Old efnord post …

Well this is the one (and only) post from my other ebook blog, efnord, posted back in February 2009. Reposted here for archival purposes, meanwhile, will be pointing efnord.com (love that name …) to here. After all, how many blogs can you ignore?

Welcome to eFNORD. What’s a FNORD — well we’ll get to that later. Right now, there has been such a lot of activity in the ebook space, that I thought I would share my perspectives. My “center of gravity” revolves around the platforms/devices I actually own (and publish for): Kindle, Sony Reader, and iPhone.

I’ll jump right in with comments on the latest item of interest — Google and Sony’s announcement making the books.google.com library of public domain (mostly pre-1924) content available. This is a reasonably interesting development. For Sony, it represents a momentary, at least, retreat from the precipice of irrelevancy and a pretty clear statement, I think, that they are primarily in the hardware/device business — or at any rate, see that they have been hopelessly outclassed in the content delivery game by Amazon. (I find this very ironical for Sony, it’s still betamax redux for them.)

The Google angle is also quite interesting — it seems Google is not above a concerted tweak at Amazon, its cloud computing competitor.

Well, it was quite exciting, at least momentarily, and was plenty of motivation to take my PRS-505 (with firmware suitably update to support the required epub format) off the shelf and — plug it in. You of course access the Google titles through the Sony Reader iTunes-like application — which, while slightly cumbersome, certainly make sense for Sony — hey, while accessing the free content, I might buy some paid content too.

The thing not quite made clear or mentioned in all of the press announcements is regarding the quality of the scanned books in the Google collection. The OCR scan of the page images found at books.google.com is essentially brute force and less than 100% accurate — there is no apparent human proofing to all of this. This means that while large swaths of text are clearly and correctly scanned, there are any number of bad scans, errors, etc., — resulting in garbage text, page breaks, and so on.

The earlier release of the iPhone reader for books.google.com showed that they had done some further work to recognize page breaks and wrap a little more of the structure around the raw page scans. This same work seems to be applied to creation of the downloadable epubs in the Sony store.

It is very exciting to have such easy access to the Google library — it’s never fun to read a book on a computer screen. The bad news is, it’s still not at all comparable with reading a truly well formatted book. I imagine for those with scholarly or academic interests in particular, one can truly “check out” a book from a vast library.

For the moment, though, Sony has come up with a pretty decent reason why you might want to have a Sony PRS, although for the average reader, not so much. There is not so much in the 600k+ titles in the Google library available through the PRS that is either of immediate reading interest and not otherwise available elsewhere in a much better format.

I note that the number of books available is a subset of the total available, presumably there is some kind of work flow around converting these to the epub format, and they are working through it.

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