My Book Broke by Bob Sprankle

6/28/2012 4:59:00 AM

Readers of my posts know that I have made the move to almost entirely reading books digitally for well over a year. I have missed actual physical books for sure, but the benefits that digital offer continue to keep me "Team Digital" for the following reasons:

  • I can carry my entire library around with me on a device (Kindle Touch) that weighs less than most physical books.
  • I can perform searches in a digital book (which is so much easier than thumbing through pages... though indexes still rock).
  • I can highlight and annotate to my heart's content and have all of that work stored for me in the Cloud ( for those of you with Amazon ebooks; you can see and collect all your notes and highlights on the web).
  • In the Kindle desktop application (at least on my Mac), I can highlight and copy long passages from books to copy and paste in articles I write---with citation already included! Here's an example:

I believe that learning to live mindfully in cyberculture is as important to us as a civilization as it is vital to you and me as individuals.

Rheingold, Howard; Weeks, Anthony (2012-02-24). Net Smart (p. 1). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

Albeit, it's not what I would consider proper attribution (i.e., MLA, APA, etc. format), but at least I don't have to manually type in the quote.

There are many other positives that I could list (saves trees, takes up less space in my house, etc.) but I'll end my list with the above as I consider these my top reasons for choosing digital over physical.


The other day—a very important book that I've been reading for months, which is strongly shaping my thinking, changing my curriculum, and even having an influence on upcoming presentations I'm preparing for—broke. (If you're curious about which book, I just mentioned it above).

Physical books get damaged all the time, lost, stolen, or borrowed and never returned. My dog once ate my physical copy of Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation by Don Tapscott, destroying all my notes and highlights along with the book.

Stuff happens.

But I haven't given much thought to the tenuous nature of digital books until one got "corrupted" the other day. After all, my dog could eat my Kindle, but my book and all the marks and highlights I've worked on would still be safe "in the cloud." New Kindle and more dog training later and voila! everything is back where it should be.

I'm going to spare you the entire tale of how the book "broke," along with the 4 plus hours I spent on the phone with Amazon trying to get things worked out, especially working with them to not lose my highlights and bookmarks that I've worked so hard on (close to 900)! Let me first say, that the folks at Amazon treated me with utmost professionalism in dealing with the problem. They offered me a replacement Kindle (shipping expedited) in return for my current Kindle and have even sent me a physical copy of the book.

In short here's what happened to the book. As I was reading it, the entire Kindle froze. When I rebooted, the book's format was toast: there was absolutely no right margin and words were actually missing from the end of sentences (if the font was increased). Now this margin thing might sound trite, but try reading text on a small device without margin space on either side of it. Trust me: it's very hard to do. I should also say, that no other book on my device was affected. Having done a simple search within Amazon's Kindle forum, I found that I am not the only one who has experienced this problem... there are many others who also have, and again, only with one book, not an entire library.

Amazon folks and I (during many phone calls) tried everything to fix it (resetting the Kindle to factory default, downloading an entirely new copy of the book, etc., etc.). The customer support folk that I talked to had no solution for me, and are having a "higher level" of tech support look into the problem. I've yet to hear back from them.

Since the problem doesn't seem to lie in the actual book file (after all, they gave me a new digital copy of the book and the problem still prevailed), then I started to worry that the problem may be in the file that contains my highlights and notes (in the cloud).

I could be completely wrong here, but without a doubt, there is some file—somewhere— which has become corrupted, and there's nothing I can do about it.

So this has me wondering, and admittedly worried about the jump to digital. For instance:

  • Who really does own the book? If I can't fix the corrupted file myself, then it's up to Amazon to keep my book safe.
  • I've enthusiastically embraced the Amazon cloud for my annotations and notes, but again, they exist in the cloud. If that file(s) was to become corrupted, would they care enough to help me get my own notes back?
  • I've gone with Amazon over other ebook offerings (Nook, etc), because to me, they look like they'll win out if it comes down to final competition. For instance, even though Borders closed and made it possible for folks to continue reading the ebooks they purchased from them, the Borders brand is gone. 5 years from now, will the purchased books or notes still be available? Could this also be the case for Amazon (perhaps when Google takes them over;)? Is my digital library as safe as my physical one?
  • Since, at this point at least, I am unable to read my damaged book on my Kindle, do all the pros I've listed above still outweigh the "old-fashioned way" I used to read, with an actual highlighter and pen to take notes and mark up the text?
  • Clearly, it's a bummer to have to call customer support in order to... read a book.
To just read a book.


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