December 5, 2008: Some Thoughts on E-Readers

Readers for e-books have been on my mind lately. I know a couple of people who have — and adore — Amazon’s Kindle, and on Thanksgiving Day, my sister-in-law demonstrated her Sony Digital Book. It was light and compact and easy to use, and it just made it more tempting. (The friends who have Kindles don’t live near me, so I couldn’t get a demo.)

There’s something very appealing to me about the idea of having dozens of books on one smallish device, something that isn’t much bigger or heavier than a paperback. I really could have something to read with me all the time. Not having piles of books everywhere sounds wonderful — as much as I love them, I sometimes feel like I’m drowning in them. Finally, getting rid of ones I won’t read again becomes much less problematic, with a lower downside. (Trading them in at a used bookstore has its issues; throwing them out is something I have problems with on several levels.)

Still, for all the things that make e-book readers attractive, there are significant drawbacks significant enough to hold me back.

The biggest one is cost. Whatever you use to read e-books — PDA, smartphone, netbook or dedicated reader — you’re looking at spending at least $100.  The Sony reader is $299; the Kindle is more than that. That’s a lot of money.

On top of that, there’s the expense of buying books to read. I have hundreds of unread books; I’m unlikely to re-buy them in electronic form, but if I were to buy them, that’s additional expense on top of the cost of the device.

Then there’s the issue of compatibility. From what I’ve been able to gather, e-books don’t all come in the same format, and not every reader can read every book. This is especially true of the Kindle — the format is proprietary to Amazon, so you have buy content for your Kindle from Amazon. Something about that really bothers me — I don’t want to spend $360 for a device, and then be held hostage. (I have to pay Amazon’s price for e-books if I want to use the device; if the prices get too high, I’ve wasted a lot of money on something of limited usefulness.)

One thing about my resistance to e-readers puzzled me: I have an mp3 player — why was that different than an e-reader? And then I realized it was this: I need some kind of device to listen to music, but I don’t need anything to read a book. Since some kind of technology is needed for music, it becomes a given, and the focus isn’t one whether or not to get the technology, but rather what kind of technology I’m getting. With books, not so much.

Still, despite the downsides, I do think of e-readers with some degree of longing, and I have to admit that if the price for one were lower — say, somewhere around $100 — I would find it harder to say “Never mind.”

But until then…


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Amy
    Dec 05, 2008 @ 20:51:31

    I will probably be the last e-readerless person out there, but publishing will have to dry up and die before I invest in an e-reader. While I can read books on my smartphone, I don’t. I don’t like the way it feels in my hand, the screen is small, I can’t make notes.

    I want a BOOK in my hands, not a device.

    But that could just be me.


    • katycooper
      Dec 06, 2008 @ 15:24:31

      If you’re the last e-readerless person, I might possibly be the second-to-last. I just find myself craving new toys. I’m wrestling with a yearning for a netbook, even though I don’t need one, and probably won’t use one.


  2. Chloe Devlin
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 15:41:59

    Another choice to check out is the eBookwise. It’s a dedicated ereader, like the Kindle. It takes a bit more work at downloading books, but it’s not tied to a proprietary format. There’s software that will convert a lot of different formats for use on the eBookwise.


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