Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Embrace the Kindle?

After reading Tess Gerritsen's blog post and having a discussion about it at Rosh Hashanah dinner and after having a long debate with my girlfriend about whether or not I need to get rid of some books, I feel inspired to blog about e-books and the Amazon Kindle. I was skeptical of e-books and whether or not they would have a place in the market. Now, I think most of us agree they won't only have a place in the market, but that they will change the publishing world forever. Personally, I have yet to convert to e-books and I do not own a Kindle. I like having actual books. I like holding them, seeing them on my shelf, having them stacked in my office. We use so much technology every day, it's nice to put it to rest a few hours. But for all the cons, most of which are silly and stem from people's fear of chage, there are plenty of pros to E-Books:

They take up less room. When I go on vacation, I have at least four books in my suitcase. We have over five bookshelves in our apartment, double stacked, with an extra row of books on top of each. We have books under the bed and stacked on the desk. A Kindle can hold 200 books. That's one whole, double-stacked bookshelf you can fit into your carry-on. Forget about planning which books to take when you go away for the week; you can take them all.

They're more Eco-friendly. I hadn't really thought about this pro until we visited the Smart Home at the Museum of Science and Industry and they had a Kindle displayed. Think of all the resources that go into producing a book, all of which could be eliminated by switching to digital. Plus, they yield a lot less waste than a library full of books.

They can be more user friendly. Eyes not as strong as they used to be? The Kindle can enlarge the print so you don't need reading glasses. Like to underline passages and scribble things in the margins? The Kindle allows you to do that, plus you can edit your notes later. It even has a built in dictionary and access to Wikipedia. Everything you need is in the palm of your hands.

Books are cheaper. Sure you're shelling out a few hundred dollars for the device itself, but the books you buy for it are no more than $9.99. Tess proclaims in delight that the King James Bible can be downloaded for under two bucks. If you normally buy a lot of books you end up saving money, but if you're an infrequent book buyer, you'd probably just break even.

It's not just for books. You can also have magazine and newspaper subscriptions via kindle. Nowadays, most people read those online, but the Kindle is a lot easier on the eyes.

So with all the pros, what are the cons? Other than being old fashioned, or skeptical of technology or having no other reason other than simply liking real books, the biggest danger of E-books is piracy. Now there are regulations in place that you can't download NYT bestselling books for free, but if the trend catches on, I guarantee someone will develop the technology to pirate e-books. It changed the music industry a great deal, but I fear that since there isn't as much money in publishing, that piracy and free downloading could put many publishers in jeopardy. It's far harder to steal a book out of a store than it is to steal a file online.

I'd love to hear people's opinions on this. Whether or not your a fan of e-books, I think we can all agree that they're growing in popularity and that they are going to change the future of publishing. Are there more pros than cons? Will actual books always have a place in our society? I used to say that newspapers would always be around, even if the majority of people read them online, but recently, I'm not so sure.


Quinn said...

I'm still not buying that e-books are going to change the publishing industry forever, honestly. I'm sure they'll make a dent, but a lot of the expectations surrounding them seem to be based on memories of the iPod launch, which I think is erroneous.

One of the problems is something you mentioned - you like holding books. This is more important than a lot of people give it credit for. Reading a book is a tactile experience; every book has its own weight, shape, and even its own smell. Listening to music (and watching movies and TV for that matter) was never really a tactile experience, so the shift to a digital player was mostly seamless. Book reading would not cross over as easily.

The other problem is that aside from the matter of storage, e-books don't really improve upon the medium they're supposed to replace. There's a reason nobody reads scrolls anymore: turning pages is a very, very good way for humans to take in information, and be able to find it later on. E-books remove the spacial aspect of the text, and make it more abstract in the process. I spent some time with the Sony e-reader and I was almost immediately annoyed at having to use a button instead of turning a page. It just didn't feel right. I also didn't like the weird black flash that occurred every time I moved through the pages, something that I assume is to clear the e-paper display, Etch-a-Sketch style. Even so, I often could see ghosts of previous pages on top of what i was trying to read.

The thing is, I'm a huge tech geek and I love gadgets. Yet I have virtually no interest in the Kindle or any of its competitors. There's not much crossover in my mind between why I like gadgets and why I like books. And I don't think I'm alone here.

I like the eco-friendly point, though. That's maybe the only thing that could sway me in the long run.

Chicago Laser Hair Removal said...

We have watched with great interest the rise of e-books and the impact that the future of this technology has on the traditional book market. As with most technological debates, there is hyperbole on both sides. But there is a great article by Sara Nelson in Publisher's Weekly that points out that this doesn't have to be an either/or conversation between e-books and traditional books. When looked at properly, it is probably more an "and" conversation, with e-books filling a role when appropriate, but not supplanting print books entirely. This perspective offers some sanity to a debate that may, as it is currently framed, not even be real.