Why e-Readers will always be my Second Choice

Sony ereader

Sony ereader

I feel like just pointing at this blog post (Why We Need Books) from Heidi Turner, over at The Happy Freelancer blog, and saying, “What she said!” She makes some great arguments for why the real paper book should always stay in existence, no matter how electronic everything goes. They can exist alongside each other, but buying the paper version should always, always remain an option for any book.

Her #1 point (Just about everyone can afford books) is very pertinent to me. I got a survey from Random House Canada a couple of days ago, asking my opinion about ebooks. At the end of the survey when they asked for “Other” opinions, I asked if they would always at least make paper books available to libraries or something, because poor people simply couldn’t afford Kindles, the Kobo reader, or other readers. Or was reading going to be denied to the poor from now on?

Do you think that point is unimportant? I don’t. I don’t make a lot of money, and I can’t even afford to replace my aging computer, let alone blow cash on a Kindle.

Heidi’s #2 point rivals #1 in importance. She talks about upgrading. How many of us repurchased all our favourite music as CDs, when vinyl records went out of vogue and CDs came in? And how many have since repurchased all that music again, to put on their iPods? And what will be the next repurchase necessity?

I can tell you, as a Records Management person who worked in the industry for years that it only takes three generations of technology improvements before everything that was made four generations ago is absolutely unreadable in any way. Every time there’s a technology change, even supposedly in the same medium (say, reading magnetic tapes), the newer operating systems are less and less able to read files created with older systems.

How easy is it for files created with Windows 95 to be read by programs using Windows 7? How about Windows 3.1?

How much money do you have? Do you want to have to upgrade/repurchase every single digital book over and over again, say, once every five years or so, for the rest of your life? Funny — I’ve had some books for twenty years, and I’ve never had to “upgrade” them once because they had become unreadable.

Penguin books

A small fraction of my Penguin books

Heidi’s points #4 and 5 deal with the fact that the readers are electronic devices. They need insurance, or have to be bought again if something goes wrong. And books don’t need batteries or electricity.

This issue was brought home to me just this morning, when one of my Twitter contacts tweeted about a client who had dashed into a store looking for a book because her Kindle had died in the middle of her reading the book. Funny – I’ve never had a paper book’s pages suddenly go blank on me.

And of course, after the Amazon.com debacle where they pulled Orwell’s 1984 off people’s Kindles, after the people had bought the book meaning it was supposedly their property – we saw another thing that can happen if we get digital books. They are NOT OURS. Someone else can tamper with them at any time, or that company could go out of business and we’d lose our book because their supporting servers were turned off.

And we can’t loan the book or resell it to a second-hand store. That will all be gone.

No, thanks. I may eventually get an e-reader for convenience if, say, I want to take 40 books with me on a vacation or something. But for durable, long-lasting reading pleasure, I will always prefer to own my books once I buy them, and have the freedom to read them for decades and do what I please with them for the rest of my life.


    1. I have many books. I have an e-reader. I don’t regret either one.

      I haven’t discarded my books (even those I have copies of on my e-reader which is most of them) and unlikely never will.

      But I have to say what you say is one-sided argument and feel I have to mention a few things you didn’t.

      First, upgrading is important, but it’s not undoable. Sony, the people who make my ereader, changed formats since I bought my first one. They upgraded the hardware free of charge and made all the books I had already purchased available in the new format. My software stopped working (still don’t know why, but I think it’s a computer hardware issue, not the software) on my desktop, but I could use my laptop and re-download the books. As my daughter and I have many books we like in common, we can share the same library without ever wondering who has what book where. (Up to five or six devices per account).

      That doesn’t mean I won’t be facing obsolescence at some point, but that, if the company wants to, it can be overcome. And has in the past.

      If I lose my ereader, I’m out of luck, but, if I buy a new one, all the books I had before are still available. Still mine. If I lose a real book, it’s just gone. I’ve loaned at least an ereader’s cost in books out to people who never returned them in my lifetime, and I’ll probably lose many more.

      I like books, but, they are ungainly to read in many ways. If you have small children who like to play with books, as I do, you are going to lose your place (or the book) a lot. If I turn off my ereader, I come back to the same page. If I leave one book and open another, then go back to the original, I’m still in the same place. That’s more convenient than you’d think if you’re reading several books out loud to several people or are reading multiple books for whatever reason. Or like to look up something as you go.

      I can’t stress how useful it is to take a single ereader instead of a dozen or so books on a trip. Way nice. Or to have the whole series of books readily at hand instead of searching through my bookshelves (did I mention, I’m untidy and my baby girl loves to paw through my books?).

      And electronics get cheaper. I can get a DVD player today for $30. E-readers won’t always be as expensive as they are now and ebooks can be read on computers, iPads, cellphones, and, of course, ereaders. On my ereader, I can even check out ebooks from a library, from home.

      And, as a writer, I can’t stress enough how useful it is to be able to carry my own work with me, look it over and even annotate it, without having to print out 350+ pages. That’s cool beans.

      I’m not suggesting we burn the books, or give them up. I’m not even trying to convert you. I suspect books will be around for an appreciable time yet.

      But I don’t see anything wrong with more options to get books. And that’s the way I see it.

      • Phyl says:

        I actually agree with much of what you say, Stephanie. I even want to get a Sony reader myself some day, if I can ever get the finances going.

        My main argument is with people (mostly on Twitter, since the discussions come up there a lot) who insist that the electronic reader is the sole wave of the future and that physical books will be obsolete — indeed must become obsolete, and I’m a Luddite even to object.

        I may have a different view of things when it comes to changes of technology, though, because of my experience with digital technologies as a records person. Your upgrades have all been on the one e-reader, so of course Sony is going to keep everything consistent. But if a new kind of e-reader technology gets developed (which, eventually, is very likely, given the track record of all digital technologies so far), the entire format of the Sony reader, the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, Adobe Digital Editions — all of the format could (and undoubtedly will) become obsolete. The whole shebang. Meaning that whatever that new format is — some sort of crystal stuck into a pair of glasses or contact lenses, or whatever it turns out to be — will require every single book somehow to be repurchased or somehow translated into the new format. Which won’t be cheap. The only way that sort of conversion might be automatic and inexpensive for someone like you would be if it was Sony itself who developed that new format. That would make you very fortunate, but not those with a Kindle, Nook, etc. If it was Adobe or somebody instead, you’d be facing a big expense, and the potential loss of your books.

        The risk of losing all your ebook files because a company goes out of business is also quite real. Four or five years ago, MySpace was everything, and had no real rivals. Now Facebook has made MySpace plunge. Companies that seem to have been set to last forever can go down very suddenly. Sony could go, Amazon could go, even Google has rising rivals, in China, that are really making rumblings. There’s really no guarantee that any company will stay in business forever. Or will remain benevolent and reasonable if it does.

        As long as the e-reader is one of the options, I have no objection to it at all. But there are so many dangers inherent in having all my book files entrusted to someone else (hel-LO Amazon and 1984), and risks associated with the technology changes, that I absolutely don’t want it to be the only option out there. And that’s what my Twitter pals are arguing for. I think they’re very short-sighted, that’s all.

    2. Stephanie says:

      Well, then we don’t have an issue. I’m a huge advocate for options and alternatives. I’m not advocating doing away with books any time soon either.

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