Digital Books

Digital Books

Early Adopter, sort of

In college, I wished for computerized books so I could search for keywords while studying and writing. I could have worked so much more efficiently.

Kindle Reader In A Real Book
Kindle Reader In A Real Book

Aside from software manuals and other disc purchases, I had my first “eBook” when Stephen King issued one of the first ones: $1 per chapter with download links delivered by email. There were pros and cons to the “by chapter” delivery mechanism. Since people failed to pay on the honor system, King never finished the book.

A couple of years ago, I held my first Kindle, but I didn’t get the appeal. Soon after, I saw the prices of the Nook and almost fainted! Since then, tablets–iPad, Kindle Fire, etc.–have added WiFi, browsers, and apps, so they make more sense, but still seem kind of like a luxury for someone like me.[1]

This month, a book I wanted went on sale for only $5 for the Kindle. I bought the ebook, downloaded the app to my phone, and gave it a go. The screen is great and reading on the go was fun. I even felt a little productive reading the book I bought instead of playing a mindless game.

Long Way To Go – things I noticed that are wrong

The pagination on the iPhone was weird. I assumed it was because I was reading on the phone. Headings were separated from their paragraphs causing me to have to flip back and forth too much. Descriptive photographs were also separated, but that is to be expected on a small screen.

I needed it “bigger” for one task, so I went to the website. Theoretically, lets you view all your digital purchases. It either can’t handle the holiday traffic or there is something wrong. I couldn’t see anything while it tried to load the page. Some friends of mine run the Unofficial Kindle Fire Blog, so I asked them for help. A ha! There is a desktop application. I thought I’d found the mecca of Kindle. Surely, this would solve the problems I’d faced on a mobile device!

Sadly, the desktop application views of the ebook are exactly like the iPhone views. The digital pagination is exactly the same, headers separated from text and all!

What’s worse is that the book has pretty good cross referencing. It says things like “See page 184.” However, pages don’t exist in this ebook. Pages refer only to the printed copy. Page 184 in the printed copy might translate to marker 2596 in the ebook (which you can see when you bookmark a page). The wrong/bad cross referencing is enormously frustrating. If they took the time to Xref the book for print, why not Xref the book for digital, too? Who cares if it goes to marker 2596 as long as it does? Furthermore, they’ve done most of the work, already. Since they converted pages from print to markers for digital, the system is ready to accommodate these marker locations no matter which size font is chosen for reading.

As you might expect from an ebook without cross referencing, links, emails, and other should-be-hyper text is not clickable.

Lastly, you can’t copy any of the text. Now, I fully understand and support Copyright Law, but this is too far. Set a limit if necessary, but in this time of Social Media, I need to be able to Tweet a quote (good for the author) or file an idea (good for me). They need to allow minimal copying. Set a character limit or something, but give the reader some ability to copy/paste. After all, I can put a printed book on a copy machine. (As long as I own the book and make the copy for my own personal use[2], I’m not violating the Copyright). It’s also possible that the ability to select text would let us bookmark an exact spot in the copy and not simply a page of text.

What a Tech Writer Could Do

If the publishers would spend just a little money and hire a Tech Writer, they could solve quite a few problems with ebooks.

  • A Tech Writer would correctly cross reference the book for both kinds of media.
  • A Tech Writer would anchor images to their titles, headings to their content, and bulleted/numbered items in their series.
  • In the digital copy (where the layout is vastly different than print) a Tech Writer would keep images in context to the relevant copy. Title images at the beginning of each chapter a nice in a printed book, but they are lost in the digital conversion.
  • A Tech Writer is yet one more set of professional eyes to catch GSP errors. Yes, Editors are not perfect and some slip through. A Technical Writer makes the Editor look better at his/her job, too.

In Sum

This is just silly. We live in a digital age. It’s almost 2012. Why isn’t this newfangled digital media keeping up with 1992? .


[1] I have an iMac, a MacBook Pro, and an iPhone. I don’t see the need for an ebook reader, too.
[2] …or, if I’m a registered student making a copy for educational use.