Books Versus Texts

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:21 AM

The New York Times has an interesting commentary on the problem with e-books.

When it comes to digital editions, the assumption seems to be that all books are created equal. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the mass migration from print to digital, we’re seeing a profusion of digital books — many of them out of copyright — that look new and even “HD,” but which may well have been supplanted by more accurate editions and better translations. We need a digital readers’ guide — a place readers can find out whether the book they’re about to download is the best available edition.

Interestingly, for all of their foibles, the major newspapers “get” this far more than book publishers and the e-book merchants. The iPad apps for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Financial Times reproduce much of the character that makes print more enjoyable for reading than a screen. They are a pleasure to read, much as a printed newspaper is.

On the other hand, the aesthetic problem with e-books is demonstrated by the issue of the free Project Gutenburg books available in iBooks. In my own browsing, I noticed that the critically acclaimed translation of Dante's Comedy was marked down on there because some thought it was foolish not to use the free Gutenburg text. Never mind the superior translation, superior typesetting is also important — too many public domain e-books are atrociously “typeset,” apparently forgetting that the layout — a book's “interface” — is a critical part of an enjoyable reading experience.

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