E-Book Readers: Yay or Nay?

Movies are most convenient when they’re digital. We’re all sick of returning them to video stores and Netflix, not to mention going to get them in the first place or waiting for them to ship. Just when you upgrade your entire VHS collection to DVD, they go and come out with Blu-Ray, the bastards. Albums should also be digital. Unless you live alone you can never find the CD in the right jewel case, and when you do manage to find it it’s often scratched beyond use.

But what about digital books?

Movies and music can be enhanced by new technologies. Books can’t. When a movie you’ve seen a hundred times comes out on Blu-Ray, you sometimes want to see it again. That clearer picture and sound enhances your experience. Books are the same across the board, whether you read them in hardback, paperback, or on your computer. The experience remains unchanged.

Books haven’t changed much in hundreds of years. They don’t break when you drop them. They don’t have to be plugged into the wall. You can’t really do anything to improve the content until the day comes when we’re jacking them straight into our heads via a neural transceiver and, even then, most bookworms will opt out for the traditional experience.

So I’ve been pretty skeptical about the e-book devices, which is a growing market dominated by Amazon and Sony, but this story from Times Mobile piqued my interest. That the device essentially opens and closes like a traditional book is a step in the right direction, I think. And it’s made by Asus, who more or less pioneered the netbook. The article also says that Asus is aiming for a harmonic balance between price and functionality and who could complain about that?

Bookworms, for one. There’s only one reason I want an electronic reader: the backlight feature, which doesn’t warrant the price tag. I just want to read in bed again. My girlfriend says the bedside lamp doesn’t bother her, but her presence is distracting to me, anyway. My cellphone doesn’t seem to wake her, but have you ever tried reading an e-book on your phone? I’ve seen small print legalese that strained my eyes less.

Then you get into the problem of DRM (digital rights management), which is packaged with most legally purchased e-books. DRM is the copy protection that limits your use of the software. Virtual books are bought no differently than traditional books (sometimes the digital versions cost more than the ink and paper versions), but you probably won’t be able to freely lend the non-physical book you paid hard-earned cash for. Technically, that means you don’t actually own it. No resell or transfer rights is like paying for a book you have to return to the library.

I don’t really see a way around that, other than pirating the books, which DRM doesn’t seem to prevent, so what’s the point of DRM at all? This copy-protection bullshit only affects the legal users—the people who shelled out dough. Why punish them? One of the greatest pleasures of reading is the whole, “Hey, I just read this great fucking book, now I’m going to make you read it” thing. I’m not prepared to give that up, yet.

The good news is, these e-readers are easy on the eyes. Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s device have beautiful e-ink displays. The first time I saw one in real life, I thought I was looking at a demonstration display until I flipped to the next page. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were reading an actual piece of paper. So far, though, the e-ink displays aren’t capable of color and who knows how expensive they’ll be when they are? Kind of lame when you’re reading the Sunday funnies, huh?

And how will pop-up books and Playboy centerfolds make the transfer? Built-in holographic projectors?

Like I said, paperbacks are remarkably hard to break and you don’t ever have to plug them in. They’re reliable, because of this, and thieves don’t steal books. They steal laptops and $200 e-book readers. So make me a cheap, holographic, color e-book reader that doesn’t break, that works off of broadcast power, that is impossible to steal—and abolish user-restricting DRM practices—and I’m there dude. That still doesn’t mean I’m going to stop scouring the thrift shops and flea markets for used books.

2 thoughts on “E-Book Readers: Yay or Nay?

  1. I'd probably buy one. Finding affordable English books in Germany is not easy if you are a student and I AM talking about used ones. The only alternative for me is reading pdf's on my laptop screen which is killing my eyes.

    I think e-book readers are going to be the next best thing, for bookworms like me, since amazon. Plus, it will minimize the use of wood for newspapers and books so we'll only have to worry about bio-fuel, housing and toilet paper, for which there are already much more effective alternatives, even though nobody really promotes them.

    If they come-up with an e-book reader which is easy on the eyes, affordable, can run on batteries for about 10 hours non-stop and doesn't come with a bunch of annoying messages from amazon or anyone else I'd buy it.

    The fact is that DRM doesn't bother me, if I can't afford my books I just download them illegally from the internet. I am pro piracy and I don't care about what anyone has to say about it.


  2. Thanks for commenting.

    Something I noticed recently is how much Google Books has grown as an alternative to buying books. I thought there would only be public domain titles and books so lousy they didn't sell very well in stores. However, last I checked, they had Neuromancer, Snow Crash, Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World, and the book I just paid $17 for (Greg Bear's The Forge of God) — all for free and presumably legal. I have around forty books on my reading list, most of which I'll probably buy new just so I don't have to wait or search for them. That's a stupid amount of money to spend, especially knowing that a lot, if not most, might be available for free on Google Books.

    So, if the device you describe connects to Google Books, and by “affordable” we mean somewhere around seventy dollars or less, I'm all in. Even so, many of the books I read WON'T be on Google Books and often times they just aren't that popular to have a significant amount of seeders.

    I've considered the impact of books on the environment as well. I have no numbers on this, but I would suggest newspapers have a slightly bigger impact than books. When you're getting garbage like USA Today sent to your house everyday, and you're only reading the sports page or the weather section, how do you defend that? The news is better on the Internet than it is in the papers (I get a large chunk of my news delivered directly to my cell phone), yet people still insist on getting the paper. Then again, I think this trend is dying with older generations.

    The best option for me, I think, is an e-book reader with an e-ink display that connects to the Internet and allows me to make phone calls. That would be worth the current price of these readers, in my opinion.


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