To Ebook or Not To Ebook

This week Barnes & Noble lowered their price for the Nook to $199, and came out with a Wi-Fi only model for $149, and on the same day Amazon lowered the price of the Kindle to $189.  Unfortunately, the iPad remains $499.  Once again I’m thinking about buying an ebook reader, but there are so many things to consider that I’m left undecided.

For instanced, I’ve been to three local bookstores trying to find a copy of Texasville by Larry McMurtry without coming home with a book to read.  If I had an ebook reader, either Nook or Kindle, I could have started reading it immediately after realizing I wanted it.

Score 1 for ebooks.  If the book is available ebook readers win on instant gratification.

Score 1 for paper.  On the other hand, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble sell the ebook edition of Texasville for about the same price as the trade paperback edition, so I wouldn’t have saved any money towards paying back the investment of $149, $189 or $499.  Why buy an ebook when the real book is the same price?  I could read the real book and give it away or sell it, which I can’t with an ebook. 

Score 1 for paper.  I just ordered Texasville as a used hardback for 1 cent and $3.99 postage.  You can get used books but not used ebooks.

Score 1 for ebooks. If I had bought the ebook edition of Texasville, Larry McMurtry would have been paid.  Buying used cuts out the author.  If all books sold were ebooks then writers will always get their cut.

Score 1 for paper.  If everyone buys ebooks bookstores will go out of business, now that would suck, wouldn’t it?

Score 1 for ebooks. The price of The End of Biblical Studies is significantly cheaper for the ebook edition.  It’s $21.77 for paper and $9.99 for the Kindle, but it’s not available for the Nook.  Bummer, because I was thinking about getting the $149 Nook.  But that’s $11.78 I could apply towards the iPad, since it does have Kindle and Nook reader software.

Score 1 for paper.  I’m going down my Amazon Wish List to test things, and it’s score another point for paper, because The Year’s Best Science Fiction 2010 is not available for ebook readers.  Actually, paper will score many points here because many books on my Wish List aren’t available in an ebook edition.  That will change.

Score 1 for iPads.  There are books that are available for the Kindle but not the Nook, and other books like Darwin’s Armada that’s available on the Nook, but not the Kindle.  The iPad has software readers for most dedicated ebook readers.  But $149 + $189 is still cheaper than $499.

Score 1 for ebooks because they offer large print and that makes reading easier for me.

Score 1 for ebooks because they are environmental friendly.

Score 1 for paper because I can share books, give them away or sell them.

Score 1 for ebooks because they are easier to hold.

Score 1 for paper to save money.  By buying used, going to the library, getting books off the free table at work or borrowing books from friends I could significantly reduce my annual reading budget.  It’s even possible to spend no money on reading if I stuck with paper.

Score 1 for ebooks because they stimulate the economy.  Not only do you need to buy an ebook reader, but you have to pay for all your new books.  This is bad for libraries and bookstores, but great for publishers, writers and the economy.  The move to a Green Economy means creating as many environmental friendly jobs as possible.

Score 1 for iPads because they are good for magazine reading.

That’s 6 for paper and 9 for ebooks, with a leaning towards the iPad.  I’m leery of spending $499 for the iPad.  I spent $199 for the iPod touch and $399 for a Toshiba netbook and really don’t use either.  I’d hate to spend another $499 for another gadget I’d end up not using too.  But I’m wanting to read more but I can’t because small print strains my eyes.  An ebook reader promises help for this handicap.

Finally, my stand on giving up paper means I don’t read magazines like I used to, and I miss that.  I can read magazine articles online from my computer desk, but that’s not the most comfortable way to read for fun.  The iPad “appears” to offer a better solution, but I won’t know until I bet my $499.

I look at my wall of books next to my computer desk and I wonder what life would be like if all those books were inside an ebook reader.  Many of them are reference books with photos, drawings and diagrams – so I can only imagine those working on an iPad. 

I had to move my wall of books when we put down new flooring and all of those books were very heavy and hard to move.  It would be strange to hold all of them in one small device.

If I was born in a future age of ebooks, would my ebook reader at age 58 hold every book I had ever read?  That’s a weird thought.  Writing this is making me lean towards buying the iPad, and maybe even spending $599 to get the 32gb model, although I’m also tempted to hang onto paper for just a while longer until the iPad 2 comes out next year.

I keep thinking of more things to consider.  Will I take my expensive iPad into the bathroom to read?  If there are four best of the year SF anthologies to consider and only two of them are sold in ebook editions, will that force my buying decision?  Will I choose Dozois and Hartwell over Horton and Strahan because they don’t have ebook editions?

Once I buy an iPad will that make me prejudice against books that don’t have ebook editions?  It’s like my friend who took a rotary phone to show his fifth grade class and one girl asked “How do you send text messages?”  If I get used to an ebook reader and then pick up a book, will I think, “Where’s the button to change the font size?”

JWH – 6/27/10

7 thoughts on “To Ebook or Not To Ebook”

  1. I love to own the paper copies of books – especially hardcovers, but paperbacks, too. But I’d read them on my computer if ebooks were significantly cheaper. (As you point out, they’re not.)

    The fact is, my computer chair is VERY comfortable, and I can read on the computer without getting a neck ache. I still like to read real books, but I do tend to get a sore neck from it.

    As far as I can tell, buying a portable reader would give me the worst of both worlds. I’d still get neck aches, and I’d have to hold the reader, rather than the book (unlike you, Jim, I find it easier holding the book). And my books will easily last a lifetime. I’m not so sure about my electronic data.

    Of course, I won’t have the latest technological toy to show off, but hey, I can live with being an old fogy! 🙂 Seriously, if I traveled a lot, I might well change my mind. But as it is, I’m not even tempted.

    1. Bill, I have a reading stand that helps fight neck ache. It has a rolling base, and a surface like a music stand on an elbowed arm that I cans swing in front of my chair. So for long reading periods, and especially for heavy books, I use the stand. The Kindle is 10 ounces, so it’s not too bad to hold, but I’d probably use it on the stand if I read for hours. The iPad is 2 pounds though, and supposedly it’s uncomfortable to hold for long, so I’d need to stand for sure.

      I do get neck ache and back ache if I read too long holding any kind of book, so I need the stand.

  2. I’m going through a similar thought process right now, although I haven’t reached the point where I’m doing any serious research. Thanks for eliminating some of that for me. A couple of comments and/or additional concerns.

    While I’m firmly entrenched in the hard-copy mindset, I’ve begun to see the point that I’ll read more (and more diversely) the more convenient it is to do so. Additionally, the thought of having access to a multitude of public domain material has great appeal. I’d never be able to afford to buy copies of it all. My biggest overall concern is continued availability. Having used computers at home since long before they were actual useful, I’ve been burned many times by a complete loss of data. In times past, this was an inconvenience at worst, but as the technology has changed and computers have become real tools at home, I can no longer afford to lose what I have. Backups are a mandatory part of the process, not occasionally, but all the time. I depend on my computer for many things that I cannot do without in my daily life. As a result, if my computer died right now or was stolen, I could have a computer and regain access to my data in a couple of days at most.

    If I start using an ebook reader, how long will it take to reach the point where I depend on it for reading? Where losing it would represent an unacceptable disruption of my daily routine for an unacceptably prolonged period? I see people complain about having to pay $80 to send off their Kindle to get the battery replaced and being without for a month. And exactly how reliable are these devices? If I drop it in the toilet or on the sidewalk, is it a goner or are they rugged enough to withstand at least some of the abuse a book gets? And how long are they expected to last anyway? I had to replace my last cell phone 2 years ago. (My parents are still using the same wall phone they had when I moved away 30+ years ago.) I replace my home computer about every three years. It’s all starting to add up. At $200, I can’t afford to buy one too many times, plus a $200 item seems more likely to be stolen. I’d be interested to know how often these things do get stolen.

    But, if it does break or get stolen, how difficult is it to recover what I had on it? Am I starting all over? Again, I see users complain that even though books they buy from Amazon are still available to them, books they had can become “unavailable”. What about things you get from other sources? Are they just gone now?

    One last thing. Are they really environmentally friendly? Electronics manufacture, in general, doesn’t have a great record there. Aside from that, the books on my shelf may be tree-killers, but they may be available to me my entire life and beyond. And each book can possibly satisfy the reading need of many individuals. How many readers am I going to require over the same span? What will happen to the ones I discard? If readers follow the same path of other electronics, any given one will become useless in a couple of years, eventually.

    Of course, having said all that, when and if they hit the magic number of a hundred bucks, I’m in!

    1. Mike, I bet they will get down to $99 this year.

      Making paper is very hard on the environment. That’s why I gave up magazines and newspapers. I rationalize that books can be preserved for centuries so they are worth their environmental cost.

      But if we stopped using paper I think the overall impact would be a tremendous plus for the Earth, even if we still made electronic devices. But we need to start making electronic devices that last 20-30, like the phones we had in our houses growing up.

  3. Jim,
    Spending “no money” on reading if you exclusively use the library are counterbalanced by the fact that you have to use gas to get there…


    In Columbus, Ohio where I live the library offers ebooks that you can check out and download to your devices from their site over the Internet.

    So if the library system continues to purchase lendable versions of most ebooks and I don’t have to spend any money on gas, that seems like a great deal to me.

  4. I’m in the same bind in terms of evaluating e-reader options. It doesn’t help the decision making process that there’s always a newer product around the corner. Rumour says a new Kindle will be unveiled in August, and the possibility of improved implementation of e-ink seems worth the wait. I tried the new Kobo at my local Chapters on the weekend and wasn’t impressed with the sluggishness. What’s interesting is that the price of barebones devices (like the Kobo) and higher-end 3G & WiFi devices (like the Kindle 2) seem to be converging – another incentive to wait-&-see. iPad is lovely, but less pocket-portable (a big consideration for me), and too like my iPhone i.m.o. Magazines & comics *do* look great on an iPad though.

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