, I hear it too. Surely if I want a story with sound effects, I get an audio book? Maybe I’m being too critical.

If you want to try it out, it’s available from the Apple App Store for the iPhone et al. There’s only five books available at the moment, two for adults and three for children. On reflection, children may well respond to this approach and it might encourage reading, so that changes my opinion a little. Great idea for kids, bad idea for adults.

What do you think?

Unbound: Kickstarter for Books

Posted by Andrew at 3:37 AM on May 30, 2011

Launched yesterday at the Hay Festival in Wales, Unbound is the latest website to link prospective funders to creators. In this instance, it’s authors and books, rather than entrepreneurs and tech but it’s the same concept. They have an idea for a book, the story gets pitched to you, if you like it you buy the future book and if enough people buy in, the book gets written. It might also be a very cost effective way of meeting a favourite author, but more on this later.

On the website there are currently five authors pitching books, one of which is an iPad reference app. Obviously the Unbound founders are hoping that more authors will come forwards as the awareness of the site grows. You may or may not recognise all of the authors but many of us of a certain age will know Terry Jones of Monty Python fame.

Each of the authors has a short video, pitching the story. The author’s page will show how many funders are required and how long the book has to get funded. Some of the books need as few as 1,500, others need as many as 5,000, most seem somewhere in between. Once you have decided that you want to support the author, you can then choose your level of funding. £10 gets you an ebook, £20 gets you a hardback and so on. There’s a bit more to the funding levels including your name in the back of the book and access to the author’s “shed”. But the best bit is that for a £250, you get to have a lunch with the author (plus the books, etc) which I think is a bargain. Admittedly, it’s not clear who pays for the lunch!

I’ll definitely be funding a couple of these – just trying to decide what level to go for. This is all UK-based, so if you are from elsewhere just check the situation. Everything’s a bit new so the FAQ isn’t as full as it could be.

Get Free E-Books and Audiobooks at Your Local Library

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 8:55 AM on February 24, 2011

My husband went to our local library the Cabell County Public Library last week and picked up a library card. If you haven’t been to a library in a long time you maybe surprise how much they have embraced new technology. One of the areas that most libraries have embraced is ebooks and audiobooks. They use a system called Overdrive to allow customers to download the books. The Overdrive system works with Mac or Windows and a multiple of portable devices including: iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Sony Readers, Barnes and Noble Nook, various Palm and Window devices. On some devices like the iPhone you can download directly to the devices.  On other devices you have to download to the Overdrive console on your computer and then transfer to the device. A full listing of supported devices can be found at Overdrive Resource Center. Once you install Overdrive on your chosen device or platform, then you are ready to download your book. The steps are as follows:

  1. click on Overdrive Icon
  2. click on Add a Website
  3. enter name of your library, zip code or city
  4. if you enter zip code or city you then have to click on the library you want
  5. log into the your library using your library id and the pin #
    the library gave you.
  6. Find the book you are looking for
  7. At that point you can either add the book directly to
    your cart or too your wish list.
  8. If someone else has the book out,
    you can put a hold on it and when
    it becomes available it will download automatically

I did run into a couple of problems while attempting to download some books. Sometimes entering the zip code work and sometimes it didn’t  and I would have to browse by state. The first time I downloaded a book I had to shut down and restart my iPhone before the book showed up on my list. I also noticed that the number of books available for download is limited. One of the reasons the number of books available are limited is because not all publishers offer their books to libraries. Some publishers are under the mistaken idea that libraries are stealing sales from them. “Public libraries are more important than some blogger,” said Potash from Overdrive. “The library is the best way to elevate your sales. The data is starting to prove it.” Unfortunately the one device that is not supported directly by Overdrive is the Kindle. Although it possible add ebooks downloaded from Overdrive to Kindle, it takes additional steps you have to be able to remove the DRM and convert to Mobipocket format. Clearly most people are not going to do this. Hopefully this is something that can be fixed, its unfortunate that library books can’t be downloaded to the most popular e-book reader easily. Despite these problems if you like to read ebooks or listen to audiobooks, try your local library on-line you maybe surprised what is available.

Ectaco eBook Readers and Translators

Posted by Andrew at 7:28 PM on February 12, 2011

Todd and Tom get together with Jerry Cimadomo and Greg Stetson of Ectaco to review their range of ebook readers and translators.

First up was is the Jetbook Mini (shown right) at $99, which runs off 4 AAA batteries giving 90 hours of continuous reading. It comes with free software which converts a wide range of ebook formats into a one suitable for the device.

Second was a new model that will be out in a couple of months. Aimed at the school market, it will come preloaded with a pile of educational material. It goes beyond being a simple ereader with features such as voice recognition so that language programs are able to give feedback on pronunciation. Around $250.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Tom Newman of The Fogview Podcast.

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Sony Reader Pocket Edition (PRS-350) Review

Posted by Andrew at 8:36 AM on November 30, 2010

There’s no doubt that ebook readers are very much du jour, and Sony are keen to be part of that trend with the recent additions of the Touch and Pocket Editions to the Sony Reader line-up.

Reviewed here is the Pocket Edition (PRS-350), which is the smaller of the two models, with a 5″ touch screen.  Overall, it’s about 14.5 cm tall, 10.5 cm wide and only 9 mm deep.  At this size it can go in a (big) coat pocket and fits easily into most handbags.  As you can see from the pictures, it comes in silver, but pink and black are also available.  It’s also very light at only 155 g.

The e Ink Pearl screen is common in ebook readers but if you’ve not seen or used one, there are a couple of defining features.  First is that the letters on the screen appear to be on the surface of the screen.  It’s not like a laptop or tablet where you know that you are looking through glass.  Second the screen doesn’t flicker at all.  Not a bit.  Thirdly, text is very smooth – you have to look incredibly closely to see any pixellation or “jaggies”.  Fourthly, there’s no backlight so you need external light to read. Finally, when you do turn a page, the screen briefly flickers into a negative image as it morphs from one page to the next.  It’s a bit odd but you get used to it very quickly.

In terms of the screen, I didn’t think that the Reader screen was any better or worse than any of the others that I’d seen.  Admittedly I didn’t have a Kindle or Nook to hand to compare but all seemed normal and perfectly acceptable.

Beneath the screen, there’s a small legend and a row of five buttons along the bottom for page back, forwards, home, zoom and options.  Buttons were ok but there could have been a bit more feedback from them.

Connectivity is limited to a micro-USB connection and the Reader appears as a removable drive.  Consequently, all books have to be downloaded to a PC or laptop and then dropped into the folder.  This is sometimes termed  “sideloading” and while it’s not as convenient as wi-fi connectivity, it’s pretty idiot-proof and you’ve a backup copy of your books on your own computer. 

In use, the Pocket Reader is straightforward.  Pressing the home button takes you to a screen which shows your current reading material.  Having a touch screen means that most navigation can be done with by tapping on the screen, either with your finger or the included stylus, which slides into a silo on the righthand side.  The device never responds quite as fast, as say, a PDA or mobile phone, but I think it’s just the nature of ebooks readers at the moment.

Tapping on the option to see all the loaded books gives a list sorted by author, title and filename.  Selecting the book will open up the title and let you start reading.  The zoom button allows adjustment of the font size to five different sizes (XS through XL).  I found that the “S” setting was about the best.  To move through the book, you can either use the backwards and forwards buttons or else slide your finger on the screen to the turn the page.

One cool feature was that double-tapping on a word brings up a dictionary and show the possible meanings of the word.  Great for when you come across a word that you aren’t familiar with.

In terms of formats, the Reader can handle epub, pdf and rtf natively.  I found that epub and rtf formats worked best and that pdfs suffered when being resized to fit on the smaller screen.  Even with epub files, there were huge variations in the quality of the books.  Of course, this isn’t the fault of the Reader but rather a reflection on the ebook industry.  EPUB-based ebooks are widely available from the likes of WHSmith and Waterstones but as Amazon uses a proprietary format, you can’t get ebooks from there.

I had the Reader for just over a week and during that time I read a couple of novels and I never had to charge the battery after the initial charge.  It charges through the USB connector so there’s no power brick included.  I’d be confident that I could take this on holiday for two weeks and not have to worry.

However, my biggest issue is….how do you hold the device?  Being used to years of paperback reading with one hand I’m having to re-learn how to hold a book.

Overall, I liked the Pocket Edition Reader.  The Reader is small but the screen is clear.  Battery life is excellent and there are plenty of ebooks available.

Sony currently have the Pocket Edition on sale in the UK for £159 with the Touch Edition at £199.

Thanks to Sony for providing the review unit.

[Apologies if some of the photos are a little out-of-focus.  My camera had a hard time focussing on the screen]

The Changing Face of News and Journalism

Posted by Andrew at 6:48 AM on July 26, 2010

Andrew Marr, formerly the BBC’s Political Editor, has written a series of articles on the changing face of news and journalism in an era of technological change.

In the first, End of the News Romantics, he comments how he always thought he’d be a true newspaper and newscast kind of guy but in fact he’s embracing the new technology of tablets and phones.  He says, “A few years ago, I was shaking my head and saying I thought I’d had the best of times for journalism, and wouldn’t want my children to join the trade. No longer. I’d like to be 20 and starting out again right now.

In the second, A New Journalism on the Horizon, he talks in a little bit more detail about the media revolution, where he discusses the future of journalism in the age of new media.  He starts out from the recent revelations that (a) the estimated readership of the The Times Online has dropped by 90% since the introduction of the paywall and (b) e-books are outstripping hardbacks on Amazon, and how these facts seem to be contra-indications.

He puts forwards two points, the first being that the notion of not paying for news seems to be somewhat strange.  People pay for DVDs, magazines, TV channels, mobile apps, e-books, so why not news?  Although he’d be happy to pay, he wants to be able to pick and choose – politics but not fashion, business but not crime – so he feels the proposition will need to be refined.

The second point is that there will undoubtedly be consolidation in the market for general news or the news of the day.  But he believes that underneath this will be specialist news organisations that deal in particular sectors of the market, such as automotive, enviromental, foreign countries.  This will be where the real knowledge and understanding will be.

As ever, it’s hard to gaze into the crystal ball and predict the future.  From my previous posts, you’ll know that I think we have to start paying for news if we want quality journalism to continue.  As to the second point, of  specialised news organisations, I think he’s right.  Imagine CNN or the BBC no longer having a technology correspondent and outsourcing that to Engadget or Gizmodo.  Or business news provided by the Economist. It’s not a hard stretch of the imagination to see that coming.

What do you think?  Will the news organisations of today simply become aggregators?

Free E-Books Sell Books

Posted by Andrew at 3:56 AM on March 10, 2010

If the electronics industry has anything to do with it 2010 will be the year that the e-book finally gets off the ground.  They’ve been kicking around for years – I remember reading stuff from Peanut Press on my Palm III back in the ’90s.  Anyway, this isn’t going to be about e-books and their rise, but rather about a study into free e-books carried out by Jeff Hilton and David Wiley at Brigham Young University in the USA.  In summary, they found that giving away free e-books resulted in higher sales of the printed copy.

The study involved 41 books in four different categories and the sales figures were assessed over an eight week period. In three out of the four categories, sales increased where a free e-book version was made available.

Category 1 – non-fiction +4%
Category 2 – fiction (sci-fi) +26%

Category 3 - Random House fiction (sci-fi) +9%
Category 4 – Tor fiction (sci-fi) -24%

It’s not clear whether the titles chosen because they would generally appeal to digerati, who would presumably be the most likely to read e-books, or whether the titles were self-selected by being free.  Most of the books were PDFs but a few came in other formats.

Overall, sales of print books in three categories rose but in the fourth category, Tor sci-fi, there was a significant fall.  This fall in sales is likely to do with the method of distribution.  Each free e-book was only available for one week before the next one became available and the results were also skewed by one particular title which contributed to 65% of the fall on its own.

The authors suggest a number of reasons why free e-books may lead to increases in print book sales but admit that it’s difficult to giving a convincing explanation. One might simply be the publicity around the free giveaway.  It’s much easier to say why publishers give away free e-books.  Tor wanted publicity for a new web site and Random House gave away free the first book of a series, presumably to entice readers into buying the subsequent novels.

However, perhaps the comment that gives the most food for thought is simply that e-books are searchable.  Not in the context of a single e-book on your e-book reader, but rather when on the web and indexed by a search engine, it makes low volume books more easily discoverable.  This will translate into sales of the book that would simply not occur because the purchaser is unaware of the title in the first place.  This should be sufficient in itself to encourage publishers to get digital copies on-line.

The full paper is The Short Term Influence of Free Digital Versions of Books on Print Sales.

No Kindle Required — iPhone App Review

Posted by fogview at 4:46 PM on July 18, 2009

iphone-kindleI’ve had my first generation Kindle for a year and a half and I drooled when the second generation Kindle came out. I drooled again when the Kindle DX was announced earlier this year.

I tried using my Kindle to replace my daily newspaper but found the experience wasn’t up to the task. I got use to reading my news online but the serial viewing on the Kindle left me feeling that I was missing something. I do use my Kindle for reading books and have purchased a few reference books that allow me to use the Kindle’s search feature. Typically Kindle books are cheaper than their print cousins and most cost $9.99, but I didn’t think I used it enough to justify another $350 gadget when what I had, served my purpose.

When Apple announced the new iPhone 3GS and 3.0 firmware, I heard about the Kindle application for the iPhone and iPod Touch. I downloaded this free app and was impressed. It now feels like I have a new Kindle — on a device I already own.

When I installed the application on my iPod Touch and entered my Amazon account information, it showed me that I had a number of Archived Items. These were books that I had purchased and downloaded on my Kindle. I could then download a copy for reading on my iPod Touch. The cool thing was it opened up to the last page that I was reading on the Kindle. It turns out that this goes both ways. If I’m reading a book on the Touch and switch to my Kindle, it opens up to last page read on the Touch.

So how was the reading experience on the iPod Touch? Even though the screen is much smaller, I thought it was a great experience. The pages show up in portrait or landscape (depending on how you’re holding the device) and the menu and controls disappear after a few seconds. You navigate the pages by touching (or swiping) the screen. Touching the right side of the screen moves you forward and touching the left side moves you back. Page turns are very fast (faster than on the Kindle) and you access the menu by touching the center of the screen.  Bringing up the menu gives you access to changing the text size and color, setting/accessing bookmarks, and going back to the Home screen.  The Home screen allows you to select a new book, download one of your archived books, or search the Kindle store for another book.

One nice surprise came when I downloaded a photography book I had been reading on the Kindle. To save power the Kindle screen only shows shades of gray and the photography book was mainly text with a few photos thrown in. These photos showed up in color on my iPod Touch.

One of the best things (and a smart move by Amazon) is you don’t need to own a Kindle to read Kindle books on your iPhone/Touch. You can download the program for free from the iTunes Store and set up an Amazon account (if you ever ordered anything on Amazon.com, you already have an account). You can then download and review the first chapter of books from the Kindle store and purchase books right from the device.

I can’t say that having access to my Kindle books on my iPod Touch is going to keep me from getting a new Kindle someday because I’m find myself using my Kindle more these days. It’s a nice feeling knowing I can have my books with me even when I leave my Kindle at home. Like I said before, a very smart move Amazon!

73′s, Tom