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.


bermudaonion said...

I agree with you. I have a Kindle and a Sony Reader and I rarely use them. When I want to buy a book, I'd rather go to the bookstore and buy it - I'm not convinced paper books are on their way out either.

Sharon Bially said...

Lovely cover on your device there, Marie! I haven't bought an e-reader yet, but it's just a matter of time. I think all media have their pros and their cons. Meanwhile, I wonder if you've seen this series on the Nat'l Book Critics blog, Critical Mass:


Tanatoes said...

For my e-reader I've been using the Kindel application for my iPod. In theory if I ever get an iPad or a Kindel reader I can get all my same books along with their bookmarks and notes from the Amazon store, but I agree that e-readers have a number of problems to overcome.

Amanda likes to point out that one major problem is longevity. When you buy a paper book you know with some confidence that as long as you keep it in a dry place it will still be there to enjoy twenty, thirty, forty years from today. How many documents or video games that you had on floppy disk twenty years ago do you have access to today?

Still: I love being able to buy a book on a whim in the middle of the night without leaving home. It seems that most of the books on my iPod are also duplicates of books I already own in hard copy and either couldn't find at the time or are too bulky for easy subway reading (eg: Neal Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy.)

Kathleen said...

I have an eReader too (Kindle) and I love it when I am traveling. To fly to Europe on a 10 hour flight and be able to have one device with all of my reading material, including my NY Times, is phenomenal. That being said I much prefer a printed book and I don't think they will go away anytime soon.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

What a beautiful ereader cover!

I don't have an ereader (yet, I suppose I should say), but I can see its advantages. I'm not ready to give up books yet though - maybe the new very young generation won't share our attachment to paper books.

Amy M. said...

I can see the appeal but I don't know if I can ever give up my paper books. I can't even bring myself to purchase PAPERbacks!!!!

Life by Candlelight

Anonymous said...

I don't have an e-reader, but I can totally imagine that I would agree with you. I like being able to touch books, to see them on the shelf, and pick them up, etc.

But for holidays, it sounds ideal. I took 10 books with me last year (I read 8 of them) so that was half a suitcase full.

Zibilee said...

Very interesting post. I recently bought a Kindle and found that, like you, I really prefer to read a regular book. Though the Kindle is useful for trips, I find that it is better for periodicals. The main reason for purchasing my Kindle was because I am running out of storage space for my books, and since I like to keep almost everything I read, the piles are high and the shelves are stacked. I figured that the best way to solve the space problem would be to invest in an e-reader on which I could store lots of books in a minimal space. Since getting it for Christmas, I have only read 2 books on it, and I do have to agree that the experience is a bit weird. Oh, it's nice, but it just doesn't give me the same pleasure as reading a paper book. I also don't like that there are no page numbers in the books, and you have to judge your progress through the book by percentages. Overall, I do like my e-reader and do enjoy it, but I don't ever think I will be a person who reads e-books exclusively and I don't think I am the only one.

Jessica said...

Interesting. I have been thinking of taking the ereader plunge. I like the kindle but am annoyed that I can't use it for library books unless I buy the $479 model(!!). Am going to check out the B&N Nook since I like the "lend" feature and the ability to browse titles while in the store. I agree with you about paper books, I love 'em, but my reality is, there are tons of books I'll only read once (RIP, Dominick Dunne) so I'm just as happy to save a tree and e-read them.

Great cover!

Anonymous said...

Paper books will always be my favorite, also. But, I do enjoy my Nook.

It gives me the option to download certain books for free, and download certain books for about half of the cost of a hard copy book. This saves me room on my book shelves for the must have books in my collection. There are books I want to read, but don't necessarily want to own.

Nice cover, by the way.

Bookfool said...

I think that argument is a canard, and I think some people just like to be polemical and contrarian.

If I had a prize to give out for "Best Sentence of the Day," you would definitely win.

So far, I don't have an e-reader, although I'm told I can download books with a free Kindle app onto my iPod (or, as I refer to it: MyPod) but I'm too old for print that small and I don't ever go anywhere. Maybe once the kiddo has moved on to college I'll escape these 4 walls and have an excuse to invest in an e-reader. I can't imagine wanting to ever give up my books completely, though.

Amazon can tell what you've highlighted? That is truly icky.

Anonymous said...

I'm totally jealous. In a good way. ;)

fibrowitch said...

I have tried reading e-books on my lap top and on my Palm. I find I really don't enjoy reading on a screen. I like to have a book in front of me.

I have no interest in getting yet another electronic item

Hannah Young said...

I have an Amazon Kindle (which I love). The best part is not having to lug around a huge bag of books when I go on trips. Paper books are maagically wonderful and ebooks are conveniently fabulous.

Kristen M. said...

I've had an iPad for over a month now and I'll admit that while I've added some books to it, I haven't read any. Maybe if I didn't have over 100 unread books at home, I might try it out but I feel like my priority is to clear out what I've accumulated in my living space first. I am taking a trip in August though so maybe I will commit to trying e-reading then!

J.C. Montgomery said...

I'm still debating. Part of the issue is that I cannot afford a reader at any price at the moment.

However, it looks like the prices are coming down and more options are being made available (i.e. The Kobo)

I would like to get one eventually and for many of the same reasons. I also know, I'm never going to stop buying books and building my library.

It will be like having my cake and eating too. Yummy!

*a* said...

I like my kindle and I actually prefer it to paper books in most cases. It is more convenient to me to read in bed, or sitting on the couch while drinking a tea as I can do this completely one handed without folding the book or propping it in any other way.

The only times I want to get a paper book is if it strongly illustrated and the images do not transfer well to my kindle. And in that case, I probably mean coffee table books. There are also certain reference books (travel guides, for example) that would be easier with paper books so that you can easily scan and read.

For novels, I prefer the kindle. For me, reading is about the story, not about the texture of what is in my hands.

Also, I think the price should be a bit cheaper than paper books because of the fact that ebooks can't really be traded easily, or resold. If I buy a paper book, I will always be able to recoup some of the money, even just a little bit, if I wanted to. Or give it to a friend, or donate it to the library. Those benefits make it worth the extra cost.

All things considered, I don't think paper books are going anywhere soon.

Care said...

Best Sentence of the Day Prize!! good one.

I see the pros and cons. I don't have an ereader. Yet.

Suzanne said...

I'm on the fence about getting an e-reader (most of my friends and family are aghast that I don't already have one). I like the convenience of storing a lot of books for travelling, but I also like the feel of turning the pages and being able to pass along a book to someone I know will also love it.

Alayne said...

I definitely inhaled at that BEAUTIFUL cover. It's amazing! Hope the computer thing gets resolved though, because that's a definite bummer.

Can't wait to see what you post when you return from BEA! I had thought of going to the blog portion at the end, but don't think I'll be able to make it. I'm sure you'll have a fabulous time!

Alayne - The Crowded Leaf

Alexia561 said...

Excellent post, and I couldn't agree with you more! While I do like the convenience of ereaders, I prefer having the physical book in my hand. Think it's the whole reading experience in that a physical book just feels more natural and satisfying. And I did get annoyed that I couldn't flip back and forth through the pages easily with a reader.

Beautiful cover!

nomadreader said...

I love my Kindle. I prefer to read on it and only read paper books when a book isn't available on Kindle or if it's a review copy I really can't wait to read. I am concerned about ebook pricing. I love my Kindle, as I said, but I'm also realistic enough about technology to wonder how long I'll use it. I buy e-books now instead of getting them from the library, and I don't want them to become obsolete. There are some interesting arguments on ebook pricing. I'm not wedded to the $9.99 price, but I do think publishers need to realize in a DRM market, everyone who reads your ebook pays for it. You can't resell it, buy it used or loan it (without loaning or swapping your entire device). It will be interesting to see where the price war ends. I want publishers to make a profit and continue producing high quality literature, but I also want them to realize an ebook purchase is a lifetime commitment and can't be passed on after its read.

Serena said...

I think for traveling an ereader would be convenient...but I really think reading on an ereader feels unnatural...not that I know from experience...I don't have an ereader and would rather spend my money on books.

Unknown said...

Now that I've tried my ereader for a few days, I think I prefer it, at least for "throw-away" books that I wouldn't plan on keeping. For instance, John Grisham or mysteries. Or if I'm trying an author for the first time before I've decided if I am going to collect him/her. I don't think I'll ever amass a collection of books on it through the online store though. Some of my acquisitiveness for my paper books is because I can't run to the store right when I may want to read them, so I get them ahead of time. But with the ebooks, I suspect I'll hold off until right before I plan to start a book.