Berggren says he never believed that single-purpose devices like the original Kindle would become widespread, a prediction that seems to be playing out. But he did believe that multi-purpose tablets like the iPad would become most people’s primary e-reading devices, not phones. According to Readmill’s data, however, phones are not only the most popular e-reading device, they’re the best at keeping readers engaged, too.
“It is not only that they are spending more time reading the books because the screen is smaller. Even taking into account screen size, smartphone users read more often, they finish more books in general, they start more books, they share more quotes, and they write more comments,” says Berggren. “This paints a very clear picture that the people that are most engaged with their books are the people who read on their phones.”
Tom Chatfield’s short essay “I Type, Therefore I Am” celebrates the increasingly rapid rise of literacy.
At some point in the past two million years, give or take half a million, the genus of great apes that would become modern humans crossed a unique threshold. Across unknowable reaches of time, they developed a communication system able to describe not only the world, but the inner lives of its speakers. They ascended — or fell, depending on your preferred metaphor — into language.
The vast bulk of that story is silence. Indeed, darkness and silence are the defining norms of human history. The earliest known writing probably emerged in southern Mesopotamia around 5,000 years ago but, for most of recorded history, reading and writing remained among the most elite human activities: the province of monarchs, priests and nobles who reserved for themselves the privilege of lasting words. …
In the past few decades, more than six billion mobile phones and two billion internet-connected computers have come into the world. As a result of this, for the first time ever we live not only in an era of mass literacy, but also — thanks to the act of typing onto screens — in one of mass participation in written culture.
The fate of the book is becoming more and more critical as digital replacements ingrain themselves deeper into our society. To me the possibility of the end of the book is a tragic one; I appreciate books as an object as much as I enjoy the stories and knowledge which they hold. I predominantly work with antiquarian books as they often show evidence of their own personal story, perhaps through an inscription on the cover or a drawing on a page which adds a new layer of narrative. The theme for each sculpture may be inspired by a number of things including the title, size, shape or cover of the book. I work with wire, wadding and strips of book pages to create the impression of the sculpture emerging from within a book.
Ironic that Emma Taylor’s site has its main life on Facebook, to which one must subscribe to read the great number of comments on her bookworks. Her Tumblr site (see link above), however, displays many, if not all, of her sculptures, and in her posting of 29 March 2013, you can find an article from the Cambridge News covering her work as displayed in the local shop Plurabelle Books.
Of course, the bookwork above (made from Poor Folk in Spain by Jan and Cora Gordon, published by Bodley Head in 1922) represents what appears to be a store clerk taking down a book but could just as easily be a housekeeper dusting the bookshelves (after all the chapter in which it appears is named “Verdolay — Housekeeping”). Why “of course”? Small sculpted books created “from within a book.” Tending and caring for the physical artifact by altering the physical artifact. (A touch more irony could have been had with the addition of a tiny computer, iPad or Kindle.)
One direction Ms Taylor’s craft may take to evolve further into art would be to recognize and reflect that the fate of the book and ebook are as likely intertwined and separate in many respects as have been those of the many forms the codex has taken — from incunabula to paperback, bookkeeping to fiction or reference to textbook.
Paratextual devices such as the manicule, footnote, running heads, etc., have their “analogues” in ereaders, ebooks and books-in-browsers such as navigational icons, hyperlinks, breadcrumb trails, etc. Through the W3C’s open annotation specification, even marginalia may be finding a place in the so-called digital replacement to the printed book. With the insights of Matthew Kirschenbaum and others into digital forensics, the digital replacement and its “perfect” copies may yet yield the “evidence of their own personal story.” And if “social reading” takes deep root in the individual reading experience, the reader’s relationship to the author (and vice versa) could be enriched by the reader-to-reader relationship in ways hard to articulate. Ways that will offer the book artist new opportunities to “make it new.”
Photographs and postcards of Emma Taylor’s work can be purchased at Etsy.
View the artist’s hands at work here. 5 February 2014
Earlier this month, we saw the release of the Open Annotation Community Group’s specification of the Open Annotation Core Data Model, an interoperable framework for creating annotations that can be easily shared between platforms. The work, directed by Robert Sanderson and Paolo Ciccarese, began in earnest about six months ago, although it was proceeded by longstanding efforts within and between the editors of the Annotation Ontology and the Open Annotation Collaboration. Under the auspices of the W3C, the efforts merged into the Open Annotation Community Group (OACG).
The OACG model defines an annotation as “a set of connected resources, typically including a body and target, where the body is somehow about the target,” and the full model “supports additional functionality, enabling semantic annotations, embedding content, selecting segments of resources, choosing the appropriate representation of a resource and providing styling hints for consuming clients.” Public rolloutevents are scheduled for 9 April (Stanford University), 6 May (University of Maryland) and 24 June (University of Manchester).
Back in November last year, while the Open Annotation Community Group (OACG) was thrashing through how to handle collections of annotations and other ontological issues, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University held a two-day symposium called “Take Note,” marking the conclusion of a two-year project on the history and future of note-taking. The project also resulted in a virtual exhibition of objects and works from the Harvard University Collections with notes ranging from a price list inscribed on a potsherd to a clothes list on papyrus found in an Egyptian garbage dump to Herman Melville’s annotations of his review copy of Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse (see image above). The exhibition was curated by Greg Afinogenov, Ann Blair and Leah Price, and interestingly, the OACG’s Paolo Ciccarese contributed to building the exhibition’s website.
So besides Paolo Ciccarese’s involvement, what’s the connection between these two events? Perhaps the link is captured in three comments from the participants:
Bill Sherman, historian at the University of York and author of Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England, commented to a reporter, “We’re now in a moment where we’re leaving behind fewer traces of our reading than ever before…. We may have moved to the turning point where…we’ll have to find new ways to leave more behind.” And as Matthew Kirschenbaum has spelt out in Mechanisms, historians will have to learn new ways to decipher what is left behind.
David Weinberger, author of The Cluetrain Manifesto and long-time blogger, tweeted (according to the Harvard Gazettereporter), “”Collaborative notetaking via etherpad or GoogleDocs etc. is often a great way to go. Fascinating to participate in, too,’ during an afternoon presentation that explored digital annotation tools.” Like Bob Stein,the co-founder of the FutureoftheBook.com, Weinberger is a champion of social reading and collaborative creativity.
Another participant told the Gazette’s reporter, “’I was struck by the request that we send our notes into Radcliffe because my reaction was, “You know, my notes are really none of your business. My notes are my private thoughts, my private collaborations.” Until I am dead, I don’t really need other people looking at them.'” That last comment is particularly fetching: one wonders whether William James and Herman Melville had such an eye on posterity as they scribbled their notes now on display across the Web.
As the book evolves and we annotate works in our ereaders (offline or online), how do we ensure that they persist, and whether offline or online, how do we handle how private or public those notes will be?
“[W]hat’s the relationship (legal and otherwise) between an e-book and the annotations added to it by its reader? Are the annotations attached to the particular copy of the e-book, and allowed to remain attached to it when it passes to a new reader, or do the annotations exist in a separate sphere — say, in a personal online database that is the property of the individual reader? … what right does the copyright holder (in particular, the author) hold over the way an e-book is presented? If annotations, or other metadata, in effect become part of the text, permanently or even temporarily, then does that represent a modification of the work that requires the consent of the author? You can’t publish an annotated print edition of a book under copyright without the copyright holder’s permission. Do different rules apply to an e-book?” (Carr’s questions elicited an interesting comment at Futureofthebook.com: “perhaps the interdependence of print and screen books is inevitable….”)
In some respects, by digitizing and reproducing others’ property (appropriately acquired through bequests, gifts and so on), the Harvard University Collections’ virtual exhibition illustrates Carr’s questions and those of the symposia participants — even the comment from Future of the Book — in a beautifully “tangible” way. Think upon it.
In “Used e-book, slightly foxed,” Nicholas Carr ponders Amazon’s widely reported patent on a method allowing the resale or giving of ebooks and other digital objects.
Matthew Kirschenbaum might dispute Carr’s view that there is no difference between the new and used ebook however. In his book Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination, he explores the nano-differences between masters and their digital copies, much as textual bibliographers have delved into the meaningful and revealing differences among print editions and even copies of the same print edition.
What if you could download books that had been pre-annotated? I would pay extra to read Freakonomics with commentary by Paul Krugman,The New Jim Crow with notes from editors at The Nation, or the Bible annotated by the creators of South Park. A book could always inspire new layers of meaning, but now it can host that inspiration and a slew of associated conversations.
Thurston’s proposition though is more akin to the digital equivalent of the Norton critical editions or Robert Strassler’s oversized, beautifully enriched Landmark editions of Thucydides, Herodotus and Xenophon. Still, a pre-loved ebook is a different virtual matter and might be desirable to some hapless, non-haptic readers. No doubt, resellers of used ebooks will want to assure their customers that their digital goods are free of lesser annotators’ bytes of marginalia and the latest viruses and Trojan horses favored by vandals and hacksters. How will eBay cope, assuming it can come to terms with Amazon’s patent claim?
But to bring Thurston’s proposition and Open Annotation together suggests another market: the collectible ebook. Can there be such a thing as a rare ebook? Which libraries will be bidding for Clay Shirky’s ebook collection after he has shuffled off his digital coil?
The implications for DRM and copyright are delicious. Recall the hoax that Bruce Willis was considering legal action against Apple over his desire to leave his digital music collection to his daughters? If his collection’s metadata contained extensive annotations providing insight into the music or, more likely, the celebrity himself, why should iTunes’ Terms and Conditions override the family’s claim to the Die Hard star’s intellectual property that they could share (or not) with future celebrity biographers?
What makes his comments on comments on a comment bookmark-worthy are the comments they provoked from Gary Frost, Emeritus Conservator at the University of Iowa Libraries and the author of Future of the Book: A Way Forward(Coralville, IA: Iowa Book Works, 2012):
“The current rush of changes in print and ebook uses is dramatic evidence of our close relationship with books. A flood of digital reading devices and hybrid software and hardware designs are emerging as the print book is augmented by screen delivery and associated cloud libraries, ebook collection building, automated index and searching, and screen learning. While all screen book simulations deviate from print conventions the hybrids that emerge reference each other and often resonate with each other. This rapidly developing book production and consumption landscape is dynamic and unique in media history, or is it?
It’s pretty amazing that little attention is paid to the emerging composite of print and screen delivery of books. I mean looking directly between them and at an emergent functionality of all books. There you can now perceive the interdependence of print and screen and the likelihood that neither will flourish without the other. . . . Also involved are other forums, other than the forum of current technologies, their products and marketing. These other disciplines include academic book studies, cognitive science aspects of reading, book sustainability within libraries and many vectors of book arts.”
One might single out the infiltration of the book by “the social web” from the vector of current technologies that Frost insightfully identifies as necessary to explore this moment in the book’s/ebook’s evolution in which those who buy ebooks buy yet more print books. The ability to annotate and share print books is gradually being replicated, prodded as it were by the phenomenon of the social web.
So here you have it: a comment on comments on comments on comments on a comment.
In 1973 in an article in The Library Quarterly and in her 1979 dissertation, Mingshen Pan (or Ming-Sun Poon) concludes from her examination of books during the Sung period that the colophon gradually changed in form, content, design, and placement, demonstrating an increasing use of the colophon as an advertisement of the printer and his wares. This shift embodied a critical transition in the printing trade of that time. As support from governmental and private sources waned, support from diversified sources were sought in which the commercial element played a significant role.
Familiar? As the European printing press began to make books available to a wider economic circle, manuscript books ceased to be supported by commission and patronage. One of the earliest and famous printers of Venice, Aldus Manutius, reportedly printed only one commissioned book (Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, 1499); the rest had to make their way in the market.
In Sir Isaac Newton’s day, “Printers secured their livelihoods by advertising medicines, . . . Physicians told each other that if they want to market a new drug then they ought to go to the booksellers to do it.” Adrian Johns, Piracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), pp. 84-85.
Publishing has always been marked (or marred) by the struggle to establish a stable business model.
We’re witnessing another sea change in Web publishing. From Pinterest at the beginning of this year to the launch this week of a new product from two Twitter founders, Medium, 2012 has been a year where the norms of publishing are being challenged.
So writes Richard Macmanus at ReadWriteWeb about a new platform for Web publishing. But there have been books written in Twitter. What if the same were to happen in Medium? If the stream replaces the page, if topic maps replace authors, . . .
Teleread and an employee of Readmill have begun a bookmarkable conversation about an important feature of books that must translate into the digital world: shareable annotations.
To share annotations in a print book, you have to lend the book or photocopy the relevant pages. Currently, our e-incunabula thrash about in the barbwire of a three-way no-man’s land: between publishers and librarians, between anti-DRMists and pro-DRMists and between the ebook as a licensed good and the ebook as a sold good to which the “first sale” doctrine applies. We haven’t brought sustainable peace to any one of those fronts yet, although there are fleeting signs of olive branches on the battlefield.
Penguin experiments with the New York Public Libraries, Bilbary has pulled together a collection of over 400,000 works (including Random House ebooks) to make available to US and UK public libraries, the Douglas County Library in Colorado continues its purchase-only effort.
Small and large publishers have been and are going DRM-free or nearly so. In 2009, Liza Daly of Threepress Consulting started a list of DRM-free publishers and stores. Today, she can add among others Springer, Tor/Forge and Pottermore (with effects addressed in interesting detail by Mike Shatzkin).
As Matthew Bostock argues,
“Translating the act of annotating physical books to the digital experience is all good and well, but isn’t there more we could do? Isn’t there more we could dream about? We’re talking about e-readers here—small devices that are connected to something that has the potential to truly evolve the entire concept of digital reading. I’m referring, of course, to the web. … If we share what we highlight with other people, and bring a discussion right into the margin of a book, what do we have, and what have we done? We have added value to the digital reading experience. And looking at annotation in this way, there’s a clear reason why we should give it a little more thought.”
See Matthew’s mini-manifesto on annotations on Teleread:
No doubt known to Matthew, but there are forces at work to nudge us toward his vision. The standards world has not been sitting on its hands: the W3C and NISO both have initiatives underway to address the minimum required technical specifications for a standard on shareable annotations.
The book evolves.
For more about Readmill, see the post of 26 July 2012 below.