Saturday, May 28, 2011

eReaders vs. The Real Thing

This is an article I wrote for the bookstore's newsletter. It was originally published in the October/November issue in 2010. That being said, some of the information is a bit dated (ie. the fact that I mentioned eReaders as being dreary because they are in black and white). Otherwise enjoy and tell me what you think!

eReaders vs. The Real Thing

When I thought of writing this article I had thought to pass the buck (as the saying goes)to my mom. I figured she'd have a more rational and friendly aspect to bring to the table. I tend to go from calm conversation to arguing my view in the blink of an eye. Although my arguing is only my way of trying to stay on top of a debate without losing ground and feeling like I'm bulldozed over by others who may be more informed or better with words. I’m obviously not the greatest conversationalist when it comes to convincing argument. However, upon further reflection I realized this is an opportunity for me to present both sides of the debate in a better thought out manner.

For those who know me well I'm an old soul. Many of my beliefs and ways of thinking are old fashioned, but I'm perfectly fine with that. I've long had a love for history and so to think myself similar to those who lived years ago is a comfort. When I first heard about the Kindle (Amazon's eReader) I admit I was not thrilled. I cringed and thought to myself “Oh no! This is the beginning of the end.” Okay, maybe I was being a bit dramatic. I like to think I wasn't being dramatic, but right. I mean who doesn't like to be right?

There may be a chance that some of you out there do not know what an eReader is. An eReader is a device in which digital copies of books can be downloaded on and read. Much like an iPod or mP3 player only not for music, but books. There are different devices made by several well-known bookstores and online stores.'s eReader is the Kindle, Barnes & Noble's is the Nook, and Apple Computer's is the iPad (this however was not initially created as an eReader, but rather a multi functioning computer). I believe Borders Bookstore is also coming out with an eReader soon, if they haven't already. Many of the eReaders are not only for reading books, but for getting on the internet or even listening to music.

Whether a new book smell or a musty old book smell, to me the smell of a book is an unexplainable comfort. However, eReader's can't take on the good or bad smells. Books left in a smoking environment or damp areas are ruined. There is often no hope for the books recovering.

While eBooks (the official name for the eReader's books) cost an average of $7.00 to $15.00, books hardback or paperback can cost anywhere from $5.00 to $25.00. Even more in some cases. An eBook may be cheaper, but what does a real book afford you. You can resell a book to gain back the money you spent. Perhaps you don't care that much about turning a profit on your old books, you'd like to donate them. Sorry no such luck with either option for eBooks. You can't resell it, delete yes, but they do not allow you to recoup the cost. Perhaps you thought you might pass it on to a friend. Well as long as the friend can read it in 2 weeks and doesn't mind it disappearing off of their eReader (it will reappear on your eReader). Oh yes and the friend has to have an eReader in order for this to happen. I am out the cash for a book, but that can go a long way to insuring that not only I enjoy reading it, but others might too.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

This is a point I would be hard pressed to be moved from. In fact I would say don't waste your breath. Books are beautiful. Whether their mesmerizing covers, magical illustrations, or the creamy texture of the pages they are little treasures in your hands. They come in nearly every color imaginable, hardcover, paperback, leather bound, library bound...eReader's don't lend themselves to the colorful side of life. The first word that comes to mind is dreary. The screen (of a Kindle or Nook) is black and white, flat, and altogether not enticing. A bit like reading a newspaper. Of course this is coming from someone who judges books by their covers.

Book collectors will agree the idea of what I like to call “shelf candy” is something we don't want to pass up. We enjoy having our books on display for the world. A sort of personal museum.

Timing is everything
It was just in August that I had to deal with a bookstore's lack of planning when sending out a pre-ordered book on time. I received my copy a week after the book hit stores. I was behind the eight ball and it seemed to me everyone had already finished it by the time I even received my copy. Imagine with an eReader, though, you don't even have to remember to pre-order. You'll have access to the book in a matter of minutes. You won't have to leave your home; hook your device up to the worldwide web, a click, a download, and a few minutes later you can be enjoying your book in the quiet of your own home without breaking a sweat. Book buying was never so quick and easy. Never mind that you become a hermit in the process.

Size Matters
Just as the iPod makes it convenient for you to carry thousands of CDs in your pocket an eReader provides access to all your books (purchased eBooks) wherever you are with it. What book lover doesn't love the prospect of carrying their collection with them? This also makes it easier to read multiple books at the same time. The most I've read at one time, I think, is five; with an eReader I wouldn't have to worry about lugging around the extra weight.

Tree Huggers Unite
Maybe you view the eReader as an answer to saving trees. This is very true. Think of this; Millions of books are printed every year. According to a site online* 30 million trees are cut down to make books in the United States alone. My sister, Elyza, for one (she's a tree hugger) isn't exactly jumping up and down about this statistic. The eReader would save trees, would save on printing costs: Ink, Time, Money, Employees. Here's the downside though, the real kicker, if we're saving trees we're sacrificing more in the long run. The eReader eliminates the necessity of printing. If we don't need to print anymore, we don't need printing facilities. Then we have people losing jobs (bad for the economy, so I'm told). Where does that put publishing companies? If an eBook is as simple as the author writing it, an editor proofing it, and then someone creating the digital version whose to say we need entire publishing groups for that? Pause to consider, books can be recycled as long as people are willing to put forth the effort. I would be surprised to hear that an eReader can be recycled, more likely to end up in a land fill.

P.S. Trees cut down to make paper are fast maturing trees (i.e. Pine trees) that are and can be replanted quickly.

Somebody's Watching Me
Amazon has remote access to your Kindle eReader. They can delete books as they see fit. See the article The New York Times featured in July of 2009, Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle. I'm of a mind set that eReaders are taking us down the path of Ray Bradbury's book Fahrenheit 451. The idea that a company or group has access to all my books, knows everything I read, and can delete as they see fit is frightening. It seems to me that we're playing a little too close to the fire. I for one don't want or need someone dictating my taste in reading.

One Size Fits All
Often with books you are forced to purchase a special copy in order to accommodate the necessity for Large Print. Some books are not even available in Large Print. An eReader's text can be adjusted to be as small or large as each reader prefers without having to purchase a specific edition. The idea of magnifying a book even more than a normal Large Printed book is useful.

Other Cons to Consider
- Loaning Capabilities You can loan a book only one time and only for 2 weeks.
- No Accumulative Value Your eBooks will not increase in value. You cannot pass a collection down to a family member.
- Not to be Found Some books cannot be purchased on an eReader and may never be available.
- Reading Time Lost On planes an eReader must be turned off as with other electronic devices. Making for a total of about 40 minutes, between taking off and landing, of lost reading time.
- Stolen Opportunities A thief is more likely to be enticed by the prospect of an eReader left on the seat of your unlocked car, or wherever you mistakenly leave it, than a book.
- Replacement Cost You're looking at $199.00 and up to replace the eReader.
- Take a Picture The font on tables and figures appear too small to read on the screen of an eReader. The device does not allow you to enlarge these. Possibly publishers will remedy this in the future.
- Bookmarking When you bookmark (or flag) a particular page in a book you are able to easily locate that page. Perhaps you are trying to get to page 185, easy right? In an eBook paging through a book is slow because you have to click, click, click. . .
- Scribbles Your eBook cannot be signed by the author. If it could be, what value would there be in it? My sister and I have always enjoyed the inscriptions found in older books. One such inscription, we had here at the shop once, was enough to bring us to tears it was so endearing. Come Christmas, Birthdays, or other book giving holidays you won't be able to inscribe an eBook to your loved ones.
- The Hunt. . . is over You can forget about searching through a basement full of books for that one treasure.

Other Pros to Consider
- Saved! Should you need to replace your eReader, the eBooks you've purchased are saved in a back-up system.
- Dictionary: An eReader can look up words automatically that you put your cursor next to. I even found on my cousin Nelia's Kindle that putting the cursor next to a classic author's name gave me information about the author (birth, etc.).
- Fuzzy Eyes? eReader's have audio capabilities.
- No Late Fees Libraries, such as in Ohio, are implementing systems for eReaders. You check the book out and 2 weeks later it automatically disappears.
- More! The few people I've talked to about eReaders seem to all agree, they read more now. Although one person was quick to point out that they did before too.
- Back to School Schools are even considering purchasing eReaders for their students. I can see the good and the bad in this. One good thing is I can see that it would be more cost efficient and the books themselves would have longer “shelf lives”.

Conclusion. . .
Just last week one of our regulars here at the shop commented, “Nobody really reads a book unless they hold it in their hands and turn the pages.” She has a point. Why are we so quick to abandon the real thing for an electronic device. Hundreds of years ago printing an actual book was a feat our ancestors had to fight for. Even the right to understand what you were looking at and holding in your hands was not a privilege for everyone. Each generation has its new fangled, hyped up, got to have it, that people did and will assure you “Oh it just won't take”. Take radios, talkies (yes movies used to be silent), movies in color, television, and more. We know today that yes indeed all those did take and new waves of phenomena continue to enrapture people's attention. We spend the majority of our days in front of one screen or another, some form of mechanical technology (plugged in). We enjoy the prospect of being spared human interaction. I hope and trust that I've given your minds something to chew on. Write in, tell me your opinions. Do you agree? Do you disagree? I'm anxious for feedback. A devout real book reader. . .

* is an organization that strives to replant more trees by encouraging the public to plant one tree for every book they read.
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