Reading Devices and the Limits of Access

Mathewingram’s blog notes that HarperCollins and Random House have popped up with widgets on their home pages which allow one to browse and search quite a few of their in-print titles. If you want you can take the widget off and plant it in you own web page or blog. This is an interesting experiment and may help to sell a few more books, but it does not seem like an adequate response to the Google Book Search project. Do we need transplantable widgets that search individual titles? Blogger doesnt like the Random House widget or I would have given you one here. The Random House title that I tested, Alex Espinoza’s novel Still Water Saints, worked; the widget found me 64 occurrences of the word ‘night’, but the flash environment loaded slowly, and seemed to create a rather cramped and inelegant reading environment. Most of the book was ‘off limits’, but it was reassuring that at least the search worked across the whole title. Could this kind of widget-based reader grow up sufficiently that it becomes a solid reading environment? Maybe. The jury is out on that one.

From the other end of the spectrum. Boingboing carries a piece about a new memory-stick device that contains the whole back run of the New Yorker. That has to be one of the most valuable and entertaining magazine archives in the cosmos. What would James Thurber have made of it? I think he might have written a piece about forgetting where the memory stick was that had all his cartoons on it. The moral of the fable being that those who forget their memory sticks will have to rely on their powers of recollection for the enjoyment of their cartoons.

It is strange indeed the way book publishers and magazine publishers in New York are moving in different directions. The book publishers are making fragments of their work available through a software reading device which permits any web browser anywhere on the world wide web (that is ‘any browser capable of handling Flash’) read snippets of their books, whilst a magazine publisher from the same city is making the whole of his archive available through a highly specific hardware device which is limited to a single publication. You can have some of he stuff everywhere, or all of the stuff in one unique place. Having everything, everywhere is still a way off.

Publishers do not think first and foremost about scaleability, which is why Google will probably win this race.

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