Leveling the playing field • 18 June 2010 • The SnowBlog

Leveling the playing field


someone else's iPad Kindle library

There's a little nugget of publishing-related irony to be mined this week. And I'm always a fan of that sort of thing. So let me drop it into the assaying scales for you all to take a look at. In theory, eBooks are a free-for-all - one big melting pot of downloadable reading - lovingly self-published novels rubbing shoulders with corporate 'product' - everything on an equal footing and just a click away. But we've talked before about the unfortunate appearance of many self-published books. The annotated postcard of a cover image. The copier-paper interior. The 'typesetting'. The 'proofreading'. And in their electronic incarnations DIY novels are not much better. Only the incongruous paper choice has been done away with. This week, however, I've been tinkering with an iPad. It only takes a few moments to load it up with Amazon's Kindle software to complement Apple's iBooks app. And I added in Kobo's reader as well, because the Internet said to, though I haven't worked out why yet. Having assembled too much IKEA furniture this week, I was resting my slightly painful back and I thought of a new book that I'd like to read. And - wonder of the age! - less than a minute later it had been found, purchased and delivered to my iPad. It's not a fabulous reading experience, but it's not hard work either. Paper is clear to read in all lights, but the iPad works fine in the dark. It's a little more unwieldy than a paperback and a little less so than a hardback. For reading, a shiny screen isn't ideal, but then again it has a trick a book can't do. I like being able to lie in bed, with the iPad laying edgewise on the pillow, supporting its own weight, and being able to flip to the next page without moving more than a thumb. When in bed with a paperback, reading whichever page is lowermost is easy. But reading the uppermost page means holding the book propped fully open or turning myself over alternately with each page or some such mucking around. Otherwise I'm using more arm muscles than I want to just before turning out the light. But the thing I noticed - the ironic thing - is that eBooks have turned out to be egalitiarian in an unexpected way. Even the high-profile titles from the big publishing houses look horrible. Quotations are in the same font as the body text, and their placement is wonky. Foreign characters are rendered very eccentrically. And the whole thing looks in need of some serious professional attention. Most of the formatting we'd expect has evaporated. And I'm talking titles straight off the New York Times Bestseller's list here. Granted, I was using the Kindle software, so perhaps Kobo and iBooks versions are better, but as you can imagine, Amazon is where all the books are at the moment. The Kindle store is huge and easy to use. And every novel you buy from there looks self-published. The future has arrived. (There's one other little kink I experienced. Each new technology brings new ways for things to break. VHS tapes rarely skipped or froze. Unlike DVDs. And before now, I've never been charged in a book shop for a book I didn't want. Somehow, while buying Clay Shirky's new book, Cognitive Surplus, I was charged for his first book, Here Comes Everybody. I wouldn't mind but I've already got a paper copy and I've read it. Amazon followed through and delivered the unwanted electronic copy to my iPad, but I could find no way of 'returning' it the way I would a physical item shipped by mistake. On the other hand, all you nay-sayers might like to consider the fact that if I drop my iPad in the bath, my books are all safe - ready to be downloaded afresh - and ready to open to the very page I was on. I'd merely need to shell out another 500 for a new iPad and I'd be back in business.)


The SnowBlog is one of the oldest publishing blogs, started in 2003, and it's been through various content management systems over the years. A 2005 techno-blunder meant we lost the early years, but the archives you're reading now go all the way back to 2005.

Many of the older posts in our blog archive suffer from link rot. Apologies if you see missing links and images: let us know if you'd like us to find any in particular.

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