Home > Product Reviews > Kindle part 1: What’s the deal with ebooks anyway?

Kindle part 1: What’s the deal with ebooks anyway?

My plan is to write a series of posts covering my experiences with the Amazon Kindle. Obviously, mileage may vary depending on reading habits and comfort with technology.

This post will focus on my thoughts on ebooks in general.

Needless to say, I read a lot of books and own a lot of books (between my wife and I, we have a library of over 4,800!). I love browsing for them, handling them, the smell of the ink, and cataloging them. Sadly, I’ve purchased second copies of some books just because I like their packaging (omnibuses can quickly become my downfall).

So the question was: would I ever convert to e-books? The answer is a qualified yes.

My first exposure to e-books was via my Palm handheld. Several prominent science-fiction publishers (Baen in particular) began releasing some backlist books in this format to entice readers to purchase later volumes in these series (go to the Baen Free Library to check it out!). When purchasing David Weber’s latest Honor Harrington novel a number of years ago (I think it was War of Honor), the Baen published hardback included a CD containing all of the previous volumes electronically. I quickly found that I enjoyed the portable nature of these books — especially when I had a few moments free at lunch, in a waiting room, or anywhere else where I’d have my Palm device with me. Even the small screen of a Palm or my Treo didn’t bother me.

But the device itself never really disappeared — often when reading a dead-tree work, you can become so engrossed that the physical book doesn’t even register. You don’t even notice turning the page. I never quite felt that with the small devices.

I also didn’t see the ebook as a replacement for the physical book, but rather as a portable extension. I found myself reading the electronic book when I was out and about, but reverted to the physical copy when I got home.

In addition to the portability, I really benefited from having a decent number of books with me. For example, when reading the David Weber Honor Harrington books, I could immediately start on the next one without interruption, or could switch quickly to another genre if I wasn’t in the mood. Certainly, traveling was ideal with my Palm, although I always seemed to pack at least one physical book, partly due to the strain on the battery.

In the advent of the Kindle era, the first year, I honestly read many books on the device which I already owned, but my reading pattern changed:  I generally did not switch to the normal book at home.

It hasn’t been until more recently (last six months or so) where I’ve felt more comfortable buying a book exclusively for the Kindle itself. I think this is especially true for non-fiction books and newer-to-me authors, where I don’t have a collection to keep complete.

Frankly, I’ll likely buy more ebooks as publishers begin embracing it more for all of their new books and their backlists. The inconsistency of the available books is perplexing to me. Some authors and genres are well represented; often specific books are oddly missing.

For me, there is still joy in browsing the shelves at the local bookstores and used bookstores. And, I still buy books there, probably too many — especially if I own the rest of the series. But I’m getting much better at pausing, checking whether a book is available in electronic format. I’ve often thought about the quote from Seinfeld:

“What is this obsession people have with books? They put them in their houses like they’re trophies. What do you need it for after you read it?”
— Jerry Seinfeld

Now, I definitely reread my books, but I have begun to question whether having a physical (and heavy — take it from me who has had to move my boxes 4-5 times between apartments) copy is as important as having the text readily available to me, wherever I am?

I hope bookstores never go out of business.  But it really makes me wonder whether the form of the media itself really matters, or is it the content?  With the caveat that if I think I own the content, there isn’t fine print somewhere that I’m merely renting it.

I’d love to hear what you think!

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  1. Sarah
    October 28, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Here is my main grouse with e books. If I buy a book I feel like I should be able to loan it out to friends. And I like being able to borrow books from friends. There isn’t this sharing with e books. Same reason I do not often buy electronic versions of musc or movies either. The electronic only format doesn’t give me the same flexibility of use that a physical copy does.
    I do however have quite the collection of free books on stanza on my Touch. And I like having something to read if I find myself with some spare time and away from my stack of actual books that I am reading.

    • michaelldennis
      October 28, 2010 at 3:27 pm

      Yes, that is really a sticky issue. Both the Nook and the Kindle have attempted to address this with temporary and one-time loans (obviously would need the electronic device or a compatible service like Kindle for iTouch or Kindle for PC), but it certainly isn’t perfect.

      A one-time, timed loan doesn’t allow much flexibility.

      Sharing a second device or account is an option, but is either expensive or risky unless you really know the person.

      It all comes down to how to protect the content in a digital age where every copy is exactly the same as the original. How can you prevent diluting the value of the product when people can merely post the file online for anyone to grab? In today’s world, reprinting a paper copy really isn’t an effective solution, so it works.

      There has to be some equitable solution. I like the idea of loaning a file, and can accept not being able to view it myself until it’s returned (or it expires). I would, however, like to be able to loan it multiple times, or set the expiration myself. Because at that point, the loan is very similar to the loan of a physical book.

      It seems like Amazon’s model could be made to work if a text owner could essentially transfer ownership to another individual with an Amazon account, using their software and database to ensure that only a single purchased copy was out in the ether….

      Assuming a technical solution is available, I wonder whether publishers will be willing to sign on. Because even if the hardware vendors make it possible, publisher contracts with authors, copyright agreements, and distribution channel agreements (with Apple, Amazon, B&N, etc) may hinder this.

      If anyone can figure out a solution, they’ll be rich.

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