I’ve selected as my book of choice Bram Stoker’s Dracula. While it may not test or strain the abilities of Google Books in quite the same way as Paul Duguid’s selection, Tristram Shandy, it does offer unique ways in which to present the book in the digital format. The epistolary style could be better presented in the digital format than it has ever been in the printed editions. And while I recognize that what we are doing with this particular exercise is simply to survey how well Google Books, Project Gutenberg, HATHITrust, and/or the Internet Archive succeeded in capturing the bookness of our selected text, I still was interested to see how they would manage with such an interest on as Dracula.
Dracula is available in a wide range of formats, Project Gutenberg–as one might expect–offering the most (HTML, EPUB (without images), Kindle (likewise, no images), Plucker, QiOO Mobile, Plain-Text UTF-8, and even audio. I must say, however, the warning that the EPUB and Kindle versions lack images seems pointless as I couldn’t, in a glance through the other offerings, locate any images in any of the formats. Further, even in the PDF format offered by HATHITrust, the full text online offered by the Internet Archive or its EPUB version, or the ebooks Google presented could I find an illustrated version. This is fine by me as I can’t recall any of my editions (other than the annotated Les Klinger copy I have) having any images at all, it just seemed that if Project Gutenberg saw fit to warn me about the lack of them, they might have at least snuck in a small image of a blood-sucker somewhere or other in the other versions to make it all worth it.
The provenance or source of the digital texts is a bit spotty. For example, while Project Gutenberg assures us that their copy is based on the 1897 edition of the text and that the digital copy was published May 9, 2008 and updated September 3, 2012 there are few other specifics provided such as publisher, city of publication, or anything else that one might find on the inside of a printed copy. Google fairs a bit better, though one of their versions simple details the digital copy’s origin (Plain Label Books, Aug 30, 2007), the other proclaims that it is published by W. R. Caldwell in 1897. That particular edition even has a make of inheritance as Duguid discusses as the first page is emblazoned with “Stanford University Library, Gift of John W. Dobbins, Esq.” To be fair this is also the nearest one of the digital versions come to being illustrated as there is an image of “Castle Dracula” on the fourth page and some owls on the fifth–this is apparently the “three owl edition” of the story. HATITrust’s copy, amusingly enough, is actually one of Google’s digitized copies from the University of Michigan (and a very poorly scanned one at that, as several pages are more than half cut off at the start of the book) and of a far more recent printing (judging by the image of Bela Lugosi on the front cover). In fact, the full text version that the Internet Archive offers is actually copyrighted Project Gutenberg and seems to be the identical copy to the HTML version offered on their site with the same source and publication dates.
As I mentioned before, some of the scanning or digitizing of the copies was less than ideal. HATHITrust’s version looks as though the first scanned pages were trying to escape the scanner and no one noticed, though as that may have been the interior of the dust-jacket, it may be understandable. Google’s version from Stanford University has a few badly scanned pages with small portions of texted clipped off at the edges of pages, it appears, but nothing too apparent. The Internet Archive HTML version appears to have just been a rough cut and paste of Project Gutenberg’s as they have managed to copy the link names, but not the links, to the mp3 audio files that Project Gutenberg provided in addition to the text. The Plain Label Books edition offered on Google Books or Project Gutenberg’s own HTML editions appear to be the easiest to read, though neither has even attempted to retain the “bookness” of the book. Rather than scanned editions, they have retyped the text. The effect is, at least for me, a bit jarring as it no longer looks like a “genuine book” to me, which is to say a printed copy; however, the pages are not marred with artifacts and smudges from life on a library shelf and there are no missing parts of pages or words so in that way they are much easier to read. Nothing has been lost from the presentation in these, certainly, and Project Gutenberg has even taken the time to add hyperlinks to the table of contents so that one may jump to a desired chapter with ease.
None of the editions seem to provide an easy or obvious method to report or correct errors, though at least in the Project Gutenberg Kindle edition one was able to highlight or annotate the text–a feature that I couldn’t find on the other versions. Further, all except the poorly copied version of Project Gutenberg’s HTML offered by the Internet Archive, offered means to jump through the text. Most did this with a “go to page” field one could use, though Project Gutenberg stood out by offering the linked table of contents as well as the ability to create bookmarks. HATHITrust was also original in that it also offered the ability to view the text as a series of thumbnails.
All the versions I explored offered the ability to search within the text for given words, though the Project Gutenberg HTML required on to do this with the use of the search or find feature in one’s browser, rather than offering a specific search box for the purpose. All of the sites, with the exception of Project Gutenberg, did offer the ability to add it to a “library” if one signed into the website, however. In fact, if one preferred to read offline, all of the site offered the ability to download the text in one or more formats for later study.
Finally, while the sites offered many abilities with the text they were all about the same. None stood head and shoulders above the others in terms of affordances. This is a shame really, considering the digital medium. One was really is limited to reading the texts from start to finish or searching them for select terms. The idea of “flipping through” the text was almost non-existant for the time it took to load the scanned pages in Google Books and HAHTITrust made that impossible (while my internt could be to blame here, I doubt it, given that I’m the only one using it at the moment). Further, affordances one would have with the physical copy were no offered online–highlighting, dog-earring pages, etc. So while the possibilities ought to be almost endless with the digital version of the text, they were sadly underutilized.