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I Heart WikiBooks

Posted on 29th May 2010 at 11:21 by Joe Martin with 21 comments

Joe Martin
I’m a big believer in eBooks, not just because I think that’s inevitably the future of publishing in the same way that digital distribution is the future of the games industry, but also because there’s something that just appeals to me about eReaders themselves. It probably comes from watching too much Star Trek as a kid.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that conventional books are obsolete and I’m not saying that within two years we’ll have be carrying Kindles in our backpockets. I still buy 99.9 percent of my books in their traditional format, just like I still buy games on discs every now and then, but I do recognise digital formats as the future.

Anyway, one of my most recent sources of digitally digested delight has been Wikibooks. They are awesome.

Wikibooks are basically what they sound like – books made either from Wikipedia or from free content textbooks that suit the purpose. When stored online they function as nothing more than a hyper-linked table of contents for pre-existing pages, which isn’t all that great. What they’re really intended for though is use on eReaders, so you can download the books in a few different file formats and have the entire Wikibook available wherever you go. Basically, it’s free text books which you can download either as .PDFs, raw text or in printable formats.

I Heart WikiBooks
I couldn't think of a good picture, so here's one of my favourite book; Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man

The topics covered at the moment are nearly all educational and are mostly suited to very niche topics, like Basic Physics of Nuclear Medicine, but there’s an increasing number of more general topics. There are textbooks to help you learn how to make games or which teach you How to Assemble a PC. There are books which collect the History of the Elder Scrolls Games or which tell you Everything You Need To Know About Half-Life.

Admittedly, there are issues. It’s Wikipedia, so you shouldn’t assume the information is faultless and the books are somewhat clumsily divided into Wikibooks (proper textbooks) and Wikipedia Community books (collections of Wikipedia articles), but for me the positives outweigh the negatives. eReaders are already pretty cool things, so being able to carry around free cookbooks or the History of Superman only makes them cooler in my eyes.

21 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
Er-El 29th May 2010, 16:59 Quote
I love Wikibooks. I started to learn C programming from a wikibook.
perplekks45 29th May 2010, 17:14 Quote
I still am not impressed with eBooks and eReaders.
frontline 29th May 2010, 17:45 Quote
I was sceptical for a while, but purchased a Sony PRS-300 pocket reader recently and love it. Within minutes i had downloaded 150 free books, including works by Shakespeare, Dickens, H G Wells etc.

The only down side is the price of most e-books from the likes of Amazon and Waterstones etc, there should be more of a saving when compared to the paper version, particularly on those books that have been out for a few years and the author/publisher has already recouped a decent amount in sales.
l3v1ck 29th May 2010, 22:28 Quote
Paper books FTW!
They're just so much nicer to read.
It's not the same as digital media such as music or films. There the end experience of the user is identical to the hard copy. The music on a CD is the same a high quality MP3, a film on DVD has the same viewing experience as a film downloaded over the internet.
But Ebooks are different. The user experience is just lower than when reading a book.
frontline 29th May 2010, 23:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by l3v1ck

But Ebooks are different. The user experience is just lower than when reading a book.

There really isn't any difference to be fair, the quality of the e-reader screens are generally excellent, easy to read and you don't even notice the difference in experience.

Saying that, i will still buy books in their usual format as well.
_Metal_Guitar_ 30th May 2010, 01:16 Quote
I think there is a difference. Music, films and games are all electronic, unless you go to a gig. Books are a good way of not looking at a screen for a while.

And they never run out of juice if you forget to charge them.

That said, I have no doubts that eBooks are the future. Until all the publishers and authors start complaing about piracy, of course.
Xir 31st May 2010, 10:38 Quote
After having read straight through the entire free Scifi/alternate history collection at BAEN and beeing somewhat underwhelmed by the choice in Project Gutenberg (Mostly very, very old stuff) I find this project also lacking "readable" books.
Are you sure Alfred Bester is in there?
steveo_mcg 31st May 2010, 12:54 Quote
What exactly is wrong with "Very, very old stuff"?

Thanks to some chat on here i've discovered Aldiko for Android and found that having the book your currently reading on hand at all times makes it that much easier to get through, i never seem to have time to sit down and read a novel.

The fact that there is a full catalogue of public domain books available makes it an excellent way of reading through the classics with out having to spend money to find you're not really that keen on war and piece. As we speak i'm currently working my way through the journals of Doctor Watson concerning his adventures with Mr Sherlock Holmes.
CardJoe 31st May 2010, 20:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xir
After having read straight through the entire free Scifi/alternate history collection at BAEN and beeing somewhat underwhelmed by the choice in Project Gutenberg (Mostly very, very old stuff) I find this project also lacking "readable" books.
Are you sure Alfred Bester is in there?

No, Bester isn't in there. As the caption says, he's only linked to because The Demolished Man is my favourite book - it doesn't qualify as an Wikibook - which, if you read the article, is mostly built out of textbooks and article collections.
Hamish 31st May 2010, 21:20 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by l3v1ck
Paper books FTW!
They're just so much nicer to read.
It's not the same as digital media such as music or films. There the end experience of the user is identical to the hard copy. The music on a CD is the same a high quality MP3, a film on DVD has the same viewing experience as a film downloaded over the internet.
But Ebooks are different. The user experience is just lower than when reading a book.
disagree, i prefer reading on my eReader even when i have a paper copy of the book
for manybe reasons but not limited to
weight - my ereader is lighter than all but the thinnest paperback and i prefer long books anyway
convienence - i can very easily 1-handed read and flip pages on my ereader, in fact i can flip pages on my ereader without taking my hands out from under the duvet on a cold night
font-size - this is a really minor point but it bugs me when you get a book thats printed in 18pt font or some **** and you have to turn pages every 2 seconds, on my ereader i can set font to minimum and every book is in that size. the inverse applies too if you have bad eyesight or something so you can set the font size higher

there are basically no downsides that i've experienced so far
stuartpb 31st May 2010, 21:25 Quote
I have always seen myself as being pretty tech savvy and someone who embraces new tech readily, but I have never been able to get into e-readers, e-books etc. In this respect I am still very much a printed form lover. It's the same when I am studying too, with e-journal articles, I have to print them off to read them.
Xir 1st June 2010, 09:29 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by steveo_mcg
What exactly is wrong with "Very, very old stuff"?

The dutch section is pretty much medieval :D
Comparable to Shakespeare in "Ye Olde Engishshshsh" That's what I meant by "Old"
There's nothing wrong with it, i've read some of it, but it's not exactly a light read.

Sherlock holmes and co. I'd probably read in English anyway, so I'll check that out.
steveo_mcg 1st June 2010, 10:09 Quote
ah you meant old ;)
lacuna 1st June 2010, 11:55 Quote
Quote:
I’m a big believer in eBooks, not just because I think that’s inevitably the future of publishing

Urgh, I hope not but your're probably right. The 'future' is all about trading in quality for convenience and charging people more for the privilege of owning less.

Last time I checked a new released album from itunes cost more than the CD from amazon. I can't understand this at all, regardless of what 'lossless' format you download the file in you will inevitably still ruin in by playing it from an mp3 player of straight from the computer. Its the same story with films.

Im not sure I see the point in those wiki things either. I have the 'wikipanion' application on my phone so what is the need to carry around a bulky ebook reader when the information is so easily accessible anyway?

Regardless of this there are more real books in publication than I will ever be able to read in my life so I need not concern myself with being forced to 'get with the times'
Xir 1st June 2010, 14:15 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by steveo_mcg
ah you meant old ;)

Well if you consider 16something only old and not very, very old.
Dutch language has been around since 11something...runes before that.
16something "modern" dutch was noted.
I guess the bible is very old then (not the merely "old" new testament), and for very, very old you've got to learn babylonian runes.:D

Apropos Babylonian...King Gilgamesh of Uruk is a nice read :D
Hamish 1st June 2010, 16:43 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by lacuna

Last time I checked a new released album from itunes cost more than the CD from amazon. I can't understand this at all, regardless of what 'lossless' format you download the file in you will inevitably still ruin in by playing it from an mp3 player of straight from the computer. Its the same story with films.

Im not sure I see the point in those wiki things either. I have the 'wikipanion' application on my phone so what is the need to carry around a bulky ebook reader when the information is so easily accessible anyway?

how is playing a lossless format back through a PC going to ruin it compared to a CD?
sure if you play it back using some ghetto onboard sound from the 90's and £20 pc speakers it will sound ****
but if you spend £20 on an alba cd player from argo your cd will sound ****
theres no reason you cant get hifi sound out of a PC ( digital out -> external dac -> amp -> speakers)
and how is it possibly the same story for films?
hdmi out from a blu-ray player or hdmi out from a pc? oh look its exactly the same quality for a given source :|

wikibooks is not so much about having wikipedia on an ereader as textbooks and the like
eg. http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Category:GCE_Advanced_Level a whole selection of A-level textbooks

edit: i agree with you on the cost thing tho
charging the same or more for an ebook is ridiculous
personally i'd like to see some kind of nominal extra fee to get an ebook version when i buy a physical book
buy paperback for £5-6 pay 50p on top to get ebook version would be awesome
for someone like amazon this would be trivial but in the end it all comes down to publishers being dicks :(
phuzz 1st June 2010, 17:37 Quote
It's worth pointing out Charlie Stross's series of articles on the publishing industry here, especially the one about eBooks.
Short version, about 90% of the costs of a book are to do with publishing and admin, the cost of printing on actual dead trees is a tiny part of it, so you shouldn't expect eBooks to be magically cheaper. Also, right now the eBook market is less than 1% of the total book market, so publishers don't give a crap about ebooks, yet.
frontline 1st June 2010, 21:00 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by phuzz
It's worth pointing out Charlie Stross's series of articles on the publishing industry here, especially the one about eBooks.
Short version, about 90% of the costs of a book are to do with publishing and admin, the cost of printing on actual dead trees is a tiny part of it, so you shouldn't expect eBooks to be magically cheaper. Also, right now the eBook market is less than 1% of the total book market, so publishers don't give a crap about ebooks, yet.

Surely the storage and distribution costs (whether publisher or retailer) added to the printing costs are a major factor? I can't imagine that it is cheap to ship paper books in bulk. What about when stores order in individual copies of a book. That outlay must be passed onto the buyer? An e-book need never be out of print or out of stock.
phuzz 2nd June 2010, 11:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by frontline
Surely the storage and distribution costs (whether publisher or retailer) added to the printing costs are a major factor? ...
That is what I thought, but apparently not, I only know what I've read though.
whisperwolf 2nd June 2010, 13:42 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by frontline
Surely the storage and distribution costs (whether publisher or retailer) added to the printing costs are a major factor? I can't imagine that it is cheap to ship paper books in bulk. What about when stores order in individual copies of a book. That outlay must be passed onto the buyer? An e-book need never be out of print or out of stock.

I think Stross looks at it from a publisher's/Author's viewpoint. For Paperbacks in the biggest market (USA) I believe the vast majority are sold as Mass Market Paperbacks, the publisher makes a print run and ships them to the wholesalers and large customers. I Don't think the publisher will have large warehouses and send 1 or 2 books to individual stores. Also the actual print edition is cheap, so cheap that if the book doesn't sell the shops can strip the front cover and pulp the book, sending the cover back to the publisher and getting a refund, It's another reason why bookshops don't really have big sales on paperbacks, they don't need too as its a sale or return market. But yeah the majority of costs to the publisher aren't Shipping and printing.
Also thanks to how dum our government is in the UK books have no VAT (yay) but ebooks do (boo) so that's a 17.5% price increase straight away.
frontline 3rd June 2010, 01:18 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by whisperwolf
Quote:
Originally Posted by frontline
Surely the storage and distribution costs (whether publisher or retailer) added to the printing costs are a major factor? I can't imagine that it is cheap to ship paper books in bulk. What about when stores order in individual copies of a book. That outlay must be passed onto the buyer? An e-book need never be out of print or out of stock.

I think Stross looks at it from a publisher's/Author's viewpoint. For Paperbacks in the biggest market (USA) I believe the vast majority are sold as Mass Market Paperbacks, the publisher makes a print run and ships them to the wholesalers and large customers. I Don't think the publisher will have large warehouses and send 1 or 2 books to individual stores. Also the actual print edition is cheap, so cheap that if the book doesn't sell the shops can strip the front cover and pulp the book, sending the cover back to the publisher and getting a refund, It's another reason why bookshops don't really have big sales on paperbacks, they don't need too as its a sale or return market. But yeah the majority of costs to the publisher aren't Shipping and printing.
Also thanks to how dum our government is in the UK books have no VAT (yay) but ebooks do (boo) so that's a 17.5% price increase straight away.

I understand what you're saying in terms of print runs and pulping of unsold copies, but it is still all a bit of a guessing game in terms of potential sales and wastage in terms of unsold copies. However there is a large market for ordering in books that the store doesn't have in stock, either because it is out of print and rare or just out of stock and that must be a significant cost either to the buyer or retailer?

Don't get me wrong, i love reading and have accumulated a lot of paper books, however i do think that anything that can both maintain the interest in reading and reduce costs to the publisher and buyer has got to be a good thing.
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