Back in January I bought the new Amazon Kindle 2 — the small size rather than the new 9.7″ display. I considered buying one for a long time, but a combination of factors prevented me from doing so: 1) I am lazy; 2) I never bothered to save the money for it; 3) I wasn’t sure I would use and/or enjoy having it; 4) I’m fine with regular old print books, go figure. The universe shifted in January, however, and I found myself with some cash I got after returning xmas gifts, the luxury of time, of which I spent exhaustive amounts reading product/customer reviews, an unfamiliar cavalierness about whether I liked/used it or not, and a pending trip to Costa Rica on which I knew I would not want to haul a gigantic bag filled with reading material. So I bought it aaaaand … I love it.
There’s been a lot of buzz lately about e-reading devices which, quite frankly, I’m a little surprised to see. I mean, they are not new. Amazon and Sony both came out with e-book readers several years ago, and while there was some hype about them, it was nothing compared to the maelstrom of fresh opinions and speculation about whether or not the iPad will bring about the end of books as we know them, oh god! I love Apple products, don’t get me wrong. I am, unapologetically, a Mac person. I think PCs are, by and large, giant headaches. And yet I’m not going all wonky over the iPad. Not yet, at least.
Some people are focusing on which product is better, and which one will end up winning the e-reader wars. There’s this Megan McArdle article in the April 2010 Atlantic. NPR ran a story last week about the value of an e-book, looking at issues and questions of markets, relationships with publishers, and pricing. And Wired’s GeekDad offers this take on the case of Not iPad v. iPad. (programming note: he compares the iPad to the Sony reader, not the Kindle)
In GeekDad’s column, he observes that “Others have written about their eBook thoughts and come out on the side of good old paper. To me, this has been just another in a long line of digital transitions and I’m emotionally detached.”
While GeekDad seems to approach the issue as either/or — meaning, evaluating e-book readers as an alternative rather than a complement to paper — I’m not there yet. I’m sticking with my usual both-and-approach. Since I got mine, I have probably read an equal amount of books in print (probably more) as I have read e-books on the Kindle. It’s not because I specifically prefer one to the other; it just is what it is.
One salient point from GeekDad is this: “I used to wait for new releases to complete their hardcover run before taking the plunge and buying a paperback version, but now I buy the book on release, usually for the price I would have paid for the paperback. Granted, that pricing seems to be on quicksand at the moment, but even if it falters, I’m no worse off than before.”
This is one great big selling point for e-readers, in my opinion. Over the last few years I have quit buying hard-cover books. They’re too expensive, and too heavy. I wait for it to be released in paperback, by which time (usually) I have forgotten all about it. With the Kindle, however, it doesn’t matter. If prices for newly released books go up, it’s possible I’ll reevaluate. But in the meantime, while the pricing structure remains what it is (most books sell for $9.99), I’ll continue to feel liberated to buy what I want when I want it. (And let’s face it, if prices go up and they are still fair, I’ll keep buying.)
Since I got the Kindle I’ve read several books on it, and bought many more. One of iPad’s bells is that it’s got a graphics-rich color screen, which some folks have observed will make it competitive in the textbook and glossy mag departments. Personally, though, that’s not really a selling point for me. Reading on something that is *not* back lit (like the Kindle or, obvies, a regular old book), however, is. I spend the entire day reading on a back-lit screen, and that’s quite enough. It’s also a battery drainer. With Kindle’s wireless connection turned off, the battery lasts for weeks. That’s huge.
GeekDad concludes that “When I do take the plunge on an iPad, I may do some reading on it, but I can’t see the day when a tablet that’s too big to pocket, expensive enough to make me cringe if I accidentally dropped it, not the greatest for reading in daylight and with battery life measured in hour instead of days, becomes my daily go-to device for reading eBooks…”
In the end GeekDad abandons paper (what he calls “dead tree books”) in favor of digital. I make no such declaration. Because even though many people envision some sort of apocalyptic transition to a paperless existence, I just don’t see it (especially when we live in a country whose federal government is just now getting around to discovering electronic file sharing and where some offices still consider e-mail revolutionary). I see the future in much more complementary terms.
There’s one final area of concern, though — GeekDad may be comfortable taking his Kindle to the beach (as is the woman in Kindle’s introductory how-to video) but I am not. No Mam! I’ll take a trade paperback over the Kindle any day when it comes to salt water corrosion, sun exposure, sand, and beer stains. Even though I got the Kindle to reduce the number of books I dragged down to Central America, I still packed one hefty paperback to read at the beach.
For many reasons, I hope I’m not wrong about the future. At the very least, I hope Our Paperless Tomorrows don’t arrive before my planned vacation to Cape Cod in August, because I’m already counting the days until Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic comes out in paperback!