A rose by any other name

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the definition of a “book,” or more specifically, the proper formatting of an e-book, and the definition of a “page” and its importance in the New eWorld Order.

I’m here to tell you: Unless it’s on paper or in PDF, they ain’t no such thing as a page.

I’ll admit that it took me a while to get used to reading on my eBookWise. Between the whacked-out spacing and the left justification and the lack of paragraph indents, it looked…sloppy. Inferior. But I stuck with it and realized that each book is formatted differently; some are prettier and easier to read than others, but mostly not. I did, however, have problems even with the “prettiest” of the formatting. I was able to adjust my expectations of the presentation once I realized it was a function of the DEVICE and that the DEVICE was not a print book. The print book and the e-book simply have nothing in common except the words they contain: not headers, not footers, not design, not formatting, not…page numbers.

To use the “page” as common ground, each user must have the same edition of a paper book and/or the same edition of the PDF file, but that’s a fairly easy task to accomplish.

In any other format, however, it’s nearly impossible without each user having the same device, the same font settings (i.e., large or small), the same page view settings. Gentlemen, let’s synchronize our devices. Taking the probability of that into account, then, the concept of the “page” vanishes.

The latest argument I have seen for the need for strict pagination in e-books to approximate or duplicate that of a print book is for reference books and the uses of academia viz. for annotation and bibliography, tables of contents and indices, footnotes and end notes. What this demonstrates to me is ignorance or lack of vision or an inability to understand the vast differences in the format, and the capabilities and limitations of each.


quadWhen your bishop or your preacher or your pastor or your minister or other Protestant-type ecclesiastical leader gets up and wants everybody to flip open their Bibles, does s/he say, “Please turn to page 1436 in your Bible”? No. He says, “Romans chapter 15.” (Cause that’s where mine is. In the King James Version. What if you prefer to use a different version? No problem! Romans chapter 15 is still where it’s supposed to be, which is between Romans 14 and Romans 16.)

When your English lit professor or your director or your acting coach directs you to a certain passage in a Shakespearean play, does he say, “Please turn to Hamlet, page 783”? No. (Well, first of all, he’s OBVIOUSLY working from an anthology if it has 783 pages to begin with.) He says, “Please turn to Act 2, Scene 2, Line 35.” So what this means is I was smart and brought my little bitty Hamlet and everybody else was stupid and brought their big fat anthologies. And it makes no difference whatsoever.

The two print books, Bible and Shakespearean anthology, have page numbers. But they aren’t referred to or necessary for annotation or bibliography. In fact, the only thing they’re used for is within the book itself to create tables of contents and indices.

So let’s talk about that.


There’s only one thing a table of contents and/or index is good for: To find your place in the book. Thing is, in a print book, that’s the only way you can find anything…maybe kinda sorta quickly.

In an e-book, the tables of contents and indices have completely different purposes. In fact, an index isn’t even necessary in an e-book, although I would argue that a table of contents is. However, their function and mechanism of use are entirely different from that of a print book.

1. It’s called a hyperlink.

Now, don’t be scared. I’m sure you’ve seen them before here and elsewhere on the interwebz. You put your cursor over it and click and boom…you’re somewhere else on the interwebz. Cool, huh?

You can do that in an ebook, too.

A list of hyperlinks in the beginning of the e-book serves the same function as the table of contents serves in a print book. A print book has page numbers after the chapter name. An e-book has a hyperlink you touch with your stylus and boom, you’re there, same as it works on the interwebz. No page numbers? No problem! Not necessary at all.

But hyperlinks are good within the text, too. If a word is hyperlinked, you touch it with your stylus and it takes you to further reading. They used to be called “footnotes” and “end notes.” Don’t need those anymore, either. Oh, they’re still footnotes and end notes, but they have no precise structure because it’s not necessary. The device will take you where you need to go.

2. It’s called the “find” function.

You can’t do this in a print book. There is no CTRL-F. There is no “Find.” You go to the table of contents and/or the index and if you’re lucky, that book had an excellent indexer. If you’re not, well, good luck to you then. I’m going out to get some Chinese while you look for that reference. Want anything?

Is there an e-reading device that doesn’t have a “find” function? If there is, smash it and get something else, ’cause there is no point to an e-reading device without a “find” function. Because why? Because there are no page numbers.

If the argument (with regard to reference material) is that e-reference books can’t be annotated or bibliographed or referenced, there’s a simple way around that. Organize the book in some other fashion, a la the Bible or Shakespeare. It’s been done. The system’s only been around for a few hundred years now. If it ain’t on paper, it ain’t got pages.

And if it’s inevitable, just lay back and enjoy it.

Jukeboxes and libraries

I have a bunch of beautiful books. They’re mostly in hardback because I don’t see paperbacks as objets d’art the way I do my hardback books. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I read hardbacks, certainly. If I have it, I read it. But there’s just something substantial about a hardback book. Specifically, I’m thinking of my faux leatherbound books, but no matter.

As I go around the ebook blogs like Teleread and The Book is Dead, a bunch of dissociated rememberies from my childhood plague me. They’re always the same ones, played in different order, but in a loop:

Remembery #1.

The mp3 player was only a Wish when I was a child (think 1970s) with my little panda transistor radio barely capable of tuning in the jazz station, but playing disco just fine and dandy. Rock the boat, don’t rock the boat, baby. Rock the boat, don’t tip the boat over.

I had my Wish in my mind like a jukebox, playing all the songs I loved and none of the songs I didn’t love, all in one place, in the palm of my hand. Even as I got older, I couldn’t afford to buy albums and then, once I got a “boom box,” couldn’t afford to buy cassettes, either. I taped random songs off the radio and tried my best to come up with as clean a version as a K-Tel compilation cassette as I could. It didn’t work and my wish became a longing so intense sometimes I couldn’t bear it. Then I got a Walkman, which was a step up, but my ADD/OCD could not be happy. Why, oh why, was there no way to buy a song at a time? What would that look like? How could it be done?

My Wish: a jukebox in my hand, with all the songs I loved and none of the songs I hated, with the ability to purchase one song at a time.

Remembery #2.

Dark house post family bedtime. Flashlight. Book. Covers. You all know this routine. For my mother, it was hiding in the back of a closet. With a flashlight. And a book. Why didn’t my book come with a light? You know, something handy, that I could clip onto it? That way I didn’t have to give my flashlight a blow job every time I had to turn the page.

Remembery #3.

Jean-Luc Picard sitting in his cabin reading a hardback book. To me, this was nothing until a crew member questioned him. Wesley, maybe? I can’t remember. Too young to know what a hardback book with paper pages was. To Picard, it was an antique. To Wesley, it was a novelty.

DISCLAIMER: I didn’t watch Star Trek much. Not the original, not the Next Generation, not Voyager, or many of the spinoffs (although I actually enjoyed Deep Space 9 because everybody on that show had serious faults and weren’t a bunch of Mary Sues and Gary Stus running around knowing how to deal with every situation). This is why my remembering an STNG episode is so…exceptional. And it had to do with a book and what must have happened to books to evoke the reaction Picard’s hardback paper book evoked.

Something that could store a library in one spot? Like my dream of a jukebox in my hand. Could it be? A library in my hand?

Don’t get me wrong. At that point, I was old enough to know it could be done, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up because the jukebox in my hand hadn’t materialized yet or if it had, I didn’t know about it.

You have to know something about me that makes my need for such things a compulsion (you know, besides my mental disorders): I am an anti-packrat. I hate Stuff. I have Stuff I don’t hate, really, but if it can be condensed, packed, and stored out of sight until I need it, so I can have SPACE, I am more kindly disposed toward Stuff. (Oh, Space Bags, how I would love thee if every blanket we own weren’t in use because it’s as cold as a witch’s tit outside.) I don’t like knickknacks, either. And as I get older, the Mies van der Rohe school of architecture (mid-century modern) gets more and more attractive to me.

The only things I collect and store without driving my OCD/ADD batty is data. And mp3s. And now, ebooks.

(I like lots of art, though, so as soon as the Tax Deductions stop coloring on the walls, I’ll paint and put up my art. It’s difficult to deal with the child who writes her name on the wall and then blames her little brother, who doesn’t know how to read, much less write.)

I haven’t quite figured out how to go completely minimalist, given the life of a family and its needs for Stuff.

But the jukebox-and-library in hand is a good start.

My way or the highway

Lately I’ve been reading a snowballing number of posts in the ebook community about adopting EPUB as the international (and pleasepleaseplease DRM-free) standard. This is great and I’m SOOO on board with that. What’s got me disturbed is that the subtext (and sometimes it’s not even that subtle) is that in order to adopt EPUB, publishers ought to ditch every other format, I assume, to force the issue of EPUB format adoption for everyone.

No fucking way!

Are you serious?

As a consumer and producer of ebooks, let me tell you, this is simple crackpot evangelism. EPUB is the future; I do not disagree and I would love to see it come into its own and beat the competition.


The competition exists for a reason and that’s because there are competing machines out there. Why in the world wouldn’t a producer find and exploit every digital outlet he could while they exist?

Now, I understand it’s perfectly reasonable for a producer of analog music to give up making vinyl records and 8-track tapes when there are few enough record players and 8-track players that it makes no sense to spend the time to do so. But if there is fairly equal money in each format, it would be foolish for the producer to give up producing even one of those formats.

In short, there is no way we would give up any one of the (now) 10 digital formats we publish in unless and until all devices can and will read one format and that the majority of the users of those devices are choosing one format:

AZW (Kindle)

EPUB (any device using Stanza or Adobe Digital Editions)

HTML (a lot of devices, plus any browser)

IMP (eBookWise)

LIT (Microsoft Reader)

LRF (Sony PRS)

MOBI/PRC (any device using Mobipocket)

PDB (Palm)

PDF (any device that reads PDF), and coming soon,

iApp for the iTunes store (iPhone/iTouch)

The fact of the matter is that once you’ve formatted for one of the above, you’ve formatted for over half the rest with minor tweaks. Yeah, it takes time to make each pretty for its own device, but it’s worth it as long as people feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth.

And every single one of those formats has a serious issue or 3 that consumers don’t like. However, each consumer still has the choice of the format with the least number of annoyances for him. Giving me 1 format (or, in the case of a book I really really really wanted to buy) 4 formats that are pure hell on me isn’t going to get me to adopt those formats; it’s only going to jolt me out of my impulse buy and now that I’m not BUYING paper books anymore, I’ll get it at the library.

So, Hachette Book Group. Thanks for saving me some money, ’cause I wasn’t strong enough to withstand the temptation if it had been in a format I could use.

Make it easy on the customer

There’s a book I really really really want to read. However, it’s only available in e-format 2 ways: Serialized on the author’s blog (i.e., on the computer—no thanks) and via Kindle (no thanks). Now, I’m getting ready to email him and ask him if it’s available any other way, so we shall see.

There’s another book I really really really want to read. However, it’s only available in 4 formats (actually, 3 because 2 formats are identical in nature), none of which I can read on my ebook reader. The format I want is MS Reader (LIT). Why? Because I can break the DRM and put it on my ebook reader. Which, come to think of it, is probably why it’s not offered in that format.

Really, there’s enough GOOD stuff out there in more accessible formats to waste time having to read on the computer. After having had my eBookWise for a mere 7 months, I’ve gotten to where I WILL forgo a title (no matter how badly I want to read it) if I can’t get it in a format that is accessible to me. Otherwise, I’ll just go to the library, where it likely won’t be.

We’re really trying to put The Proviso in as many places as possible in as many formats as we can. It’s not just in the B10 Mediaworx bookstore (8 DRM-LESS formats bundled together in a zip), but at Amazon in both trade paperback and Kindle, at Barnes & Noble, at Books-A-Million, at Powell’s, and now at ebooksjustpublished (which takes you back to the B10 Mediaworx bookstore, but hey, it’s exposure).

Some time next week, The Proviso will be in the iTunes store as an iApp for iTouch/iPhone. Although we’ve formatted it into EPUB for those who’ve downloaded Stanza on their iTouch/iPhones, we really want to present as many options as possible to make it easy for every customer to read it the way they prefer to read it.

Because not being able to read a book I want to read the way I want to read it is beginning to weary me.