I’ve deliberated about whether I want to try an e-book reader. I decided to lay out the pros and cons and separate opinion and core beliefs from logic and practicality. This is part one of my quest, most of which deals with my personal convictions. In part two, I address other aspects, including assistive technology, studies about e-readers, and my experiences using a laptop for digital reading. Consumer ratings, clutter, rural access, I-ink, and an iPad and Kobo test drive will also be covered.When I first heard about Kindle, I remember Martha Stewart saying she swore by hers. I thought, someone this connected to print publishing has switched to an e-book reader? I couldn’t believe it. Now, there are many types and brands and they are here to stay. From the sidelines, I have witnessed the technology blossom and have seen how it affects the way people read.
The Whinge Factor
Over time, my arguments against e-books developed and became refined. In the main, I do not like them because they
- hasten the demise of libraries. Before the advent of e-readers, libraries were already suffering from funding cuts. Many were closing and more had to cut down on their holdings. How can they compete with our digital-mad culture and this technology and the next form?
- are unesthetic. I like the feel of paper and the smell of books. Book design covers so much: paper choice, size, typography, jacket, cover and page design, and binding.
- hasten the demise of publishing houses. Like libraries, publishing houses and their products, books and magazines, have been in trouble for some time. What does the future hold for printed books?
- do not support local booksellers. While many independent bookstores have been forced out by chains like Barnes and Noble and Chapters-Indigo, there are still wonderful indies that are very much part of the community, in addition to being locally owned businesses. Check out Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, Washington….
- are valueless for collectors. There is no first edition e-book, no prize placed on that first digit or pixel. While book collectors may occupy a small niche, Abe Books’ rare book collection shows there is a demand. Would rare books just become rarer and more costly?
- don’t hold up to environmental arguments. E-book readers have a larger carbon footprint. Sustainable paper sources are becoming the norm, as are eco-inks, and acid-free paper. These need energy to produce, but e-readers need more energy and industrial processes to manufacture.
Language is already changing because of Facebook. Unfriend, etc. What will replace the term ‘a real page turner’? After all, an e-reader, with its monitor-like screen, is scrolled through like a smart phone or iPad. I prefer ‘dog-eared.’
One reason I like books in bookstores is because of the thrill of the chase. It’s fun to browse, be surprised, and go in search of quarry. It’s not a passive experience and it gets one out and about. It’s fun! The act of buying an e-book is different from thumbing through the shelves. Granted, we’ve become used to ordering books online, but when they arrive, you still have a tangible book. With an e-book, you shell out nine bucks and receive a download.
My arguments against e-book readers include the tech and mechanical side, too. A book might have a broken spine or a torn page, but you can still read it. An e-reader is a machine and machines break down. They run on electricity, which must be produced, costs and is subject to power failure. Computery things are needed, too. That might sound funny, since I’m blogging, but my life is too tied to computers already. Reader software is required, downloaded and occasionally upgraded. Some of it must be registered, which means even more user names and passwords. LastPass, here I come! Again.
Too, dropping a book on the floor is one thing, dropping a kobo is another. They’re instruments which must be handled with care. And a Kindle experience doesn’t equal a session with a printed book. Like e-mail, it is a bloodless medium. Options are available for making the experience seem more book-like: serif or sans-serif type, brightening or dimming. Glare reduction. But it’s sort of like tofurky, a very processed tofu product that mimics meat. Same idea with making e-readers seem more like a book. Why not just read the real thing?
No escaping it
Public services have to keep pace with what’s happening in a community, though, and libraries themselves have gone digital. I first felt the impact of this over my reading habits. I like to read everything written by an author. Well, two years ago, I was confronted with a choice: read digital versions, buy the books, or make inter-library loans, as my town’s library didn’t have everything I wanted in print. I had already experienced reading a book online through Project Gutenberg. Having tested the waters there, I knew checking out a few PDF books and downloading reader software would be easy. It was a hard choice for me, though, because of my convictions. In the end, I reserved digital editions through British Columbia’s Library 2 Go online library. They contacted me by email when the books were available for download.
The PDF book experience has been so-so. I read them on my iMac. While I can dim the screen and tilt the monitor, I’m still dealing with a large computer. I click a mouse to turn the page and can bookmark a page, if I want to keep my place. Don’t get me wrong, I am truly grateful for having these books to read, but there is some inconvenience. No lying on a couch or bed or reading in front of the fireplace. To me, it’s not as fun as reading a printed book. Still, it gives me the opportunity to read the authors I want to read.
It’s not all about me, anyway. A large e-book and audio-book lending library means people in rural areas of British Columbia have more choices than they ever did. And rural BC is huge! Combined, the following US states would fit in the province: Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, half of South Carolina and North Carolina, two-thirds of Alabama, and a corner of Mississippi. Since most of its population is massed along the southwest part of the province, Library-to-Go serves hundreds of rural communities and it is a major service for the province.
Now, when I look up books in the library catalog, it is common to see a range of choices and I see that e-book holdings are on the increase. At my library, you can even check out A kobo for personal use, which I did today to try it out. I don’t know how many libraries are lending e-readers, but it is a generous act, I think.
Part 2 will be published next Saturday…