Wallpaper, Toilet Paper or ePaper?

Friday, January 13th, 2006
After nearly two weeks off the blog, I finished writing a paper that addresses this question and this week, I presented my research to my cohort in a fast-paced 50-slide, 12 minute, Dick Hardt-style presentation. I'd like to publicly thank my friend, Bruce Elgort for the inspiration and the excellent example at the LVNUG.  I think my presentation went very well, though I would have liked to have rehearsed it a bit more. I recorded the presentation, however, I've not listened to it yet. Perhaps when I have some free time, I'll put it on-line, though by now, you're probably tired of my blogging on this subject. I should probably find something else to write about for a while.

I really enjoyed my business law course, even though it was only a "survey" of the topic. I have a renewed admiration for the legal profession. I think one of my most useful takeaways from this course, in addition to what I learned about business law, was learning how to use the IRAC format to analyze cases. This is a great critical thinking tool that can be applied to almost any situation.


With respect to the photo above, the doctrine of First Sale permits me to do whatever I want with the physical book that I purchased - except for copying it. The Fair Use Exemption of the Copyright Law, however, provides guidelines for whether (or not) a copyrighted work may be copied without the permission of the copyright holder. Basically, there are four elements to the fair use consideration. These are: Purpose, Nature, Amount, and Effect. I believe that I made a compelling case that scanning my legally acquired (that is, paid for) textbook for my own personal noncommercial use, sufficiently meets the criteria to fall within the fair use exemption. *

So what?

Scanning a book is not for everyone. I outlined the process I used to make a digital version of my textbook. While the processed worked very well, you have to really want to have your book in digital form to go through the effort of scanning it.  In my case, this was a part of a larger experiment to see if I could survive an 8-week course without the use of paper, pens, or books. It worked. I did. (I did print copies of my final paper for final review and editing on the night before I handed in my paper, but that's it.)  I see that Tracy, over at Student Tablet PC recently blogged about her approach to book scanning. I prefer not to destroy my book in the process. I paid over $150 for my book and I'm not about to tear it up. It's going on my bookshelf in my library.  Even though I'm increasingly digital, I still enjoy looking at and holding a real book now and then.

It would be much easier if publishers would simply make their materials available for sale in PDF form so that they can be searched and marked up on Acrobat. Considering that my textbook cost me over $150 and the time and effort to scan it only added to the cost, I would gladly have paid a fee in addition to my book's purchase price to receive a CD with the electronic version of the text along with my book. Publishers, are you listening?

Michael Hyatt's been blogging lately about the death of traditional book publishing and how publishers need to wake up to the call for electronic versions of their holdings. I'm glad to see Michael leading the charge on this. I think this is a good move for publishers and consumers, both. Many publishers are beginning to offer electronic versions of their materials. I excited to see this. I hope that they stick with PDF as a format. While I'm willing to pay dead-tree prices to purchase a PDF that I know I can reference in the future, I'm not willing to do the same for a proprietary format.

In the end, I think that I received benefit in knowledge and experience that made this experiment worthwhile. I proved to myself that I could get through an eight week class, using only my Tablet PC. For me, this exercise was a resounding success.

I really appreciate the comments and advice offered by many of the people I met along the way, including publishers, authors, and even a few attorneys. This was an informative and valuable research experience. Most of the people I contacted responded - either with a blog entry or a personal email. I'm disappointed that the publisher of the book that I chose for this experiment - McGraw-Hill - did not even acknowledge my written request for information and comment on this issue. Even the U.S. Copyright office and the Copyright Clearance center wrote back to me, first with automated responses, then with a follow-up e-mail. Oh well. My paper's done. It would have been nice to have included their comments in my paper.

What about my paperless challenge?

As far as my paperless challenge, it was a success I've been collecting my thoughts on this experience in a mind map to use, perhaps in a future blog or podcast on this topic. Perhaps when Michael gets back from his vacation.

Do I plan to continue with my paperless challenge? Yes, I do. When I started, I was a bit skeptical; OK I was very skeptical. First for whether it would work and, more important,  whether I would stick with it long enough to find out. I'm glad that I did. I don't think it's really practical to go 100% paperless, but I do think that I can quickly take the lesson's I've learned to hit the 80% mark over what I did in my pre-Tablet PC days.

I would like to hear about how you are using technology to reduce your paper utilization. Comments and ideas welcome!


Obligatory disclaimer: I'm not an attorney, nor am I offering any legal advice by sharing my paperless challenge and experience scanning my course textbook. If you'd like to understand more about the Copyright Law and the Fair Use exemption, here's a helpful
web site.  I will offer this advice; I encourage you to consult this checklist from the Copyright management center of Indiana University (or an attorney) before scanning any books to see if your intended application falls within the Fair Use Exemption..

Discussion/Comments (5):

Wallpaper, Toilet Paper or ePaper?


Whilst it is a pain in the katooch to scan a book in, I have found that I can easily quote items for discussion in class by cutting and pasting the information into my paper. As a three finger touch typist this saves me time.

I have also found that having the tablet with me at all times I read my course material more often and am so much more productive in the note taking as I go.

As for the publishers up charging for digital format ... That's crazy. They have it in digital form already in order to output to plate. They simply re-purpose the data to an ebook or pdf and charge the same amount ... No ink, press, distribution, delivery, or marketing fees... Ergo lower overhead and a happy customer.

Now what do we do about those pesky displaced workers.


Posted at 1/13/2006 8:53:32 AM by Karl McKinnon

Pricing of electronic books


I share your point of view that electronic books (eBooks) should be priced significantly less that traditional dead-tree books. I think that when they do, and when suitable hardware exists to make them easy to read, more people will avail themselves of books in electronic format.

Meanwhile, I also understand that publishers are only going to pursue the avenue of digital publishing if a) they believe that they can make lost of money doing so, or b) if they believe that doing so will prevent them from losing lots of money.

I want to give the publishers as much incentive as possible to offer their books as PDF files that I can use on my Tablet PC. That's why I'm not complaining about the price. At least not now.

I know that once we get a power-publisher (Apple? Thomas Nelson?) seriously committed to the electronic book marketplace, we will begin to see better values in prices of electronic books. Right now, I just want to see the books that I'm already purchasing in electronic format.

Thanks for your comments!


Posted at 1/13/2006 7:08:01 PM by Eric Mack

Wallpaper, Toilet Paper or ePaper?

A great post.

Have you, by any chance, tried to write to the book author, as opposed to the publisher, McGraw-Hill?

Posted at 1/19/2006 3:41:59 AM by Pascal Venier

re: Wallpaper, Toilet Paper or ePaper?

No, Pascal, I did not write to the book's author. I decided to write to the publisher, McGraw-Hill, because, as I understand it, it is the publisher that holds the copyright to the book. I was disappointed that the publisher did not respond to my inquiries - not even an automated response. Even the U.S. Copyright office acknowledged my email.
In any case, it's a moot point as I've completed the law course. Once I review my notes from this course, I'll put the book on my shelf with my notes inside.
Hopefully, the next time I need to deal with this, publishers will offer their books in PDF form so that I can mark them up.
I want to thank you for your question, many weeks ago, which was the inspiration for my research into this subject. I received an excellent score for my research and presentation. Thanks!

Posted at 1/19/2006 4:45:45 AM by Eric Mack

Wallpaper, Toilet Paper or ePaper?

Eric, you may be interested in what Pragmatic Programmer are doing with eBooks.

You can purchase the (physical) book either online or from your local book store, or you can purchase the book+PDF combo from their website. Additionally--and this really is the kicker--your purchase (anywhere) of the physical book entitles you to 60%-off the price of the PDF version.

So, you can buy the book and then visit their website to get the PDF. Ideally I'd like the PDF to be complimentary (as I consider the price of the book should more-than-cover the small cost involved), but this is a great step forward.

Posted at 1/28/2006 10:41:07 PM by Calrion

Discussion for this entry is now closed.