The Reader’s Medium – The Pros and Cons of eBooks

12 Comments

kobo ebook reader

As a general rule, I tend to have at least two books on the go at any given time. Before I went in to marketing and copywriting, I worked in a large bookstore. The walls of my living room are lined with bookshelves that are overflowing with works of fantasy, biographies, cookbooks, atlases, encyclopedias, you name it. In short, I love books. They are and have been the cornerstone of society for many, many centuries.

But apparently it’s all changing. Last year, Amazon said that eBooks were outselling hardcovers. During my 45 minute bus commute to work every day, I see at least five people with their eyes glued to some form of eReader. I do still see people reading books the old fashioned way, but it seems that more and more often, I’m seeing electronic books.

I’ve been toying with the idea of purchasing some form of eBook reader or downloading eBooks for my BlackBerry for a couple of months now, but I’m still on the fence about it. Here’s what I know about eBooks:

Pros

  • Lighter than most books
  • Allows you to care multiple books at once
  • Highly portable, allowing you to read anywhere, anytime
  • Much cheaper in the long run
  • For people with difficulty reading small fonts in books, it’s much easier to enlarge text (still on a small screen for a smartphone but bigger on a tablet)

Cons

  • Devices require charging so you can’t exactly read on a deserted island
  • Like any computer, inherent hardware issues are likely
  • Destroys the novelty of books (some would argue)
  • Wide variety of eBook formats makes choosing an eReader difficult
  • eBooks often crowd mobile app stores and drown out real apps
  • LCD screens can cause eye strain
  • One would only need to look to the music industry to see that piracy often becomes an issue anytime something goes digital/electronic

So, from here, the argument seems equal on either side. It looks to me like it’s a matter how much stock you would personally put in each pro and each con.

For now, I’m still on the fence. What do you guys think?

Does the medium matter? Are eBooks destroying the novelty of paper books? Or should we accept this as the next step in the advancement of literature? Let me know in the comment section.

  • http://about.me/kylemcinnes Kyle McInnes
  • http://about.me/kylemcinnes Kyle McInnes

    “The medium IS the message.” – Marshall McLuhan

  • Anonymous

    How many of us are ever on a desert island? Seriously, that’s not an argument against ebooks.

    As for eye-strain: if you stick to e-ink readers such as Kindle and the original Nook, you will be okay. Besides, usually the real problem with LCD screens is the brightness and contrast settings, not the screens themselves.

  • http://twitter.com/alexwatt Alex Filion

    I’ll admit, ebooks are really friggin convenient. When my inlaws are watching french tv, its always handy to be able to download something to entertain myself. Sure, I have apps, but I also have a short attention span.

    Long term though I’ll always prefer regular books. Ebooks are more about convenience and bite sized bits of reading. When I want to settle down for the night, it’ll always with a physical book.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dave.aman Dave Aman

    It’s not like you have to choose between one or the other. Try out Kindle or Overdrive or something else. The app should be free, and you should be able to find a free book to read. At least then you’ll know if you like the medium or not. Kindle has even been offering the first book of some series for free in some cases, just to get you hooked. So it’s not like you have to read the same classic book again for the nth time. I just read an article yesterday that keyed me on to the fact that my local library offers digital book loans and there’s an Overdrive app for the blackberry now to support them. Both e-books and audiobooks! Oops, getting off track. It reminds me of discussions about the demise of the traditional newspaper. Personally it makes me sick to see newspapers shoved into a trash can and to think how much waste we’re generating, all for headlines that are already old by the time someone reads them. I’m certainly not an environmentalist by any means. It probably has more to do with the fact that I work in computer support, and printers have been the bane of my existence. Printing something out when we go through so much trouble to make sure that people can access email and network resources from so many connected devices just drives me crazy.
    Sorry, now I’m really off topic.

    I have absolutely nothing against paperback and hardcover books. But I absolutely love the digital medium. I always have my BB with me, which means I always have my books with me. I especially love the Kindle app because it knows the last page you read, and it syncs that between your Kindle account, on whatever device it’s signed in to. It can look up and define words for you, you can bookmark and annotate. If you realize the book you’re reading sucks, you can get something different right away. As for your complaint about running out of power on a deserted island, well, at least you can read from a blackberry or other lighted device in the dark. :-) And you don’t have to worry about your Tiki Torch setting your paperback on fire. :-D

  • Anonymous

    A phone is not ever going to be an optimal ereader because of screen size. So the various Blackberry ereading apps are of limited appeal, at least in cotrast to dedicated ereaders and presumably ereader tablet apps.

    The Kindle is very easy on the eyes, is searchable, includes look-up functionality, contains libraries at a time, renders books instantly available, facilitates sampling without buying, opens up a vast expanse of electronic public domain titles, including many classics and some wonderful out-of-print titles that deserve better, and by now plays well across all the other tech platforms, so that I can read a book on Kindle at home, pick it up on my Blackberry while on the bus, and then again from my pc in work during a lunchbreak, with intelligent syncing so the Kindle systems always now where I am in a book, no matter where I’m accessing it from. If you don’t leave the wifi on (and you only need it when acquiring new material or syncing, the thing lasts for a week without charging, and then charges very quickly. The pros have burried the cons in a landslide.

    I would like to see better navigation and scrolling, and most importantly, I’d like to be able to cut and paste passages for discussion purposes, into emails, etc. You think by now Amazon would lighten up on the piracy watch. People have bought the thing in droves and Amazon is selling huge volumes of e-books to people with a growing array of ereading options, yet they continue to treat us all as pirates. By locking down the Kindle and preventing cut and pasting, they are limiting its usefulness, as it also works beutifully well for reading word docs and pdf’s (provided they’re sensibly formatted).

  • http://twitter.com/ellebetz Elizabeth Cooke

    The ‘desert island’ remark wasn’t to be taken literally. It’s just commentary on portability and accessibility of an ebook in comparison to a traditional, paper book. You can take a paper with you anywhere without having to worry about battery life.

  • http://about.me/kylemcinnes Kyle McInnes

    Funny you mention the environmental argument. I’ve been having a back-and-forth with Elle over email about this. The reality is that the regulations in the forestry industry mean that forests are better now than they were 100 years ago. Buy buying print media your promoting an industry that contributes to more tree planting and reforestation. It was during the 1800s that America’s forests were in trouble because we didn’t have the same regulation. There are other factors too. Here’s a report from the UN proving forestry is stable over the last 100 years.

    http://www.fao.org/forestry/country/57478/en/usa/

    Also, we just posted about the OverDrive App. It’s eBook day on BBCool. :)

    http://www.blackberrycool.com/2011/04/07/free-overdrive-media-console-app-accesses-free-epub-ebooks-and-audiobooks/

  • http://about.me/kylemcinnes Kyle McInnes

    Also, thinking of making this my new email signature:

    “Notice: It’s OK to print this email. Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees. Growing and harvesting trees provides jobs for millions of Americans. Working forests are good for the environment and provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. Thanks to improved forest management, we have more trees in America today than we had 100 years ago.”

    http://woodonfire.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/save-a-forest-print-your-emails/

  • http://www.facebook.com/dave.aman Dave Aman

    Kyle, I actually agree with you completely. In a restroom with an electric hand dryer and a paper towel dispenser, there’s usually a little sign recommending you use the electric hand dryer because it’s better for the environment and I always wonder, “Why?” Cut down a tree, chop it up, press it down, roll it up and there, you’ve got a paper towel. Go plant another tree. As opposed to a hand dryer, powered by what, coal? Come on. Let’s not even start an argument of wood vs coal.
    I’m not opposed to paper. I’m just making the argument that if you have a blackberry AND a laptop and maybe even a tablet, do you really need to print out an email message just to read it from paper instead of a screen? Do you really need to buy a newspaper full of information that is already obsolete? When does a newspaper ever show you the most recent, up-to-the minute updates on a news story? Heck even the local news can’t keep up with the news as it happens. Do you really _need_ to have thousands (hundreds) of pages bound into a book simply because of nostalgia? Sure, I understand having a BOOK in your hands that you can smell and feel and mark up and put on a bookshelf is a tradition. And it’s one we should be proud of. All I’m saying is that technology can be a wonderful thing and it’s amazing what you can do if it’s leveraged properly.
    Now that I’ve made myself look like an absolute tree-hugging lunatic, I’d like to say that it’s probably more the “abuse” of paper that bothers me more than just the fact that we rely on it so. If you want to argue that a physical book is better because you can hold it in your hands, shouldn’t you be making hand-written letters and putting a stamp on them to mail to your friend? That’s certainly a more personable way of communication. But it’s not very efficient, is it? The fact that reading from a screen causes eye strain, however, is a huge problem. Aside from e-ink, as was mentioned, there’s not much you can do. (Gunnar glasses, maybe?) But small screen size? Well, you don’t have to be able to read the entire page all at once. Maybe I don’t read fast enough such that the smaller number of words on the screen isn’t a hindrance to me. But they’re the same words that are in the printed book, and you can adjust the font size to a comfortable setting. And I read that the Kindle people are making it so that the page numbers in digital editions match up with those in the printed copies.
    I’m going to attempt to get down from my soap box now. :-) I think this is a great discussion and I hope I’m not coming across as being aggressive. You might take it to be my tone, but it’s not my intent. I think books are a wonderful thing. I just really appreciate how technology has allowed us to access books in new ways now. I absolutely love the Kindle tech. The store is great, getting samples is great, WhisperSync is great, and for me, the reading experience is no less enjoyable than having a physical copy in my hands. Personally I think it’s more enjoyable, and more accessible. But here’s the surprise twist: As much as I love and use the Kindle service, I don’t own a Kindle.

  • brightstart

    The battery was sapped completely by the security scanners in Santiago Chile. being the first time that I took my kindle overseas I was stranded for 14 hours without a good book to read.
    I am more used to reading digital books now, I gradually getting used to them. BUT, I cannot find all the books in kindle (mobi) form

  • Nate

    I often go weeks without worrying about charging my kindle. I am one of those that is reading it on the bus. I couldn’t justify the extra weight of the books that I wanted to read, but having the kindle has reignited my passion for reading.

    I don’t buy the novelty of owning a book much. The best part of the book is the story, and getting engrossed in the characters and what is happening to them. The kindle is just as effective at doing that as a book.

    Ebook reading apps will never compare to the e-ink readers. I had the kindle app on my blackberry for a long time before I got my kindle and I didn’t read it near as much as I do my kindle. Yes all the features aren’t there, like cut and paste, but Amazon listens to customers, and I am sure they will be there at some point. You can post passages to twitter and facebook.