Category Archives: The Ebook Wars

Posts on the constant struggle between ebooks and paper.

Ereader Shopping

Well, I’ve finally done it. I’ve admitted to myself that an ereader would make my life easier.

I resisted for a long time. I don’t particularly like ebooks; I don’t like leasing books instead of buying them, and I like the physical heft of a novel. Besides, I said, I have a netbook (that runs on Linux and doesn’t like the Adobe authentication software). But I’ve been getting more and more ebooks, more and more things are available, and with all the egalleys I’ve been going through, well, I think it’s time.

First off: the Kindle’s out. I don’t like the way Amazon has been handling it, and I don’t want to support the way they’ve been doing business with ebooks. From the 1984 deletion scandal to their highly unprofessional single-company boycott of Macmillan to the unregulated mess of the Kindle store, I want nothing to do with them any more. (I have in fact stopped buying books from Amazon altogether and gone back to my local chain and indie bookstores, which is better for the local economy anyway.)

Now, I’m usually the type who prefers a cheaper third-party option to the big brand names, but unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of good third-party options in the ereader field at the moment. I haven’t seen one yet that manages to be even an adequate replacement for one of the big three. So that leaves me with the Sony Kobo or the Barnes & Noble Nook. I admit, I have a superstitious dislike of the Kobo largely because it’s been the ereader supported by Borders, and Borders is not the healthiest bookstore chain at the moment. The current version is, inconveniently, right-handed: there’s only one button, on the bottom right of the device. That pretty much kicks it out of the running for me. I’m sick of using gadgets that have been carefully designed for someone I am not.

B&N Nook, 1st Edition

That leaves me with the Nook. Fortunately, the Nook gets excellent reviews and looks to be one of the best options available. It handles PDF and epub formats, the two most common formats I’m likely to be handling ebooks in. It syncs with my Adobe Digital Editions for reading galleys from NetGalley. And it’s compatible with Overdrive, the system the public library uses for ebooks, which is huge for me. I haven’t used the library to check out ebooks yet, but with a reader I might give it a shot.

The only question left is which Nook to buy. I like the idea of eink screens, but the low refresh rate is a little tedious, particularly when you read as fast as I do. Then again, the Nook Color is more than $100 more expensive, so that puts it well out of my budget. Consumer Reports gives good scores to the new eink Nook, but I still think I prefer the old one better. (I do like that the ability to check out library books was what pushed it up above the Kindle.) I played with both versions in the store a couple of weeks ago, and I like the limited touchscreen and the manual buttons.

This is not the first step to abandoning paper books. I love my paper books. I like to have big piles of books sitting around, reminding me to read them. (Plus they make great insulation in the winter.) And the rights issue still exists: when you buy an ebook, what are you buying, really? I’ll probably stick to paper books for most of my purchases and end up reading most of the Project Gutenberg archive on my Nook. But, well, it’s time to join the twenty-first century. And you have to admit, an ereader is smaller to lug around than the Complete Works of Shakespeare, when you suddenly get a hankering for Falstaff.

Why is an ebook not like a book?

I found this excellent article on ebooks in my Google Reader feed this morning. Mike Shatzkin argues that part of the reason people don’t like the terms of ebook sales is that you cannot actually sell an ebook – just like you can’t really sell any other digital file. Money is changing hands not for an object but for a license to access digital information, and a licensing contract is inherently different from sales in a number of ways.

As he points out, though, publishers have been doing their best to pretend that ebooks work just like paper books, which is confusing for everyone, booksellers and authors alike. I think this confusion might actually be the source of so much of the kneejerk hatred for the frequent claims that ebooks are going to replace print books. It certainly made my emotional reactions make more sense to me. (I freely admit that I am one of those people who hates the idea of paper books going the way of the dinosaurs.)

I think Shatzkin’s article also helps to explain why this overhwhelming destruction of print books by ebooks isn’t going to be happening any time soon. (Publisher’s Weekly reports, at the end of last year, that ebook sales are only about 10-15% of the publishing market at the moment.) An ebook isn’t just a different format of the print book, in terms of what you pay for; it’s an entirely different beast. The advantage of the paperback novel isn’t just the fabled “book smell,” it’s the first sale doctrine, the secondhand book market, the difference between a purchase and a license. And that is far more substantial than the sentimentality we print-lovers are so often accused of.

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