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Old 04-12-2013, 06:22 PM   #1
Katsunami
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Future proofing: Books vs. eBooks

It is no secret that everything is becoming digital these days. Some things are not really a problem. For example, if you buy a digital piano in 2013, you can play it basically forever, as long as it does not break down. If it does break down, you can probably replace it with an equivalent or better model, maybe even for a lower price you paid now.

Not so with eBooks, or pictures, or music. They depend on devices to be able to be used: eReaders, viewers/programs, or players. The problem is the format: you can never be sure that a format that is dominant today, will be readable tomorrow. The computer world is littered with dead formats that are out of use, and can no longer be read completely, except if you are lucky enough to have a 30 year old system around using the original software from back then.

I've already future proofed my music as much as possible, by ripping all my CD's to FLAC. FLAC is an open source and lossless music format, and as long as someone writes a FLAC-to-whatever converter, I will be able to convert my music to whatever desired format without losing any quality.

I did the same with pictures. Instead of FLAC, I've settled on Adobe DNG (Digital NeGative). It's an open (but not open source) format, that stores pictures as they where captured. As long as someone supports a software package that can read DNG, it will be possible to output the pictures in basically any wanted format, without loss of quality.

Not so with ebooks at this time. Converting from one format to another may keep the book usable, and looking OK on an ereader, but the code inside will become quite crappy. Try converting a book, starting with an original one, from EPUB to MOBI to LRF and back to EPUB. It'll probably work, but the code is a mess.

Still, I've settled on EPUB as my base format, because it's open, it can easily be edited, and takes well to conversion to other formats. However, even many bought EPUBs do not validate correctly; they have many errors. Also, when I buy an AZW3 file, Calibre produces a usable EPUB, but it doesn't validate. Therefore, EPUB is not perfect. It's still possible that a future convertor will choke on the non-validating part, and refuse to convert the EPUB.

Still, I want my books to be available for the next 50 years or so (and 50 is not exaggerated, with the current life span in the Netherlands). I've had paper books on my shelf that have sat there for almost 10 years after the first read, but I sometimes pick one on a whim to start re-reading it.

I cannot afford to keep buying books. I do not have enough room for them. I've not read a lot over the past 10 years, because I was occupied with study, work, and playing computer role playing games (which also involves a lot of reading, by the way). Since I've got an eReader more than a year ago, I've seriously picked up reading again. Even at my current lackluster pace, I read around 50 books a year, so counting forward 50 years would come down to reading at least 2500 books. I cannot put that many books away, not in my current house, and probably not in a future one. (And I also collect movies...)

The library is not an option. Dutch libraries mostly have translated stuff, or they don't have it at all. They don't have many books in English, and what I read is mostly English, and many works are not even translated (or not fast enough for my liking).

So, what to do?

An eReader has many conveniences with regard to portability, readability, size, weight, and lighting, but I have the feeling that a paper book is more future proof. If you treat it correctly, it can go for hundreds of years, especially a hardback.

I've been thinking to use my ereader for convenience, and "bulk reading": you know, the books you buy for €2 to €5 or so, the ones you read for pure entertainment, but that do not invite to be read a second time, just because they're too simple or shallow. Entertainment, nothing more; not literature like Shakespeare, that'll endure 500 years or more. The eReader can also be used to conveniently and cheaply read free classics. Then, to future proof the books I probably DO want to reread some time, I'd buy them as hardcover, or, if not available (anymore), as a large paperback.

It'd combine the convenience of the eReader, with the future proofing of paper books; and IF there would be a book that I'd desperately want to re-read in the future, I could always get it as a paper version, should the eReader version not work anymore. If I'd feel the need to reread it, it's probably good enough to have in paper.

What do you think? Do you have any strategy with regard to future proofing, or are you someone who just reads what can be read now, and see what comes along?

edit: I've just checked, and many books that I'd want as a hardcover are already no longe available as such. Some of those books are >1000 pages, and a 1000 page paperback is BAD. At some point, the spine WILL break. With regard to this, I think that a correctly validating eBook may actually be more future proof than a paperback.

Last edited by Katsunami; 04-12-2013 at 06:31 PM.
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Old 04-12-2013, 06:58 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Katsunami View Post
It is no secret that everything is becoming digital these days. Some things are not really a problem. For example, if you buy a digital piano in 2013, you can play it basically forever, as long as it does not break down. If it does break down, you can probably replace it with an equivalent or better model, maybe even for a lower price you paid now.

Not so with eBooks, or pictures, or music. They depend on devices to be able to be used: eReaders, viewers/programs, or players. The problem is the format: you can never be sure that a format that is dominant today, will be readable tomorrow. The computer world is littered with dead formats that are out of use, and can no longer be read completely, except if you are lucky enough to have a 30 year old system around using the original software from back then.
Rubbish. The computer world is litterd with outdated media formats - floppy disks, tapes, and such, but the files are trivial to transfer from one medium to another.

File formats, the significant ones, are well documented, and won't be going away. EPUB is basically HTML. In a pinch, once you strip off the DRM (which is not only trivial, but trivial to automate), you can actually read one in a web browser. Backwards compatibility will be built in to web browsers for a long, long time. Kindle format is, from what I understand, more complicated, but also well documented. Given the number of ebook already out there in one of a handful of major formats, there is basically zero possiblity of there not being any reader software available. Not if there's anyone who actually wants to read a particlar format.
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Old 04-12-2013, 07:02 PM   #3
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Kindle format is, from what I understand, more complicated, but also well documented.
Not documented at all. All the information about the Kindle formats has been reverse engineered.
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Old 04-12-2013, 07:10 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by taustin View Post
Rubbish.
You seem to be fond of expressions like that.

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The computer world is litterd with outdated media formats - floppy disks, tapes, and such, but the files are trivial to transfer from one medium to another.
Is it? Then please go and find me a way to transfer some files from a 5.25 inch floppy drive. And I don't mean "In 6 weeks", or "Send your disk to $Location" or something, but a way I can employ within the hour; like right now. In the very least, tomorrow.

Easy. Right. Then try it with an 8 inch disk.

And even IF you can get the files from the disk to a current medium, there is no certainty that there are any current programs, running on current computers, that can read them.

Quote:
File formats, the significant ones, are well documented, and won't be going away. EPUB is basically HTML. In a pinch, once you strip off the DRM (which is not only trivial, but trivial to automate), you can actually read one in a web browser. Backwards compatibility will be built in to web browsers for a long, long time. Kindle format is, from what I understand, more complicated, but also well documented. Given the number of ebook already out there in one of a handful of major formats, there is basically zero possiblity of there not being any reader software available. Not if there's anyone who actually wants to read a particlar format.
Says you. I've seen otherwise. There are (were) *many* documents, databases, spreadsheets, and what not around that could not be reliably read, not even if current day software "supported" them. A prime example is Microsoft Works. At some point, they just stopped supporting older formats. To get an MS Works 2 file into MS Works 9, you had to go through MS Works 5, because that one was the latest to support Works 2. (I'm doing this on top of my head, so it could actually be Works 3 and 6, but you get the idea.)

As I said in other threads: with regards to DRM or formats, I don't trust anything or anyone.

Last edited by Katsunami; 04-12-2013 at 07:14 PM.
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Old 04-12-2013, 07:24 PM   #5
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I'm not concerned about current file formats. When you had physical media, like cassette tapes and floppies, you had to have the correct hardware to access the media. With digital files, it's no longer a problem. Any computer or tablet that exists today can run software that can read all formats that are popular today.

I am fairly certain that in 30 years I would still be able to find a Kindle reader app archived somewhere on the internet that I'd be able to run on whatever platform I am using. Same for ePubs. Same for MP3s, AVIs, and whatever ancient digital media from 2013 that I am still holding on to at that time.
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Old 04-12-2013, 07:27 PM   #6
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Not documented at all. All the information about the Kindle formats has been reverse engineered.
Reverse engineering is documentation. Calibre can convert to it. It's not unknown.
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Old 04-12-2013, 07:31 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Katsunami View Post
You seem to be fond of expressions like that.
I see quite a lot of it in the internet.


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Originally Posted by Katsunami View Post
Is it? Then please go and find me a way to transfer some files from a 5.25 inch floppy drive. And I don't mean "In 6 weeks", or "Send your disk to $Location" or something, but a way I can employ within the hour; like right now. In the very least, tomorrow.

Easy. Right. Then try it with an 8 inch disk.
Failing to copy stuff over to new media as it comes out is not a technology problem, it's a user problem. And it cannot be solved by technology.

As the saying goes, if you build an idiot proof device, the universe will invent a better idiot.

I still have prgrams I wrote nearly 20 years ago, for DOS. And you know what? They still work, on my 64 bit Windows 7 machine. Yeah, I have to use an emulator, but there are multiple emulators available, mostly for free. There are versions of DOS still in active development.
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Old 04-12-2013, 07:32 PM   #8
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The key to maintaining future use is continual checking. That's true with almost anything. When I worked with State Archives they had a policy of copying all files to new media every 5 years-not only because media deteriorate but also because devices that handle the media disappear. Usually the new media was the same as the old, i.e. 5" floppy to 5" floppy but when 5" floppies were banned by Microsoft they started copying them to 3.5" floppies (I think-maybe it was to CD's. I can't remember for sure as I wasn't working closely with them by then.) When the US banned leaded gas many older cars developed problems-but people found out about & fixed those problems right away except for those few who had simply garaged their cars & never used them for 20 years. Then they had trouble finding the solutions-because they didn't continually check for problems. That's the key to maintaining future usability for anything, IMO.
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Old 04-12-2013, 07:34 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by taustin View Post
Reverse engineering is documentation. Calibre can convert to it. It's not unknown.
It *is* unknown with regard to the a-technical masses. Only getting a DRM-ed book onto an eReader can be hard enough for some.

- Some think that the ASCM-file is actually the book.
- Some don't know what to do with the book / eReader after they have the book in ADE.
- Some people run into DRM-problems, and both Adobe *and* the store won't help.

And if they get the book onto the reader, there will be problems when there's going to be another reader, or computer, or.... And I'm not even thinking about someone getting a Kindle because it looks nice, not knowing that it won't run EPUBS out of the box, because he thinks "an ebook is an ebook".

Even if you can convert from EPUB to Kindle AZW or the other way around, the output will never be perfect, and it's not guaranteed that you can use that output later on to convert to yet another format.

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Failing to copy stuff over to new media as it comes out is not a technology problem, it's a user problem. And it cannot be solved by technology.
After the devices needed to read the original media are gone, you're done for.

Quote:
I still have prgrams I wrote nearly 20 years ago, for DOS. And you know what? They still work, on my 64 bit Windows 7 machine. Yeah, I have to use an emulator, but there are multiple emulators available, mostly for free. There are versions of DOS still in active development.
I know. I still run games from the nineties without problems, and many even without an emulator. Still I've also encountered formats from that period that are not readable by any current program, as the format was tied to one particular application.

Yes, you can run the application, in an emulator, IF you can find it. If you don't have the application: *poof*.

You're looking at all this as someone who knows technology. Most people buying ebooks don't know anything about technology, and the slightest problem will immediately stump them. That's not stupidity or ignorance per se. I don't don't drive a car, but if I did, the slightest engine problem that my sister could probably fix will bring me to a standstill, and I'm far from stupid. I just don't know anything about how cars work. And there are a lot of people who don't know how computers (or eBooks for that matter) work.

And even if they do, it is always possible that a solution that is available to you, may not be available to them, because of missing devices, or software or cost of the solution itself.

Last edited by Katsunami; 04-12-2013 at 07:41 PM.
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Old 04-12-2013, 08:26 PM   #10
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All of my paper books are likely to become inaccessible to me within a few decades due to the small print and normal eyesight loss. But I expect I will still be able to access my epubs using a reader with a large enough font, text-to-speech, etc.

I am beginning to realize paper books were a bad investment. I will be selling them and buying ebook versions of the ones I might reread.
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Old 04-12-2013, 08:29 PM   #11
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I actually still have several old 5.25" drives laying around that I could throw into any of my PCs if the need really arose. When 3.5" drives were becoming more popular, I made sure I had anything important off the 5.25" disks and transferred to the 3.5" disks. Now with hard drive space so cheap, I haven't bothered putting in a 3.5" disk in my latest PC. I have games from the 80s, a few of which don't need any emulator and play just fine on WinXP for me.

But nothing changes overnight where you don't have plenty of warning to start transferring or converting files to the new blank media or new format. And when that change happens, there's always people around who will be coming up with ways to convert formats if there's a need. And if you need an emulator, just Google "DOS emulator", they're still very freely available. Maybe another 20 years from now you won't be able to find it, not the case yet though and I don't see it being a problem for a long time yet.

But epub being basically html, I really don't think there's anything to worry about for ages about ebooks. When changes do start to take place to the hardware needed to read the ebooks, or the format might eventually change someday, the user really needs to look into conversion options.

It sounds like you're looking for a foolproof, idiotproof way to just magically preserve present day formats and hardware forever. That's not ever going to happen. Users still need to be aware and be ready to make changes. And if they're not really computer literate, they can always come to great forums like MobileRead where there's plenty of help walking people through issues they may run into. And if they can't find their way onto the internet to find forums, I suspect they don't even know what an epub is to care either.

But no one can predict the future about where technology might be in 20 years. Other than watching Star Trek and seeing what gadgets are there, they have a way of making it into real life sooner or later.
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Old 04-12-2013, 09:14 PM   #12
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Project Gutenberg started in the 70's and the files there are still accessible today. It's 42 yrs old and still kicking.
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Old 04-12-2013, 09:17 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Katsunami View Post
It *is* unknown with regard to the a-technical masses. Only getting a DRM-ed book onto an eReader can be hard enough for some.
Most people can handle Googling for "how can I read my Kindle ebooks."


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After the devices needed to read the original media are gone, you're done for.
Once again, and I'll speak slowly this time, that's not a file format issue. That's an obsolete media issue. A completely different issue. And the problem there isn't obsolete media so much as clueless users. And clueless users will find ways to not be able to use brand new software.
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Old 04-12-2013, 09:50 PM   #14
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It sounds like you're looking for a foolproof, idiotproof way to just magically preserve present day formats and hardware forever.
Not really; but I do want to be sure that I don't have to pay again and again and again to keep using information I already have.

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Once again, and I'll speak slowly this time, that's not a file format issue. That's an obsolete media issue. A completely different issue.
No, it's not a different issue. You need hardware *and* software to use a file format. It doesn't matter which of the two is not available: in both cases, you lose access to your information. When you don't have the hardware, you can't even get to the file, when you don't have the software, you can't open the file.

I've not been running around on this globe for too long, but I've already seen many people lose access to their information because they where either unable to access the media, in case of old floppies (mostly, defective media, or defective drive, in computer that does not work with still available drives), or because of absence of software, in case of original games, that needed specific copy protection drivers installed that only worked on Win98. Pirated versions of those games, without those protections, work fine on Windows 7 if need be.

Yes, often there are solutions, one way or another (change a drive by soldering, create adapters, or in case of old operating systems, use a VM), but just as often, there are none or only very cludgy ones, and I'm not going to just hope that everything will just turn out all right. I've seen too much "shouldn't have been necessary"-stuff happen already.

Last edited by Katsunami; 04-13-2013 at 03:04 PM.
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Old 04-12-2013, 10:18 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Katsunami View Post
I've not been running around on this globe for too long, but I've already seen many people lose access to their information because they where either unable to access the media, in case of old floppies
Yep, me too (having come to the rescue of friends in this situation in the past, with my olde Mac). And those people could have prevented that, just by transferring their data over when tech first started to move on from floppies, instead of waiting ten years and then going "Oopsie!". I've seen a bunch of people lose data from not backing up their hard drive, too - again, this is very easily prevented. The solution is a modicum of education, forward planning and not falling into the trap of "it'll never happen to me" syndrome.

People have lost their paper books too, to fire, flood, or theft. (None of which will lose me my ebooks, because I have an onsite backup, an offsite backup, and cloud - despite having probably fewer than 40 years left, unlike you!) It doesn't make one format superior to the other; just different.

Last edited by meeera; 04-12-2013 at 10:21 PM.
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