This is the second of a series of posts about the iPhone/iPod Touch.

With the recent announcement of the Kindle 2 from Amazon, I thought it was a good time to talk about e-books.

Despite being a librarian with an interest in technology, I still haven’t actually seen an e-book reader in the flesh. I’d like to see a Kindle (and particularly the new version) but sadly it is still only available across the pond in USA. Sony’s e-book reader is available via Waterstones in the UK, which I recently read a great review of from Ian at Thoughts of a [wannabe] librarian. I have to admit, the review really did make me want to go and at least take a look at the Sony e-reader, if not buy one. (As an aside, I wish we had some of these types of things at our library, a while ago I heard about the “Techie Toybox” available to the library staff at Topeka & Shawnee Public County Library and thought what a great idea that was – as librarians we ought to be at the forefront of these information developments, particularly those of the e-book).

Academic libraries have gradually introduced more and more e-books (personally, I always buy an e-book version if there is one available for any reading list texts), and some public libraries have also started to purchase e-books for their users. It’s been quite a gradual process so far but I can really see e-books become very popular as the technology improves.

My own experience as an e-book user has, until recently, been limited to academic texts which i have either read online on a PC or downloaded sections as a pdf. Although this has a great advantage in terms of access (particularly useful when you are studying from a distance), it’s not as portable as a book, even if I use my netbook to read them. I read a lot on my daily travel to and from work (it take me about 90mins each way now) so I’m usually seen carrying around some form of reading, whether it be a fiction book, a non-fiction book, journal articles, magazines etc etc. – I quite often have all of the above! I have to admit, it would be nice to not have to lug so much around with me.

In order to give e-book reading for leisure a go, I recently downloaded Stanza, an e-book reader application for the iPhone/iPod Touch. Stanza is also available as a desktop reader which you can then sync with your iPhone/iPod Touch. It also has the ability to sync with the Kindle for anyone lucky enough to own one, although it can only sync by USB with the Kindle.

I’ve only tried the iPod Touch version which I have to say, I’m really impressed by. The application itself is free and there are a number of free books, newspapers and magazines – or you can purchase them using a number of different services. The screenshot below shows the first half of those services which are already listed in the online catalog, and you can also add more to the list.

Stanza Online Catalog

Stanza Online Catalog

Once you’ve chosen to download a book (I’m using the term book for ease but of course it could be a newspaper, blog etc), it is added to your Library. You can browse your library by Title, Author, Subjects, or Latest Reads. By turning the screen landscape you can also use coverflow to flick through your library (see screenshot).

Stanza Library - coverflow view

Stanza Library - coverflow view

Once you’ve chosen what you would like to read, the book opens ready for you to read. You can adjust the visual settings to suit you (you can change the font face (style), size, colour, background colour, line spacing, margin width and text alignment), as well as the effects (e.g. I have the page transition set to curl the page when I press the right hand side of the screen). I downloaded the Obnoxious Librarian from Hades to read for a bit of light entertainment. Whilst reading, you xan also tap the screen to bring up further options such as skipping to certain sections, searching within the chapter, or moving to a different chapter (see grey bars on screenshot).

Stanza book - settings whilst reading

Stanza book - settings whilst reading

At first, I thought I would find the screen too small to read for any period of time, but I’ve used it for 40 minutes and found that the size didn’t bother me. It may well do if you are reading for a few hours, but the portability is certainly a big bonus. What I really like about it is that the application opens wherever you were last reading and even if you skip between books, when you re-open the book it will always take you back to the point where you last left it. I haven’t actually chosen to buy a book on my iPod yet, but I definitely see potential, especially when you’re travelling and don’t want to carry lots of books. At the moment I am still preferring to read on paper but I think that is probably just due to convenience of having books in paper that I want to read. Who knows, in a few year time I might do almost all of my reading on a portable device.

I think e-books are definitely something that is going to grow, and I can see portable e-book readers becoming popular for those who travel a lot, and potantially students/academics who can carry one device instead of numerous hefty textbooks. I don’t think we’re going to see traditional paper books disappear any time soon but I do think we may well see a change in both academic and public library services as more and more users adopt e-books in favour of print books.

What do you think?  Are you an avid e-book reader or do you love the emotional side of sitting down and curling up with a good book? Do you think this could change the way libraries work in the future or is it just a passing trend?

  • http://thoughtsofawannabelibrarian.wordpress.com/ Ian

    Thanks for the kind words regarding my post on the Sony Reader. You really ought to get one, they are pretty fantastic! Although I have to admit I have not read that much on mine as I received a whole lot of old-fashioned paper books for Christmas!

    Interested to read your thoughts on Stanza. Haven’t actually downloaded it myself yet, but assumed that it would be difficult to read from that for an extended time (mainly due to backlight). The Sony Reader doesn’t have a backlight and is very easy to read from.

    And I agree, it will be a while before they ‘take over’ if ever. At the moment they are not that easy to get hold of (at least not at reasonable prices). Once they start being sold cheap, they will really take off.

  • Damyanti

    Interesting post, I downloaded Stanza to my phone – I thought it would be handy when I am up in the middle of the night with my young son, but using it in the dark was a little too much for my eyes.
    At our library we have tried the Sony, BeBook and Iliad and are now offering them for use to our students (although no one has yet taken us up on our offer). iI was interesting to try them although my initial reaction was I found them not so intuative having to click lots of button, it was a shock after the iPhone as I just expected to flick pages with a stroke of a finger. They are impressive in terms of readability, the Sony reader was the my prefered out of the three, although mainly because it was the most stylish.
    I can definately see their appeal, and I imagine it would be great to have one to save space in the suitcase when going on holiday, am however waiting for the next generation as I think there are going to get better.

  • http://mattwilcox.net Matt Wilcox

    You know my thoughts on this as I’ve aired them at LAW before.

    Having used Stanza though, I do think there needs to be a few years of work yet before things work well enough for me to get an e-reader over a book. Firstly, the screens I’ve seen (and I’ve NOT seen a Kindel yet) aren’t as comfortable to read as paper. Secondly the dedicated readers have too much “computer” in them design-wise at the moment. I do not want buttons and UI bars and such – I want something as thin as an iPod touch, but with a warmer feel (moleskin cover or something) and with a display about the size of a regular paper-back. And, no buttons or keyboards and clumsy UIs. The iPod has the best UI of the readers I’ve seen by far. guestures and multi-touch are so much more intuative and “bookish” than clicking buttons and bringing up tree menues.

  • http://www.joeyanne.co.uk Jo Alcock

    Interesting comments.

    Ian – I personally don’t find the backlight an issue, but as Damyanti has highlighted, this may be more of a problem in the dark (especially when you’re tired!). I’d love to try an e-book reader but I can’t imagine me using it enough to justify the cost really. Waterstones don’t have any in their stores to look at do they?

    Damyanti – it’s great that you have them at the library, I hadn’t even heard of the BeBook or Iliad! Shame no one is using them though, are you loaning them with books already loaded on or as blank readers? I can imagine it could be useful to loan them with key readings already on there for particular courses/modules.

    Matt – I was surprised at how much space is dedicated to buttons too, I was really surprised when I realised the Kindle had a full keyboard. OK, you need to type things to search every now and again but personally I’d far rather have a smaller device or a larger screen by using an onscreen keyboard.

    I tried another e-book reader on my iPod last night (Beam it Down) which was quite interesting. Instead of tapping the screen to turn the pages, the application used the accelerometer to scroll the text as you read. Nice idea, but I found it a little juddery when it scrolled slowly and I don’t like having the font size so big that it needs to scroll quickly.

  • http://www.philb.com Phil Bradley

    I’ve used Stanza on the iPhone for a while now and have read a fair amount on it. Works very well, though the screen size is a little annoying – I’d prefer something slightly larger.

    I’ d be perfectly happy to junk my paper collection in favour of electronic in a second. Save me a huge amount of space, and to have my entire collection in my pocket – brilliant! What I find interesting when people are talking about the book is the attraction of the artifact. People like the sense of touch and the physical sensation of holding a book. We get that from a very early age, and my feeling is that it’s an attraction to be comfortable and so on. Once children start using e-books they will get an entirely different emotional attachment, and will look at books in ways that we can’t really comprehend.

    Books – as items that we purchase and use on a regular basis have no more than a generation left. I won’t be particularly sorry to see them go.

  • http://www.joeyanne.co.uk Jo Alcock

    Interesting point about the emotional attachment to the book as a physical object, Phil, I hold similar views to yourself on this.

    I enjoy reading as much as the next person but I enjoy reading because of the content, not the format. As long as the device is a decent size and doesn’t strain my eyes at all, I can certainly see myself curling up with an ebook reader and being just as happy as I would be with a physical book, if not more so. I certainly think it would suit my bedtime reading more, it can be very difficult to hold a larger book when you’re tired and lying down in bed!

  • http://multifaceted.wordpress.com Edith

    The last John Lewis I went in (sorry, can’t remember which one it was) had a Sony Reader out on display if you want a play! The screen really does act like paper, though I found the black flash when turning a page a little disconcerting. I’ll definitely be interested in an e-book reader once the price comes down (that’s for both the reader and the books!) as I’ve never fetishised books and only keep a minimal collection, borrowing everything else from libraries.

    In the meantime my only mobile gadget reading is when I use my INQ1 to catch up with blogs via Google Reader – teeny text but that means I get a decent amount on a screen!

  • http://thoughtsofawannabelibrarian.wordpress.com/ Ian

    My local Waterstones does actually have one on display to play around with. Although it was tucked away. Judging by the state it was in when I last had a look, it garnered a lot of interest!

  • http://www.joeyanne.co.uk Jo Alcock

    I’ll have to keep an eye out and pay visits to Waterstones and John Lewis’ I see them then, I didn’t realise John Lewis sold them too.

    Funky gadget phone Edith! :)

  • Kate

    I tried for months to get my library to get iPod-friendly audiobooks – and – suddenly discovered I prefer eBooks! I won’t go into the details why.
    The best reader on my iPod Touch is Stanza. It _does_ have a way to go to be really good, however!
    Over my 64+ years and my almost 25 computer years I have discovered that eventually things do work out for the best – Vista is becoming almost like Mac OS X for example.
    I hope I live long enough for a _really_ good ebook reader – or I may have to go back to audiobooks!
    Kate