05 November 2009

Downsides of the Ebook...

I have been ruminating about ebooks and Amazon's Kindle recently. I am not a Luddite and believe they have their place but I am not of the "this changes everything" school. About 18 months ago one of the Motley Fool crew wrote a piece about 'Why Kindle Will Change the World' - this was a sort of U turn after initially calling it a $399 paperweight. On examination the main reason he thought it was so fab is that he managed to publish a novel in Kindle form with a few key strokes. It was a 'cheesy' coming of age novel ( The Last Perfect Fathers Day) that he had written as an intense young student and had lying around on his hard drive in MS Word. 'In seconds, Amazon chewed it up and spat it back out in Kindle's HTML…' He priced it at $2.59 and it already has a couple of reviews and is 25000th in the Kindle charts. There is something marvellous about this and before long a work of real genius may appear just in this manner.

There is no reason why computers, printed literature and Ebooks cannot co-exist --Dell, Book and Kindle as it were. But there are some disadvantages to these devices (Kindle, Nook and the Sony Reader etc.,) which I am happy to enumerate.

1. A printed book is a delight to handle, it doesn't need a battery and it has worked well for 555 years. Call it low technology.

2. If you are on the move a paperback is easier to carry around.

3. You can't wedge a ebook under a wonky bed or table.

4. You can't throw it across the room in disgust (actually you can but it's an expensive gesture.)

5. You can't press leaves and flowers between the pages.

6. You can't lend it to a friend (Nook reckon they have sorted this out but it's just not the same.)

7. You can't get it signed by the author.

8. J.K. Rowling won't allow any of her books to appear in this format (however Dan Brown is only too keen.)

9. They don't smell of anything.

10. You can't proudly shelve it and you can't show off or boast about your book collection.

11. You can't watch the books go up in value. You can't sell the books.

12. You can't donate it to a library.

13. You can't marvel at the beauty of its hand coloured illustrations, chromolithographs, pochoirs etc.,

14. You can't have it finely bound in leather with silk endpapers and fine filigree work.

15. You can't slip press cuttings in it or hide bank-notes in it.

16. Thieves can steal it right out of your hands (this cannot happen with a real book, thieves are just not interested.)

17. They are not biodegradable and as time goes by the current models will look as dated as a Psion organiser (hence expensive updates...)

18. A book can be looked at for a few minutes with the reader flipping backwards and forwards (browsing) effortlessly. You
can then convince most people that you have read the book. Much harder with an Ebook.

19. You can spill coffee or wine on a book and it's still legible, with an Ebook you are suddenly down $399.

20. Lastly (for the moment) if you had an EBible you couldn't swear on it with any conviction, let alone bash it or thump it.

More thoughts on this to follow -reading books on an Iphone, the concept of the Cloud Library, why indexes don't work on hand-held devices and some consideration of their advantages...


Selena Kitt said...

1. An ebook is FUN to handle... ;)

2. An ebook is actually just as easy to carry around... and weighs less, esp for a student, than 10 huge textbooks!!

3. Okay you can't wedge it under the edge of a table... but jeez, dude, buy better tables!

4. Throwing books across a room isn't a good idea, either... you could break something. ;)

5. But you could press flowers between TWO ebook readers...

6. You could lend your whole ebook reader to a friend, sure, why not?

7. You can't lend an ebook to a friend, no... but some limited "borrowing" may be available soon!

8. JK Rowling is a tech snob... and Dan Brown is greedy. And smart.

9. Well... they do smell like plastic...

10. You can't shelve it, but you don't have to pack and move all those %*$*# books either!

11. You can't "collect" ebooks in the same way, no...

12. You can too donate ebooks to libraries!

13. There are LOTS of graphic ebooks out there - they're fantastic!

14. Yeah, but who really reads leather bound books anyway? They're just pretentious shelf-sitters! :P

15. But you can take your entire bookshelf around with you!

16. Well if it's a "valuable" leather-bound edition, thieves might be interested! ;)

17. Yeah the "green" thing is bothersome... but the tradeoff in paper, man! Just think of the trees!

18. Kindles "flip" pages... ;)

19. Ebook readers dry out pretty well, actually... and don't stain...and books always still smell like coffee...

20. I'll give you that one!

Bookride said...

Thanks Selena. You may have scored some points of an old fogey there! I guess these things have their advantages and some enthusiastic supporters, so far I haven't seen many around--must get out more.

When we did a thing on backpacker classics one guy wrote in to say he carried over 300 books around the world with him on his Kindle - not unimpressive...

Edwin Moore said...

Excellent exchange - thanks Nigel and thanks Selena

Anonymous said...

I see certain advantages of the ebook: a bookshelf full of books turns from an asset into a liability when you're moving, and I like the idea of having access to all of my books whenever and wherever I go.

But having worked with computers for the past few decades I'm very aware of the obsolescence of electronic devices. If I were to invest in buying electronic copies of books going forward, and possible replace my physical books with electronic copies, what will I do when the ebook device becomes obsolete and/or replaced with something else in a small number of years? Will my books transfer to the new device, or will I be required to buy them yet again, just as I have had to repurchase my music as the technology has moved from LP to 8-track, then cassette, then CD, etc?

Anonymous said...

Good point Selena regarding ebook replacing heavy text books and they are eco friendly, by using less paper in the first place if the book is published straight away as an e book, but personally, I love the touch and feel of books and get dizzy reading for long periods of time from a glaring screen. So for now I will be a dinosaur and will continue to purchase traditional books, take them home and pick up and put down at a whim instead of looking for the ebook that I know I left around somewhere!

Thank you so much for this site I love it.

Simon said...

Hi Nigel,

The crux of the matter isn't whether one should eread or not, it's whether one has absolutely any reason to keep hold of shelves full of tatty hardbacks that are of no value and have now been replaced. For example, I have most of Martin Amis' books in electronic format, yet I still have a full set of tatty paperbacks that I refuse to dispose of. And I'm not sure why.

Anonymous said...

I would imagine that the next generation of e-books will look and feel like a real book,nano techology would magicly re-arrange the ink on the pages,after selecting a smell option.

REB said...

Some random thoughts on ebooks:

I never understood this idea that not using paper is somehow green - paper in this world comes from trees grown for the purpose, hence it is a RENEWABLE resource - and that much more land is then kept for growing trees.

Paper is biodegradable. Plastic is not. The metal portions of an ebook are a non-renewable resource - and millions of these ebooks will end up in dumps as users constantly upgrade (joining the millions of computers and cell phones there now). They also contain toxic bits.

You don't "own" the books on an ebook. In fact, you can't even read Kindle books on anything else.

I think ebooks are a good idea for student textbooks, since these books are updated constantly and sold back at the end of semesters. Also for other things like journals and magazines that have no lasting value and are quickly tossed. In that respect, I agree there is a place for them, but they are in no way "green" devices.

Unfortunately, the youngest generations will grow up thinking ebooks are far easier to use; they are likely to abandon the notion of "ownership" in the process. Still, I hope they enjoy having to re-buy a book every time they move to a new device. This will make the publishing companies and Amazon very happy.

At one time, painting and drawing were used as a way to record people and events; then photography came in and painting retreated to its current status, as an "art." The relationship between the book and the ebook might evolve similarly - with ebooks for the everyday and ephemeral and books reserved for what is special and lasting. This might not be a bad thing.

Still, I would feel sorry for someone who hasn't known the joy tinged with melancholy of holding a book signed by a writer they deeply admire and long gone from this world.

Lastly, this idea that having an ebook saves you having to "move" heavy books and for that reason alone is worthwhile is ridiculous. I moved a good-sized library last month -- many, many heavy boxes. I don't regret it in the least - my books are the most important thing I own, and the new place didnt feel like home until they were unpacked.