Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Books or eReaders?

Current opinion: None.

Before I learned to read, my Mother was reading to me. She read so much, that whenever she stumbled over a word she had read to me before, I would correct her. As I grew up, I only stopped reading for a few years. So books are something I can't imagine doing without. I usually have 2 books going at once (one at home and one at work) and also listen to a recorded book while commuting or travelling on vacation.

Late in 2009, my wife gave me an early xmas gift: a Barnes & Noble Nook. Not long before this, I had decided not to get an electronic reader because of the price. I can also be a traditionalist is many areas and thought I would miss having a paper book in my hands. Since I received the Nook, I have read four books on it and will continue to do so. I read the Nook at home. I have a paper book at work. And I still listen to recorded books.

I know that the long-term future of reading will be electronic. EVERYthing is going electronic. I used to use a paper calendar. And a paper contact booklet. Now I have a Personal Digital Assistant that contains both. Paper books will be around for a long time. But the writing is on the wall; the electronic wall. Books (and magazines and newspapers) will be predominantly electronic in the (near) future.

But if someone asked me which one I prefer, I wouldn't have had an answer. There are pro's and con's for both.

Books are almost always more expensive than electronic books. A paperback book of "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest" on Amazon is $13.97 while the ebook version is $9.99. This is while the book is New. Once the book has been out for a while, I can find a used copy for much less. And some used book stores will do 'trades' where you can trade five or six books for one book. I don't HAVE to have a new book. Reading a used one is just fine. The edge goes to Paper Books for price.

With my Nook, I can download a ebook anywhere. If I am on vacation and finish my current book, I can purchase a new one without ever leaving my chair. Paper books are available in any city or town, but it still can't be any easier than downloading over the air. Having said that, it's not as much Fun to look for a new book while searching on the Nook. If I don't have a new book in mind, I prefer to browse books while in a bookstore. But I usually know what I want to read next (from friends, the internet, magazines, etc), so ease of getting a new book goes to
Electronic Books.

Books are easy to skip around in. I can move from one part of the book to another instantly, checking one passage with another. Ereaders are not there yet. Ereaders do allow me to search, as long as I know what I'm looking for. If I know a word or phrase to find, it's very easy electronically. It not, it's easier to find in a paper book, quickly scanning the pages a page or section at a time. But if I want to know a word that I just read, I can look it up instantly on the same eReader instead of trying to find a dictionary somewhere on my book shelves. This one is a wash and neither gets this category.

Barnes & Noble allows me to 'loan' a book to someone. But since I can only load it to them for 2 weeks, this may not be enough time for them to read it. Paper books can easily be loaned, given, or traded with anyone. And I like having a physical book on my bookshelf. This one goes to Paper Books.

How long does the Nook battery last? Long enough if I leave it at home or I am on vacation and remember to take the charging cable. But if I forget it? Or I leave it in standby and don't read it for a few days? The battery needs to be recharged before I can read it. Potentially a big probably. Books? Battery? No brainer. Paper Books nail this one.

But while I'm on vacation, I finish my current book and want a new one. I only packed one other paper book, a mystery, and I'm not in the mood for a mystery. I may be out of luck. With the Ereader, I have several books with me. So I can choose a science fiction or biography or Jane Austin; whatever mood strikes me. Another one for Ebooks.

What happens when I spill my iced tea on either one? On my paper book, it is probably not salvageable and I go to the store to get another copy. My Nook? If I get to it quick enough perhaps I can save it from frying. I haven't done this yet, so I'm not sure how quick I'd have to be to prevent a problem. But if I destroy a paper book, I'm out a few dollars. If I destroy my Nook, I'm out almost $300. So Paper Books win this one.

While reading a paper book, I need to usually have two hands on it, one on each side, holding the pages open. I CAN read a paper book one-handed, but it gets tiring pretty quickly. With my electronic book, I can use one hand or even just put it in my lap or on the table. Since reading a book is the largest slice of the pie, easy peasy goes to Electronic Books. And to top off the reading experience, I can change the font size as I get older to make reading easier. Can't do that with a book.

Lastly, what about the envionmental impact? Surely, with all of the books in the world, the trees required, water for processing, transportation to and from bookstores, paper books are much worse. But no! Remember it takes electricity to run the Ereaders and that usually comes from coal. And when it's time to 'bury' the Ereader, the chemicals leech into the soil. Here is an article from 2009 that may surprise you. Are Ereaders greener than books (NY Times)

Now that I have thought about the pro's and con's of each, I can see that paper books are the way to go. It's easy to download and read an electronic book; but given the plusses of the other categories I've listed above, paper books still rule. I can loan it to a friend, keep it visible to everyone on my bookshelf, and not worry about destroying a book with my iced tea. For now, I plan on reading books on both mediums. If I ever destroy my Nook somehow, I probably wouldn't rush right out to replace it.

But mark my word, electronic books are the wave of the future. Just keep the liquids away from them for now.

New opinion: (changed) Paper Books are (currently) better than Electronic Books.

And here is another NY Times opion page that talks about Ebooks and how our brains assimilate them and what the current and future looks like. Does the brain like ebooks? (NY Times)

UPDATE: Amazon Says E-Book Sales Outpace Hardcovers (Wall Street Journal)

E-Book Myths: Top 10 Myths About Our E-Books Future

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