Reading Electronically: A Review
A few months ago I was given a Nook by a friend, who thought it would be something I could use. I appreciated the gesture; I wasn’t going to go out of my way to buy a dedicated eBook reader, but if one was going to be given to me, I’m sure I could find a way to use it. And so I have. In the months since, in addition to the Nook, I’ve also been reading off the iPad, the iPod Touch and off my Droid X (all of which have Nook, Kindle and other eBook reader software installed). I’ve been reading off these now for enough time to formulate some thoughts on the subject.
The first is that in fact I like reading books electronically just fine. In particular I do like reading them with the Nook, which is about the right size for my hand and has the passive “E-Ink” screen, which as it turns out really is a whole lot more comfortable to read off of than the lighted screens of the iPod, Ipad and Droid. I don’t find reading off my primary computer to be a problem, and quite like opening up a pdf file and reading it two pages at a time. But the secret there is that I have a big-ass monitor, which means I don’t have to jam it right up into my face to read stuff. That reduces eye strain quite a bit. With the iPad, iPod and Droid X, I have to get them pretty close up and after a while the eyes go screwy and want a break. With the Nook this is not a problem.
It’s not to say the Nook is perfect — its UI could use work, and the page contrast and screen refresh could be better — but if I’m reading an entire book electronically, it’s the reader I have I prefer. I’ll use the other readers for short duration reads (for example, I’ll read off the Droid when I’m taking Athena to Tae Kwon Do practice), but for a long haul reading session, it’s the E-Ink screen for me.
In terms of books, I’m not finding electronic reading is cutting into either my interest in or propensity to buy print books. As it happens, when I buy books, I tend to buy hardcovers (and occasionally trade paperbacks), and I buy them because I want to have them as much as I want to read them. For the having impulse, eBooks don’t do it for me, so I expect I’ll be buying hardcovers for some time to come. I think makes the proprietors of my local bookstore very happy.
What I find, however, is that eBooks are replacing (and this is important) increasing what would be the equivalent of my paperback purchases. I tend to buy paperbacks for travel or to replace books that have been lost/ruined, or to buy backlists of authors who I have recently discovered. But I would only do so fitfully, in part because it’s not like I don’t have a flood of new books coming through my door on a daily basis. With the eBooks, it’s a lot easier to give into that replacement/completist urge, especially when it’s coupled with travel.
When I went to AussieCon4, for example, I purchased and downloaded nine books into the Nook, including books by Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg and Matthew Woodring Stover, which I wouldn’t have been able to find in the local bookstore, because it does naturally tend to focus on newer works. Without the electronic book option, I would likely have bought those books used, which I prefer not to do with authors who are still living and desiring on occasion to eat. So in getting the electronic versions, they got royalties and I got their books to read on an insanely long plane rise across the planet, in a format that did not cause me bursitis lugging them about. As they say, everyone wins.
My own anecdotal experience as a reader is one reason why I as an author am not exactly freaking out about eBooks. I’m a writer for whom eBooks will probably be a good thing because a) I write in a genre filled with tech-friendly readers, b) I write in a genre filled with completist readers. The guy who just discovered Old Man’s War and wants to get everything else I have ever possibly written in the history of ever can do it in five minutes or less. This is not bad for me.
(Yes, that same person probably could search the Internets and find unauthorized OCR’d copies of everything I’ve written, but book retailers and publishers have made it really easy for them not to do that, and enough readers actually buy through those easy retail channels — thank you, folks — that I’m optimistic the “hey, let’s feed the author” impulse will continue for at least another generation. Heck, as I was writing this, someone just tweeted that they had finished one of my books and was now downloading another one for the Kindle. Good for them. Good for me, too.)
For me, then, eBooks are just another format I can use as an author to give people what they want, and for me as a reader to get what I want. Will they supplant hardcovers? I don’t think so, because people like physical things, and like giving them (and getting them) as gifts and having them on shelves. Will they supplant paperbacks? Not completely, because some people will still only read a couple of books a year, on airplanes or at the beach, and they’re not going to buy an eBook reader for that, even if the price comes way, way down.
Will I as a reader read and buy more because I have an eBook reader? I already do, and given the amount I travel these days, and how easy it is to travel with lots and lots of books now, I suspect I will continue to for some time to come. I don’t imagine I’ll be alone in this.