A Cartoonist Wonders About the Fuss Over Digital Books

OptimismCartoonist Lucy Knisley has a comic online called ‘Downloading Optimism: Pessimism Virus Detected.’ It’s a funny but very direct assault on the tendency in some quarters to fret and worry about the emergence of digital books and online reading as the driving force behind the new world of publishing.  She doesn’t understand why some of our most creative writers and artists are feeling so gloomy about their prospects in a digital publishing world.

She’s been reading enormous amounts of online text since she was a little girl.  Her point of view is dead on the money.  One little thing I know is that I began publishing for kids online back in 1995.  The kids came and were reading lots of stories.  Let’s say a bunch of them were only 5.  Well, they’re 20 now, and they are making it plain that they want their books on screens just as often as they might want them on paper.  You ignore them at your peril.

I found this comic via Boing Boing

World Digital Library Set to Open or Fizzle?

Set to open on April 21, 2009, the World Digital Library will make freely available in multilingual format, significant materials from different cultures, including manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, and others.  The library promises to promote cross-cultural understanding and provide resources to educators.  The Library of Congress is involved in the project along with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the National Library of Brazil, the National Library and Archives of Egypt, and the National Library of Russia.

There are a couple of videos that claim to show prototypes of the library.  These look to me like quickly produced mock-ups of very little substance.  If you were really building such a library online, you would not have only four or five paragraphs of text and two videos on your web site to show for your efforts.  You’d be trying to show off how great your project is and how well it works.

I could be wrong, but this kind of mystery project that sits for years in ‘development’ and includes such enormous claims from such an international cast of characters always makes me suspicious.  I take an ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ attitude.  Sort of the like the absolutely transparent $100 laptop con job otherwise known as One Laptop Per Child, which has received a Fiasco Award. 

After all, we already have The Internet Archive.  It actually works.  It has material from all over the world.  It’s free.  It’s easy to use.  Why don’t these great libraries just use that?

Online Novels Boom in China

In China, there’s a revolution in online novels.  Writers are uploading their books to be read by millions of Chinese readers who pay a small amount for each book.  The leading company offering online novels in China is Shanda Literature.  Their site, Qidian.com, is the most popular destination for novel readers.  Even regular bookstores are now offering print versions of online novels.  Apparently, the online universe is China is relatively free of censorship and authors find themselves with more freedom to criticize.

Here’s a CNN article about the online publishing boom in China.