Monday, January 10, 2011

Trading Up: eReaders

I see it every day on my commute to and from the office, fellow commuters who have abandoned paper and ink in favour of consuming their media of choice through a handheld tablet.

They tell me it’s called progress.

And yet, I’m on the verge of taking the plunge myself. I was sniffing around a Kindle last year when it dropped in price, but I just wasn’t able to commit to the change. Its not that I’m a technophobe or even against substituting books with eReaders. Its just that as much as I love books I’m almost equally in love with the physical process of reading them. Yes I realize that if you truly love reading than the format doesn’t matter, it’s the content that counts. But there’s no rule, at least none that I’ve seen, that says you can’t enjoy both.

I get a thrill looking over the books on my shelf and knowing that about two thirds of the way through THE STAND there’s that really great scene with the Trashcan Man. I can remember the sensation of the book’s weight in my hands as I’m as reading it and literally feel the thickness of the pages I’ve read under my thumb. So I’ll pull that book off the shelf and start leafing through the pages where I think that scene is. Sometimes I’ll get lucky and find it right off that bat. But even when I don’t, I usually start reading some other great scene and the whole dilemma is rendered moot.

(The best sound you can hear when reading? The rifle shot that comes when you pop open a hardcover and crack the spine for the first time.)

For me, the tactile sensation of reading is intrinsically tied to the material itself.

But my purchasing habits have already begun to change, I can’t tell you the last time I bought a CD or a DVD. And, like most of the legitimate media purchasing throngs I get a lot of my audio\visual material through iTunes now.

So now, with a basement overflowing with books, I need to take some of the steam out of my book and comic buying routines as well and see if I can move some of my purchases into the digital world.

Why switch?

Storage space
I’m in a real jam. I've got books stacked two rows deep on my shelves. They're cluttering up the bedroom and I've got little stashes hidden all over the house that I'm praying my wife doesn't find (FYI, its not just sheets and towels making a home in the linen closet these days). If I want to continue to buy physical copies of books from authors I'm coocoo for cocoa puffs for that means casual faves are going to need to be shunted into digital purchases. I just don't have the space anymore to keep buying things at my current rate of consumption.

It doesn't help any that I'm really bad at letting things go. Even when I'm being tough with myself I never seem to be able to donate or sell any books that I have even a passing attachment too. A couple months ago a pulled a stacks off books my shelf with the intention of donating or selling them to a used bookstore. Instead they sit angrily in my basement, forcing me to guiltily avert my eyes every time I walk past them.

Obviously an eReader would be a simple solution to this problem. I can buy book after book and as long as I have enough hard drive space I never have to worry about making room for any of them.

Price Point
Are you sick of dropping 30 bones (fellow Canadians I’m looking at you here) for every hardcover you buy? Or maybe you’re one of the lucky few that have the crazy-mad willpower necessary to wait until a title’s paperback release.

A huge mark in the eReader plus column for me is the fact that ebooks are so much cheaper than their physical cousins. Without having to worry about all the costs associated with making a physical copy of a title (printing, shipping, storage, etc) ebooks are able to appeal instantly to the budget conscious consumer. Suddenly your dollar stretches a little further and now you can buy two or three new titles where once you could only afford to get one. Seems like a win-win scenario for me.

I guess the biggest drawback here is that suddenly you’d have too much disposable income, leading you into a lifetime of sloth and gluttony. But at least you’d be a well read glutton, so good on you.

If you’re a comic book reader, like I am, you unfortunately won’t find that level of savings in your digital comics. There’s still a significant price drop, digital comics come in at about half the price of the paper and staple variety, put percentage wise it doesn’t really compare to the drop you see in books.

Ever go into a bookstore absolutely giddy at the prospect of picking up your favourite author’s latest offering, only to find the shelves have been picked bare and that your only option is an autographed copy of GARDENING FOR DUMMIES? Me neither. What’s more likely is that you got a solid recommendation from a friend about a slightly older book and you decide to give it a try. Only none of the book stores in town seem to have a copy.

That changes with ebooks. Suddenly every title you’ve ever wanted is available at your fingertips. And if that’s not the case, then hopefully it will be soon. Obviously there are practical limitations. Obscure books are unlikely to get the digital treatment any time soon. The upside to that is if the title is so obscure its unlikely to be in high demand.

As well, I’ve seen rumblings from various publishers and copyright holders over the years about not transferring material to a digital format because of compensation concerns or a fear of illegal copying. It’s important to deal with these anxieties without sweeping them under the table. After all, when you’re dealing with creation of a new industry there’s an enormous potential for all potential stakeholders to make a great deal of money. No company wants to move too fast and make the wrong deal, taking themselves out of the game while smart savvier players strike it rich.

But nothing solves problems faster than money and I’m sure whatever the hiccups are that prevent a universal library (or book store if you’re a good capitalist) from flourishing can be smoothed over by finding the right dollar amount.
So I’m on board. There are a growing number of digital consumers out there and I think I’m ready to become one of them.

But what to buy, an iPad, a Kobo, a Kindle, a Nook…what? Right now I’m leaning towards an iPad, primarily because I want my eReader to double as a platform for me to read comic books on as well.

Either way, it means trawling the Internet for a bit and getting my research on.

Any Iceberg regulars out there who’ve already made the switch? Got any recommendations (or warnings)?


  1. If you want your reading experience to mimic actual books as much as possible, you should without a doubt look at traditional e-readers (Nook, Kindle, Kobo). E-ink is crisp and clear, visible in direct sunlight, and lends itself to incredibly long battery life. I personally admire the relatively open-source approach of the Nook, its continuous upgrading of software regardless of hardware version, and the flexibility that a secondary touchscreen lends to the user interface.

    But the obvious drawback is the lack of color. There are plenty of rumors suggesting that color e-ink is just around the corner, but I wouldn't hold my breath. A device with a traditional screen -- NookColor, iPad, etc -- is thus your best bet for comic-book reading, but with huge drawbacks in terms of battery life and visibility. And since companies like B&N already provide free software that allows you to read e-books (and e-comics) on your computer, I frankly see little reason to invest in such devices -- apart from the cool factor.

    But to each their own!

  2. I agree with Anonymous. One additional difference between the iPad and the dedicated readers is their weight. I can hold my Kindle 3 comfortably with one hand and read it while standing. For the iPad you'd need both hands (I think even when sitting, because you can't hold it and swipe to turn pages with the same hand, which is possible with the Kindle) and I imagine it gets tiring quickly.

  3. Gyozo has a good point. When I have considered an e-reader, part of my decision weighs heavily (pun intended) on the weight and ease of use. So for those times when I am standing on a jam packed subway with one hand inevitably holding onto the bar (a situation that even with a paperback makes for no reading) the e-reader that I can stand and easily hold in one hand and flip pages with a finger makes so much more sense to me.

    Though I can see the want for an iPad Chris, I would wager you ought to consider if all the other bells and whistles make the iPad right for you. ie. don't just go based on colour abilities should want to USE all the other features the oversized iPhone (cough, I mean iPAd) offers you, and if you are only going to be using 1 or 2 in ten that really the best avenue.....also e-ink seems to be a really great way to transition from the printed page. my two cents.

  4. My wife gave me a Kindle last October for our anniversary. Like you, I've been interested in e-readers but not quite enough to make the plunge. I love having books and bookshelves. I may never pick up this or that book again in my life, but I WILL look at one occasionally and be reminded of a story or characters that I loved. I'll always purchase the hardcovers of my favorite authors (my Brandon Sanderson signed Way of Kings being one of my prized possessions)... but I have been smitten by my Kindle. I agree with the other who have said that e-ink is a great way to transition. Reading on my Kindle was weird at first. I forced myself to read a short-ish book (The Crown Conspiracy) and by the time I finished I had purchased the rest of the series and others as well. Now, about 3 months later, I actually prefer reading on my Kindle... I never thought I would say that. The iPad is definately cool for a multitude of reasons but, in my opinion, you have to go with one of the toys that uses e-ink.

  5. "For me, the tactile sensation of reading is intrinsically tied to the material itself."

    I couldn't have said it better myself.

    and my bookshelves are stacked two deep as well.

    I'm a booksnob, i don't consider an e-reader as "trading up", due to what I would be giving up to use it. and I ain't talking about $$.



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