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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why would i e-bother?

Thanks to a RT by @amy751, I read an article this morning about and the fact that more customers are now purchasing e-books than hardcovers. I am not sure how I feel about this. I love books. The weight of them, the smell of the paper, the way you can just almost feel the typeface on the page.

One thing I can say for sure is that I'm surprised. Not that I thought that the average Amazon customer would have the same sentiments toward printed matter as me. It's just that in my limited experience with e-readers, I've gotten to thinking that they...well, I think they kinda suck. Cheap, plastic cases, tiny screens and clumsy navigation buttons.

I should mention that I'm comparing them to the iPad. If Amazon is selling all these e-books to iPad users, I'm not really surprised at all. Reading on an iPad is so much more like reading an actual book. You turn the pages as if they were paper. The size of the reading area is truer to your average hardcover.

The only real problem with the iPad for me is the fact that I live in Canada. Between 1) the exorbitant cost of a) the iPad itself and b) iBooks (selling an eBook for 9.99 when I can get the same title in hardcover for 4.99 in the bargain aisles at Chapters is lame), and 2) the sad selection of books available for the iPad in Canada, it's hardly even worth thinking of it as an e-reader at this point.

Even so, I still can't see myself reading from a Kindle or a Kobo or a whatever. Meanwhile, my iPad is a permanent fixture in my gear when I leave the house for the day. Anyway, just some things to think about for the moment. I'd be interested to hear what anyone else thinks.



  1. There's a variety of reasons I pretty much hate e-readers. I think it's awful to take a fairly democratic form (new books are expensive but you can get bargain or used books for very cheap and of course free books from the library) and make it so that you need to own a device that costs several hundred dollars in order to read them. That barrs low-income people from the experience and also strikes me as a waste of resources (I can think of a number of ways I'd prefer to spend $200; why buy a device to read books, something that my hands and my eyes do perfectly well and for free?)

    I wonder about DRM controls. One of the beauties of actual books is you can loan them to friends. Copies of my favourites have been in a dozen hands over the years. Similarly I have been exposed to wonderful texts when I have been the recipient of loans. If I find out my friend has never read 100 Years of Solitude, can I loan my e-book copy?

    I love marginalia. One of the neat things about buying second-hand books is you often find little notes from strangers in the margins. These are like meeting fellow travellers on the road, lovely signs that other people have been here before and were intellectually and emotionally invested in the experience you are now having. This is especially so for intergenerational marginalia -- marginal notes in old books are like time capsules of the mind.

    Similarly, I like to make marginal notes; I understand this is a function some e-readers allow, but I doubt the experience translates well.

    I worry about the demise of the physical book store, if book purchases become downloads. So many good books I've read have been serendipitous bookstore discoveries. You are browsing, a title or a cover catches your eye, you pick it up, flip it open, read a few pages, perhaps decide to pick it up, perhaps decide to put it back. Browsing a website is just not the same.

    Also, bookstores are such important centres of book culture. Readings, signings, conversations about books, the general quiet meditative atmosphere. What a loss to our society it'd be if bookstores became anachronistic.

    Ditto the physical bookshelf. Books are beautiful objects. A well-stocked bookcase is a lovely thing. When you are visiting someone's home for the first time, spending a minute perusing their bookshelves will tell you so much about their personality, thoughts, experiences, the very formation of their character and personality. A good bookcase is the starting point for a hundred conversations. Being linked to someone's profile is just not the same.

    I take a little heart that Kindle titles have outpaced "hardcovers" and not "physical books" in general. I only buy new hardcovers if they're deeply, deeply discounted or if they are a gift or a vanity object. I'll save the true dismay for when softcovers/paperbacks are knocked off from top spot (may the day never come).

  2. The main reason to bother with an actual ebook reader is the e-ink display. I look at an LCD display all day at work, and I wouldn't want the additional eye strain from reading books on one too. The e-ink is like reading a paper book, only lighter, and easier to fit in my bag.

    I've read more on my Kobo in the last 2 months than I probably have in the 6 months before.

  3. If someone asked me to summarize my fears about the possibility of e-readers fully replacing books, I'd like to think I'd say something like what you just wrote there, Michael Collins. A big thank you for the thoughtful comment.

    Geoff - Good point. Definitely don't want to end up all square-pupilled.

  4. looking for a positive story. check this out.

  5. Thanks for the tip. Good news indeed!

  6. I've been very happy with two reading apps on the iPad:
    - Kobo for eBooks
    - Zinio for eMagazines

    In my experience, the iPad is a content-consumption device beyond compare - the screen is excellent, the battery lasts forever, there are apps for all of my major business and pleasure activities, and the reasonably priced (for Canada) ubiquitous 3G Internet makes it a winner for me.

  7. Well put, Steve French. I am still marvelling at the battery life.