Interestingly, today was staff development day at my library, and our first session focused on (what else) e-books. Specifically, the Nook, which is put out by Barnes and Noble. I also had the opportunity to play with a Sony e-reader.
Within a few minutes of the start of the presentation, I started thinking that maybe I do actually want one. They’re smaller than I imagined, and super cute. The Nook is about half the size of an Ipad, and has a little touchscreen at the bottom that you use to control everything.
I felt like I was pestering this poor woman trying to present to us, but I had a lot of questions. The device has a lot of pretty amazing features:
- Unlike the Kindle, its file format is universal, meaning you can load PDFS and other files onto the Nook, and use Nook files on other devices. This includes image and sound files, including audiobooks. The Nook does not include text-to-voice which I am not happy about (the rep claimed it’s because the technology is just not good enough, which seems like a lame excuse, in terms of accessibility) but can run an audiobook and an e-book simultaneously.
- Font size is completely adjustable, which is probably common to all e-books, but I felt it was a worthy feature in that any book can become a large print book.
- As is frequently mentioned, it can be read in full sunlight. Memory is replaceable, and can be expanded to hold up to 17,000 books. Batteries are replaceable and cost 30 dollars. Because we have a Barnes and Noble locally, devices can be immediately replaced if necessary, and the rep said that it’s a no-fault situation as long as there isn’t “a footprint on the screen”.
- Purchasing a book and downloading it literally takes under a minute. You have to provide a credit card number and name which is stored as part of your account. Up to six e-readers can be registered to one account, meaning that you can share your collection with others, as long as you’re willing to share the payment method. This is handy for people with family overseas, who cannot legally download American published e-books. That particular tariff law was one of the biggest drawbacks I could see to this format. You literally have to be standing on American soil to download many e-books. However, so long as someone in the States can access the account, they can make the purchases and the books will appear on every Nook registered to that account.
- I asked about the extent of materials available in e-book format. She said that certain publishers were dragging their feet, and others do not sponsor their authors to publish in this format unless the author does it on their own, but that Nook has the most extensive library because publishers are mostly likely to go with their universal file format that can be marketed to any e-reader.
- The way the device is designed allows for constant upgrades. All buttons except for the page turns are integrated virtually as part of the color touch pad. If the keyboard needs a new button or a new feature requires redesign of the controls, that can be done without upgrading hardware. I thought that was a really clever way of extending the useful life of the device. The rep said that Barnes and Noble envisions the life of each Nook lasting in the range of 6-7 years.
- We talked a bit about PubIt!, which is Barnes and Noble’s self-publishing tool. It seems like a pretty neat setup. You upload your book, and you are required to sell it for at least a dollar. So Barnes and Noble makes money off of people who even only publish their own book and buy a copy. The author keeps about 40% of the revenue and the rest stays with Barnes and Noble. The rep said that this was a pretty typical split, but frankly I don’t know enough to know if that’s true or not. I could see this being a pretty fun project to do with a high school class though.
So while all of this is going on, two Nooks are being passed around the room. Finally one of them reaches me and I start to play with it. I push a button, and the screen flashes to black then reloads. I push another button, the same thing happens. I start wondering if I’ve broken it. I quietly pass it on.
Turns out that e-ink works kind of like an etch-a-sketch, and that the refresh is necessary to display the next set of text. The Sony e-reader was exactly the same, and I assume the Kindle as well. I ended up asking about it, and the rep said that only about 1 in 5 people notice the flash. Apparently I’m one of the unlucky ones. I found it so distracting that I can’t imagine myself ever sitting and reading comfortably. The screen also did not scroll, it loaded a single page at a time, which I didn’t care for. Those are things that might change in future upgrades, as the rep said that the refresh speed had improved dramatically since the device was first released. Still, I was shocked at what I saw as really shitty functionality on an otherwise beautiful device.
So after my encounter with the Nook, I still find myself debating. I would love to have the ability to load my PDFs for class onto a reader and read in bed instead of trying to relax with my netbook propped up next to me. I’ve used the Ipad and love it, but it’s really too big to be comfortable as an e-reader. Plus the Nook and Sony will be compatible with Onlib’s collection, which would be a nice bonus. But unless the technology improves, I can’t see myself going that route.
As an aside, the rep mentioned that when the Nook was brand new, it was released to tech bloggers to review. The Nook store features a display of the most popular titles, and apparently during the period when only the bloggers had the device, the most popular titles were erotica and Star Wars. Hmm.