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thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

A number of other sites are doing Thanksgiving lists (Ars Technica, Wired, another Wired, and Wired again on things not to be thankful for), and I thought I would assay one of my own. Of course, we all know that we have a lot more to be thankful for than just e-book-related things, but they are this site’s focus after all.

There are a lot of people and companies that have made a difference in the e-book industry this year, and I thank the ones important to me below. These are the folks who I think have made reading e-books easier for me, or provided the e-books that I want to read, or have just plain done something cool.

Some of these are big, industry-wide things. Others are little things that may only be important to me and a number of other fans. Some of them may surprise you.

But that’s all right. This is a list of things for which I personally give thanks. If you’re thankful for something I left out, please add it in the comments.

1. Project Gutenberg, Baen (and The Fifth Imperium), Cory Doctorow, Feedbooks, Manybooks, Mobileread, Fictionwise, and everybody else who releases e-books free (or cheap), in multiple formats, and without DRM. Thanks to you guys, we can always be assured of having something to read no matter what kind of device we have. Keep up the good work.

2. The movement toward EPUB as an industry standard. The Tower of e-Babel may be slowly crumbling, and every publisher and e-book reader who supports EPUB is helping to build something new out of the fallen bricks. We still have DRM to deal with, but maybe one of these years I’ll be thankful for that going away too (as it already has from Apple’s music store). Thank you, those responsible. (And for avowed hold-out Amazon, a big hearty raspberry. PBBBBT.)

3. The explosion of e-book readers. Some look at the availability of a dozen different kinds of e-book reader as e-Babel in the making. And to an extent it is. But on the other hand, more different devices means it is more likely for any given person to find a device that fits his specific lifestyle.

And many of these readers include support for EPUB (except for Amazon’s Kindle. Again, PBBBBT). What’s more, all the competition will drive prices down—especially once there is competition among e-ink screen providers to lower those prices.

Not least, the fact that there are so many different competing devices and apps provides some validation that e-books are finally starting to be desirable items, after ten-plus years of being swept under the carpet. So thanks, everyone who has created an e-book device or an e-book reader app for a PDA, smartphone, or computer. (Even, grudgingly, Amazon.)

4. My iPod Touch, and the reader apps on it. Maybe this should actually be “3a” instead of “4”, but I wanted to single out this amazing little device for some particular thanks.

Twenty-two years ago (God, was it really that long?) Star Trek: The Next Generation had these amazing little “Personal Access Display Devices” or “PADDs”, created entirely out of special effects: wafer-thin panes of glass that displayed text and images and allowed instant access to information stored in the ship’s computer.

Now we have iPhones and iPod Touches: wafer-thin panes of glass that display text and images and allow instant access to information stored in the cloud. Last year, Jeff Kirvin wondered if Palm’s Nova project would be “Palm’s new PADD”. In fact, the Nova turned out to be the Pre—a fairly anemic attempt to copy the iPhone (to the point of hacking in an illicit sync method to Apple’s iTunes software). The PADD is already here.

With my iPod Touch, I can download e-books from about a zillion different sites using Bookshelf, Stanza, eReader, Shortcovers—yes, even the Kindle app. It offers much of the same advantage of the Kindle in terms of instant book download availability as long as a wifi network is at hand (the iPhone, of course, offers the exact same advantage with its 3G network—but on the other hand, it also has all those plan fees). And in terms of format and book source, it is considerably more flexible than the Kindle—or indeed, any other smartphone that I know of at the moment.

Plus, I can listen to music, watch movies, surf the web. In fact, I can hook into wifi and do about 90% of the things for which I would otherwise want a laptop—email, ssh, IRC.

Granted, Apple’s closed environment causes a considerable number of headaches. But on the other hand, jailbreaking has gotten easier and easier, and it will never entirely go away. Cydia will always be waiting for those who need the kind of openness Apple refuses to provide.

So thank you all: Apple, Bookshelf, Lexcycle (for Stanza), Fictionwise and eReader, Shortcovers, Amazon, and the jailbreak community. Thanks to you, I have a PADD in my pocket—and so do literally millions of other people.

5. Google Book Search. All right, this is not an unalloyed good thing in and of itself. There are still a number of questions over the balance between the rights of Google and of the authors and publishers of the works being scanned. February will bring another hearing into the matter.

But even those who dislike Google’s scanning project must surely admit that it is bringing much-needed attention to the issue of orphan works and the fact that there is simply no good legal solution for making them available to those who want them. Perhaps Congress will enact legislation to help ease things for everyone.

Thanks, Google, for getting in there and causing a controversy. Sometimes, that’s what it takes to bring about necessary change.

6. Baen’s rescue of Meisha Merlin alumni P.C. Hodgell, Sharon Lee, and Steve Miller. Granted, this was something to be thankful for in 2008, too, but now we are starting to see the fruits of those efforts.

When small publisher Meisha Merlin collapsed, it left these authors stranded. Both Hodgell’s and Lee and Miller’s books were cult favorites with a history of difficulty finding publishers. (Hodgell in particular averaged about one novel per publisher before having to turn around and find a new one.)

But Baen came to the rescue, reissuing these writers’ past bodies of work in omnibus e-book format, then omnibus printed format, then commissioning new works from them. And so Hodgell will be able to finish her beguiling Kencyr series, and Lee and Miller have published two fantasy books and have four new books in their popular Liaden setting here or on the way (Fledgling, Saltation, Mouse and Dragon, Ghost Ship).

It is a great time to be a fan of these writers. Thanks again, Baen, for lending a helping hand.

7. The promise of better things to come. If these trends keep going, and prices keep falling, sooner or later e-books will become affordable to everyone. We may yet see the mythical “$50 e-book device,” or maybe even “$20 e-book device”, that will get past the “but what if I leave it on the bus?” factor and see widespread adoption. After all, PADDs were fiction twenty years ago.

Who knows what there will be to be thankful for next year?

 
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