Scott Free • 13 September 2008 • The SnowBlog

Scott Free

So, Scott Pack (over at Me and My Big Mouth) has a gratis Sony Reader courtesy of a digital ad agency. It'll be interesting to see what he makes of it. I tend to think of Scott as equal parts quirky Amish versus up-to-the-minute trend-tracker. I seem to recall him saying he didn't watch TV (although he makes some horrible exceptions), but he's not averse to iPods (being a zealous music fan), computers and gaming paraphernalia. And he's a very prodigious reader. So I can't really predict which way he'll jump with the Sony whatsit. It seems the first hurdle Scott has encountered has been finding books to put on the thing. I think if I were looking to make one of these devices commercially popular I'd start out by focussing on what these gadgets can do that paper and glue can't. I'd put some effort into software that could package up text for these gadgets in an easy-to-use, automagical way. That way folks like Scott, and us here, could read submissions electronically on something with a crisp, daylight-suitable display. I've spent entirely too long exporting PDFs from InDesign, copying them across to e-readers, discovering that I get eight words to the page, or eight thousand, and starting again. I think I'd also throw a few quid in the direction of Project Gutenberg and provide a Sony Reader-friendly version of every single thing in their vast collection. And since carrying these books around costs nothing, I'd make it very easy to pop five hundred classic novels on to the Reader for those just-in-case moments. Then I'd approach other content providers so that free online newspapers and magazines got all the help they could need in offering Sony Reader-formatted editions. If your Reader had up-to-the-minute newspaper stories, editorials, articles, columns, features and interviews already loaded, when you got a quiet moment, you'd be sure to find something to glance at. Penultimately, I'd provide templates and CSS stylesheets for Blogspot and Typepad and others so that subscribing to a few dozen blogs, and reading the archives and the recent updates on your Sony Reader (in/on the bath, train, plane or bed) was cinchy. And finally I'd create a bit of software for the Sony Reader owner to run on their home computer that makes all this functionality and content easy-peasy to access. Something along the lines of the iTunes store: just tick here, tick there, and your gadget fills up with fresh content whenever you synch it. Given that these things are well within Sony's power - and they haven't been done (thus leaving Scott scratching around for suitable content) - does that mean Sony isn't serious yet? I've said it before, but if Apple ever decide to produce an electronic reader, it's suddenly going to become clear to a lot of those on the fence why they'd want a gadget like that. And the reason will be that Apple will make it very useful, very easy and very desirable. I like my Sony Reader, but I wouldn't pretend it does any more than point the way towards the genuinely usable electronic books of the future.


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