The New Sleekness

Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Libraries are the original portals.

by Pablo Defendini

Some people wonder: What use are libraries in a future of electronic books? I’m absolutely not one of those people. To dismiss a library as a mere building that houses physical books is to ignore the true soul of the place: the people that transform a library from a place of bricks and codices to a true repository of knowledge and learning, and a vital hotspot on the social heat map for any community—librarians. To wit, one of my fondest memories of the library, from back in my school years, is also probably one of my formative experiences. And there’s nary a printed and bound document in sight (that fetish would come later, oddly enough).

Sometime around 1993 or 1994, I was in high school, Soundgarden‘s Superunknown was busting the speakers out of whatever I used to play music on before iPods came along, and my school library got a computer, some nondescript PC that ran Windows 3.x (those Windows boxen all look the same. However, I vividly remember the sexy sexy Macintosh LC III running System 7 that our chemistry teacher had bought for his classroom with his own cash around the same time). Having come up during elementary playing Oregon Trail on using a Commodore 64, I was perfectly happy to be using the card catalog on the computer to search for titles as opposed to that physical cabinet with its long cumbersome drawers full of cards (yes, I was a clumsy weakling as a teenager. Surprise, surprise, surprise).

Using the computerized card catalog was all well and good: useful, but kinda boring when you’re a kid in study hall. So a couple of us decided to install some computer games on the library machine. I don’t remember which ones, but Myst was probably in the mix somewhere. While we were gathered round the computer fooling with floppies, the head librarian—a normally stern but lovable matron with a penchant for over-enunciating the phrase “Dewey Decimal System”—spied us fooling around with her new, expensive-to-fix, electronimagikal fancy pants punch-card-less wonder of a card catalog. Probably worried that we’d damage the damn thing, she shooed us out of the library, (relatively) loudly berating us for vandalizing school property, or something  to that effect.

Sometime later that week, the assistant librarian walked by as I was once more, uh… searching for a book on the same computer. She stopped, leaned over, and said “Hey, you’re not allowed to install games on this thing, but want to see something really cool?” Intrigued (and possibly rocking a light crush—she was the much younger assistant librarian, and librarians are h4wt, after all), I said “Sure.”

She then proceed to fire up Mosaic and sat down next to me to tell me all about the World Wide Web. She introduced me to search engines (Altavista? Yahoo? ask.com? I barely remember life before Google). She taught me what a boolean search is. To say zomfgwtfbbq is probably an understatement.

I’d been on the Internet before, using BBSes, usenet and such, but on a very casual basis, and at an earlier school library, in middle school. But this was different. Utterly underwhelming by today’s standards, but a brave new world for fifteen-year-old me. Like a country boy on his first visit to the big city, I was enamored, seduced and immediately convinced that I had to go to there. I sometimes quip “the Internet” when people ask me where I’m from, but it’s only half a joke: In 1996 I rented a small pad at Geocities, in 1998 I was part of the neighborhood on ICQ and theglobe.com, and around 2001 I made the leap and put down roots with a place of my own.

To say that that librarian changed my life is an understatement: getting online that early has shaped my career,  my relationships—hell, my understanding of the world. And all it took was a knowledgeable librarian willing to sit down with a kid and drop some of her knowledge on him.

Me, Mom, and Ray Bradbury

by Kassia Krozser

My athletic career wasn’t so much non-existent as it was non-athletic. I was the Most Improved Player on my softball team for nine years running. I only entered the game when there was no chance of losing, usually right before the slaughter rule was invoked. I didn’t mind. I had team spirit, and, frankly, I played softball for the same reason I play Scrabble: for the sheer fun of it.

I will spare you the stories about dodgeball, tetherball, kickball, anything that involved running, jumping, darting, or, horrors!, aiming at something (I’ll digress to say I was a master of foursquare; this probably doesn’t surprise some people). I resigned myself to my lot in life until one fateful event* changed everything.

The event was a reading contest. The winners would get to attend a booksigning in Santa Barbara. I need to confess here that my mother was my elementary school librarian. Some kids might be embarrassed to have their mother working at their school. I wasn’t. My mom is the coolest and, to this day, way more popular than I will ever be.

I was not only a privileged reader, I was a spoiled reader. All new library books passed through my greedy hands. I was first to read Newbery Award winners. I discovered Katherine Lee Bates. I knew exactly where to go in the library when I was having one of those days. I mastered the art of feigning illness so I could spend entire days in bed reading.

Definitely a most accomplished nine-year old.

Back to the contest. Finally, a sport designed for me. There was no way I could lose. Or so I thought. I mean, who else in my school read like me? I’ll tell you who: a sixth grader named Otis (last name withheld to protect someone who probably never knew I existed or that we were in life or death competition). He was older. He was taller. And he was probably an outstanding athlete.

My first clue that I had a cutthroat competitive instinct came when I saw his name in first place on the standings board in the library.

Needless to say, I kicked it into overdrive. The reading part, I pretty much had down. Softball certainly didn’t get in the way. My mother and I had agreed that it counted as “playing outside” if I left the house and read on the porch. All I had to do was read and fill out a little form, proving I’d absorbed the words. If there’s one thing I will never cheat on, it’s a book report. What’s the point?

It came down to the wire, but I won. But there were other winners. A handful of kids from my school were allowed to spend an entire day — a school day! — at what would become my first literary event, an event that continues to this day. We were tasked with taking library books from author to author, gathering signatures. I’m a bit jaded now, but, wow, talk about awesome responsibility. It was the olden days: we really respected school property.

I am sorry to say I don’t remember all the authors who were there that day. Two stick in my mind: the late, wonderful Leo Politi, who captured Olvera Street in Los Angeles with great love, and the incomparable Ray Bradbury.

Our delegation, the La Mesa Elementary School Wildcats, moved from table to table, proudly brandishing our library books for signature. I don’t think I’m overstating my importance when I say I was pretty much the captain of the all-star reading team.

Fast forward a whole bunch of years. My mom was still an elementary school librarian. Still more popular than me. Still super-cool. Still inspiring kids to love books and reading. And since she was working a school with a largely migrant population, she was trying to introduce their parents to love books, too.

One day, she was engaged in the periodic purging of books that libraries must do. It’s a sad fact of life, sort of like wrinkles. Authors like J.K. Rowling and R.L. Stein and others filled the shelves, and older books — some of which hadn’t been touched in years — were discarded to make room for new titles.

This is not a job for the faint-at-heart. It requires discipline and focus. Complete knowledge of your library collection. A keen eye for wear and tear and more. A librarian cannot afford to be too sentimental.

The way I understand the story, Mom was in the zone. She was focused, a machine. This one stays, this one goes. Oh my, some kid defaced this one. Kids! You can’t trust them to resist scribbling their names on the title page of…

S is for Space. She looked twice as she lined through the scribbles with black Sharpie. She looked thrice as she wielded the “Discard” stamp. Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes. It’s true. It was that scamp Ray Bradbury, writing his name in books.

He’d signed the book on that most magical day during my ninth year. My mother will never live down the ignominy. Mostly because we, her loving children (natural and by marriage) will never stop telling this story.

Because every time we tease her about Ray and his callous regard for school property, I remember her library. I remember the way I walked from Beverly Cleary to Noel Streatfeild. The roundabout route to the biographies. The weird mathy-sciencey area I probably should not have avoided. The card catalogs. And the librarian.

* Because I didn’t know at the time this would be a pivotal story with future implications, I neglected to note dates and may be smooshing two different events into a single, better story. Poetic license with my life and all that. The key points remain accurate-ish.

Growing up with the library

by Shayera Tangri

I grew up in the tiny town of Baldwinsville, NY, (pop. 7500), a suburb of Syracuse. It’s best known for, um… well, hmmm… If I ever figure out what it’s known for I’ll get back to you. I think Baldwinsville is one of the original 2 traffic light towns. For me, a recent immigrant to America and Baldwinsville, the town had the most magical of places. The public library, which was conveniently located in the Downtown area. I’d walked into that building as an already book addicted 8 year old in the late 1970s, and for the next 16 years, it was pretty much my home away from home.

I worked my way through the books with systematic determination. The librarians would come up with new ways for me to discover books too. On one occasion, it was decided that I could only check out books on a certain theme. Once there was a treasure hunt. I was occasionally the guinea pig for Summer Reading themes.

I spent many evenings and weekends in that building, even after I outgrew Summer Reading. The Baldwinsville Public Library helped me through all those school assignments and college applications. For me, that building was permanent. In 1993, the Library Board approved plans for a new building. One which would have a dedicated computer room and would be automated. It would also be about twice the size of the building I was used to. I left Baldwinsville the next year. I haven’t been back since, in fact. I’m planning on going back this year, for a friend’s wedding. I guess I’ll have to drive by and take a look at the new building. I guess. But for me, the Baldwinsville Public Library will always be in that little building, with the beautiful wooden shelves and card catalog and punch card due date slips.

Piracy In the Library…But In a Good Way.

by Kate Rados

So, I was thinking about libraries.

Not sure what sparked it, though I think it was while I was cleaning out my wallet and saw my NYPL card. At any rate, the memory got me all sentimental-like and I want to share it here:

The Cromwell Public Library was designated to the second floor of a home on Main Street of the small town (Cromwell’s population was ~12,000 in the early 80′s). I remember walking up the creaky stairs to the main room with walls filled with books I was too short to reach and too young to read. In the center of the room was a large wooden toy pirate ship on a long table. The librarian greeted me and my Mom as I walked in and said that if I check out a book today, I can play the “Pirate Ship Game.” What? I can play in here?! The game was simple: think Candy Land, but on a ship. You roll a die for a chance to win a small prize – mine ended up to be a little Dum-Dum lollipop. I felt so special that day, didn’t want to leave the place, and all it took was a 25-cent piece of candy and a little personal interaction.

This is where the library used to be located. Just like back then, I kind of want to live here.

This really potent memory has me wondering: Does anyone else have these little stories? Do I hear a ‘Library Week at The New Sleekness’ theme? Feel free to share your memories in the comments. We’ll be sharing our stories throughout the week, so stay tuned.

The Quickest iPad Review You’ll Ever See

by Kate Rados

Conclusion: Meh. But a slightly-skewing-positive ‘meh’.iPad pros and cons.

What Ozzy Taught Me About Multi-Platform Publishing

by Kate Rados

I Am Ozzy is the autobiography of one of the craziest rock stars of all time, Ozzy Osbourne. While I was a fan of MTV’s The Osbournes back in the day, I wasn’t ever really a diehard fan of his music. Save for an occasional ‘Crazy Train’ karaoke indulgence.

When the book came out, I thought I’d take it for a test drive on the Kindle. And after a few pages, written in his exact tone of voice, I thought: I need to HEAR him tell this story! But alas, a voiceover actor named Frank Skinner has the honors. Yeah, you could argue that it takes a Herculean effort to make out what Ozzy’s saying. I mean, they DID have subtitles during the MTV series. But, screw it. That’s what makes him so charming and so much fun to listen to. Like Tracy Morgan, or Steven Colbert, who also have unique voices and line delivery.

Maybe Hachette didn’t want to gamble on this one. Or maybe Ozzy/Sharon didn’t want to do the recording. I doubt the latter, but it could definitely be the case.

I guess I’m rambling on this because I believe there are certain occasions where the audiobook, print, and eBook versions are multiple purchase opportunities.

Take I Am America, And So Can You. I bought the hardcover the first week it was out because I heart Mr. Colbert. Loved the book and read it from cover to cover in a no time at all. I then found I wanted to hear it from the man himself. So I bought the audiobook and used it as a distraction while I was riding passenger on #getjoeontwitter’s motorcycle. Yeah, 85 MPH with only a helmet and motojacket between me and four weeks in traction makes me a little squiggy.

Then, when I got my Kindle, one of the first books I bought for my library…was Colbert’s book. And I read it again. I’m a fan. Clearly.

My next purchase: My Fair Lazy, by Jen Lancaster, in hardcover. I already have all of her other books, follow her on Twitter, and think she’s the funniest author on the planet. If only she was actually reading her own audiobooks…I would buy that too. And the Kindle version, which isn’t up yet. HINT.

Another way to think of it: It’s a Gary V Fan thing (DRINK!). You know that fans of Gary (FOG) will buy Crush It, then buy the Vook, then watch his videos, then buy the next iteration…because they VALUE the content and want it everywhere at anytime.

What’s my point? I promise there is one: as publishers we have to think, thoroughly, about the possibilities and flexibility of our authors’ story. From the point of acquisition. While I agree it’s good to go back into the backlist and mine for digital opportunities, the meat of it belongs in the first meeting after the book is acquired. Maybe even earlier.

Makin’ moves, to a new job!

by Pablo Defendini

So on Friday, I tweeted that this Wednesday, 14 April, will be my last day working at Macmillan, as producer for Tor.com. The last two years have been an amazing ride; I’ve met and gotten to work with some incredible people in the science fiction and fantasy field, and I’ve had the opportunity to take part in growing the Tor.com site into a wonderfully diverse and engaged community for science fiction and fantasy fandom. I’ve loved being a part of the site, and feel very gratified with what we’ve accomplished, particularly with regards to creating a platform for authors to get the word out about their work, regardless of which house they’re publishing with.

So the question remains, of course: what next? Well, I’m delighted to announce that starting on 23 April, I’ll be taking on the role of Interactive Producer at Open Road Integrated Media, working on all sorts of wonderfully interesting and exciting new projects (which I can’t talk about publicly. Alas. But take my word for it, they are exciting, and they’re very interesting).

Open Road exemplifies some of the key attributes that I think are going to be crucial for publishers to not simply weather the years to come, but to thrive in this brave new digital world: a small, lean, nimble operation with an iconoclastic and focused leadership, a willingness to branch out beyond traditional print publishing disciplines and meld them with other media, and the fearlessness necessary to embrace new technology and techniques in order to spread the word about the authors that they’re passionate about.

I’m very excited to be embarking upon this new phase in my career, and really looking forward to doing my part in helping craft Open Road into one of the paragons of sleek publishing.

Typography in iBooks

by Pablo Defendini

Pursuant to my post on iBooks for iPad, here’s a fantastic overview of the serious typographic deficiencies in iBooks on iPad, specifically, and on Apple’s part, generally, over the last decade or so, by Stephen Coles on fontfeed.com:

[...]it’s exactly that part of media consumption, reading, that reveals what’s missing on the iPad: good typography.

Signs that type took a backseat in the iPad’s development were clear back in January when Steve Jobs demoed the device, revealing just four uninspired and uninformed font options in iBooks. Apple also went with full justification without hyphenation, learning nothing from the Kindle’s spacing woes. These decisions were small or unnoticeable to the millions of future iPad buyers watching the announcement. But they stuck out like a sore thumb to typographers, whose job it is to make small, unnoticeable decisions that make text easier and more enjoyable to read. For those of us who hoped that a device meant for reading would be designed for reading, with all the typographic details well-considered and implemented, the announcement was disappointing.

Well worth a read, as Coles goes into minute detail. Outside the scope of my review, but I agree with every word.

Kobo on iPad: The Dark Horse

by Pablo Defendini

I thought Blio would be the coming-up-from-behind candidate (maybe it’s because I’ve got a soft spot for Ray “the singularity is coming” Kurzweil), but so far, it’s Kobo. I’d never paid too much attention to Kobo (neé Shortcovers) before, since their ebook downloads insisted on the use of Adobe Digital Editions desktop software for reading their books on computers, and it’s no secret that I hate ADE with the fiery heat of a thousand suns (a fugly AIR app—check; cumbersome, barely working DRM—check; a typically craptacular Adobe-like software update scheme—check; a jerky and cumbersome reading experience—check; Adobe’s insistence on creating ADE-only styles and behaviours for the ePub spec—check… but I digress. Moving on…). While their iPhone app was relatively compelling, it wasn’t compelling enough to get me out of my Stanza comfort zone. Then Michael Tamblyn started to make big noise around the move to the agency model, offering specials (“Party like it’s $9.99″ was a GENIUS tagline), being very accessible and transparent about their dealings with the Agency 5, etc. If only Amazon (or hell, legacy pubishers) would take a page from his book….

Anyway. Their big push worked—at least with me—and they are now officially On My Radar. The fact that they worked their asses off to be on the iPad on day one helped to increase mindshare, in my opinion, and only makes others *ahem*B&N*ahem* who ostensibly have more resources but are still MIA look foolish by comparison (and how do I know that they worked their asses off? Because they said so. On their blog. Transparency and accessibility, remember?).

So I decided to give them a try, along with iBooks and Kindle, as the three initial ereader apps on my iPad. Here we go.

Kobo’s home screen is similar to iBooks’ home screen, in that it presents you with a bookshelf metaphor as its default view. It also offers you seven different styles for these bookshelves, which, as far as eye candy goes, isn’t a bad deal. I happen to not really dig any of them, so I stick with the default white shelves on a white background, but that’s ok—having the choices there are a nice touch. In addition to bookshelves, Kobo denotes recently-read or in-progress books by dressing them up with a bookmark, which can also be styled—you have a choice of eight styles, from the serious leather bookmark, to a silly monkeychain contraption. Again, not my cup of tea (I’m a militant minimalist), but it’s fine if you’re into that sorta stuff. The top of the home screen has three sections: “I’m Reading” invokes an overlay with whatever books are currently in-progress (which kinda seems superfluous at first, since you already have this information by seeing which of your books are bookmarked, but it makes sense once you anticipate having a couple hundred books on your bookshelf); “My Library” shows you all your books, and the “Store” link takes you to the Kobo store, in-app (more on the store below). In addition to bookshelf view, you can also look at your books in list mode, which organizes them into two columns. Both bookshelf and list view can be sorted by title, author, or recently read. On tapping a book to read, it seems that there is some sort of animation that’s supposed to happen (it looks like the book cover is supposed to grow to fill the screen, then fade out into the book proper), but I’ve yet to be able to invoke it cleanly—either the image of the cover floats off screen, or grows out of proportion, or the animation is jerky and laggy.

Reading interface

The reading interface on Kobo is clean and well-designed. On top, you’ve got the title of the book, and on tapping the center of the screen you get a slide down panel with a link back to the home screen; a link to the TOC; a link to an “overview”, which seems to be a stand-alone screen with a thumbnail of the cover and marketing copy (why I would need all this after I’ve bought a book is beyond me); and a link to your list of bookmarks. Down below, you have the chapter number, and the page count within that chapter—you never get a full page count, which is unfortunate, since I have no way of gauging how far along I am in the entire book. On tapping the center of the screen, you get a slide up panel with a slider for scrubbing within the current chapter (as opposed to through the whole book); type size and font selection popover; in-app brightness slider; a dog-earing button; and a settings button which invokes display settings and page transition options via a popover. The use of slide-up-and-down panels is different from the fade-in-and-out controls on iBooks and Kindle, and makes the app feel a bit claustrophobic when the controls are displayed. Naturally, you get both portrait and landscape view, and in landscape view you get only one column, as with Kindle. This sounds like a bad thing, but it’s not—as I mentioned yesterday, I’d much rather adjust the type size up in order to hit the 65 character per line sweet spot on a one-column landscape view, than adjust the type size down in the case of a two-column view.

Unfortunately, I’m finding Kobo to be quite crashy: it crashed on tapping on an entry in the TOC. Crashed on going back to the home screen. Crashed on the overview screen. Crash crash crash. As a matter of fact, aside from the first iteration of Evernote on iPad (they’ve since updated, and all is right with the world—I motherfucking HEART Evernote, and can’t live without it), this is the crashiest app I’ve run on my iPad. Rather unfortunate.

Customization

Kobo gives you options for page transitions, as I mention above. You can either choose a page flip, which shrinks the current page leftwards to reveal the following page underneath; a page fade, which simply dissolves the current page and reveals the following one; or page curl, which gives you the same page curling effect seen on iBooks and Kindle, but with a bottom-up rather than right-left motion. None of these transitions are particularly smooth: the page flip feels utterly unnatural as it distorts the text on a horizontal axis, the page fade is perfectly serviceable but can be disorienting, and the page curl just feels wrong, since the bottom-up motion gives the impression that you’re flipping through a top-bound notepad rather than flipping through the pages of a side-bound codex. You can also choose no transition, which just cuts from one page to the next.

You have a choice of four typefaces on Kobo: two serifs and two sans—Georgia, Baskerville, Trebuchet, and Verdana. Better selection than Kindle, but not as varied as iBooks. Additionally, you have a slider for adjusting type size, which runs from damn-near illegibly small type to bigger than Kindle but not quite as honkin’ big as iBooks. You’ve also got the ability to toggle “Night mode”, which is what Kobo calls the white-text-on-black-background mode, and you can also turn on “Kobo Styling”, which, as far as I can tell, opens up the leading (the space between lines of type) a bit on the page, but doesn’t do much else. While welcome (most books I’ve sampled on Kobo have tight, tight leading), I don’t understand the point behind it—I may very well be missing something here. Chime in in the comments if you know something I don’t.

Dictionary, Notes and Search

Are non-existent. A damned shame. ‘Nuff said.

Store

The in-app store is a good step—you can browse just-released books, NYT bestsellers (fiction and non-fic), and “Today’s Top 50″ books. There’s also a teaser ad for News & Magazine content that’s supposedly coming soon, which I find interesting and worth following up on (if I remember down the line). As with iBooks, lack of discoverability is an issue, since it seems that you can only go deep into the NYT bestseller lists, and browse by category, which seems a bit tedious, and given publisher’s, ah, issues with metadata, is probably not too practical. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, and know to search for it using the search field, you’re going to be flying blind. Additionally, once you decide to buy a book, you’re taken out of the app and into Mobile Safari in order to complete your purchase. Once more, as with the Kindle app, this may be out of Kobo’s hands, but it still gives Apple’s iBooks the leg up.

Conclusion

Kobo is a valiant first effort, but damn, is it buggy and crashy. I’m willing to overlook that for now, since they probably didn’t have a test unit on which to do real-world iPad tests (and they worked their asses off to be on iPad on day one, which counts, B&N, it fucking counts), but they’d better come out with a stable update soon, because neither Kindle nor iBooks (natch) exhibit any buggy behaviour at all, let alone full app crashes. Where Kindle and iBooks complement each other, each making up for the other’s deficiencies to a certain degree, Kobo doesn’t really add anything compelling that I’d feel like I was missing in the other apps. In an agency model world where price is no longer a differentiating factor, ereaders and retailers need to make with the value adds in other ways, and one of the best ways to do that is through a rock-solid or superior user experience. In this respect, Kobo brings nothing new to the party, unfortunately.

Kindle on iPad: The Incumbent

by Pablo Defendini

The Kindle on iPad app is an impressive improvement over the previous Kindle app for iPhone (Amazon seems to have updated the Kindle on iPhone app to match features with their iPad version. Good on them). Amazon has a lot riding on the strategy of being everywhere—considering that it’s inevitable that compared to devices like the iPad, and the slew of tablets coming out this year (like the JooJoo and the HP Slate), the Kindle device can’t help but look and feel antiquated by comparison. While I’m sure that deep within the bowels of some Amazon skunkworks or another, there is a full colour, touchscreen Kindle waiting to be unleashed upon the world, Amazon can’t wait for that device to be ready, while the iPad and its cohorts leach Jeff Bezos’ customers away.

In crafting Kindle for iPad, I’m assuming that the Kindle team took some pointers (or hell, even some code) from their late, lamented acquisition, Stanza (yeah, I know Stanza’s not really dead, it just feels that way sometimes). Kindle is a full featured ereading app which is just as good, in terms of functionality, as iBooks, minus the cheesy print book-like trappings of Apple’s software.

For starters, the home screen is useful: I can view books in icon or list mode, and I can also sort them by author, title, or recently-read. Nifty. There’s also a link to the Amazon bookstore, but more on that below. You also have the option of switching your view between locally downloaded books and your archive of Amazon purchases in the cloud, from which you can download previously bought books. There’s also a nice easter egg in there: depending on the time of day, the sky in the illustration on the home screen background changes from day to dawn/dusk to night. At night, the little reading dude’s face is awash in the glow from the ebook reader he’s holding in his hands, and the stars in the night sky twinkle (and sometimes shoot). Adorable. As far as superfluous eye candy goes, I guess I’d rather have it in the home screen than in the actual reading interface.

Reading interface

Kindle also does the page-curling effect for turning a page, like iBooks (albeit not as elegantly). However, Kindle dispenses with iBooks’ hokey imitation print book aesthetic, and devotes the entire screen to words on the page, which is a good thing. You also only get one page/column in landscape mode, which I prefer, since I can make type size larger in order to hit that typographic sweet spot of around 65 characters per line, as opposed to having to make the type smaller to achieve the same sweet spot in iBooks. The running head info is pretty straightforward and expected: on top, a button to take you back to the home screen, the title of the book, and an attractive bookmark icon, which resembles a highly stylized book ribbon. Along the bottom, you have a scrubber for navigating the book quickly; an arrow button which takes you to the last place you were in the book (in case you overdo it with the scrubber); a button which invokes a popover menu which lists the title page, the TOC, and a link to go to a specific location in the book by typing it in; a button which calls up the type size, brightness and reading styles, and a button which syncs the current place in the book with the cloud, to determine the last place read. Additionally, there is an indicator below the scrubber bar that lets you know what your location is in the book, along with a percentage of how far along you are. The percentage is good to have, since this location business is nigh-uninterpretable. I mean, why cant they just say something human-parse able, like, say “page x of y”, like iBooks does? Instead, l get “Location 2874-2879″, whatever the hell that means. Again, thank goodness for that percentage count. Another great feature is the ability to sync reading places with other Amazon-connected devices: iPhones, computers, and the Kindle hardware device. I can only hope that, if Apple ever releases a version of iBooks for the iPhone, it will also boast this very handy functionality (UPDATE, 08 Apr 1:57PM EST: Apple just announced iBooks for iPhone during their iPhone OS 4 presentation, and it will indeed offer inter-device syncing. Yay!).

Customization

Kindle’s page stylings are slightly more complete than iBooks, in some respects. For starters, it gives you three options for page display: black text on white background, a sepia-styled brown text on cream background, and the reversed white text on black background favored by people who prefer it in order to avoid eye strain. Good on Kindle for providing these options. They also include an in-app screen brightness slider. However, type sizes are limited to five choices, from legal-text small to not quite that big (especially when compared to iBooks’ largest type size, which I referred to yesterday a ‘honkin’ huge’, and I meant it). This is somewhat surprising, since one of the hardware Kindle device’s main attractions is the ability to make type really really large, which is helpful to people hard of sight. Additionally, Kindle doesn’t offer any font selections. You’re stuck with Amazon’s choice of typeface.

Highlighting and Notes

While Kindle doesn’t include dictionary or search functionality (boo), it does allow for making in-line notes on a book, which is very useful. Coupled with the ability to email documents to your device/app via Amazon’s cloud, I can see this actually being useful for editors or other people who work with text (although it’s still far, far from being any kind of robust document annotation tool, let alone actual editing). Selecting a word or passage invokes a Highlight/Note popover, from which you can type a note which shows up as a graphical superscript. There doesn’t seem to be a way to display all your notes as a list, like you can display bookmarked text in iBooks.

Store

There’s a link to the Amazon bookstore on the home screen, of course, but that simply takes you out of the app, into the Mobile Safari browser, and the regular Amazon online store. It’s cumbersome and tedious, and other than for one test purchase, I haven’t bothered buying any more books from Amazon on the iPad, especially since purchasing via iBooks is so damn simple. It’s unfortunate that Amazon’s legendary ease of purchase doesn’t translate to the iPad. I suspect that there’s some good reasons for this—I’ve heard apocryphal reports that Apple disallowed in-app purchasing for other ereader apps, and even if they haven’t, I could see how hooking an app’s in-app purchasing into Amazon’s catalogue and accounts would be challenging. That said, Amazon still has a substantial advantage: the size of its catalogue. If I can’t find something in iBooks, I’ll probably hit Amazon instead. And of course, since there isn’t a way to access the iBooks store from outside the iPad, if I’m on my computer, and I want to buy a book, Amazon is still the best game in town.

Another big drawback is, of course, Amazon’s obstinate refusal to support the ePub format. While I can load any non-DRMed ePub ebooks into iBooks, I’m stuck with Amazon’s proprietary .azw format (or, flying spaghetti monster forbid, a Topaz format book) on Kindle. While things aren’t too dire on the consumer friendliness front regarding the various flavours of book DRM on the iPad, it’s still frustrating and annoying that Amazon is trying to play that old proprietary format game that’s worked out so well for other companies (Sony, I’m looking at you, you minidisc, memory stick, .lit, atrac loving idiots).

Conclusion

In general, the Kindle for iPad app is a very good ereader, a definite and dramatic improvement over the previous Kindle on iPhone app, and oddly complementary to Apple’s iBooks—they seem to pick up each others’ slack rather neatly, and would probably make a killer ereader app if combined into some sort of a Franken-app. As it stands, the serious iPad bookworm is probably well served to have both these apps installed, instead of choosing one over the other (good thing they’re both free). Tomorrow, I’ll be covering the Kobo app, and we’ll find out if serious iPad bookworms need to add yet another reading app to their iPad.