To eRead or Not to eRead?…That is the Question!

Whether or not to eRead is more than the simple question it seems. It’s actually a deep and involved moral dilemma akin to whether or not to get your brother-in law a Christmas present, but with greater global implications of course.

Public opinion is rather divided on the utility of the myriad of devices available for ‘on the go’ reading. It travels well? Yes. Does it feel like a book? No. And there is also the debate on which one is best to use, which has roots in the PC/Mac debate. And I can’t say without severe bias which side to stick to. I can only tell you the facts.

As for a bit of history on the topic, some people claim that the first E-Book was created as early as the 1940’s, but this was no more than a large electronic index. The next most plausible date for the birth of the E-Book is hidden somewhere in the 1960’s. When it comes to remote devices for viewing them, the Rocket E-Book was the first developed to do so. It was manufactured by NuvoMedia and sold by Barnes and Nobel from 1998 up until the year 2000.  After that things get kind of out of hand with Amazon’s Kindle, the Sony Nook and eventually the iPad; being the most mainstream of the lot. There are also many others including the Onyx International, the Kobo, the JinKe, the Pocketbook and other Sony models among MANY others. If you are interested in a more detailed history, have a look here -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_e-book_readers

I myself caved a year or so ago and with my Christmas pseudo moolah got myself a Kobo from Chapters.

The Kobo, from Chapters/Indigo!

At first, I was hesitant, because like many others, absolutely love the feeling of a thick hard book in my hand, to flip the pages and feel their texture. To experience the rich smell of an old library book, or the creaking of an old spine that hasn’t been cracked in years. (It’s almost starting to sound like I have a thing for old men…I don’t I swear…just books). So anyway, for a few months I didn’t really touch my Kobo. I still compulsively bought books at new and used bookstores,  and left them half read and strewn around my house just the way I like them. And really, what could compete? Can you imagine a life without bookshelves? Without buying thousands of dollars worth of textbooks at the University Bookstore in one go and leaving with a heavy burden and lighter wallet…not spending hours in the library getting permanent lines on your wrists from leaning on the book for too long or falling asleep on it. Or not going for long trips across the country or world with an extra twenty pounds between your carry-on and suitcase because of the hardcovers you just had to bring with you……wait a minute….that last one doesn’t seem quite right. At last a niche for the homeless eReader!

A common female problem...

Over the last year (ironically and completely coincidentally since I got the eReader) I have made several trips across various ponds to visit friends and vacation with my family. Trip number one was just before I got it, and just about had to pay for the extra twenty pounds of books I insisted on bringing to England in case I got bored…(Which I definitely didn’t..I don’t even think I managed to read a page of one of them while I was away).  Trip Number two was testing the waters, back to England I went three months later, and brought about ten pounds of books as well as the fully loaded eReader. Again, nothing got read due to my inability to read on trains without vomiting, as well as general business. I did manage to buy two more books in the plane station and read one on the plane home but that’s besides the point, and does not help make my case for eReaders in the slightest.

Impulse buying at its best!

Two weeks after I get home from that excursion I head for Cuba with my family and bring two books and the eReader, the numbers are looking better! Unfortunately I don’t trust my tipsy handling of a not-so waterproof device next to a pool or the ocean or my nine year old sister.  So it didn’t get used much there.

The next trip was five months later, back to England again and I was smarter and only brought the eReader. It was slightly used this time, but I still bought three more books while away. Also worth noting is, when the twenty pounds of books aren’t there, filling that space with clothing is much easier than I predicted.

Finally the true test of the eReader came two weeks after I returned. I was called to work up North, in Canada’s Thunder Bay for a few months doing Archaeological field work, living in a wood framed canvas tent in the middle of the wilderness. I also had to fly there, and fit two months worth of things into one suitcase including a sleeping bag, sheets, pillow, toiletries and work clothes. Living out of one suitcase proved to be easier than the initial terror made me think. And the eReader did it’s job fantastically! Not only did it save extremely valuable space, it was a great form of entertainment on cold lonely nights and with the wi-fi I could get whatever book I wanted whenever I felt like it. Plus One for the eReader!

Since then I have found the eReader useful when I want to read a book to see what it’s like but don’t want to pay full price for it, or when I want to read embarrassing things. It’s great, no one can see what you’re reading! Muahaha! The 100 or so free classics it comes with are also wonderfully handy, but I don’t ever expect to read all of them.

Alright, so lets recap. After having my eReader for one year, it’s most useful aspect is for travelling. But more specifically, reading fluff. And by fluff I mean fiction and books that you don’t need to keep constantly flipping back to re-read passages and paragraphs. Any non-fiction is kind of a pain in the butt to read on an eReader unless it’s a memoir/biography or something. I purchased a copy of ‘The Selfish Gene’ by Richard Dawkins for my eReader. It was the first thing I bought and I was so excited about getting a copy of this book that I’ve been waiting for forever, and for half the cover price to boot!  BUT, the large downside was, I was missing all the footnotes, all of the visuals and I couldn’t flip back and forth between chapters to keep up. Which is like missing half the book. So I don’t recommend at least the Kobo for non-fiction enthusiasts. On the other hand it’s absolutely perfect for trashy ‘take in the bath’ novels…  but again, I’m not entirely comfortable with this thing around water.

Some people have compared and contrasted various eReaders on things like storage, battery life, screen size and read-ability.  But when you get to far down into the nitty-gritty like that then the whole premise behind utility of the eReader breaks down completely. For example:

Humour...

So eReaders are great for travel, for reading ‘take in the bath’ fluff but not actually in the bath, for keeping shelf numbers down and for reading the free classics they give you. I know I am a book junkie, and it never hits me worse than when I go to move again. I’ve moved three or four times in the last few years, because that’s what people my age do apparently…and each time I kick myself for having so many books. They’re SO HEAVY!! And there really is no good way to pack them to make it easier. One big box will be impossible to lift, and a bunch of small boxes is also a big pain in the butt. I’ve actually resorted to using the reusable grocery bags to move my books because they work best due to the handles, and also store easily afterwards, ready and waiting for the next move.

There have been considerably more additions since then as well...

Other than those few and rather specific beneficial qualities, the eReader is turning out to be a serious parasite on modern society. That’s right…here’s where the giant moral dilemma pops up. One of my most favourite things to do in the whole world is go out into the bustle of every-day people, get a delicious fancy coffee and spend my afternoon perusing a local bookshop. Whether it be a new and used book store, or a big chain store, either works for me. So long as there are books. The cheery on top of a day like that is visiting a speciality book store, one that has more than the usual popular fiction and reference books. One with specific collections of old books, rare books and famous books. ALL bookshops are in danger with the rising favour of the eReader, but these speciality shops are what are most in peril by their popularity.  The economy just can’t handle both right now, and people encouraged to download books from their home instead of going out and looking for what’s out there, are missing the opportunity completely.

I was out in Windsor last week and I talked with the owner of a small shop called ‘Books for Less’. He specialized in buying overstock from larger distribution companies and then selling them for ‘Less’ than cover price.  These type of stores are suffering significantly from the current economic situation, and who knows if they will ever recover.

It has long been my dream to work in a unique bookshop like that, and that was what brought me out to that end of town. It also wasn’t the first time in this town that I was told that a bookshop was manned solely by the owner and they would love the help but could not afford more staff.  What’s keeping them alive right now are all the baby-boomers out there still looking for their romance novels and thrilling mystery’s.

What IS eventually going to happen is the Mom and Pop shops will disappear, then the smaller chain stores and eventually one day not too far into the future of our generation, any store that sells bound paper reading material will be transformed into a new and unrecognisable business adapted to the more technologically savvy youth of the future. Most likely based primarily online, these companies will distribute files and the technology to view them,  and there will be no trace of what we once considered the ‘bookstore experience’. The face of authorship will changed forever.

Newspapers, a once proud and successful industry has flatlined and had to adapt to an online free-information society, and magazines are also on their way out. When we are old, we will grumble at our grandkinds through our dentures that when we were young, we had to turn pages with words on them to read about things, and worse, had to go outside and buy these ‘books’ from a store!

So-long Chapter’s Day! 😦 You will be greatly missed.

I suggest we do what we can to support the written word and bound literature. Buy your books with a smile where you can, and lug your boxes of books when you move with pride and a strong back. Keep in mind you are holding onto our culture with every box! The definition of History begins with the origin of the written word, and I would hate to see it end with the death of it. Let’s leave tangible evidence for future generations, hundreds and thousands of years into the future, so future archaeologists will at least have some idea what we were up to.

So with any luck I have explained the current cultural desire for eReading technology, while highlighting some of the cultural dangers of loosing books altogether. I still have my Kobo, and I will still occasionally read from it, but it is not going to interfere with my personal love of books, and the satisfying cultural experience that surrounds them.

-Miss Hailey Jane

14.02.2012

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One response to “To eRead or Not to eRead?…That is the Question!

  • David

    The decline of printed books will make me sad, but the advantage of digital distribution means that authors will be able to get a larger portion of the profit margin. Whether or not they will be able to sell enough material to be profitable is another question though…

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