Tools of Change: Readers and Reading Devices

imageStarting Monday I’ll be at Tools of Change in Publishing, a conference that’s a sort of brainiac party at the intersection of publishing and digital innovation. Last year I called TOC a very full-brain conference because “both left and right brain perspectives are represented and explored.”

This year, Jane Litte and I were invited to present a panel on digital reading devices from the user’s perspective. If you’re attending ToC, it’s Wednesday at 2:30 pm. We’ll be talking about all the different digital reading devices and platforms, and the reader’s reaction. As it says in the description, we’ll be discussing “what real life book readers like, dislike, want to see, and couldn’t care less about” in their digital reading experience. Jane came up with this great list of items, and I added one more – customer service. I think the divide between the major players in digital reading rests largely on who can respond to customer questions quickly and clearly, because for many, the learning curve for digital reading adoption can be very steep.

So, if you could say anything to the folks who create and sell digital reading devices and programs, what would you tell them? What’s one thing you wish for, or one feature you can’t understand why it’s still included? If you could change one thing about your digital reading experience, what would it be (aside from “More time to read,” which is what I’d want, too)?


Random Musings

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Cyranetta says:

    I read on the iPad and iPod Touch (depending on circumstance), and overall I find the experience highly satisfactory.

    #1 desire—get rid of territory rights! It’s nonsensical that I can purchase the physical copy but not the electronic copy from Amazon UK when I reside in the U.S.

  2. 2
    Ell says:

    I get the impression some have it, but my Kobo doesn’t—if you have any significant number of books on your reader, you *need* a hierarchical file system.

  3. 3

    Oh man, where do I start on this? There’s so many things I could start talking about it’s not even funny, but given that this conference is apparently focused specifically on the devices and reading programs, I’ll say this:

    I am quite irritated that if I want to read any of my ebook collection on my computer, I have to launch any number of different programs to do so. I would not necessarily KILL for a standard ebook program that would support various major publishers’ DRM and let me have as pleasant a reading experience on my computer as I do with my devices. But I’d definitely consider acts of mayhem.

    (And before anybody suggests, yes, I do actually have Calibre and I swear by it—but it’s way more useful to me as a library manager than it is a way to actually read the books in question. If they’re DRMed books, Calibre only knows to go and launch whatever program those books are natively supposed to talk to, which is clumsy and annoying.)

    A great many of my annoyances would be solved if we could legally lose the DRM, but that’s less the province of digital device and program creators and more the province of the publishers.

  4. 4
    Jill L says:

    I would like to be able to read the blurbs on the back of the book, on my kindle I just see the title and I end up logging into amazon to see what the books are about.

    I would also like to create subcategories for sorting books

  5. 5
    Mary says:


    Received a NookColor this past Christmas and LOVE it!
    In answer to your question in general: My biggest pet peeve with ANY reading device, and this is my second in the last 13 years, is format. I would very much like it if companies would come up with one universal format. This leaves me free not to have to wonder, or look-up, whether the book I’m looking to purchase is in the format I need. Or even leave any publisher missing my consumer dollars because they don’t have the format for my device because my device’s company has gone out of business.
    As far as any complaints I have with the the NookColor so far? Just a few. The screen is either too sensitive in some areas or not sensitive enough in others. I miss an off the screen back button like I miss lost opportunities at large wads of cash. This is something I am learning to deal with.
    I miss options to catalog my books. Alphabetical by book title, alphabetical by author, alphabetical by series, and then have a sub-cat for how I want to categorize my books, all without side-loading another program for this one specific thing which should have been included with my reader. (I’m sure has been asked for before. But I’m going a bit bananas here!)
    Also. If the option is given to allow side-loading books onto a device? Why? Why? Why? can’t I have the option of putting said side-loaded books exactly where I want them without hacking my perfectly good reader? (No, I didn’t root it. Or hack it. Or crack it. Could. But won’t. That’s too much work.) And the downloaded content? Why can’t I move it around inside my reader without being connected to my PC? Drag and drop should work just fine inside the reader. I’m already connected to the interwebbedtubes for the download, the content is already there. It is a tiny computer after all, no?
    Urm, sorry.
    Can we have an option to put what buttons we want on the desktop screen? I’d sure like a few that are in the pop-up screen to be accessible there instead. Again. This is a tiny computer after all, no?
    I’d like an app built for all ebook devices to gather additional information about whatever book you download. Such as ‘Book X took six months to write and tips the scales at just shy of 1000 pages. But after elebenty years, author ABC could only get the second book, book Y, in at just under 900. (Is it Calibre that already does this?)

  6. 6
    Inez Kelley says:

    One universal format and get rid of DRM!
    Give me covers and blurb options without opening the book.
    One universal format and get rid of DRM!
    I’d love to be able to drag books to certain shelves without jumping through hoops.
    One universal format and get rid of DRM!
    cell a case/cove with the damn thing, not separate.
    One universal format and get rid of DRM!
    Would love to categorize by alphabetic order, by genre or something
    Did I mention one universal format and get rid of DRM?

  7. 7
    rebyj says:

    I have the Kindle 3. I LOVE it except for not being able to buy e-books elsewhere when they’re not available in the Kindle format. A very nice person tried to help me learn how to buy Shelter of Stone by Jean M. Auel from somewhere else when it wasn’t available from Amazon and get it onto my Kindle but I”m simply not tech smart enough to do it. I ended up buying a used paper copy.

    My biggest complaint with the Kindle is the astounding amount of books that are not available. I have pushed the ” Tell the publisher you’d like to read this on your kindle” button 10 times more than I’ve found a book I wanted to read that I could actually purchase.

    And as with Shelters of Stone, I found a good portion of those books available from other vendors.

    I know a lot of this is my own fault, many fellow readers told me to buy a Sony instead of Kindle because of the limitations of the Kindle format of e-books. I didn’t LISTEN!!! :(

  8. 8
    Lyssa says:

    I am basically a happy person, so after 8 months of having my Nook here are my problems: The increasing cost of nookbooks. Publishers want to release the digital books at the same time as HB and charge the same…I have a problem with that. Here is what I know, the majority of publishing costs are not physical materials but editorial, marketing, etc. But the material cost of physical books has to be higher than the cost of formating the material for different readers. So why try to charge the same (or sometimes more) for digital books.  Readers are not idiots, don’t treat us as such. Little issues like these cause my ‘happy personality’ to go away and I will decide to wait for that book. (I can get stubborn about such things.)

    Second problem with the nook in particular. MOVE THE slot for changing/headset jack.  When I am laying in bed, enjoying a book and I get a ‘low battery’ warning I don’t want the cord poking my tummy (yes I have tummy to poke). This configuration also causes the ‘cords’ to be kinked. And If I have Kinky things in my life I don’t want them to be due to audio cords. 

    Hum, The whold organizing thing does not bother me. My nookbooks can be organized alphabetically which is how I do it any how.

    That’s it…

  9. 9
    elaine says:

    I use my iPad (and iPhone) as my universal eReader, and I use the Nook, Kindle, OverDrive and iBooks apps. Amazon has the best pricing, but the Kindle app sorely lacks the simple design and awesome user features that the iBooks has—namely, filing/organization and font choices. I also dislike that Kindle eBooks don’t have page numbering. (I can’t seem to give that up. The place numbers throw me off every time.) I love that iBooks and OverDrive resize and repaginate when I resize the font. Apple’s bookstore isn’t (yet) that amazing to me—pricing is usually significantly undercut by Amazon and it’s tough to navigate easily (no hyperlinking, for example).

    OverDrive as an app is amazing—free library books FTW!—but lacks functionality—such as full, clear screen for the iPad—so I end up using my iPhone. It’s okay but not the best.

    I work at a major electronics retailer, and I spend many hours each week talking about eReaders with customers. It seems many shoppers recognize the brand name without much functionality knowledge, and end up purchasing at price points rather than finding the right product for them. My advice for customers who are unsure is to go online to the eBookstores, do some price comparison for the books they are most likely to read, and go from there—especially students who are replacing physical texts with eBooks.

  10. 10
    Jenn LeBlanc says:

    Get rid of DRM. If you buy a book you buy a book. I’m an author, and recently self published my first novel. It was difficult to navigate all the different formats I had to design for and everything that had to be done.

    I own a Sony PRS700 and love it. I bought it two years ago when it was almost $400. Yeah OMGee. I went with it because it was library friendly and the Kindle was not. I have never regretted it, and still love it.

    I recently bought an iPad for testing my novel on, and it is absolutely beautiful for reading on. I love the interface, I love the pages, I like that I can have BOTH PDF and EPUB files on it and go back and forth between the libraries without formatting my ereader in between because on the Sony PDFs and EPUDs aren’t allowed to live together happily.

    I hate that I have five different kinds of software on three computers and two readers (not to mention my Android phone) So when I published I went DRM free, EPUB and PDF.

    I think that (nearly) covers every option for my readers. I wish it were that simple.

    I hope it can eventually be that simple.

    I wish it was all easier.

    Did I mention DRM free. Because that would rock the hizzouse.

  11. 11
    Kerry D. says:

    What Cyranetta said!

    Get rid of geographical restrictions.

    (And DRM, but lots of other people have said that already.)

  12. 12
    Laurel says:

    Aside from universal format and ditching DRM, I have one tiny thing that seems simple and savvy.

    If I’m reading a series, why can’t there be a “Buy the next book NOW” button at the end of the book? Instead of having to go back out to the Kindle menu or my computer and add two or three extra steps? It seems like it would be easy and capitalize on impulse buys. The only thing I would have to do is make sure the eReader is online. Finish one book, click a button, purchase and start the next book. Huzzah!

    Even for non-proprietary readers they could link out to the retailers that offer books in the right format and you would have the choice of purchasing from, say, Powell’s, the individual ePub, whatever.

  13. 13
    roobarb says:

    I’ve not got a reader yet, am testing friends and have books on laptop an phone so far. 

    One thing I don’t like is that paperbooks can cost less than digital books.  Surely it can’t cost more to put a book into this format?

    Secondly I echo those comments above, I like to order my books how I want to order them.  I’d like them in a similar style to the way they are kept in my house.

    Thirdly I echo the comments about blurb, I don’t always use it, but I want the option.

    And finally one format fits all please, s long as a book is in a language I can read I should be able to read it.

  14. 14

    Another vote for universal format. If I buy an ebook, I want to be able to read it on the device of my choice, in the program of my choice.

    When there’s a universal format, I’ll buy an ereader. For now, I just read on my laptop and occasionally my iPhone.

  15. 15
    Carol says:

    In Dec my lovely hubs and child got for me a Sony prs 650 which I love with a passion that probably isn’t healthy. Anyways, like previous commentators I would love to see something done about geo restrictions and formats and DRM. That is all!

  16. 16
    Nessa says:

    Yes, down with territorial rights!

    There are so many books that I NEED (read, want desperately) that are available on but not It hurts my heart every time I see an incidence of that.

    (And yes, down with DRM, too.)

  17. 17
    Min says:

    Oh, yes, please, no more geo restrictions. I’ll pay you my money gladly, but you won’t take because of where I just happen to live. And yes, please get rid of DRM.

  18. 18
    Noelinya says:

    Another one for getting rid of the geographical restrictions. Why can I buy a book from anywhere but not an ebook ?

  19. 19
    Daisy says:

    Better options for organizing my books into folders and subfolders. 

    Having more information available on the books before I buy: including translator!!  For some of the books I would like to read, having the name of the translator is as important as the author.  Similarly publication history: for example, if I like one book from a series or author, I want to be able to read the rest in order, and that is not always clear—not without going through several steps on the internet. 

    End geographical restrictions.

    I hate the highlighting on my Kindle, and haven’t been able to find a way to turn it off.  Is that possible?

  20. 20
    Overquoted says:

    Get rid of DRM. In the meantime, for those of you who already have Calibre, there is a plug-in that can remove the DRM from some formats. I just don’t know what it’s called (it was mentioned in passing). 

    From ebook Readers…I have an older one, the PRS-505. Stop with the crappy buttons. Make them easy to press. I’m thinking about getting a new e-ink device, any suggestions? (No Kindles or backlit/touchscreen ones, please.)

    I’ll also echo a few other commenters about OS/folder structures. A friend has a diff Sony and it’s just as bad in those regards.

    Personally, I’d love to have a rent-a-book or swap feature. I understand the industry’s freak out over the idea, but really. If I buy a book that I hate with a passion (and I’ve had a few wallbangers before), I’d like to be able to trade it. If they’re going to charge me paperback price, I should be able to resell it like one. And if it’s just about controlling supply, why not offer a partial-credit program. That is really the only justification I could see for DRM. As it stands, I just crack the DRM on whatever I buy because I absolutely refuse to let a corporation dictate what devices I can read or watch bought content on. *kicks Amazon Unbox for being anti-PS3 and anti-Android*

  21. 21
    gina smith says:

    I love my Kindle but I do not think it is the proper device to read non fiction for me.  If I were in charge of the world :)  I would like to see a “pairing” price for nonfiction so that I could have the choice to buy a “hard copy” and a digital copy at maybe a reduced price.  This way if I am waiting somewhere and feel like browsing a health book I could but would have the hard copy at home to look at the features a nonfiction book has but is difficult to really see on the Kindle. 

    Also, I am kind of insulted in how the prices are continuing to increase.  I feel that there should be a price break at least for not killing all the trees.  And… how about humoring me once in a while with a “sale” on digital books like they have in the bookstores.
    thanks again – wish I lived closer to Chicago this sounds like fun!

  22. 22
    Amitatuq says:

    What everyone else just said about DRM!

    And organization!  I would love to be able to group my books the way I want to, not just based on Title, Author, or how recently I downloaded/read it. 

    And as for customer service…I’ll try not to make this too long.  I have a Nook.  Bought one about a year and a half ago?  It was awesome!  And then the screen stopped working.  Literally I had been reading it, went to sleep, and when I woke up it was like the screen saver image was burned on to the screen and wouldn’t go away.  So I called customer service, who were very polite and helpful-sounding.  They said it sounded like it needed to be replaced and I could send it in and they’d send me a replacement.  Thus began my month of trying to get them to e-mail me a return label, talking to multiple CS reps who always answer, “My name is So and So and I can help you,” while I think to myself, “No you can’t.” 

    Finally I got the label and got it sent out.  Then I didn’t hear back from them.  So I call again.  “Oh, our technicians have determined that you caused the damage so we’re sending it back to you.”  Um, what?  I explained that I disagreed, she said she’d put a note in for them to look into that and that I should hear back from them soon.  I didn’t.  So I called again. And again.  Each time feeling like I’d gotten the run around.  Eventually I decided to send an e-mail and got a snotty reply that they’d replace it as a “one-time courtesy.”  Which ticked me off but, hey, I was getting a new Nook.

    It arrived and it looked beautiful and it had all my books.  I noticed a faint line running through the screen but told myself I was just imagining it and just being paranoid.  Every once in a while it would get worse and so I would power everything off and then back on.  It seemed to help a little bit.  Then it didn’t and the thin line turned to multiple box-shapes of lines in one corner of the screen.  That won’t go away.  And my impression of the e-mail I go from them was that I was pretty much on my own so I just didn’t bother trying to get that one replaced.  That happened back in September and I just read on my iPhone Nook app.  But I do plan to gather all my documentation, account info, and give it to a friend of mine and sic her on them.  She’s much more assertive than me and more technically minded.  I almost feel sorry for them…  :-D

    Verification: people12 I’m sure I’ve talked to more than 12 CS reps…

  23. 23
    Merrian says:

    1. Get rid of geographical restrictions
    2. Universal format for ease of reading across multiple devices
    3. No DRM
    4. Search function that allows you to for example, search on meta data or by genre
    5. Able ot make basic notes such as whether a book has been read (once you pass 200 books on your e-reader an alphabetical search is meaningless)

  24. 24
    Carolyn says:

    I have Kindle for PC on my computer. It’s real purty, with all the colorful book covers and I love the little guy reading under a tree.

    I have 476 books in the damn thing and no way to organize them. I’m an old fart; I’m technologically challenged and on top of that, sometimes I can’t remember title or author. Sometimes all I remember is a scene or a vague storyline. It would be nice to be able to organize my books somehow so that I wouldn’t have to look through 476 of them for the one I might be wanting. Broad catagories, like paranormal or contemporary would be helpful and cut down the frustration. Even with paper, I’m bad about buying a book twice!

    I downloaded Caliber and then realized I couldn’t read my books on it because they’re DRM’d. Bah!! Down with DRM!! And, of course, Geo restrictions.

    Maybe I could use Caliber to organize the books, but that adds an extra step or two and … why should I have to?  It should be part of the deal. Lord, if I should ever get to the 3500 limit …

  25. 25
    Carin says:

    1.  DRM
    2. Universal format
    3. way to read back cover blurb or something to remind me what the book is about.
    4. ability to see the same cover the physical book has.  (I know this one isn’t an issue for everyone, but heck, I paid full price for the ebook version of The Perfect Play.  I opened it to read and the “cover” was text only. Fail.)
    5. a way to organize my books – I’m actually pretty happy with my Sony in this regard.  I make folders (TBR, historical, paranormal, best, etc) and then drop a copy of the book in every appropriate folder.  I’d be lost without the ability to do this.
    6. response time – this is an issue with my Sony.  When I unplug it from the computer after syncing, I have to walk away and come back later.  That’s how long it takes to turn on and go to the home page.  And when I’m in a book and press the button to get to the home screen, it routinely takes 10 seconds to get there.  AND if I press any other buttons during that 10 seconds, it tries to do all of those functions in the order they were pressed.  UGH.  I’ve learned to work around it because I love my Sony, but oh, for a timely response to a button pressed.
    7. better formatting of books.  I
    do not want to rea
    d my books in so
    me sort of poetry format
    where line breaks come unexp
    ectedly because some publi
    sher was too cheap to take th
    e time to actually format a bo
    ok before putting it for sale

  26. 26
    Lisa J says:

    I’m with the rest of the crowd – NO DRM!  Sorry for yelling, but it sucks.

    Also, one format one be awesome.

  27. 27
    donna ann says:

    glad to see I’m not the only one that hates the proprietary rights.  one of the reasons i’ve held off on getting an ereader is i hate the idea of being limited as to where I can or can’t buy books (or go through hopes to make purchase from a work on product b but maybe not w/ same functionallity/features).  Also the lack of true ownership of the e-book purchase (if i truly owned it I could lend or give it to my sister to read)  they cost the same as a physical book (but do cost less to reproduce – I work for a co that pruduces a sfw product so I know this – but I don’t even get te same rights as I would for the paper version.  So for now I’ll stick to paper.

  28. 28
    Mary says:

    Carolyn, I created collections to help sort my books on my Kindle3. This way the collections are on the home page and you can then narrow down the books from there (mystery, romance, JD Robb, whatever collections you want to make).

    It can be klunky when adding books to a collection, as they can be added to more than one and it doesn’t tell you if you have added it or not from the Add/Remove screen, but it’s better than scrolling through 476 books at a time :)

    As far as reader input – ditto what everyone else said – I hate how i can only see title & author (I need blurbs, I need pictures lol) and I need a better way to catalog my books (I will get to the limit one of these days and it’s only going to get harder to find them).

    I would love to see a universal format, as well, although frankly I don’t mind it as much as many others since the majority of my books were in PDF format before on my laptop and if I can’t find what I want at Amazon, I get it elsewhere and just email it to convert it to my Kindle.

  29. 29
    SarahW says:

    I think customer service is important, but not everything. I have had a Sony 505 for 3 years and never had a major problem with it until I dropped it and broke it. I replaced it with a Kindle 3 and have had to call customer service twice in the past three months of owning it. They fixed the issues right away at Amazon, but the one major issue was something they had known about but hadn’t done anything to fix. Arg. On the kindle I’d really like the power button to be at the top and I kind of hate that the numbers are in a submenu when you need them to navigate your book.

    Beyond these annoyances, my biggest pet peeve has to do with issues I face trying to help other people with their readers. I work in a library and we get a lot of questions from people about their readers, and not just about how to get library books onto them. Many of these people were given a reader for a gift and are not technologically savy, heck many of them don’t even have a computer at home. When it is my device I usually can figure out what the issue is given enough tine, but with a library patron’s device I don’t feel comfortable messing around until I get it right. For instance, I had a patron come in with continuing issues getting an Overdrive book transferred to her nook, and she had no idea how to delete books from the nook. I know when I got my kindle and my dad’s kindle they had very little in the way of a users guide. I wish that the industry understood that many of their devices are being used by not tech savy people, and that they could provide instructions at a level that seniors and computer illiterate could understand. These instructions need to be included with the device, because not everyone has the ability to go online and look up issues. I know many seniors come in and have received a reader for Christmas, but have never been able to get it to work, not because it is broken, but because the instructions assume a certain amount of knowledge and that a person owns and can run a computer.

  30. 30

    Put me down for a vote for universal format.  We seem to be moving in that direction with ePub, but not fast enough to suit me as a reader or an author.

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