I hope you’re reading this on your phone – I am!

Tablets and phones

About a week ago, when I wanted to try out Amazon’s new bookerly font, I went searching for my Kindle Paperwhite and realized the battery was dead; I hadn’t used it in weeks. Yet in those weeks, I had read several e-books and a plethora of articles – just not on my e-reader. I realized I did most of my reading on my phone.

Am I an outlier? Not according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (“The Rise of Phone Reading” by Jennifer Maloney, @maloneyfiles). Reading on a smartphone is commonplace:

In a Nielsen survey of 2,000 people this past December, about 54% of e-book buyers said they used smartphones to read their books at least some of the time. That’s up from 24% in 2012, according to a separate study commissioned by Nielsen.

The number of people who read primarily on phones has risen to 14% in the first quarter of 2015 from 9% in 2012.

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Tuesday Books: Seven Books on the Future of Publishing

Future of Publishing
Future of Publishing
Kindle | Evan Blaser | flickr

Let’s face it: there’s a lot of information and discussion about the future of publishing, books and reading. It’s hard to keep up. Even though I write about the future of the book on this blog, it’s impossible for me to cover everything.

Today, I’d like to start what I hope will become a regular feature: Tuesday Books. This feature is a roundup of the best new books on digital publishing and the future of the book.

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Walt Whitman, Breaking Bad, and TV as Literature

there will be scrolls

Why not think of TV as literature? Shows like Breaking Bad show us it’s possible.

Last night, I was a guest on the nation’s longest running talk show on books and reading, Literature for the Halibut on 88.1 KDHX in St. Louis.

If you didn’t catch the show last night, you can listen to the archive at KDHX’s Literature for the Halibut page. Choose the July 22, 2013 show. (The show also included an excellent interview with Andrew Williams of Placing Literature.)

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R.I.P. Google Reader, 2005–2013

Google Reader Shutdown message

Google Reader Shutdown message

Google Reader might be gone, but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost good ways to read online.


Back in January, I put out a call to my readers on Facebook about how they read online. Expecting people to respond with their favorite RSS readers — programs like Flipboard, Pocket, or Feedly — I was surprised how many people said most of their reading comes from social media sources like Facebook and Twitter.

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Friday Reads: “The ‘down-grading’ of American Reading?” by Bufo Calvin

friday reads banner

Over at I Love My Kindle, Bufo Calvin has a fascinating analysis of a recent study that shows American students are reading simpler books. Here’s an excerpt from the study:

“…the complexity of assigned texts has sharply declined, from about [grade] 9.0 in the early 20th century to just over 6.0 in the early 21st century. This finding echoes other studies that have concerned policy makers about whether students are presented with sufficiently challenging material to help them prepare for college and career.”

Scary, right? American students are reading at a sixth grade level and are not leaving school ready for college. No doubt this issue must be addressed in our schools.

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On Saying Goodbye to My Books


In three weeks, I move across the country to a house near Kissimmee, Florida. My wife and I are starting over, and for the first time in my life, I’m not holding on to anything except the essentials for work and life. We’re hoping to take only what can fit in two cars.

This has meant we’ve had to sell or give away many nonessential stuff: old clothes, DVDs, CDs, and most importantly, our large book collection. We had collected over 500 books. Yesterday, we gave away the last box.

The last box of books is ready to go out to its new owners.

Preparing for this move has me thinking about all the stuff I’ve accumulated over the years and how much of it is meaningless to me. While those 500+ books looked nice on my shelf, I only returned to about a dozen of them regularly. So why keep all of this stuff?

At one point, I saw these books as a record of what I’ve read. They represented a part of me: first, through my time as an undergrad and later as a graduate student. Some of these books go back to my childhood. These books reminded me of the things I’d learned over the years. A lot of them had notes and marginalia in them that I wanted to keep.

I also bought a lot of books I never read. Those were on my shelves, waiting to be read, but I always told myself I’d get to them eventually. I had to realize that I won’t read most of them any time soon.

At first, I felt a sense of loss after getting rid of these books. But now I realize how little I needed them since I do a lot of my reading through digital devices. Access to books through my library and through my Kindle have meant I haven’t needed to keep books like I used to.

During this process, I realized that most of these books were bought over a year ago. I just don’t buy as many books as I used to. That’s not to say I don’t believe in the physical book any more. I don’t subscribe to the idea that ebooks and digital reading will completely replace the book — at least not for a while.

I just don’t need a lot of space for books any more. Many of the books I owned are available online, either through elibraries or through sites like Project Gutenberg. For newer books, I am OK with repurchasing them once I move to Florida and find a local bookshop.

What I will miss the most — at least, more than the books themselves — are the conversations over books with friends. Luckily this is something I can find anywhere I live, but it’s not as easily replaceable as the books themselves.

As I move toward a digital collection, I wonder about book discovery: I’ve always used my local library and bookshops to discover new books. I find out about books from close friends more than I do from online communities. Apps like Goodreads try to recreate discoverability, but they are far from complete. Finding a good book, reading the back cover blurbs, and asking your friends if they’ve heard of it can’t be replicated online.

The physical book is here to stay, and even though my personal library is gone, I will rebuild it over time. If sites like Bookshelf Porn [don’t worry, it’s safe for work] are any clue into book culture, I think it’s here to stay for a while. Digital books are convenient and work for me, but the physical book is still important to me. We’ll see what the future holds.

Friday Reads: Why Do We Keep Making Ebooks Like Paper Books?

friday reads banner

The ebook, as it’s envisioned now, is not much different from a print book. This is partly because of what authors write: most still write books for a print market, and the ebook is either an afterthought or it’s part of a larger digital publishing strategy. But the fact remains: ebook publishers haven’t done much to innovate or experiment with form.

Readers of this blog know that I’m a fan of experimentation. I see digital publishing as an opportunity to “make it new,” as Ezra Pound urged writers to do over 100 years ago. There are so many flexible publishing and design tools available for writers, so why stick with a print metaphor?

That’s why I enjoyed an article that ran in Gizmodo this week: “Why Do We Keep Making Ebooks Like Paper Books?” by Kane Hsieh. Hsieh argues that ebooks should do more than copy the print experience and compares the ebook to early television:

Like the first television shows that only played grainy recordings of theater shows, the ebook is a new medium that has yet to see any true innovation, and resorts to imitating an old medium.

The problem is skeuomorphic design, the idea that the new technology needs to mimic the old medium to make the new medium user-friendly. Skeuomorphic design should only serve as a bridge between technologies. With an ebook, “There is no reason I need to turn fake pages,” Hsieh says.

A book is a fairly simple technology, and it only takes a minute or two to figure out how an ereader works in comparison to the book. Yet the possibilities for new book innovations are endless, and not just on a technical level.

I’m most interested in how digital technology can change the style or form of narrative, or create new literary approaches. Hsieh focuses on the technological and practical reasons why the ebook should change, but also says this about what authors could do with ebooks:

The full potential of ebooks lies in its digital nature. Distribution costs are zero. The paradigm of a “book” – a chunk of a few hundred pages of writing, is no longer necessary to be cost effective. Authors can distribute serialized portions of stories on a regular basis, and reach millions of readers instantly.

The idea of a serialized novel isn’t new — it’s been around for as long as the novel, but it hasn’t been practical or successful in recent decades. Digital publishing allows this form to return. Even though the serial novel is intriguing, there are so many new ways to think about how ebooks could change the way we approach narrative.

If the ebook is here to stay, I see a lot changing in the coming years. I welcome these changes. Print books aren’t going anywhere, but the ebook has a lot of potential. Just like television changed over time, the ebook could, too.

Digital Public Library of America: Perfect for Digital Researchers

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) launched on April 18, and I have had some time to play around with it. So far, it’s an excellent collection of freely available materials online.

Right now, the DPLA has linked to over 2 million items, but it’s still growing. It hopes to reach 100 million items soon, according to this article in Publishing Perspectives.

When I was a graduate student, I spent a lot of time researching 19th Century periodicals. Many of them have been preserved at rare collection libraries and on microform/fiche. When I was researching these items, I found some online, but never in one convenient location.

Because the DPLA is open source, it collects items from Archive.org and digital libraries that have partnered with the DPLA. The DPLA serves as a central location, but a lot of the items are linked back to the original source.

For example, I did a search for Edgar Allan Poe. I found a copy of his short story “Eleonora” as it was originally published in The Gift: a Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1842. The DPLA site gives data on the item, but links out to its original source:

Screenshot of DPLA

Once selected, the item is viewed at its original source (Archive.org in this case).

Another feature I enjoy at the DPLA is the timeline feature. This allows you to choose items based on year or decade. For example, the above item comes from 1841. By clicking on the year, I can see results from 1841 only:

Timeline DPLA

For those researching a time period, or for those who want further information or context about an idea, this simplifies the process.

The DPLA has a lot of potential right now. As it grows, I hope to see even more unification of the many complicated library protocols. I wonder, too, if the DPLA will help develop the open access movement in academic research writing.

Digital library image courtesy of Johan Larsson, flickr creative commons