three book-related notes

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1). Ken Auletta's New Yorker article "Publish or Perish" looks at Apple's iPad, Amazon's Kindle, Google Books, and the battle brewing over control of the ebook marketplace. David Adesnik at The Moderate Voice called Auletta's piece "a great blow-by-blow account of the struggle between Amazon and Apple to lasso the e-books revolution," but Auletta notes that this is less a technological battle than an economic one. "Publishers' real concern," he writes, "is that the low price of digital books will destroy bookstores, which are their primary customers:"

Burdened with rent and electricity and other costs, bricks-and-mortar stores are unlikely to offer prices that can compete with those of online venders. Roxanne Coady, who owns R. J. Julia Booksellers, an independent bookstore in Madison, Connecticut, said, "Bookselling is an eight-inch pie that keeps getting more forks coming into it. For us, the first fork was the chains. The second fork was people reading less. The third fork was Amazon. Now it's digital downloads."

The reactionary impulse is along the lines of making the pie higher, but visionaries are "reimaging[ing] the book as multimedia entertainment:"

David Rosenthal, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, says that his company is racing "to embed audio and video and other value-added features in e-books. It could be an author discussing his book, or a clip from a movie that touches on the book's topic." The other major publishers are working on similar projects, experimenting with music, video from news clips, and animation. Publishers hope that consumers will be willing to pay more for the added features. The iPad, Rosenthal says, "has opened up the possibility that we are no longer dealing with a static book. You have tremendous possibilities."

The obvious application of multimedia to books from, say, Alex Ross should need no further elucidation. Aside from the inevitable bells and whistles, I can envision numerous scholarly features to add value: Hyperlinked notes, appendices, and indices would make me think seriously about ebooks; updated errata and annotations, perhaps with embedded reference materials such as a dictionary, thesaurus, and atlas. Being able to carry all of my three-inch-thick, thousand-page Cisco manuals would make this a no-brain decision for my work-related reading, and there is some movement in that direction. Tech publisher O'Reilly has the right idea in pricing their DRM-free, multiple-format ebooks, but others need to get on board as well.


2). Tevi (Intellectuals and the American Presidency) Troy's WaPo piece about presidential reading notes that "One of the reasons the country's intellectual class has taken so gleefully to Obama is precisely that, in addition to writing bestsellers, the man is clearly a dedicated reader." Troy provides some historical perspective:

Obama follows a long line of ardent presidential readers, paging all the way back to the founders. John Adams's library had more than 3,000 volumes -- including Cicero, Plutarch and Thucydides -- heavily inscribed with the president's marginalia. Thomas Jefferson's massive book collection launched him into debt and later became the backbone for the Library of Congress. "I cannot live without books," he confessed to Adams.


3). Tom Jacobs writes at Miller-McCune that "Home Libraries Provide Huge Educational Advantage" to students (h/t: Utne Reader) Utilizing a 27-nation study, the researchers concluded that "the presence of book-lined shelves in the home -- and the intellectual environment those volumes reflect -- gives children an enormous advantage in school:"

Growing up in a home with 500 books would propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average, than would growing up in a similar home with few or no books. [...] "A child from a family rich in books is 19 percentage points more likely to complete university than a comparable child growing up without a home library."

This effect holds true regardless of a nation's wealth, culture or political system, but its intensity varies from country to country. In China, a child whose parents own 500 books will average 6.6 more years of education than a comparable child from a bookless home. In the U.S., the figure is 2.4 years -- which is still highly significant when you consider it's the difference between two years of college and a full four-year degree.

Anna Quindlen's words from the article provided my Quote of the Day, which was well worth tracking down for its full context:

"If being a parent consists often of passing along chunks of ourselves to unwitting--often unwilling--recipients, then books are, for me, one of the simplest and most surefire ways of doing that. I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. That would give them an infinite number of worlds in which to wander, and an entry to the real world, too..." (Thinking Out Loud, p. 119)

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on April 27, 2010 10:27 PM.

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