Wednesday, December 22, 2010

WSJ: A Kindle for Christmas?

In the December 10, 2010, edition of The Wall Street Journal, Dan Newman discusses why he doesn't want a Kindle for Christmas. Excerpts:
I should be the perfect candidate for an e-reader: I own thousands of books, lack space for more and often schlep several heavy volumes in my bag. So when I begged my family to refrain from getting me a Kindle for Christmas, they were confounded. ...

E-books are not only better, my family claims, but inevitable. Retail giants tend to agree. Leonard Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble and its biggest shareholder, has said that, "Digital publishing and digital book-selling will soon become the most explosive development in the history of our industry and will sweep aside those who aren't participating." The physical book will soon be akin to the parchment scroll. ...

So why do I doubt that I'm being left behind?
Read the whole thing. Newman lays out some pretty good arguments for print's continuing relevance, especially the idea that "physical memory runs deep," that the tangible form of a volume impacts us almost as much as its verbal content. He mentions how University of Washington Book Arts Librarian Sandra Kroupa likes to dump a stack of Little Golden Books in front of adults and watch them beam, a reaction that virtual ink surely wouldn't elicit. Such tactile joys have always seemed to me a clincher for physical books.

And yet.

I also find in myself a growing predilection for e-books, and not only because a worthy electronic publisher deigned to include me in one of its anthologies. (By the way, have you picked up your copy of Discount Noir yet? Makes a great Christmas present!) It's hard to deny e-books' advantages. Yesterday, a friend in the pastorate told me he's eyeing a Nook for his non-theological reading, something light and simple he could have at his fingertips whenever he wants to snatch a paragraph or two. He isn't a techie or an early adopter; he's drawn by the device's ease of purchasing and massive storage. I'll wager that his experience is representative of the larger market, a developing dual track where e-books are embraced without abandoning print. A fine compromise, if you ask me.

(Picture: CC 2010 by
Micah Taylor)

18 comments:

C. N. Nevets said...

I can't describe how much I prefer print books over eBooks, but I'm thinking I would like an e-reader at some point. For one thing, there are books which are now available only in that format; why deprive myself of them? For another, I have some kind of allergic or similar reaction to printed paper that has long been a frustration when reading. It would be fantastic to not always have to deal with that.

Print is not dead, and it's not likely to be, but like the train and the ship, it may find its use becoming more specialized.

Evan Lewis said...

My main problem with Kindle is the same as with other new technology. By the time I get one there will already be new improved versions, and in two years it will be practically obsolete.

Jim Murdoch said...

My wife bought me a Kindle for Xmas and I’ve been playing with it for a while now because as usual she couldn’t wait to give it to me. I got my first e-book reader about ten years ago – the Rocket eReader – and apart from the fact that it could only really read TXT, and HTML files I actually prefer it to the Kindle in so many ways; the main one being the back light. I’ve loaded up a few textbooks into the Kindle and that’s where you see the real difference between paper and electronic ink. It is a chore to underline and jumping back and forth between texts is awkward. For straight reading it’s fine but as I’ve said I really don’t see any real difference in the quality of the display after ten years. They need to do a lot with the interface though. This feels more awkward than a ZX81.

Loren Eaton said...

Nevets,

Specialization seems a good way to think about it. For instance, e-reading makes a lot of sense with easily disposable items like newspapers and magazines.

Loren Eaton said...

Evan,

Ah, welcome to The Late Adopters Club! I'm the president of the local chapter. We're thrilled to have you join us.

Loren Eaton said...

Jim,

I'd be interested in knowing just what the differences were between paper and e-ink. I have dry eyes and reading on a screen for an extended period becomes a chore for me. Honestly, that's a big reason why I haven't gotten an e-reader.

B. Nagel said...

A Sony E-reader recently came my way. I've really enjoyed it. The e-ink rates much easier on the eyes than any sort of backlit screen (laptop, CRT, television). IT reminds me a bit of the original Gameboy display, black on light gray. But without the music. or the movement. or the falling blocks. or the koopas.

E-ink saves not only your eyes, but also your battery life because the screen only refreshes when you change something. Essentially, you use no charge no matter how long you stay on a single page.

The e-reader is not as intuitive as a bound book, nor as tactile. As mentioned above, editing, notes and highlighting are difficult at best. But if you are trying to consolidate packing for your holiday trip and want to bring along some pulp, minus the pulp, it seems a decent solution.

Jim Murdoch said...

I spend hours in front of a computer screen every day and I honestly can't say the text on the Kindle was any problem. I made the ink as dark as I could though. As I said, for normal reading, which is what I expect most people will want to do with it, it's fine. My wife got me a cover which adds a considerable amount to the weight but it's still no heavier that War and Peace and a lot less awkward.

Ben-M said...

I'm with Newman. I've no doubt that some type of tablet reading/writing slate will feature in our futures and I look forward to that time, but I see the current (and next-gen) offerings of e-readers as over-hyped trendy products created to sell product, not functionality.

There is also a conflict of interest in the current market, of sorts: the e-reader manufacturer wants to sell e-readers, not books. Once everyone has one, does the mfr roll over and die, or do they create a market for a new, better e-reader? And once everyone's living in this short-term world, is the cost of reading a book for someone who only reads say, one a year, going to be the cost of a new e-reader every year? Will the measure of a man - and the topic of college discussions - not be whether he's reading War & Peace or Asterix, but whether he's using a Kindle or a Nook? Have we lost sight of the forest and become enamoured of the trees?

E-readers lack the reassuring permanence I enjoy in an old 1905 Jack London novel on my shelf, the knowledge that I can pick up a book written when the Wright Brothers were still at Kitty Hawk and read it in its original medium. The books on my shelf may, I hope, outlive me and be enjoyed by my children; the songs in my iTunes collection sure won't.

Donna Hole said...

Don't tease me dude; I want a Kindle b/c so many of my bloggy friends have self published with e-reader only formats that I can't read their stories without one.

I love the feel of a book also; and the prestige of showing off my bookshelf.

I guess I'm just cheap; but I'm tired of paying over $20 for a hard book that I've found so many formating and plot errors in I only read once - and think of trading to a used bookstore.

I put the money into a hard copy book b/c I expect to read it over and over and I want my friends and family to "see" what has caught my interest. E-books aren't shared or displayed, but they get read.

@Nevets: you need a man purse to carry your current read :)

C. N. Nevets said...

@Donna -- The hold I have on my tough, scary guy image is tenuous enough.

Loren Eaton said...

B.,

Travelling seems a shoe-in for e-readers. Otherwise, eh, not so much.

Loren Eaton said...

Jim,

You see, I need to be careful with my computer use every day or else my eyes transform into burning coals. Ouch.

Loren Eaton said...

Ben,

E-readers lack the reassuring permanence I enjoy in an old 1905 Jack London novel on my shelf ...

Absolutely true. E-readers and e-books certainly have a place, but print hold a cache they have yet to match.

Loren Eaton said...

Donna,

Actually, there a program that lets you read Kindle files on your PC. 'Tis free, too!

Loren Eaton said...

Nevets,

MURSE.

AidanF said...

My office mate tries to be very cutting edge and has had a kindle since they first came out. I avoided getting one, but can't read paperbacks because they exacerbate my RSI syndromes in my hands (especially when I get totally lost in a book and stay up all night to finish it). I let my office mate lend me his kindle when he upgraded and discovered ebooks work around this and therefore for me, they are better ergonomically and have become a preferred format.

Loren Eaton said...

That's interesting, Aidan. Neil Gaiman once mentioned how the Kindle's text-to-voice feature was a selling point for blind readers. Hit a button, and you instantly have a book read to you, albeit in a very mechanical manner.