I know that I've been a pretty big skeptic of e-books and the new(ish) e-readers that are currently being marketed as must-have gadgets. I still think that e-readers are never going to replace a good paper-and-glue binding; paper books will always be universally readable (so long as you know the language), non-remotely-deletable, and just plain comforting
in their solidity and physical presence. But I have to admit I've been finding e-readers more and more interesting, of late.
I've always acknowledged that they'd be excellent for frequent travelers - it's a heck of a lot easier to pack up a slim little reader than it is a whole stack of books. But what struck me most recently is that, while I don't travel far from home much at this point in my life, my books still do a lot of travelling - it's a rare day that I'm not taking one to work to read over lunch, or tucking a paperback into my purse to read in the checkout line at the grocery store. An e-reader would be easier to carry than a hardback, and less likely to get beat up in my purse than a paperback.
My friend Adam also recently got a Kindle, which was my first experience with one up close. I'd only read about the e-ink screens (and their supposed clarity/crispness/lack of eyestrain) previously, but in person I have to admit I was impressed. Even just playing with it for a short time proved its superiority in my eyes to reading off an LCD screen, although this seems to come down to personal preference.
I still have a lot of reservations about the Kindle specifically, however. For one thing, the closed-system nature of it really doesn't sit right with me - the less versatile the software, the less likely it is to flourish, even if the hardware's fantastic. Similarly, Jeff Bezos hasn't exactly impressed me with his frankly hubris-filled statements about the Grand Future of Reading and all that; I respect his vision and his drive to make e-reading commonplace, but there's a distinct megalomaniacal streak running through his words that bothers me - I have no problem with the idea of e-readers becoming near-universal, but I sure as heck don't want Amazon to be in full control of both the hardware and
content-delivery systems. That's a setup practically begging for 1984
-style abuse. (And the past issues with Amazon remotely deleting Kindle material only reinforce those fears, no matter what their justification was.)
So right now, I'm contemplating saving for a nook
, I'm blaming you for this at least partly - all this had been percolating in my head for a while, but it wasn't until you mentioned you wanted one that I started seriously looking into it.) By all accounts that I've read, the hardware was always rock-solid, and the rocky release-day software has been made much better by several firmware updates in the interim. Most people rank it right next to the Kindle for ease-of-use, plus it has several social aspects that I like: the ability to "lend" an e-book to a friend, for instance, or special abilities when you're at a Barnes & Noble brick-and-mortar store, that almost make up for the loss of others
. I'm sort of sorry it doesn't have the Wikipedia-access-anywhere-via-3G that the Kindle does, but the fact that it supports ePUB format (and therefore gives you the ability to "borrow" e-books from the library, not to mention read Google's huge cache of public-domain e-books) more than makes up for that. Plus, the touchscreen-style controls strike me as far more versatile than the keyboard alone.
There's still a bit of an annoyance in my mind, however - the content. E-books aren't as overpriced as they used to be, but they still seem so for the value that you're getting. A paperback novel will cost you $8, usually; the least-expensive e-books cost nearly the same amount, and for a product with no physical presence. I realize that the publishing industry is still getting used to the idea of electronic publishing, and they're probably worried about losses to piracy and all that, but thanks to the Apple store we discovered that the music industry could make money selling tunes at ninety-nine cents a track - the miniscule cost of bandwidth and the lack of CD-pressing/packaging costs made it almost pure profit. So when will the publishing industry realize the same for e-books? Print books are notorious for their incredibly slim profit margins; if publishers set e-book prices significantly cheaper than print books (even by just a couple of dollars), they'd be pushing the adoption of e-readers, and therefore selling more e-books, each of which has a far, far higher profit margin thanks to the lack of physical presence. Everyone would win.
Still, there are lots of classics available via Google and such that I'd be happy to read, and I know our local library has an e-book lending platform. Also, B&N has been running a "Free Books from the Barnes & Noble Classics line for nook" program that would be cool (they're similar public-domain titles to what Google has, but formatted especially for the e-reader and with fewer scanning errors and such that Google's titles are rather infamous for). And I could see dropping $8 occasionally for a book that I'd normally buy in paperback. So I guess we'll see if I'm as impressed when I have a chance to play with an actual nook (B&N, ho!) and/or have the cash to buy one...