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Ready or not

BookCamp Halifax organizers turn a page on the discussion about e-readers and physical books.


The world of books is in transition. It exists somewhere between the bound and the binary. Literary journals and news magazines have relaunched themselves as online-only editions. Apple's iPad just hit the market, joining other e-readers such as Amazon's Kindle and Indigo's Kobo.

There's plenty to discuss. At the upcoming BookCamp Halifax, a free day of group discussions will focus on various angles and impacts of this transition. Nic Boshart and Kimberly Walsh, two of the event's organizers, reflect on their reading habits and work environments in transitional times.

"I still read books in printed-on-paper form but that's only because I haven't decided which e-reader device is going to be the winner yet," writes Walsh by email (requesting the electronic exchange due to a sore throat). She's leaning to the iPad and its iBooks service. "Other than the one or two books a month that I read every month, I'd say everything else is online," continues the CBC Books associate producer.

In that role, the 36-year-old Walsh creates content and manages social media for CBC's Canada Reads and Book Club sites. Also a blogger (, she's comfortable with both print and digital material.

For Walsh, the dividing of attention is not catastrophic but cumulative. With each new tool, such as Twitter, we adapt, she says: "When we start talking about digital books or magazines and enhanced content, I see it as a natural progression of our already altered reading behaviour."

People won't abandon longer-form prose, nor hardcopy books, points out Boshart on the phone from Toronto, where he works as digital services coordinator with the Association of Canadian Publishers.

"I read a lot of science fiction," offers the 30-year-old, who's also managing editor of Invisible Publishing, an independent press partly based in Halifax. He recently got a Cobo reader and says he "fully intends to buy every science fiction e-book."

Asked what makes science fiction suited to a digital device, Boshart replies: "It's something I tear through. I like to have a lot of it and have it quickly, versus a good long piece of fiction, a novel, when I'll sit down, read and linger over it."

At ACP, Boshart helps members convert their books, including backlist titles, to digital-ready formats, such as PDFs and XML, for delivery on an e-reader, a website or storage in a searchable database. The goal is to find "what else [publishers] can use [their content] for, where else they can use it."

He doesn't think all publishers must migrate to the digital world. "Look at Drawn & Quarterly, they're never going to have to make a digital book if they don't want to. That's not their business model. They're fine. They make these big beautiful comic books people are always going to buy."

But, the potential for Drawn & Quarterly to create its own app, as Marvel Comics does, and to sell subscriptions "to all their comics," exists. At established publishing houses younger staff, who "grew up using computers, know a little HTML and are avid social networkers" are pushing to open up the electronic avenue, says Boshart.

A common complaint in reader feedback on Canada Reads, explains Walsh, was the lack of the competing books' electronic availability. "I just think that the uptake of e-readers will come quicker than some publishers are ready for and the ones who are prepared will be rewarded."

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