The other day I bought The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson because of a review I read by Eva at A Striped Armchair that was so compelling that I had to buy the book. I went to Amazon and found the trade edition for $12.21 while the Kindle edition was $9.87, and I thought for $2.34 I’d spring for the beautiful New York Review Books Classic paper edition. Now that I have that book in my hands, which is a very nice trade paper copy, I’m wishing I had gotten the Kindle edition. Or waited until just when I was ready to sit down to read it before buying it. I’m finding several ways the Kindle is making me rethink my book buying and reading habits, and I’m not sure publishers and writers will like these changes.
The addiction to own beautiful books is one thing, but to read them is another problem, and I’m discovering that it’s much easier to read books on my Kindle. Mainly I’ve been using my Kindle to get free and cheap books, because I’ve always liked to collect books, and owning the Kindle edition doesn’t feel like I own the book. This is an emotional conflict. I like holding the real book until it’s time to sit down and read, and then I wished it was on my Kindle so it would be easier to hold and easier to read because I can magnify the font. But I hate the thought of spending $9.99 for electrons.
Ebooks look better on my iPad, but it’s actually harder to hold than a hardback. Ebooks are easiest to read on the Kindle.
I took some extra days off here at Christmas and I’m cleaning up my bookshelves today to make room for all the books I’ve bought in the last few months that are just sitting in piles around the house. Which brings me to problem #2. I buy far more books than I read. I figured I’ve got 40-50 years worth of books waiting for me to read. I really should stop buying books altogether. Especially since of the 50-60 books a year I do read, most are listened to as audio books.
Okay, I’m crazy. Yes, my name is Jim, I’m an addict. I’m addicted to book buying.
If I was wise, I’d stop buying books in 2012. Or not buy any book until I’m in my chair ready to read at which time I can order it from Amazon. The Kindle really does facilitate a chain reading habit. Finish one book, order another and start it in 30 seconds.
Collecting ebooks is just plain no fun. If Amazon kept all my books online in some kind of virtual library where I could admire their number, see their colorful dust jackets, and flip through their pages and feel like Midas with his pile of gold, then maybe it would be fun. But as it stands now, my growing number of books on my Kindle is only annoying because it makes finding a particular book more difficult. Note to Kindle developers – invent some kind of interface for organizing books into various collections and topics. Just archiving isn’t good enough.
If I become a total Kindle reader then I’m not going to buy books way ahead of time. I’m going to assume that anything I want to read that’s in print as an ebook will stay in print as an ebook and I can get it when I actually feel like reading it. I doubt the Amazon planned for this when it started pushing ebooks. They probably thought we’d buy books just like we’ve always had but just electronically.
Instead of buying ebooks ahead of time, I might just download the sample chapter. That will leave a place holder that reminds me that I want to read that book someday.
I bought two more books today, and all my Christmas presents I’ve asked for from my wife are books. But the two I bought today are picture books, books about western films. That’s not something I’d want to read on the Kindle. But I would like them on the iPad if they were fully multimedia. Whoops – Amazon doesn’t sell iPad app books. I bought a special iPad edition of The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True by Richard Dawkins. I’m not sure it would even look good on a 7” tablet like the Kindle Fire. Now I have to worry about two virtual libraries – one at Amazon, the other at Apple. And the book by Dawkins is an app, so it won’t even be in the iBooks library. What a pain for the future. I’m also thinking about buying the multimedia edition of On The Road by Jack Kerouac, but now I wonder. How do I save such books for the rest of my life?
I have a wall of books that sits across from my La-Z-Boy where I read. It’s quite wonderful to gaze at, and to think about all the wonderful books I have sitting there. Old friends that go back to when I was a kid, and all the unread books that will be uncharted territory to explore. What will it be like if my library was in the cloud? Can computer programmers ever develop a virtual library that’s fun to gaze at, or offer just as much fun to pull titles down from a virtual shelf and flip through their pages? I don’t know, but I suppose some brilliant young programmer will think of something.
[click photo to enlarge]
First, ebooks have changed the way I read. Now they are changing the way I buy books. Next they will change the way I store and collect books in my lifetime library. What will an ebook reader look like five years from now, or ten? What are the possibilities of a virtual library? And where will my virtual library reside? At a bookseller’s server farm? Or will I pay to keep them elsewhere? Can we trust our lifetime of book collecting to Amazon, B&N, Google or Apple? And would I want to have multiple libraries? That’s already the case now that I have books at Amazon and Apple. And will I continue to own books? I stopped buying music because I rent it from music libraries like Rhapsody and Rdio. Could that happen to books too?
Has anyone really thought what the ultimate results of ebooks mean? If I stick with Amazon will it be around in 30 years, or 50?
I wish it was possible to rip books like it is for music. Digital music is so much nicer to manage. Whenever I move my collection of books and CDs they’re a pain in the ass to box, ship, unbox and re-shelve. I wouldn’t mind the simplicity of going completely digital, but what will that mean? If I was a child getting my very first digital book, what’s the chance of me keeping it my whole life?
One way publishers could solve this problem is to give away an ebook edition with the purchase of a hardback edition.
JWH – 12/19/11
14 thoughts on “Rethinking Ebooks”
i reposted you essay to my 1400+contacts on facebook. i thought your piece was excellent!!
You know 1,400 people? Does that count your students, or just friends and acquaintances? You have a built-in audience. You’re in great shape if you ever publish a book. Natalie, you should start a blog too. I consider blog writing like piano practice for writers.
The Long Ships is a totally excellent book! Wow! Enjoy the heck out of it – great Christmas season reading without being connected to the holiday at all.
How come this book isn’t more famous? Every review I read of this book is overwhelmingly positive.
I can only just barely read the spines of the books on your bookshelf. But already I notice some familar spines.
Did you click on the photo to see it bigger? I don’t think you could read the spines, but it might help recognize the book.
Yep, when I made it larger is when I could start to recognize a few of them, but not many of them.
I think I might go completely digital with music. I’m not sure how that is going to work yet, but I have a tremendous amount of cds, but no matter how well I organize them, I can never seem to find the one I want at any particular moment. Or worse I know where it is but it’s in a box at the bottom of my closet and I have to move lots of boxes to get to it. If I had them all on one harddrive that would solve that problem.
I find it much easier to find songs/albums in Rhapsody and Rdio than find CDs in my collection – or from the ripped songs in Windows Media. Of course Rhapsody/Rdio doesn’t have everything, and if I’m in the mood for a certain song, then I’ve got to go find my copy
Kindles do have collections. I have more than 300 books (mostly samples) on my Kindle in 8 collections, so all the collections are on one page. I do wish they had multiple levels, but it’s a start. What’s in a collection can also be used across devices. For instance, I imported my collections into my Kindle for PC application. They may not have that ability on the iPad version, though.
I do like the idea of seeing all the books together in a virtual bookshelf to admire (and show guests). I think the Nook tried something similar with the LCD bookshelf, but people didn’t like it on the device.
Unless I have a very compelling reason to own the dead-tree version of a book, I only buy Kindle books now.
There are scanning services, but they basically take a book apart and scan each page. It’s not cheap and you don’t get the book back unless you pay even more (and they essentially re-assemble it in that case).
Some other people have told me about collections too. I just missed that completely. I created several collections for my Kindle – but it appears to be only for my Kindle and not my various Kindle apps. Another friend told me about Calibre and how it will manage collections, but I haven’t tried that yet.
I was sort of picturing Amazon allowing us to create collections at their site and they would trickle down to all my Kindle devices. Also, for my imagined virtual library I’d like to upload free ebooks I get elsewhere, so my books would be stored and managed in a cloud that’s backed up and protected, but also, create a virtual library that would look the same from all my devices.
Having subfolders within each collection sure would be a help. I’d like to start with two collections at the top screen: fiction and non-fiction. I’d then like to divide fiction into the letters of the alphabet and file novels by author’s last name. For non-fiction, I’d like to create sub-folders for various topics.
Last year Baen was including cd’s with electronic copies of the hardback when you bought it. I thought it was a good idea as it is the kind of thing that would address both of the issues you mention, and you are far from alone with your dual problems: the desire to own a physical copy of a book but get the functionality and convenience of the ereader. I cannot imagine the costs are that great and I would love to see publishers do this more often. It would cost them little to nothing from a production standpoint to include some kind of code that would allow for a one time only free download of the book in whatever format.
It is barely possible to “rip” dead tree books into eBooks, but it is a lot of work. Say if you have some 1960’s era paperbacks that are so crumbly that you are scared to read them, for fear they will disintegrate in your hands. Ones that you know that will never appear as official eBooks for sale.
You need a flatbed computer scanner and some OCR software to translate the scans into text (so you can do text searches for specific passages and whatnot, and generate chapter links). There are special scanners where the glass goes almost to the right edge of the scanner, so the text is not cut off.
It takes about half an hour to scan a paperback book into a text document. Then it takes you about a month to proofread the blasted thing.
To manage your eBooks and to convert one format into another you need the open source software Calibre. (do a google search, should be the top item). To edit non-DRM ePub books, use the open source program Sigil (also the first google search item)
I’ve tried doing that, and it’s a lot of work. I’ve always wanted to put some books in Gutenberg, but I’m not quite sure they are out of copyright.