Talkin’ Bout My Addiction…

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

… to Marginalia.

Wow. My workload distracts me from for a few days and I come back to a new editor (*waves* Hello to Dan Eldridge!)  and a blog entry titled  Does Anyone Care About eReader Annotation?

I’ve been annotating eBooks as long as the eReading apps have had the features (and we’re going back to Palms here). Annotation features have improved exponentially in the last 10 years.

Alan Jacobs makes valid points about annotations and marginalia. However, the rest of the article comes off as whiny. For those of us with serious highlighter addictions, we will do whatever it takes to find a way to markup our eBooks, whether we need to convert them to PDF, import them into an app, or decide which eBook eReading app to use on our devices.

Anything I have to highlight or take notes about gets uploaded to the cloud where I can access the file with my computer, iPad, Kindle Fire, or Nook Tablet. It’s that simple.

I’ve used the following apps for PDF annotations on the iPad (in no particular order):

PDFExpert, ReaddleDocs, iAnnotatePDF, Goodreader, Remarks, and Cabinet. I’m currently favoring Cabinet for PDF files, although Goodreader is probably the easiest one to use of the entire pack when it comes to creating native PDF annotations.

Remarks and Cabinet work very well for annotating image-based (scanned, but not OCR’d) PDF files. All of the apps mentioned above will let me highlight, scribble, and draw all over my books (which I do on a regular basis).

There are many things about iBooks that require improvement. Though, they nailed the highlighting feature. Select and drag to highlight. Works perfectly. Unfortunately, I can’t scribble snarky remarks in the margins where I can actually see them without expanding the note.

Lately, I’ve found that I prefer to read my Kindle technical/work books on my Kindle Fire because the highlighting experience is _almost_ close to what iBooks does. Select and drag, but you still have to press a highlight button. I’ve gotten very good at doing this quickly, so it’s not that big a deal to me.

The two environments not conducive to eBook annotations are moving cars and trains. Too much vibration and swaying results in the inability to accurately select text, which often results in an unintended page turn. Bummer. Good thing I carry an eInk reader with me with a stash of genre novels – the one type of content I don’t annotate.

Unintended page turns are annoying, but I don’t run into the problem too often in iBooks, or when reading native Kindle books on my Kindle Fire, or native Nook books on my Nook Tablet.

I would love to write snarky notes in the margins of my Nook and Kindle books. But I can write those snarky notes when I’m reading on my iPad or my Sony TRS-1.

<side_note>BTW – the Sony TRS-1 has limited memory for marginalia and highlighting. I found out the hard way. Guess I’ll have to move that book over to another reading app that doesn’t have the same restrictions.</side_note>

My point, and I do have one, is that marginalia, annotation, and snarky comments while reading are like breathing to me. It’s how I pay attention, how I remember things, how I learn. I’m not going to give it up because of my reading medium.

Marginalia and annotations are the reason I prefer to buy most of my technical and business books, rather than use the library. It’s an expensive habit, but not one I plan to quit. The benefits outweigh the expense.

Do I have app pet peeves around annotations? Of course. I tend to avoid using apps that trigger my pet peeves. For instance, selecting a word, dragging little bubbles to complete the selection, and tapping “highlight” is annoying. Apps that require me to create a note in order to highlight a passage are also annoying. Too many steps.

I use so I can highlight web pages on my desktop and my iPad. It would be crazy genius if diigo or Evernote ever got around to letting me annotate PDF’s too. Then I’d have a whole bunch of my notes in one place…

I have never understood how anyone could release an eReading app without annotation features. I have pleaded with multiple app developers to bump annotations up on their roadmaps.

I just don’t get how annotations and highlighting are not seen as a fundamental, must have feature in all reading apps. It’s a helluva lot more useful to me than bookmarks or syncing.

And here’s where the rubber meets the road: I started a new job in January, and the amount of paper I had to recycle from my previous position was ridiculous compared to the size of my home office. I made a deal with myself that I would try to become a digital content purist. Seven months later, I’m sitting here surrounded by screens and devices. My printer is dusty.

I’ve found it easy to keep my promise to myself. I will resort to paper, but only when there is no other option. So far, this has only been for titles that are totally out-of-print, or totally unavailable as an eBook.

Bottom line: I’ve devised a digital marginalia, annotation, and note taking system that works for me, based on the tools available to me.

Does anyone care about e-reader annotation? YES! And I happily (and adamantly) advocate for the inclusion and improvement of annotation tools in all digital content reading apps and devices.

Expert Publishing Blog
Jean Kaplansky

About Jean Kaplansky

Jean Kaplansky is a Solutions Architect at Aptara, which provides digital publishing solutions to content providers for capitalizing on new digital and mobile mediums. Jean is an avid reader and early adopter of eBooks and eBook-related technology, going back to 1996. Her publishing production past includes work as an XML Architect for Cengage Learning, a Systems Analyst for Pfizer Global Research and Development, and an XML Consultant at Arbortext. Jean’s introduction to typography and publishing production involved a calculator, some printed galleys, and a pica stick back in 1992. Follow her occasional tweets at @JeanKaplansky.

4 thoughts on “Talkin’ Bout My Addiction…

  1. Kristi

    Can you actually handwrite notes onto ebooks using the apps you mention? If so, I just might get an ereader …

    1. Jean Kaplansky

      Hi Kristi –

      You can actually handwrite notes with a stylus on the Sony TRS-1 Reader eInk device. Kindle, B&N, Kobo, and iBooks do not support freehand drawing and writing, though. I don’t use my Sony TRS-1 Reader to annotate books, though, because of the space limitations, and the fact that I tend to use this reader for pleasure reading rather than work/study reading.

      This is where PDF files come in handy. If I have a book I know I’m going to want to draw all over (and I do this with some of my tech. books, or anything else I’m formally “studying”), then I try to get the source as a PDF file so I read in one of the iPad PDF apps I mention above.

      Unfortunately, I have yet to find an Android app with the same level of support for annotation features. I was actually attempting to do this on my Kindle Fire last night, but wasn’t happy with any of the apps that I tried. I looked in the Google Play store for such an app in a while, though, so I may have to go searching with my Galaxy Player 5.0 to see what I can find.

      Oh… And for those of you who think an iPhone/iPod is too small, and a 7 inch tablet is too big, you may find the new breed of 5″ tablets and phones just right. I really like reading on my Galaxy Player 5, and I get the nice advantages of the note taking features that I wouldn’t normally try to use on an eInk reader.

      Hope this helps.

  2. Adam

    Hi Jean,
    More questions on the Sony e-reader. As an academic editor this sounds just what I’m looking for (no back lit screen)….
    1. How does it display PDF files? Will I need to horizontally scroll? Is there room in the margins for notes on a PDF?
    2. If I scribble notes all over a page can I save it so the notes will show on a PC?

  3. Jean Kaplansky

    Hi Adam –

    Unfortunately, I don’t recommend reading PDF files on any eInk readers, Sony or otherwise. The technology is not well suited for PDF page sizes, and most of the readers do not include annotation functionality specifically for PDF files.

    I only advise reading PDFs on tablets with displays at least as large as an iPad. You can squeak by with a 7 inch tablet, but annotations are still going to be an issue without a dedicated app. The apps are available in the iOS world (I’m bouncing between GoodReader, PDFPen, and Cabinet these days). I haven’t had as much luck finding one I really like in the Android world, although qPDF and Adobe Reader seem to do most of what I want to do. I’ve tried some of the others out there and wasn’t all that impressed with stability or feature set.

    In a dedicated PDF app that supports PDF annotations you should be able to do any of the natively supported PDF annotations and have those annotations transfer back to your computer. Not all of the PDF reading solutions out there have native PDF annotations, though, so you need to be careful to read the fine print for any app that you may review.

    Hope this helps.

    Best Regards,
    Jean Kaplansky



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