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Old 09-14-2021, 08:10 PM   #1
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The Atlantic: Ebooks Are an Abomination

Why Are Ebooks So Terrible?

2010 called, it wants its anti-ebook rant back.

Maybe someone will enjoy this. I found it an incredibly tedious pedantic diatribe by someone who can't seem to separate content from physical form, and thinks it novel (no pun intended) to point out that books on art, architecture, and design aren't well suited to ebook readers.
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Old 09-14-2021, 08:43 PM   #2
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Maybe someone will enjoy this.
I enjoyed it some. It’s well written. He doesn’t insist he’s right (“I hate them, but I don’t know why I hate them.”)

The author is a video game designer. Now, there’s something I don’t enjoy.

I gladly read Gutenberg eBooks on the Palm Pilot, so feel and fonts mean nothing to me.

Like almost all such articles, it fails to mention where mobile reading has, for better and worse, triumphed — newspapers. Even on the Palm, The New York Times was, to me, superior to the unwieldy paper edition. Now I subscribe to three dailies, lately mostly reading them on an older iPad, and probably paying less than the cost of 7 day home delivery for one.

Screens have been a disaster for local journalism. By contrast, with the book market, I don’t think mobile reading has much helped, or much hurt. Then, I do not read self-published books. YMMV.

Last edited by SteveEisenberg; 09-14-2021 at 08:46 PM.
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Old 09-14-2021, 11:24 PM   #3
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Has the author of this article done any research into what he's writing about, or is he simply making stuff up as he goes to fulfil his pre-existing opinions? He's an actual published non-fiction author, so surely he's done some level of research before writing with such conviction, right? Let's dive in and see.

First of all, he goes on a lengthy tangent about the history of book-binding and where it all came from. This feels a lot less like relevant information to the topic than it does like him trying to convince the reader that he is smart and knows a lot about books.

He makes the claim that "if something better were to come along, you’d expect it to have done so by now".
While I won't make any statements about which medium is ojectively better or worse, since that's naturally down to personal preference, he's completely ignoring the fact that the last century or so has seen a serious revolution in how information is shared and how stories are told.
In his mind, things like radio shows (along the lines of War of the Worlds, et cetera), movies, documentaries, audiobooks and ebooks apparently aren't mediums that exist in the same realm of existence as physical books. The elitism is real in this one.

Next, he goes back to the lengthy descriptions of the physical properties and the history of books. He makes some statements about how books come from humanity's inherent need for storytelling and the sharing of information. In the context of an article about books vs. ebooks that seems either very much beside the point and redundant, or like an implication that ebooks do not fulfil the same purpose.

He then describes the changes to the book medium over time as "refinement rather than evolution", which is a distinction without an actual difference.

He mentions some leftover artifacts of old bookbinding, first mentioning the visible properties of the spine of a hardcover book and then talking about things like title pages. These things are, of course, all completely unique to physical books.
Never mind the fact that all but the strictly physical properties have actually carried over to ebooks. Those pages at the start and end of a book do not exist in ebook format according to the author of this article.

At this point through reading the article, I was feeling a combination of bewilderment and amusement. This combination of "look how much I know about physical books, I am very smart" with misleading or simply inaccurate statements about newer mediums is truly intriguing, making me wonder what wild claims he was going to make next.

To my surprise, this was the point at which his constant switching between random information about the history of bookmaking and unfounded implications about books vs. ebooks stopped. The second half of the article actually gets relatively straight to the point.

He mentions navigation being very different in a physical book compared to in an ebook. This is true. Which of the two mediums wins out in this regard is up for discussion. The author prefers physical books, to no-ones surprise at this point in the article, although his reasoning for it seems a bit iffy and he either neglects to mention or does not know about any of the advantages of ebooks in this regard.
In fact, he mentions the ability to search, create bookmarks and easily searchable annotations, et cetera as downsides rather than features. The reasoning he gives for this is that it makes him feel disoriented sometimes.

Hidden in his description of that previous point, there's an actual advantage of physical books. In the middle of describing why he doesn't like the navigation features of ebooks, he mentions that for some people, ideas and information can be attached to the physical aspect of the book.
Some people simply retain information better when they can clearly invision the physical location in the book in which they read it. There's a lot of scientific backing to that, and lumping it in with a rant about navigation features does not do the point any justice.

Naturally he doesn't fail to mention any of the easy points that physical print scores over digital. PDF scaling on e-readers sucks. Print does not run out of battery in the middle of reading.
That said, he seems to imply that the issue PDFs face when it comes to making the text easily accessible on an e-reader also extends to dedicated ebook formats. Which is ironic, since the accessibility provided by features like being able to set the font size to suit your needs is actually one of the main selling points of e-readers to elderly people and people with bad eye-sight.

According to the article, the ability to make the experience more unique and adapt the physical medium to the content of the book is a feature that mainly provides benefits to non-fiction. The proof for this, according to the author, is the fact that the top 10 best-sellers in physical print contain more non-fiction than the top 10 best-sellers in ebooks.
I'd personally say that his comparison of the top 10 best-sellers in physical print vs in ebooks is more related to the average age of the people who are mostly interested in print vs in ebooks. Young people are generally a lot more attracted to ebooks, at least from my experience, and they're also generally more attracted to fiction than to non-fiction. At the risk of sounding snobbish: correlation does not imply causation.

The assumption that fiction does not make use of the benefits of physical print also feels wrong to me personally, since the only books I ever buy physical copies of are things like fantasy novels that offer fold-out maps et cetera to enhance the reader's immersion into the story. Another example that comes to mind is a book series I was given as a child which had pages you could rub to release an actual scent to add to the experience and immersion of certain scenes.
Of course, the majority of fiction doesn't make use of all of that. Then again, from my experience neither does the majority of non-fiction.

Next, the article claims that the ebook market hasn't expanded but has instead become increasingly niche over time. Not even going to discuss that beyond the fact that all evidence points towards the opposite.

Finally, the author claims that the foremost competition Amazon Kindle faces is from Apple and refers to e-ink devices as "dim, gray screens". Wonderful.


All of that considered, I'm very unimpressed by the author.
I didn't previously keep any sort of "blacklist" of authors to avoid, but considering the writer of this article is actually a non-fiction book author I am creating one right now. Because if he is willing to put his name under an article written with such confidence with such a lack of understanding and such little research on the topic he's writing about, I'm sure I will dodge a bullet by avoiding his other work.
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Old 09-15-2021, 12:15 AM   #4
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I was amused by speculating what he would have thought of the newfangled technologies back in the 18th and 19th centuries (my current history reading) since his definition of a mature perfected tech seems to be 'has been around in some form for 2000 years'.

Maybe he'd have been one of the people convinced that traveling at 30 miles per hour couldn't possibly been healthy.

For me, when reading scholarly books in paper form, I badly miss hyperlinked footnotes and search functions. A particular pleasure has been using the Faithlife platform (on my tablet) for study purposes (I've stuck with highly discounted packages and books plus the free versions of the software) as they've hyperlinked their books to each other so that if I click on a citation for a book I own, I can navigate to that book.

On the other hand with fiction books I often want to poke around to find that bit I really liked or skip ahead to see how things will be resolved (I'm a self-spoiler). Fortunately I've found chapter links and slide bars to provide reasonable navigation particularly when I remember to add bookmarks.

And of course there are art books and the like which work best in paper form.
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Old 09-15-2021, 12:16 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by WoutVD View Post
According to the article, the ability to make the experience more unique and adapt the physical medium to the content of the book is a feature that mainly provides benefits to non-fiction. The proof for this, according to the author, is the fact that the top 10 best-sellers in physical print contain more non-fiction than the top 10 best-sellers in ebooks.
I'd personally say that his comparison of the top 10 best-sellers in physical print vs in ebooks is more related to the average age of the people who are mostly interested in print vs in ebooks. Young people are generally a lot more attracted to ebooks, at least from my experience, and they're also generally more attracted to fiction than to non-fiction.
I think this is a disputed area, the age of people who read ebooks. Some stats only look at who has read a single ebook in the last 12 months, which I don't think is a particularly useful survey question, especially if you don't ask about required reading/textbooks.

Kobo released these data a few years ago:

Digital reading driven by older women, study claims

A study carried out for ebook retailer Kobo suggests that women represent 75% of the most active e-readers – defined as readers who spend at least 30 minutes a day using electronic books.

“They are the engine that powers the industry,” said chief executive Michael Tamblyn. “The industry has intuitively known this, but we wanted to shine a light on it.”

Quote:
Around 77% of the most active readers – who make up a 10th of Kobo’s 28 million customers – are aged 45 and over, with the largest single group (30%) aged between 55 and 64. Kobo said this makes e-reading “the first technological revolution being driven by [those aged] 45 and older, rather than younger generations”.
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Old 09-15-2021, 12:37 AM   #6
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I had a feeling that the author had maybe held an ereader in his hand once and done so at least 10 years ago. He seemed to know nothing about modern ereaders (small, dim, gray screens ). He made a couple of good points, but most of the article was just his own personal dislike for ebooks and the justifications he tried to make. With a lot of completely irrelevant information (history of paper books) thrown in, probably to show off his erudition. It seemed he didn't so much try to convince the reader, but himself, that his hatred for ebooks was rational and not pure emotion. See how good and logical reasons I have for my dislike!

Bah. He said nothing new in his article. The same old snobbery about a noble and unique experience of paper books. I've never understood this sentimental attachment to paper, and I avidly consumed them the first 40 years of my life.
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Old 09-15-2021, 02:04 AM   #7
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Never the facts get in the way of a good rant, I guess - "dim, gray screens" the best example of that. Likely written around the time of the DX
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Old 09-15-2021, 02:46 AM   #8
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Not to mention that he doesn't really distinguish between ebooks and ebook readers. He uses the first term to mean mean both things, right from the beginning.
I just skimmed the article. I don't need to read something that opinionated and badly researched - thanks for your reviews!
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Old 09-15-2021, 02:46 AM   #9
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Almost his whole argument is based on his (and his friend’s) made up notion of ‘bookiness’. I’m sure 10 people would have 10 other definitions of what that might mean, and with very little overlap. Which is to say it is a meaningless term.

Then he makes straw man arguments about the type of people that consume ebooks, and what makes them ‘fanatics’, when he obviously has never met such person.

Finally he concludes that the books he himself reads aren’t suitable for electronic consumption (by which he means Kindles), when he hasn’t obviously has not even tried reading these on tablets (which are no heavier than many of the books he reads), where you can have facing pages, you can turn off page animation, easily jump between locations in the book (randomly if you care to by dragging the scroller around). Thus revealing his ignorance.

One reason print best sellers and Kindle best sellers are a different mix is that the genre fiction he claims not to read is a perfect fit for eReaders and linear reading. Those same books are much further down in the print lists. And Amazon includes Kindle Unlimited titles in the best seller lists, but that is just borrows and not sales. Harry Potter gets borrowed a lot, where the print edition can be read and re-read without generating a sale. The comparison is apples and oranges, when it is just ‘sales ranking’ being compared.

He claims ebooks sales are not growing, based on his own belief apparently: he doesn’t make any attempt to quote Pew or any other source of publishing information.

And it’s not really an easy claim to substantiate. Amazon would have sales numbers, and some idea of how many ebooks get read, but they are never going to share that publicly. Print books go into circulation, but there’s no way to know how many of them get read, or how many people read a given book. A book sold is not a book read, whether it is analog or digital.

And nothing he writes merits the term ‘abomination’. However, that could well be something the editor came up with to generate clicks, often the author has nothing to do with it.

I’m happy that he’s happy with his reading. He should do more of that and less time writing articles like this one.

Last edited by tomsem; 09-15-2021 at 02:56 AM.
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Old 09-15-2021, 03:46 AM   #10
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Finally he concludes that the books he himself reads aren’t suitable for electronic consumption (by which he means Kindles), when he hasn’t obviously has not even tried reading these on tablets (which are no heavier than many of the books he reads), where you can have facing pages, you can turn off page animation, easily jump between locations in the book (randomly if you care to by dragging the scroller around). Thus revealing his ignorance.
Well, he also refers to e-ink readers as having a "dim gray screen", so he clearly hasn't looked at one for years.
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Old 09-15-2021, 07:47 AM   #11
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It's certainly true that coffee table books and many non-fiction titles don't work as ebooks. Even on a 24" 2K IPS colour screen. I have two such screens on my desk and I don't read long content on them. I even convert any long web content to epub via LO Writer if the images are not so important and fix tables and image size by using an approximately 6" 4:3 page.

I've also proof read and annotated over 20 revisions of over 30 novels as ebooks since about 2012, saving a fortune in ink/toner and paper. Saving environment too. But I'd want POD paper for proper proofing of any coffee table or larger format fixed layout text.

But novels have been working well as ebooks before eink existed, they became popular about 2000 on PDAs, but have existed since the mid 1970s read on CRTs. Eink has improved a lot from 2004 release to about 2014 when improvements slowed down.

He's thinking of a different kind of content to novels. He's also nearly 10 years out of date on screen sizes and quality.

I guess he has to write about something and this ill-informed rant will get clicks and ad views on The Atlantic. Ironically a screen read magazine.

Last edited by Quoth; 09-15-2021 at 07:53 AM.
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Old 09-15-2021, 08:55 AM   #12
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I wonder how the article comes across in the digital version of The Atlantic?

https://accounts.theatlantic.com/products
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Old 09-15-2021, 09:00 AM   #13
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eBooks are terrible because publishers treat them as 2nd class citizens while simultaneously pricing them higher than the paper versions. I still run into things like random hyphens mid-line, typos created from OCR etc. in purchased eBooks from big publishers. Plus we get draconian DRM that serves no purpose but to punish me as the customer for actually paying even though somebody with a knife, a decent feeder scanner and a copy of the paper book and some free software can make an ebook almost as good as what they sell in a half hour with zero limitations.

The two big eReader companies have pretty much decided that 2012 was the pinnacle of eReader hardware so we get incredibly incremental devices with no real hardware improvements that could enable things like better PDF reading, faster search, etc. They are more concerned with keeping you trapped on their store and less concerned with actually improving the reading experience.
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Old 09-15-2021, 09:54 AM   #14
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It constantly amuses/amazes me that people keep harping on and on and on about ereaders' limitations when it comes to PDFs. Lovers of dead tree books have no problem at all accepting that they come in different sizes, but apparently ereaders are terrible because they are not "one size fits all". If I need to read a PDF, I'll read it on my 10.1 tablet, or if bigger than that, my 31.5 inch monitor. Just as I would not expect a coffee table book to fit in a paperback, why should I expect a 7-8 inch ereader to deliver the optimal reading experience for all 'printed' material? As for "faster search", I just searched an ebook that in paper is 984 pages and found all instances of the word I searched for in 3 seconds. That's fast enough for me, and a helluva lot faster than my fingers flicking through pages. It's also faster than my first Kindle some 9-10 years ago
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Old 09-15-2021, 10:34 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by salamanderjuice View Post
eBooks are terrible because publishers treat them as 2nd class citizens while simultaneously pricing them higher than the paper versions.
And from the article:
Quote:
They also don’t mind paying the high prices for digital books—some of which exceed the cost of print titles now.
Here are the current top sellers on the New York Times hardcover fiction list:
A SLOW FIRE BURNING by Paula Hawkins
Kindle: $14.99
Hardcover: $16.80

BILLY SUMMERS by Stephen King
Kindle: $14.99
Hardcover: $17.98

THE MADNESS OF CROWDS by Louise Penny
Kindle: $14.99
Hardcover: $17.39

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by Matt Haig
Kindle: $10.99
Hardcover: $13.29

THE NOISE by James Patterson and J.D. Barker
Kindle: $14.99
Hardcover: $16.91

I gave up after five, because, hey, I have work to do.

Moving to ebooks has saved me inordinate sums of money. I don't understand the argument that ebooks are more expensive.

Anecdotal cases can be highlighted. But for the overall, it just ain't true.
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