E-readers are reinventing the ways books are read, shared and annotated
Ebooks are reinventing the way books are read and annotated. An increasing number of e-readers, including the Kindle, Kobo and the Readmill iPad app, allow readers to select pieces of text, highlight and save them, much like underlining in a traditional book – but with various advantages over a print mark-up.
Electronic bookmarks are searchable, indexable and shareable. Of the thousands of dog-ears I've made in books over the years, the ones I might actually return to are those that I can search for when I need them. On the Kindle, "popular highlights" appear in the text when a certain number of readers have bookmarked the same lines – at the moment the results aren't that exciting, but you can imagine their power when more people are doing it. When you use Readmill.com, your bookmarks appear on the web and can be compared by friends reading the same book. It could also allow teachers to share annotations with their students, or authors to add glosses to their own work.
In response, several publishers have sought to restrict the way their books can be annotated. The Kindle, for example, allows the publisher to limit how much of a book can be shared online, to allay fears of piracy. While it's just about possible to imagine texts being reassembled this way, the more likely result is to frustrate assiduous ebook annotators. Whether the coming years will see a new efflorescence of marginalia – or a readers' revolt over fair use – remains to be seen.