Thursday, March 12, 2009

What does E ink smell like?

Will we be the last generation to sit and leaf idly through the book in our lap? What about the smell? I used to be about to identify certain publishers by the way the book smelled when I opened it, probably something to do with the particular inks used in a particular print house. Will that sense be deprived as well as touch? I was wandering through the SONY mega store recently in San Francisco, a city of tech savvy, early adopters if ever there was one, when a bookish looking man materialized at my elbow. "Hi" he enthused, "do you want to see the new SONY eReader?" He pushed it into my hands. I looked, I saw a consumer electronic device that I want. The text seemed to levitate 1/8 inch off the surface of the Epaper it was displayed on. The screen itself didn't glow, it accepted the available light, like a printed thing. The man walkd me through the features, how to turn a page, what art looks like, how new titles are added... Which brings us to the first question I have about all eBooks:

1. How do you get the words in there?
I looked at 3 different portable books, the Kindle 2, the SONY Prs-700 and the iPhone. I realize that the iPhone is not technically an eReader. It doesn't have the fancy E Ink that sends little electrically charged capsules of pigment flopping and wallowing around like seals to form the letters of the alphabet, but it is small, it is wirelessly networkable and with the download of Stanza ( it allows you to read your stories anywhere. In a nutshell, The Kindle and the iphone uses 3G technology, like the smart phones that are constantly in communication through the wireless networks that transmit telephone calls. The SONY uses a connector, you have to have a computer to download the books onto SD cards, which the 700 accepts, or you can transfer the files via a USB cord. Mac users are out of luck, you have to use Windows to interact with Prs-700.

2. What is so special about eInk? It's an endlessly recycleable resource. The words are not back-lit like most other displays, so they take less energy to use. I've read a few descriptions about how it actually works and the best answer I can come up with is the tiny little capsule one in the paragraph above.

3. Will low-income serfs like me ever get a piece of the action?
Yes, I think that the price of an eReader is out of my range. the Kindle2 is $360, the prs-700 is $400 and the iPhone costs $200, not including service pack. A CD player cost $800 in 1985, now I can buy one for $12. The prices will come down just like any other consumer electronic. The question is, will publishers try to make their own proprietary readers that you can only use with their subscription? How will the print industry make selling eBooks and eMagazines profitable once the technology become ubiquitous?

In the future...we will still be reading books. Will they be bound collections of flat, dry cellulose based composite covered with solvent based deposits? Sure, just like there are radios in a world of digital televisions. Will libraries have row upon row of them? Yes. Will libraries have invested in the kind of technology that allows you to wirelessly connect to the library's main content server, or subcontracted, vendor provided file storage system and acquire everything on the New World Time's 2029's top ten list? Maybe. I'll be old and grumpy by then, perhaps I'll need my robot to read me the last book from Salman Rushdie's clone while my new corneas grow in. Well, that probably won't happen because it seems that a computer reading a digital book out loud is considered a "Performance" and subject to the collection of royalties, at least according to the president of the Author's Guild, Roy Blount Jr. This is a new twist in the age old problem of singular content, multiple formats. The Reuter's tech blog MediaFile quotes Blount as saying "... the technology Amazon uses to turn text into a human voice is quickly improving, and authors need to be 'duly vigilant' about this new means of transmitting their work."
Copyright issues aside, I am reminded of something digital librarian David Lee King ( said in an interview I taped with him recently. When asked about what will happen to books he said that a truly good book transports the reader out of their chair and puts them in the story as an unseen observer. The reader experiences the actions of the story in a way that transcends the words on the page and the container of the story itself. I believe that it really isn't about a book, but about the content.

SPECS: The latest entry to Sony's family of eBook readers, the PRS-700, includes a touch-screen and virtual keyboard Sony's PRS-700 is approximately 174.3 x 127.6 x 9.7 mm, weighs about 10 ounces, sports a 6-inch diagonal display with a 170 dpi/8-level grayscale resolution and contains 512 MB of memory. It uses a lithium-ion battery that allows 7,500 page turns per charge, and also has a built-in LED reading light. For Windows, Sony Reader contains Sony's proprietary Sony Connect (a.k.a. Sony eBook Library).
SPECS: Kindle 2 weighs in at 10.2 ounces, downloads books in less than a minute and sports a 25 percent longer battery life than the original Kindle. It allows users to peek at newspapers from around the world, download up to 230,000 books and also access blogs and 22 magazine titles. Storage is greater than the earlier Kindle, with 2 GB overall (enough for 1,500 books) and 1.4 GB available for user content. Display-wise, Kindle 2 offers 16 shades of grayscale and has a "Read-to-Me" function that offers text-to-speech
SPECS: The iPhone weighs about 5 ounces Screen size: 3.5 inches, Screen resolution: 320 by 480 at 160 ppi, Storage: 4GB or 8GB: ( 3000 to 6000 books) There were no specific details about battery usage for just reading, but the battery is said to last up to 5 hours for internet and phone usage. playback Dimensions: 4.5 x 2.4 x 0.46 inches. You will need to download eBook software such as Stanza or Shortcovers to access books online.

Sources Cited:
Belopotsky, Danielle. A Walk Through a Crop of Readers ,The New York Times. February 25th, 2009. ( Accessed March 2nd, 2009
Sage, Alexandria. Your Kindle is Talking-But Not Paying , MediaFile, Ruters. February 25th, 2009. (") Accessed March 2nd, 2009
Kindle And Beyond: 15 E-Reading Devices, Channel Web. Accessed Feb. 29th, 2008 (;jsessionid=PYVIJS0ROFFWCQSNDLOSKHSCJUNN2JVN?pgno=2) Accessed March 2nd, 2009


Sean Robinson said...

E Ink smells like the future.

kaygraphic said...

like victory