Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I'm Finished, You Can Swipe the Page Now

You know, Dear Readers (and are probably tired of hearing about it) that I'm a reading purist - although I own an iPad that has three different e-reading programs on it (Kindle, iBooks, and Overdrive), I much prefer the heft, feel, and - yes - smell of a real ink-on-paper book. Reading a book on a digital reader is convenient, especially while traveling or commuting, but it just doesn't give you the same sensory experience of a real book.

That said, e-readers and digital books are here to stay. But what about their availability and overall utility?

You may be interested in this article from last Saturday's Washington Post: As Demand for E-Books Soars, Libraries Struggle to Stock Their Virtual Shelves. It's an interesting article that confirms what I had already long suspected: that it can be extraordinarily difficult to check out a digital book from your local library, and the wait can be as long or longer than the wait for the same title in traditional ink-on-paper.

The publishers of books are facing the same threats in the digital world that the music and film industries have faced over the last decade, and are trying to avoid the mistakes made by those industries by coming up with a technology and business plan that will protect the financial interests of authors and publishers while still making books available to readers. This is not a simple task.

Some publishers (like Simon and Schuster) are refusing to make their titles available to libraries in digital format, or are severely limiting the number of copies of digital titles they will provide to a single library, because they're afraid of piracy. I know from personal experience that the wait for a digital title from my local library is generally a good deal longer than the wait for a real book. And that's not to mention the problem (from a reader's perspective) that there are several contending (and incompatible) digital formats designed to protect proprietary interests and foil digital pirates.

You can buy a real book and lend it to your family and friends without restriction ... but not so a digital book. Although there are some very limited exceptions, if you want to lend an e-book to a friend, you have to give them your entire reader. And you need a degree in electrical engineering to configure and authorize your computer and reading device to enable download of a title for which you've paid (or which you've properly downloaded from your library). Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the difficulty of obtaining a legal digital download of a movie for which you've paid ... if you're interested in the details of my digital nightmare, I'll e-mail them to you.

Oy, vay.

I understand the importance of protecting the right of an author (or musician, or actor/director) to make a living from his or her talent. But we need to remember the poor reader, too: if digital reading gets to be too onerous a task, fewer people will do it ... and we have a woefully underinformed population already, anyway.

At the moment, I am reading four books: three traditional (Inferno, by Max Hastings, which Agnes gave me for Christmas; Iago, by David Snodin, and Supervolcano: Eruption, by Harry Turtledove, both borrowed from my local library), and one e-book (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith). The e-book is easiest to handle and transport, making it a much better choice for hauling along on my daily commute, but making for a less satisfying reading experience.

Oh, and did I mention that our local Metro transit system is being plagued by a rash of robberies in which personal electronics (smartphones, tablet computers, and game players) are stolen from commuters ... sometimes with injury?

If someone tries to steal my copy of Max Hastings' Inferno, I can hit him with it and do some significant damage. If someone tries to steal my iPad ... well, let's just say I'd be reluctant to smash it over his head.

Digital books are here to stay, and they have their place in my library.

But I don't have to like them.

Have a good day. Read more, either digitally or traditionally.

More thoughts tomorrow.



Mike said...

One of these days I may get an e-rea..... naaaaa.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

The e-readers are very portable and easy to store. They have an advantage in that, if you're reading an embarassing book, no one can discern that if you're doing it on your Kindle.

The e-readers are very poor when it comes to illustrations.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I like both but having an ereader is not going to stop me from buying a book with a gorgeous cover that I want to have sitting on my shelf.