22 February 2009

Manila Times column for February 22, 2009: "E-books versus audio books"

original post here.

just for the record, the original title of this is "New ways of 'reading' literature." la lang. mas type ko kasi yun kesa sa pinili nila dito. oh well...

By Libay Linsangan Cantor

E-books versus audio books

For weeks now, I’ve been asking friends what they preferred, e-books or audio books. The jury is still out, so to speak.

I asked this because patronizing one or the other entails buying the technology that supports it, and that involves some small investment. On my part, I have always been a “walkman junkie” as I grew up in the 1980s enjoying the compact mobility that my portable radio/music player afforded me. Imagine carrying a small device the size of your hand where you could play your favorite music anytime and anywhere. When the technology changed, the discman didn’t quite cut it for me due to the size of the player that had to hold the compact disc. But with the advent of the mp3 player this decade, things became small again, even smaller. Music tripping was never happier, thanks to the one gig’s worth (or more) of music at the palm of your hand. Thus, I began experimenting with audio books five years ago.

However, listening to someone read a book for me somewhat took away some of my contribution in the imagining of the novel. There were times that I wanted to see how words were written, spelled or laid out on the page, and the audio book takes away that privilege. But I guess it depends on the kind of material one “reads” as an audio book.

The e-book is another thing. This technology was introduced to me in the late 1990s when the owner of a cultural webzine I co-edited wanted to sell Filipino tales through e-books. He wanted to emulate what Stephen King did to one of his novels—made them available chapter by chapter as an e-book, where people paid for each chapter. Since ecommerce was not so hot yet that time in Manila, the project failed.

Ten years later, in the age of palm pilots and mobile phones with large screens and qwerty keypads, e-books made a comeback. Now, there are computer software you can install in your handheld electronic devices to read different ebooks formats. Amazon.com even has its own e-book reader/device called Kindle. Imagine storing a mini-library at the palm of your hand, and opening them to read anytime you are stuck in traffic, waiting at some lobby, or wherever you are. Nothing beats reading the words on a page, even if it is an electronic page.

The thing with e-books is that, like a regular book, you are required to focus more on the words, unlike with audio books where you could somehow multitask as you listened. That is what attracted me to the technology earlier.

But now, I’m still torn. What do you think?

Comments? Suggestions? E-mail libay.scribevibe@gmail.com.

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