Books — Still With Us for the Long Haul

Funny, but dead-tree books have become passé in the general consciousness, but they’re quite useful for some things that ebooks likely will never be useful for.

I first got onto the idea of ebooks as a way of compactly carrying my technical books with me on business trips. I thought that the electronic or digital format would lend itself to efficient searching, and marking text, as well.

Sadly, ebooks are a gigantic fail as tools for research. This failure is the result of publishers’ whack-doodle fixation on controlling “content,” and not the result of the medium itself. As anybody who reads ebooks knows, you can’t copy text out of the books. You can’t print text out of them, either. The search functions are so primitive as to be laughable, it they weren’t revelatory of the laziness of the reader designers. E-readers all seem to have been designed by people who don’t read. Books, at any rate.

Almost all technical books that come in digital format have horribly inadequate access to their diagrams, charts, and related visual elements. Some implementations are downright monstrous. Publishers of a programming book with samples of code will have made no adjustments so that the code samples will properly display on the digital screen. As a result, they’ll be broken into multiple lines, sometimes of only two or three words each, and be nearly unreadable. In other cases, charts will be rendered as such tiny images they really are unreadable.

But, real books sometimes don’t fare any better. Poetry is particularly susceptible to the hammering indifference of publishers to “minor” issues like line length.

I think it’s a dirty dog shame that a huge opportunity to open up books to whole new markets has been binned because of publishers’ obsessions about “unauthorized use.” Whole forests have been felled to produce millions of tons of crap books that no one reads ten years after they hit the shelves, but which will be with us for a century, or maybe two, longer — bulking up landfills everywhere.

Not just nostalgia keeps people at the paper versions. The technically lousy way in which digital books are implemented assures a future for paper books.

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