I got an Amazon Kindle for my birthday last year. I wanted it not just because I’m a technophile, who loves electronic gadgets of all sorts, and not just because of being able to carry around a small library with me, but also because I have just run out of space on my shelves for regular books.
So, you see, I had to find some solution. I couldn’t expand my book shelves any more. I wasn’t willing to get rid of any of my books. So, I decided that e-books was the way to go.
The reason I am mentioning all of this is that I just read an article by John C. Abell of Wired, “5 Reasons Why E-Books Aren’t There Yet”. Mr. Abell lists five reasons why e-books will not displace printed books just yet and I wondered how the reasons affected me.
1) An unfinished e-book isn’t a constant reminder to finish reading it.
Not a problem for me. I carry my Kindle around a lot and I am always reminded to read something. I created a collection on my Kindle called “Currently Reading” so I know what I am currently reading.
2) You can’t keep your books all in one place.
He is referring to the fact that different e-readers use incompatible formats.
Books arranged on your bookshelves don’t care what store they came from. But on tablets and smartphones, the shelves are divided by app — you can’t see all the e-books you own from various vendors, all in one place. There is simply no app for that. (With e-readers, you are doubly punished, because you can’t buy anything outside the company store anyway).
Apple doesn’t allow developers to tap into root information, which would be needed to create what would amount to a single library on an iOS device. If that restriction disappeared, there would still be the matter of individual vendors agreeing to cooperate — not a given since they are competitors and that kind of leveling could easily lead to price wars, for one thing.
But the way we e-read is the reverse of how we read. To pick up our next physical book, we peruse bookshelves we’ve arranged and pick something out. In the digital equivalent, we would see everything we own, tap on a book and it would invoke the app it requires — Kindle, Nook, Borders, etc. With the current sequence — open up a reader app, pick a book — you can easily forget what you own. Trivial? Try to imagine Borders dictating the size and shape of your bookshelf, and enforcing a rule that it hold only books you bought from them, and see if that thought offends you even a little bit.
I get most of my e-books from Amazon.com. I can also get them from the Gutenberg Project, and other free sources. I use mobipocket converter to convert them to a format my Kindle can use. I have created collections based on subject so I have little trouble remembering the e-books I own.
3) Notes in the margins help you think.
The Kindle allows you to take notes and share them with others.
4) E-books are positioned as disposable, but aren’t priced that way
This one is simple, and also easy to oversimplify since people still have to get paid. But until e-books truly add new value, the way Hollywood did with DVD extras, it’s just annoying to plunk down $13 for what amounts to a rental. E-books cost virtually nothing to produce, and yet the baseline cover price, set by publishers, is only fractionally below the discount price for the print version of new releases.
E-books can’t be shared, donated to your local library shelter, or re-sold. They don’t take up space, and thus coax conflicted feelings when it is time to weed some of them out. But because they aren’t social, even in the limited way that requires some degree of human contact in the physical world, they will also never be an extension of your personality.
Most of the e-books I buy are cheaper than the printed version. Older books, in which the copyright has expired can be had for a very low price or even free. I agree with Abell about sharing. That is really my only complaint, so far.
5) E-books can’t be used for interior design.
Okay, he’s got me there. Still, I have enough printed books for interior design to last me.
I do have one quibble that Abell didn’t mention. The way the Kindle handles illustrations sucks. The Kindle can’t do color yet, so they are monochrome and you can’t expand them. This is especially frustrating with maps, which more often than not are illegible.
Maybe e-books aren’t quite there yet, but Amazon is already selling more e-books than paper ones so they’re coming.