Note: Also see Robert Nagle’s different view of Baker. By the way, unlike Robert, I agree with Baker on the issue of the many books missing from E. This is a major flaw of e-books. TeleRead as a corrective step, anyone? – D.R.

imageMost of Nicholson Baker’s piece in the August 3 New Yorker is on the Amazon Kindle. But the real news shows up far inside. Although a long-time skeptic toward e-text, Baker open-mindedly recognizes the merits of the iPhone and iPod Touch as e-book readers:

“Forty million iPod Touches and iPhones are in circulation,” writes Baker, author of fiction and nonfiction, including Double Fold: Libraries and the Asssault on Paper, “and most people aren’t reading books on them. But some are. The nice thing about this machine is (a) it’s beautiful, and (b) it’s not imitating anything. It’s not trying to be ink on paper. It serves a night-reading need, which the lightless Kindle doesn’t…”

imageGood for night-time reading—and marriage-preservation

The LCD screen is sharp enough for Baker, and he enjoys the ability to read at night without disturbing his wife.

Correctly he repeats the substance of a major complaint against E Ink that I’ve been making for years—the lack of sufficient text-background contrast for many readers, even though improvements are on the way.

On the right you see a screenshot from my iPod Touch—showing off the annotations feature of the Stanza e-reader app for the iPhone.

Begging for Baker’s attention

Baker has long been a skeptic of e-text, as noted; and I hope he’ll now direct his energies to the issue of e-book standards, to which he briefly alludes in the New Yorker, mentioning ePub and the current eBabellers. DRM is another topic begging for his prolonged attention—given the fact that such “protection” detracts from the seriousness of books by shortening their lifespans for many readers, including those who like to upgrade their hardware frequently and may encounter difficulties along the way.

I’d love to see Baker claw away at Amazon for refusing to do an Mobipocket app for the iPhone, even though loyal Mobi followers have invested hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars in DRM-tainted books in that format. Although an e-book fan, I agree with Baker that there are many flaws about which to gripe.

In the next post or two, I’ll discuss the media’s skimpy coverage of one major flaw in particular: the inability to own many e-books books genuinely, thanks to DRM, eBabel and other problems.

Baker’s favorites for the iPhone/Touch: He mentions the Eucalyptus app and others, but I was also happy to see him put in a good word for my choice by far, Stanza, now downloaded by some two million people. Baker’s one-million estimate is out of date. I love Stanza because it is so bleepin’ customizable, and for the most part the interface is superior, at least for me. Novice e-book readers may disagree. But sooner or later the greenhorns will be experienced.

Another detail: At some point I hope to find time to switch over the fonts on my Sony PRS-505 so they’re bolder—stand out better against the background, especially when the room is dim and I don’t want to mess with a reading light.