Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2007 Issue

My “I have a dream” speech

Sony.reader.1

Sony wants to know - are you a reader?


By Bruce McKinney

If you are looking for a reworking of Martin Luther King's speech in 1963 on the Washington D. C. Mall you are in for a surprise. It isn't that. It's much better. Through an electronic frame 6" by 9" I recently saw the future and it looks very good. It's Sony's eBook or rather what this device will, in my opinion, become. They call it The Reader. I call it the future or at least a piece of it.

The Reader is a nine ounce, half inch thick, electronic tablet with a six inch screen [measured diagonally] into which you can load any one of more than 10,000 books to read. This is interesting but probably isn't going to succeed because, as readers know, a typical Barnes & Noble carries about 75,000 titles and it is still difficult to find a book to read. Confining yourself to out-of-print classics [as Sony has done] is perfect for the precocious 7th grader but won't work for many adults who moved beyond Treasure Island more than five Presidential elections ago. Nevertheless, this product has incredible potential and I'm putting it on my top ten list of things to see realized before I die.

Every year there are apparently about 75,000 new book titles released in English. English is important but hardly the only language and perhaps there are 400,000 to 500,000 new volumes in all languages released each year. To this we can add periodicals of all descriptions in all languages. If we think magazines this is one magnitude. If we think newspapers it's another altogether.

There are 6.6 billion people on the planet and 353,000 new-world-citizens born every day. We all have diverse tastes and interests and the number of written items created for us is astonishing. SO I'd like this Sony eBook to do a little more than cover 10,000+ classics. I want you to take on the world.

Let's start by connecting the eBook to Google's inventory of the printed word. Today Google's books-on-line is just an enfant but it's an enfant brontosaurus and it is devouring books by the library full. The volume of available downloadable for eBook is a thin straw compared to the Niagara Falls of material that Google is organizing. If I want to read Vassar College documents from the 1870s I want this to be a one click decision. I may also want to read the Rochester, New York city directories of the 1850s. Or I might like to read both the newspaper and magazine accounts of Texas in its war of independence in the 1830s. Search, select, download, thank you.

Now I'm off to lunch, the beach or the mountains and I'm taking this material with me. Of course I also have a copy or links to a copy in my G Mail account. I take it for granted that you know I'm one quarter blind and half deaf and therefore provide a full range of adjustments to make the screen visible in all lightings. Initially you'll resist providing an audio conversion but in time you'll realize I'm serious. Sometimes I'll prefer to hear the text rather than to read it. Mark Twain's newspaper accounts fall into this category. I'll listen to interesting material while driving.

Rare Book Monthly

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