Yesterday I attended two lectures at the first ever Boston Book Festival. I heard about this all day, free event about a month ago at a Boston Arts Preview Event and I have been excited ever since. A day dedicated to books and people who love them? In my own city? I am so there.
I attended "The Future of Reading," hosted by David Pogue and "Thrillers and Killers," hosted by Jessica Stern. Apparently "The Future of Reading" was THE lecture to attend because when I arrived there were absolutely no seats remaining in the Rabb Auditorium at the Boston Public Library. Those of us who arrived out of breath at the last moment were shown into an overflow room (more of an annex) where a live feed of the lecture in the Rabb was on display. While I wish I had a better view of some of the powerpoint presentations that accompanied the talk, I did not need to see, but listen. The lecture was fascinating. Described in the program as a "look into the future, new technology will be showcased by Steve Haber of Sony, Neil Jones of Interead and Mary Lou Jepsen, founder of Pixel Qi. Google's Jon Orwant and Digital Librarian Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive will add a big picture perspective on how digitization may change everything."
Moderator David Pogue was dynamic and guided the discussion well, summarizing the key players in the field of e-readers and information digitization. Google's Jon Orwant gave an enthusiastic talk on Google's mission to digitize all of the world's published text and make it available and accessible. Similarly, Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive spoke about digitizing through the library system and the implementation of bookmobiles globally to make literature accessible. Within the scope of the Internet Archive, a book can be printed and bound in said bookmobile for less than a dollar and so the Internet Archive effectively gives copies away. Kahle showed a picture of a man living in a third world company, who, through the bookmobile, came to own his first book ever. That is amazing and incredibly powerful.
Part of the challenge organizations like Google and the Internet Archive face in digitization of all these texts is copywright law. To summarize, about 10% of all published material is in the public domain, which very simply means that it has been a really long time since it was published, so no one person owns it anymore. Another 20% of all published works are currently in print and under copywright law, so those texts cannot be shared through the same free methods as that first 10%. What this means, is that about 70% of all the texts ever published are out of print, but under copywright, so they are not easily accessible unless a library has it or it's hidden in the treasure trove of a used bookstore. Eventually, organizations like Google and the Internet Archive want to make all this information accessible to everyone. In terms of research, learning and sharing knowledge, this mission is wonderful, however, there are severe copywright ramifications. Maybe a writer only cares about getting his/her ideas out in the world and losing royalties is no issue, but other writers need to make a living wage and want sole ownership over their product. Does the pursuit of knowledge and curiousity trump another's right to profit from their creative product?
The other half of the lecture featured folks like Steve Haber of Sony. Haber spoke about Sony's new e-reader, somewhat trying to sell his product. Pogue questioned the compatibility of file formatting on different e-readers, like Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook, and the superiority of one e-reader over another. Additionally, Pogue highlighted the relatively small number of available digital texts compared of all published works. Furthermore, e-readers have a long way to go to become truly accessible. Haber and Kahle spoke about the idea of lending e-books to friends or through the library system and Pogue indicated he would like to resell e-books, much like one would a hardcopy. As it stands, an e-book is a static product, not easily shared. It was really exciting and fascinating to hear about the vision for digitization of text and where people in the field see the relationship of the reader to the text going. Many proponents of e-readers in general feel that e-readers promote more reading because the device allows the reader to interact with the text in a dynamic way with the ability to highlight, lookup words and learn more about the people and places featured in texts. Creating this complex reading system will take time, but could completely change the way we read.
The second lecture I attend, "Thrillers and Killers" fell short of my expectations. The write up about this panel reads "Spies, operatives and terrorists: what makes them tick and why do they fascinate us?" yet the discussion quickly devolved into a general talk on the art of writing, led by superfan Jessica Stern. While Stern may be extremely accomplished, she did not lead an effective and interesting discussion, but rather let the panel ramble and mumble through half-answers to non-probing questions. None of the authors offered much insight into the pyschopathic characters the panel topic hits towards.
Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to explore the Boston Book Festival and all it had to offer, but I will definitely be back next year.