Two Sundays ago, I was staring at the check-out page on Woot.com, contemplating a purchase I never thought I’d make, a purchase which that very morning I’d said in a comment thread I was unlikely to make anytime soon. But then a very good deal came along, and I started to rethink. Woot.com (a site that offers one sale each day, usually on some electronic gadget) was selling a Sony Touch E-reader for a mere $99. That price on that reader was enough to make me rethink my own long-held position.
In the end, I decided not to buy it, but spending the day (and the week since) researching e-readers and thinking about my own reading habits has made me much more open to the idea of an e-reader. If that same deal were to come along again, who knows? I may just decide that it’s time.
I’ve never been one of those readers who is in love with the actual printed book. For most books, the printed format is merely a vehicle for getting across a story or an idea. As a voracious reader, I do have some preferences for printed book formats—paperback over hardcover, for example—and I love owning beautiful editions of favorite books. I also love matched sets and publishers who turn their books into things of beauty—like Persephone Books or the Penguin Great Ideas series. But those kinds of books are rarities. For the bulk of my reading, I don’t pay much attention to the physical form. The physical form holds the words that tell the story. That’s what makes it important.
With that philosophy, it seems like I’d be a pretty good candidate for e-reading, but I’ve been extremely resistant to the technology. At the risk of being offensive, I’ll tell you all that the main reason for my resistance has to do with the attitudes of some (some!) of the early advocates of e-reader technology. The glee I’ve seen expressed at the assumed incipient death of the printed book just irritates the heck out of me. Although I’m not married to the printed book form, I simply cannot understand why so many people seem to see its possible end as something to celebrate. (Amy of My Friend Amy and Wendy of Caribou’s Mom both wrote excellent posts this week on some of the pleasures of print.)
Some e-advocates tout the greenness of the e-format, but the jury is still out on whether an e-reader is greener than a printed book. Those who build their argument on the greenness of e-reading lose all credibility with me when they buy multiple readers and upgrade to the latest version at every opportunity. A whole stack of books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper using environmentally friendly inks is surely no less green than multiple e-readers. The green argument only makes sense to me if you’re buying one reader and using it like crazy until it dies.
And the e-reader advocates are doing themselves no favor when they act like spoiled brats over pricing and formats. Have you encountered one-star reviews on Amazon that consist merely of complaints that a book is not available for Kindle or costs over $9.99? I don’t know a whole lot about the economics of book publishing, but I know a bit about the economics of magazine publishing, and I know that printing and distribution are a small part of the cost. The New York Times offers this good run-down of the costs of publishing paper vs. electronic, and it jibes with what I’ve seen in the magazine world. So the whining makes this sliver of e-reading advocates look not just like brats, but like uniformed ones.
However, I know plenty of reasonable people have found e-reading to be a great way to access lots of books that their library may not carry and that they don’t particularly want taking up room on their bookshelves. Sites like Manybooks.net and Project Gutenberg offer tons of free public-domain books, and libraries often loan e-books through Overdrive. Book bloggers and book reviewers can use NetGalley to access electronic versions of upcoming releases. Elaine at Random Jottings recently posted about the pleasure of getting a huge stack of classic novels for her Kindle for next to nothing per book. (She also makes the excellent point that it doesn’t have to be electronic or print; both can coexist peacefully, giving readers a choice.)
Regular Shelf Love readers will probably know that I am forever bewailing the fact that I simply don’t have space for all the books I would like to own or keep on hand for future reading. Being able to pack a massive supply of books onto one small device definitely appeals! Still, with a good library nearby, my membership in book–swap sites, and the opportunity to get the odd review copy now and then, I’m not lacking in easy low- or no-cost access to books I want to read. But I wonder if I would find the experience of e-reading to have some benefits that I don’t get from print.
Andi at Estella’s Revenge posted this week about how the e-reader format actually helps her focus. I can imagine this might be true for me. Like Andi, I’m an obsessive page-flipper. I’m always looking to see how much further I have to go in the book or the chapter. (I have a whole book-marking system for this—because I am weird.) Also, my eyes do sometimes flit around on the page, and I end up skipping paragraphs or reading the same paragraph six times. When I played with a Nook at Barnes and Noble, I really liked how little text you could have on the “page.” Plus, there are days when I have to read lots of small text for work, and my eyes end up tired enough that being able to enlarge the text of my leisure reading would be fabulous!
So when it comes to e-books, I’m coming around. I’ve done a bit of investigation into different readers and decided—thanks in part to Steph and Tony’s thorough discussion—that I’ll probably go with the Sony should the time come soon. The Kindle is out for me because I don’t want to be locked into buying from Amazon. After playing with a Nook, I could go with that if the right deal were to come along. (Not the color, though, it seems hard on the eyes.) But the Sony’s touch interface seems the most intuitive, and I really like the idea of having a stylus for underlining and notes. I could take or leave the wi-fi option. In fact, Sony’s lack of wi-fi could be a benefit because it would stop me from making impulse purchases and downloads.
With over 200 unread books in my house, I’m not sure that now is the time for me to get an e-reader, but I could change my mind anytime—and another good deal may just do it. Either way, I don’t think I’m likely to ever give up entirely on paper books or on physical bookstores. For some books, though, I think I could easily adapt to the new format.
Edited on Monday night to add: Sometimes I find that I can’t stop thinking about a potential purchase, and it’s easier and less mentally taxing just to buy the thing and be done with it. After two weeks of mulling over an e-reader, I decided earlier today that I need to just stop mulling and get next one I found that suited me at a price I could afford. Tonight, I happened upon a Sony PRS-600 Touch on Ebay for $99. It does everything I want an e-reader to do, and the price was right. Because I’m holding firm on the TBR dare, it may be a while before I do much actual reading on it, but I may use it to read a portable version of one of the more massive tomes on my TBR (The Children’s Book?). We shall see.