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10 ways digital books are changing our literary live

Written by eastern writer on Monday, April 18, 2011

The Hermitage Bookshop in Cherry Creek North, decidedly old-school with its oak furniture and elaborate Persian rug, isn't where you'd expect to find a fan of e-books, but listen to owner Bob Topp: "E-books have increased the purchase of print books," he says.

"It's easy for people to read the Sunday paper, look at a book review, and 10 minutes later, they've got that e-book on their Kindle. More people reading is good. I think it's way too early to say that the e-book will kill the hardback."

Topp doesn't use an e-reader, but his wife does. She praises its ability to store hundreds of novels in a slim, mobile device that weighs less than most of the venerable collectible books on the Hermitage shelves.

Certainly, digital publishing is changing the way people consume books — how and where they acquire books, and how and where they read. Here are 10 examples, old school versus new.

PRINT BOOKS: We joined book clubs.

DIGITAL BOOKS: We discuss them in booklogs. Readers extract favorite (or hated) passages from books to comment on in dedicated blogs, aided by Google, which is indexing and ranking individual book pages and passages, based on online chatter. Read a perplexing or inspiring passage and then instantly browse comments from other readers — effectively, a global book club. This option takes reading a book from being an individual activity to a group sport.

Some examples:, book-blog .com, and Kirkus Review's kirkusreviews .com/meet-the-bloggers, an aggregation of book blogs.

PRINT BOOKS: We find them in libraries, bookstores and bookmobiles.

DIGITAL BOOKS: For people who own personal computers, e-readers, smartphones, iPads and other tablets, there's 2 4/7 access to libraries and bookstores for purchasing, borrowing and downloading material.

However, people who don't own those devices are left behind. Underfunded schools, for example, barely have funds for printed books, much less e-books, e-readers or laptops, educators say.

"I hate to see our increasingly divided culture leave the poor further behind by making texts available mostly in unaffordable and impractical formats," says Denver School of the Arts literature teacher Gregg Painter.

PRINT BOOKS: Scribble notes in the margins.

DIGITAL BOOKS: We use Kindle's Public Notes virtual annotation application.

Want to see how this works? Go to, click on "Most Popular," then "Books with the most public notes," then on a title to bring up a list of note-writers, and clicking the "+" sign next to each name to see an individual's notes.

Notes aren't necessarily illuminating — "Note: look up ostergarden in wikipedia," writes Joel Gianoli in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." (It's a farm in Sweden.)

But they could be. Imagine looking up the notes that previous students leave in e-textbooks. Or seeing Jon Stewart's comments in the margins of Sarah Palin's latest tome.

PRINT BOOKS: Write to a favorite author, hope for a response by mail.

DIGITAL BOOKS: Visit a favorite author's Facebook page to send a message and a friend request; follow that author's Twitter feed. Fort Collins author Lauren Myracle, whose latest book, "Shine," has its own Facebook page, maintains at least three Facebook pages that are followed avidly by fans who exchange views with her.

"Last night I read 'The Corsage' and you were absolutely right! Very scary stuff! It took me two hours to try and sleep last night," wrote fan Emma Dougherty.

Loveland historical mystery writer Charlotte Hinger calculates that she spends nearly as much time promoting her books on Facebook and other social media as she does researching and writing "Lethal Lineage" and her other books. Her Facebook page quotes Agatha Christie, and her wall updates fans on book signings, reviews, conferences and her progress on her new novel, "Hidden Heritage."

PRINT BOOKS: Collect an author's autograph at a bookstore reading.

DIGITAL BOOKS:Use Autography, which debuts next month. It's a software program that allows writers to autograph an e-book using an iPad. The writer calls up his book, inserts a blank page between the title page and the first chapter, and then inscribes the blank page. The process takes less than three minutes, and authors can e-mail their inscriptions remotely.

PRINT BOOKS: Want to publish a book? You'll need a proposal, an agent, an editor, a publisher and a marketing department

DIGITAL BOOKS: Want to publish a book? There's an app for that, and authors can be quite successful. Amanda Hocking, JA Konrath and Karen McQuestion all are authors as famous for their aggressive self-promotion as for their books. However, self-publishing isn't always a good thing.

"There are a lot of crummy self- published books," says Colorado agent Jodi Rein.

"But a lot of good writers are choosing to go that route, too. It can be great for writers, because they can keep more of the profits. Who's going to be the gatekeeper? It used to be that you'd walk into a bookstore and know that the books had been vetted by editors and publishers. If anyone can get published, do books still have value?"

PRINT BOOKS: Donate used books to charity, sell them to a secondhand bookstore.

DIGITAL BOOKS: "Used books" don't exist. Purchased books remain indefinitely on e-readers. Amazon Kindle books are automatically backed up on Amazon servers, so if a reader loses a Kindle or wants to upgrade, the books on the old Kindle move to the new one. The Kindle app will do the same thing for an iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Windows Phone, plus Macs and PCs.

PRINT BOOKS:Swap books with friends.

DIGITAL BOOKS: Until recently, the options were mostly limited to loaning your e-reader (and the books on it) to friends, or resorting to pirated files. Amazon's Lendle allows users to share certain (not all) Kindle titles for 14 days, similar to the way libraries arrange e-book loans.

The borrower doesn't need a Kindle, just a Kindle reading application for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry or Android.

PRINT BOOKS: Find an unfamiliar word in a book? Get a dictionary, look up the meaning.

DIGITAL BOOKS:Use your e-reader to highlight the word and click on it, and the definition will display at the bottom of the page. This function is available on newer e-readers, including the latest Kindle, which includes the New Oxford American Dictionary.

PRINT BOOKS:Collecting rare books, including first editions and antiquarian books.

DIGITAL BOOKS:There's no equivalent so far. Hermitage owner Bob Topp says he sees quite a few new customers who've become fans of an author after reading several digital books.

"It's a whole new group of people discovering a new world of older books, a dimension they never knew about," he says.

"They come into our store, and the look in their eyes is 'Book! I just gotta touch a book!' They've read the e-book on the plane, but now they want a book they can hold in their hand."


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