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The Question of e-Books

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Do you have an ebook reader? Do you read ebooks on your computer? Do you hate the very thought? How do you feel about the fact that book publishing is changing and facing much the same existential dilemma as the music industry upon the creation of MP3s?

I think ebook revolutionizes reading in terms of convenience like iPod replaces the need to bring a bunch of CDs when traveling. I recognize the appeal of being able to travel without carrying a pile of books with me. I turned to and relied on electronic journals when I conducted research for my dissertation. Some academic journals cease to exist in paper form but are available in pdf files through electronic library. It makes sense because it’s inconvenient to schlep around a heavy Buckram bound journal. As to books, electronic and paper form could co-exist because both have limitations and can complement one another. Not all titles are available on electronic readers, other than the recent bestsellers and the most popular classics. Being a reader with an eclectic taste, I prefer to stick with paper, and not to mention the personal affair with ink and paper that appeals to me at the very beginning of my reading life. E-readers might be the appropriate choice for me to skim newspaper and magazine articles and readings that are more on-the-go and ephemeral.

The thought of converting my endearing book collection to files under the tip of my finger in an electronic gadget is appalling. I do not have the same attention span roving my eyes at the LCD screen or computer monitor as I can read a book. The plethora of notes that I scribble along reading makes a hard copy more appealing. Turning of a dial on the gadget or scrolling down the page can never replace the thumbing and riffling back and forth of a book. I love the tactile experience of having a book in my hand, I enjoy the smell of the pages. A gadget is just not bookish! Not to mention the personal interactions with staff at the indies. But the detrimental, underlying effect of e-readers is that they will catalyze the demise of local independent bookstores as readers turn to e-vendors to purchase e-books. In the long run, it would be business as usual as publishers charge a downloading fee but business is being taken away from indies.

41 Responses

  1. No, I don’t have an ebook, and have no plans to get one. If I traveled more, though, I might be more tempted. Books are heavy.

  2. I can see where you are coming from and you said it very well. I did not give a thought to an ebook reader until I decided to research the Kindle and it sparked a desire in me. Now, I do not know if I will buy one but the thought is there. I am reading more now and I am running out of room in our apartment to put books as we only have room for one or two bookshelves, so the appeal for the Kindle would be space saving as well as traveling as we are a military family and I have to travel to see family and such and I do not want to have to lug around books, so the appeal for the Kindle is there also. But who knows I might not put another thought to it. I also do not believe that paper books are going out of style, we still have CD’s and such to buy even though we can purchase MP3’s from the computer, so I am not worried about paper books becoming scarce, I am just glad we have choices!

  3. Hmm…I hadn’t thought about how e-books might affect independent bookstores. I think indy bookstores will have to change very quickly if they haven’t already, as technology is moving quickly and they need to figure out a way to make the technology work for them, instead of against them.

  4. I hate the very thought of them. I like carrying my pile of books around.

  5. I don’t think that e-books will ever really replace actual books. Sort of like books on tape never did.

    Like you mentioned, it’s very easy to lose attention looking at a screen and people tend to scan-read a screen more than an actual book. It’s a different interaction that isn’t going to work for all readers. There are some great uses for digital books, but it’s not going to appeal to everyone or work well for every form of reading (i.e long books don’t translate well to digital reading).

    There’s also going to be limited memory on an e-book devise as well, so owning many books is going to be difficult. You could theoretically house more books on a server than physically in a room, but how many people actually have enough digital space to do so?

    I’ll have to find it, but there was an interesting “study” done for a magazine about books vs. Kindle. What I remember of it was that a guy went to the same coffee shop on different days, one with a book and one with a Kindle. He found people at other tables would comment/ask about the book and start a conversation but with the Kindle people would ask what the devise was without furthuring the conversation.

  6. I’m with you. I can’t imagine giving up print. Though I seem to spend more and more time reading on-line, I still take a book to bed.

  7. Oh, and battery life. How awful to be in the middle of a moving passage…only to have the devise die on you…..

  8. Not ready to make the switch yet.

    Maybe later.

  9. I’m not too keen on e-books. After a while, the small screens/fonts and the brightness of the displays and monitors tends to hurt my eyes. Plus, I like being able to hold a book and flip the pages.

  10. I love how you described what a book means to you. I never thought about what it would mean to the Indie bookstores…not good!!!!

  11. There is no part of me that wants a kindle. Like you, I appreciate the sensory pleasure of holding a book in my hands…and I like the way they look in my home. I do enough on-line reading as it is…I think I’ll stick with books.

  12. I’ve never read an e-book before. Though convenient, I find it difficult to concentrate… it’s not easy when you’ve to stare at the screen for a long time! Plus, I want to feel the book in my hand, which an e-book is unable to! The publishing industry might look depressing to some, but I’ve hope that the books will not be replaced by e-books in the future. 😀

  13. […] Can Save the Independent Bookstore January 30, 2009 at 6:10 pm | In Book Blather | I read this post on  A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook and started to reply, but my comment got so long I decided I […]

  14. I gave my husband an e-book reader for xmas and he swears it’s the best thing he’s ever come across. Trouble is, he never was a big reader in the first place! He uses the ‘gadget’ as a kind of research exercise to find out how to take forward thoughts about e-publishing… Me? I love my books, the physical feel, the turning of the page, and yes, even the scribbling across a page when I feel like it. As a number of your other commentators: I sit staring at the screen so much for my day-job that I am really happy to pick up a ‘real’ book at the end of the day! Great post!

  15. I’ve been resistant towards eReaders virtually since they were introduced. I understand why other people would use them, but I could never understand why I should want to. Why should I want to trade in my beloved paper books for a cold gadget that couldn’t even begin to compare to the aesthetic qualities of a book?

    Having said that, I’m 25 and I’ve already begun to have book-related back problems. Plus, I think having one for newspapers and magazines would be wonderful. I love reading newspapers and mags, but newspapers especially strike me as too much paper and a bit inconvenient to read on the bus or train.

    Kindle 2.0 supposedly is coming out in February, and I’m giving it a covetous eye. Before, I thought in terms of eReader or books. Now I say, why not both?

  16. I’ve just now started with audiobooks. E-books are purposely kept off of my radar. It kills the best thing about books – turning the pages, feeling it in your hands, flipping back a couple of pages to re-read things for clarification, bookmarking passages, etc. I heard that the new Kindle is coming out and looks even snazzier than the first one – but I won’t be purchasing it just as I did not purchase the second one.

    Much like you, I read obscure books – which I highly doubt will make it to e-reader format any time soon.

  17. You’ve said it all, Matt, very cogently. The convenience of the format for travel is appealing, but I share your fears for the indies, not to mention loss of a number of works not available except in printed form. I’m just attached to books — their feel and corporeal substance, the sensations which accompany the experience, and in some cases, the sense of beauty.

  18. Very well said. I wouldn’t mind having one for travel reasons but then again it’s not like I travel that much 🙂

    I would actually like to see what it’s like. I tried to check out a Sony reader at Border’s once but I think people had probably messed it up because something seemed off.

  19. Jeanne:
    I’m covetous of the new version for travel, that way I won’t have to carry heaps of books to Hong Kong.

  20. The Social Frog:
    I am thinking about getting one for travel so I can browse through several books at once. Space saver is the bigger gimmick too.

  21. Trish:
    Jessica Coleman down below made some very good points about the constructive effect e-books will have on the industry. Those who buy e-readers, she says, are serious readers who have money and that electronic device is usually not loanable will help boost sales. She does have a point there. Check out her post. 🙂

  22. Valentina:
    They offer alternative choices so they aren’t too bad.

  23. Christina:
    My eyes strain and twitch when I read on the monitor for too long. I prefer to curl up with a book, not a gadget. Interesting you mentioned the study between kindle and an actual book. It happened to me at Cafe Flore where people always approach me about what I’m reading, whereas another regular who is studiously perusing his Kindle never invited any question. Maybe people think he’s fiddling with his iPhone.
    But these e devices would be good alternatives for people who are always on the run or traveling.

  24. cbjames:
    My online reading limits to blogs and news. Amazon.com allows you to read scanned pages of selected books–but I can’t even read them for too long before my eyes get strained.

  25. Christina:
    LOL Airlines need to upgrade their amenities on board (yeah right :)) so we can plug in the device to charge the battery!

  26. Isabel:
    I will consider it for travel but not otherwise. I like holding a book and turning the pages.

  27. Greg C:
    I completely agree with everything you say. I’m old-schooled! 🙂

  28. Staci:
    Like Jessica says in her post, indies would have to be creative and capable of selling e-books in order to survive. It’s a matter of time I think.

  29. christie61:
    I like holding a book in my hands and occasionally I mark them. I like the bookishness of actually having a book to read. 🙂

  30. Melody:
    Looks like e-books and paper forms will co-exist depending on personal preferences. Whether e-books might completely take over the world would be a matter of time that I probably won’t have to worry! 🙂

  31. seachanges:
    Like you, I stare the screen of my laptop when I’m dealing with my students and grades that I really crave picking up a book for the sensory experience. E-devices however will reach out to people who are always on the run or have little time to pick up books and read. It seems ideal for your husband. Maybe you can get him to read more. 🙂

  32. J.S. Peyton:
    I recently had an epidural injection to my upper back to ease the tension in my nerves. I’ve had reading back (reading shoulder) problems for years, dating back to when I was a kid. I think heavy backpack also had an effect as well.

  33. Jessica:
    I truly appreciate your perspective on the issue. You make some great points that I have not been aware regarding the constructive effects e-books will incur upon independent bookstores. My unresearched claim that e-readers will hurt indies was solely attributed to diminishing sales cited by two of my friends who work at booksellers.

    Given that Kindle (or other alternatives) are convenient and reliable devices, they will become more popular among the serious readers who would spend the money. Also your point about the unlikely chance of loaning the device will actually boost sales of the book, in both electronic and paper forms. At the end of the day it’s more or less a matter of personal preference.

    The next big step, I guess, would be for the indies to come up with ways of selling e-copies of books.

  34. Iena:
    I listen to audiobooks when I’m driving to work, but that’s about the only time I do. I just like curling out with a book on the couch or on the beach. I might consider e-reader for traveling since I take very long vacation and lugging books around has been a problem. I do, however, have left books behind for my friends. 🙂

  35. Greg S:
    You have said it Greg. The sensation of books is what appeals me. I would go down the main stack on campus and browse through aisles of books that are dated back to a century ago and just appreciate the vast information these books have carried. E-devices are slick and clean but there is replacing of the good feeling of turning pages and smelling the ink and paste of the binding.

  36. iliana:
    I would consider getting one for my Hong Kong trip. Sometimes it’s tiring to lug around 10 books and bringing them on the plane. Unless I fly business class, there is very little or no room to store the books.

  37. I’ve got enough gadgets to play with so the Kindle or Sony reader would not be on my list. They are convenient but I just like the feeling of turning pages. Paper for me.

  38. I have no problems whatsoever for putting my music on my computer or MP3 player–as a matter of fact I prefer it. But books are another thing. I have no desire to read a book on a portable reader. From what I’ve seen (I’ve seen Kindles up close) I don’t think I would enjoy the experience. That said I don’t mind places like Project Gutenberg and have on occasion read short stories or parts of books online (on a computer screen). I still prefer a book, but given the option of reading something OOP online or not at all, I’ll go for reading it online!

  39. […] Amazon Kindle DX), rolled out into the market and converted habit of thousands of readers, I had my reservation about the gadgets. While electronic and paper form could co-exist because both have limitations and […]

  40. LCD monitors are the de factor standard these days because they do not consume too much electricity-:’

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