Advantages of ebooks (in an ideal world)

So I got to wondering what would happen if ebook publishers somehow had a bunch of money to make ebooks really awesome (instead of kind of lame, poorly formatted, and with limiting DRMs). What would some of the advantages of ebooks be in an ideal world?

  • Email your ebook to a friend with all your annotations/marginalia/notes attached. Or just send your notes for them to apply to their own copy of the ebook.
  • Save all your annotations/marginalia/notes for each time you read through a given book. Start “fresh” every time, but then compare your notes between different read-throughs. Or just have different sets of notes depending on what the purpose of the read-through was (e.g., reading through Middlemarch with the goal of writing an essay on realism, then reading through it later, paying more attention to references to class conflict).
  • Download other people’s annotations/marginalia of a book, like all the notes of a respected academic’s or an well-known author’s. These might possibly be available to buy, for, like, 30 cents per set. (Go go gadget “Long Tail.”)
  • A heavily annotated version of a book (like Lolita, for example, which already has heavily annotated versions and is a book with which annotations really help) in which the annotations are longer than the book itself… but reading each annotation is a painless process where you tap the screen, an annotation comes up, and then you tap the screen again to get rid of it. No flipping back and forth while trying to keep your page with one finger.
  • Compare one edition with another, flipping back and forth within the text. This would be neat for things like some Shakespeare plays which seem to have a thousand small word substitutions spread throughout.
  • Control-f. (You can pretty much do this now. Hurray!)
  • Have an academic article which keeps referencing page numbers from the 2004 Oxford edition of a book, and another that keeps referencing the 2007 Penguin edition? No problem: switch back and forth between the different paginations.
  • Heck, read an academic article that links directly to your ebook whenever it references the text. Or have books come with neat articles attached, and referenced via footnotes in the relevant parts of the text.
  • Tap the screen, plug in your earphones, and painlessly switch to the audiobook version from where you left off reading.
  • Tap a word and the official Oxford English Dictionary definition comes up. (You can do this now with e.g., Wikipedia or Websters, but not with the OED. That could probably be implemented as an app on the iPad, though, if the folks running the OED had the money and/or inclination.)
  • If an annotation mentions that the text is referencing a previous text, look up that text immediately (or, rather, the specific spot within that text), whether it’s in your ebook library or it is available through wireless.
  • Create subscriptions with a series of really advanced filters. For example, automatically download every article by X author whenever they publish in The New Yorker’s “Shouts and Murmurs” section, or download every article in the New York Times’ “Politics” section that has certain keywords in the title. Or every fiction piece in The Atlantic.  (A system or algorithm which created a price for you, based on your subscription filter, would be good.)

That’s all I’ve got, off the top of my head. This list would be even longer if ebook readers were basically computers. But who knows what’s going to happen with e-ink technology.

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