Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tales from the E-side

So as I wrote a month or two ago, I got a Sony Touch ereader for Christmas. I had a few problems with it connecting to my computer; Sony support was useless and the problem still isn't resolved. But, in the mean time, I've actually really been enjoying using my little toy.

In its pretty little envelope, it's light and easy to use. I love it when I travel; no more paper books when I'm on the road. When I go to BEA in two weeks, it's going to be my constant companion.

Ebooks themselves? I like them. The convenience is the biggest appeal for me- being able to carry a shelf of books in my purse. But it doesn't feel like a real book; the experience of reading electronically isn't as satisfying for me as reading paper books. I can't quite put it into words, but it just feels weird. Unnatural. If convenience isn't an issue, I'd rather be able to take notes, flip back and forth easily, get books signed, collect them and watch them line up on my shelves.

And, I have a lot of questions about ebooks and ereaders. I wonder how ereading will change in the short term when it seems like every other week a new manufacturer comes out with a new device. When the devices change, how will that affect the ebooks we already own? If I bought something from Sony and for some reason buy an iPad, could I port my Sony ebooks to my new device or would they become inaccessible? What I hear about Amazon tracking what people highlight in Kindles is just creepy. And I would hate to have a retailer rescind access to something I'd paid for. And I wish I could give my ebooks away when I'm done with them as I often do with paper books.

I wonder about the book-buying experience when your choice of device ties you to a retailer; Sony ereader owners buy from the Sony store, Kindle owners from Amazon, etc. There are some indie bookstores that sell ebooks, but not very many, and even those that do, don't publicize it well. I emailed one indie asking if they sold ebooks and they didn't even bother to respond. I wonder about libraries; I know some libraries lend out ebooks but I wonder about the future and how rights and pricing will affect what libraries are willing to stock in electronic form.

People love to try to convince me that paper books are on their way out, that ebooks will replace them completely, just as the iPod and electronic music has decimated the CD industry. I think that argument is a canard, and I think some people just like to be polemical and contrarian. Ereaders are still fairly expensive luxury items; I think when you're a book person surrounded by book people it's easy to forget that most people aren't, and that something like an ereader might not have the same universal appeal among the general public as it might among one's own nerdy, relatively affluent friends.

Mp3 players are cheaper and more plentiful; even if you can't afford a fancy iPod, you can play music on cell phones or cheaper mp3 players. Books aren't music; reading a book is more of a commitment than downloading a song, and music has a longer lifespan than a book in terms of its use. When you're done with a book, you're done, unless you're a nerd like me who rereads. Who needs the ebook when you're done with it? Nobody. And you can't give it away. Paper books have a huge advantage in terms of recycling. If I download a song I might listen to it 100 times and share it with a friend (legally) while still keeping my own copy.

I have to laugh a little whenever I hear an ereader owner complain that they can't afford to pay full price for ebooks. If you can afford a luxury device like an ereader, you can afford books. Maybe you don't want to pay full price, but not wanting to isn't the same as not being able to. When Amazon and Macmillan tussled over the price of ebooks earlier this year, I was 100% on Macmillan's side and thought it was preposterous when Amazon complained about Macmillan's "monopoly"; it's not a monopoly when you assert control over your own property. I took it as another instance of too-powerful, overreaching Amazon trying to assert its own monopoly on the book business. It was gratifying to see the debacle have the side effect of pushing more people over to the side of the indie bookstores.

Nowadays when people ask me what I think of ebooks, I say ereading is a great new format on which to enjoy the books we love, and works well sometimes, for some people, just like audio books work well for some people and paper books work well for others. Ereading isn't my favorite format but I enjoy it and it works for me in certain circumstances. For me, paper books will always be my favorite. The best part is, it doesn't have to be one or other other.

I do, however, love my ereader cover unreservedly. I bought it from Elizabeth David Design at www.etsy.com.