10 December 2009

Electronic Books, Thoughts About, Part One

Many people are pondering the new devices called e-readers, some for gifts, some to own and use themselves. They cost a couple of hundred dollars each, plus the cost of electronic books to read on them.

Some readers sense a serious threat to paper-and-ink. Others believe electronic book reading devices are not very important; simply one more format in a long line of formats, from mud to papyrus, vellum to paper, now electrons encased in plastic.

In other words, The book is dead – long live the book... Again!

My brother bought an Amazon Kindle for his wife’s birthday last month. “I love it, I absolutely love it,” she told me over the Thanksgiving table. Aha, I thought, how do other readers feel about these things? I sent out a set of questions and received back a veritable torrent of responses.

Questions and responses were sent and read electronically. Already we read and write in electrons and hardly notice it anymore.

One of the most informed responses came from Christie Olson Day, owner of Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino. She wrote, “As for the Kindle, I have only one problem with it: amazon.com. Amazon is the Wal-Mart of the internet -- and I mean that in the worst possible sense. The relentless downward pressure on prices (for books, for woks, for everything) has brought a slew of hidden costs to the public. Amazon is selling e-books at well below cost in order to capture the audience, and once you buy a Kindle you are well and truly captured, since you can't get your content anywhere else. It costs between $3 and $4 to print and ship a hardcover book, and that should be the price difference. If publishers allow Amazon to establish the market for e-books at $9.99, they simply won't be able to afford to publish. Who wins?”

Two major publishers did announce this week they plan to withhold electronic versions of new books for four months after publication in hard cover. This is a first attempt to separate in customer’s minds the printed book from its electronic version.

Christy continued, “I expect that some of our customers will want to read e-books some of the time, and I'd like to be able to meet that need while keeping a gorgeous selection of paper books in the store. So as a bookseller, I don't have a problem with e-readers. The Sony Reader is a nice gadget ... and I may use mine some day. I can visualize the e-book as a helpful addition to the already-successful formats offered on paper: hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, e-book. The digital version should be priced almost like a hardcover upon release, then be reduced to the trade paper cost, then the mass market. This system would keep the markets for paper books and e-books healthy.”

Deb Kvaka wrote, “Just like with newspapers, there is something gratifying about holding the printed paper in my hands to read. I do not have Kindle, nor have I ever tried it; I really don't even want to. I do use a computer, an internet radio, and other new-fangled contraptions. ...Browsing in the bookmobile or a small bookstore is one of the true pleasures in life. Carrying an engaging book with me to read in those spare moments, or cuddling up in front of the woodstove with a cup of tea and a good book......ahhhh.”

Tess Albin Smith: “I can't fathom reading a book on the computer, or watching TV on the computer either, for that matter. I use the computer
for too many other things... What I do with current technology is rent (audio books) free from the online county library, download them to my mp3 player, and play them for my walks and long drives. It gets me out of the house for lots of exercise, since I can't wait for the next installment. I still read 'real' books too once in awhile.”

Susan Lowery: “I have a Kindle, and admit to being somewhat ambivalent about it... It's nice to be able to change the type size when it feels too small – or large, for that matter. Not so great on illustrations, but then, one doesn't think of Kindle for art books or coffee table books. I use the Kindle for travel. It's far more portable than a stack of books, and I like to travel as light as I can. The built-in dictionary is really nice, as is the ability to make notes, highlight, etc. I love the battery life, weight, size, all that stuff.”

Jill Hannum: “I haven't used Kindle, or even seen it. If it's like the computer screen, it's toast in my pantheon (is that mixing a metaphor?). Paper, print -- good. Glare, electronics -- pretty hard to endure for more than an hour... Good books are everywhere -- in friends' (homes), at the library, flea market, second hand store. I've paid virtually nothing for that two-foot stack of really good reads. Remind me why I'd spend good money to buy a new device to access good words... Does Kindle automatically power off if you fall asleep on the couch while reading?”

(MUSIC) There is much more to say about the future of books, electronic or otherwise, yet no more time. We’ll continue this discussion next week. In the meantime, if you have an opinion, please send a note to amiksak@gmail.com. I'm blogging at www.wordsonbooks.blogspot.com and I also enjoy reading your comments there.


USA Today has a good recent article on the e-reader question... And if you search you’ll find many, many more articles from numerous sources.

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