e-books

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Jesse Brown: Why the latest multi-purpose e-readers are great for everything but reading books

The Final ChapterThe smell of an old book. The heft of a thick novel. The sensation of turning the last page of a ripping yarn with a freshly licked index finger. It’s all a bit silly, and kind of gross.

Old books smell because they’re rotting. Heavy books require dead trees and burnt fuel, as millions of them are shipped around the globe each year. Digitization preserves books forever while all but eliminating their environmental consequences. There are good reasons to resist e-books, but erotic fixation isn’t one of them.

The advantages of paper books arise not from their weight, their texture or any other feature unique to them, but from the features they lack. You can’t check your email from a book. Books don’t suddenly serve you pop-up ads in high-resolution video. Books don’t allow you to instantly stream porn or play addictive bird-flinging games whenever a narrative gets dull. Books are made to be read, and that’s all they’re good for. They are dedicated hardware.

Until recently, e-readers like the Kindle, Nook and Kobo have also been single-purpose machines, designed for nothing but book reading. Since the iPad, that’s changed. To compete with Apple, e-readers have become fully functional general-purpose computers. You can still buy basic e-ink devices, but these will soon be phased out as the new versions take over. On the new gadgets, book reading is just one of many apps, and not a terribly popular one: Google Books is ranked number 63 on the Android charts, behind Netflix, Pokémon and a video game called Drunken Pee. Apple’s iBooks sits at number 53, behind Sudoku and a Tim Hortons app. The fact is, the new e-readers aren’t electronic readers at all. They’re tablets.

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The Informer

Random Stuff

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Weekend Reading List: top stories from our sister sites, from bookshops to protest flops

Every weekend we round up the highlights from the other websites in the St. Joseph Media family. Check them out, after the jump.

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The Informer

Features

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50 Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 26, Kobo is taking on the Kindle

No. 26, Heather’s picks are sometimes spot-on

When Heather Reisman, the founder of Indigo Books and Music, began selling e-books in 2009, she made a choice that seemed self-sabotaging. Kobo, her e-book web store, allows purchased books to be downloaded onto a variety of smart phones, tablets and e-readers (not just Kobo’s own wireless reading device). The open platform policy is a philosophical divide from the original Kindle e-books, which had limited compatibility. Reisman, it turns out, was ahead of the curve: the easy accessibility of Kobo gave it an advantage over other e-book web stores. There are now three million Kobo users in 200 countries, with access to two million e-book titles. It seems that giving book lovers a choice simply increases their appetite to read.

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The Goods

Stores

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E-books keep spreading like wildfire as Kobo introduces touch-y new model

Kobo, the Indigo-owned e-book company that is both an “underdog” and a “powerhouse” (both descriptors care of Time magazine), announced a new e-reader yesterday. The most recent iteration includes a touch screen and ditches that directional button (which only serves as a clunky reminder of 20th-century video games, anyway). This morning, Barnes and Noble announced a similar design. Both models only have one button, use the same size screen, and have screens with faster response times, and both companies have introduced new social functions to their e-readers. The Kobo device will be available in Indigo stores for $139.

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The Informer

Culture

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The Flying Dragon Bookshop bites the dust

Books, the ink-and-paper kind (Image: John Manoogian III)

It’s no secret that the last few years haven’t been kind to the local ink-and-paper publishing industry. We’ve said goodbye to a number of beloved bookstores, including Pages, This Ain’t The Rosedale Library and David Mirvish Books. Now, less than a week after being named Specialty Bookseller of the Year by the Canadian Booksellers Association, The Flying Dragon Bookshop has announced that it’s closing its doors, too.

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The Informer

Random Stuff

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School librarians are an endangered species outside of Toronto—but should we care?

Is there a place for old-school librarians in today's world? (Image: Mr. T in DC)

The number of librarians across Ontario is on the decline. According to a new study by People for Education, 80 per cent of the province’s schools had at least one full- or part-time librarian in 2001, but today that number has dropped to a measly 56 per cent. Toronto has managed to buck the larger trend—a whopping 92 per cent of schools in the GTA have a librarian on staff—but we can’t help but wonder if that’s as big of a boon as it seems. In 2011, e-books are booming, tablets and cellphones are becoming cheaper, more powerful and more ubiquitous, and the Canadian ink-and-paper publishing industry isn’t exactly booming. Really, how relevant is a shelf full of encyclopedias in the back corner of a musty room?

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Business

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iPad 2 launch: Are Kobo and RIM crying right now? They might want to

All of nerd-topia is on the Internet this afternoon (as opposed every other afternoon?), poring over the details of Apple’s iPad 2 launch. In short, the new iPad is slimmer, faster, lasts longer, comes with two cameras, and a partridge in a pear tree all at the same price point as the previous model. Will all that convince people to ditch their existing iPads and buy new ones? Probably not, unless they’re dying to do some video chatting.

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