Tuesday, November 10, 2009

EVERY NOOK & CRANNY

By Writer X

Last time I posted, a Commentarama regular asked a great question about e-readers. E-readers are hand-held computers that allow people to download, read and store books, newspapers, and magazines. At the time of the question, I knew enough about e-readers to be sufficiently dangerous. Since that time, I’ve had an education. Here’s what I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks…

The three most popular e-readers are the Kindle, the Sony Reader, and the Nook. There is also a fourth if you count downloading books and newspapers to an i-Phone but I’m not sure you can count reading a book on a screen no bigger than two postage stamps pasted together. I tried it once and got a headache, not to mention a crease between my eyes that wouldn’t go away for two days.

When I started checking out the Kindle, the Sony Reader, and the Nook, I had only one major criteria: Would it feel as good as a book? Whenever the salespeople tried to dazzle me on the technical characteristics—gigabytes, web browsers, format conversions, battery life—my eyes would glaze over. All I wanted to know was whether it would be curl-up-on-the-couch worthy.

Of the three, the Sony Reader was my least favorite. Its screen is 7” and it allows for highlighting and annotation, cool features if you’re a student. The big bummer for me was that when I read book pages on the Sony it felt like I was trying to read a book on my programmable thermostat. It has this annoying back-light and you have to tilt it just so to minimize the glare. The Sony Reader didn’t deliver for me. For all you techies, the Sony Reader has two gigs of memory, no web browser, and supports all the usual formats like ePub, .PDF, .JPEG, .TXT, .DOC, and HTML. It currently sells for around $400.

The next e-reader I tried was Amazon’s e-reader, the Kindle. Most publishers and self-published authors who sell books on Amazon (and most do) are also beginning to offer Kindle versions, especially as customers demand them. A Kindle downloadable book is slightly cheaper than the real deal but not as much as you might think. The Kindle is also noticeably sleeker than the Sony, no thicker than a pencil, and comes in two sizes: 6” ($299) and 9” ($489). There was less back-light than the Sony and the print was clearer. For my tastes, however, it still didn’t feel quite like a book—better, but not great. Keep in mind that you’re always looking at one book-page at a time, which would take some getting used to. The Kindle can hold around 1500 books, has a web browser, 2-4 gigs of memory and can support all the usual formats, just like the Sony Reader. It too allows for highlighting and bookmarking.

Finally, last week I tried out the Nook. Sort of. This is a Barnes & Noble product so I drove happily to my neighborhood Barnes & Noble to demo it—and naturally left with a few more books (real ones) and an iced coffee. Sadly, for you cookie aficionados like me, Barnes & Noble does not sell Snickerdoodles. My visit, predictably, was shorter than most.

The Nook has an 8” screen and allows for color. It looks like a bigger version of the i-Touch and seems very Star-Trekky. The book print was very clear with no back-light—at least that’s how it looked on the pamphlet brochure I was given. Barnes & Noble has already started marketing the Nook and accepting advanced orders, but the Nook isn’t on the shelves yet. They expect to have demo models in the stores any day. As of last Thursday, all I got was a pamphlet and a cute salesguy who tried to impress me with more technical knowledge. Still, it looks pretty dang sleek. It currently sells for $260, has two gigs of memory, and no web browser. With the Nook, I could be tempted, although I’ll still wait until I can hold the real thing, not a shiny brochure pamphlet.

If you travel a lot, you’re a student, an editor, or if you simply like gadgets, an e-reader might be for you. It’s a fun, albeit pricey, toy. Try it out first. In my opinion, though, nothing beats the real thing. Yet.

******

Heads up: There is a new application that I’ve been told about called the Vook (not to be confused with the Nook). The Vook is an electronic book with video. To me, it’s kind of like picture books for adults. A handful of authors have allowed their books to be turned into Vooks. It’s a costly endeavor and no numbers yet on whether it’s worth the investment—both to readers and publishers. I’ll save a post on the Vook for another day.

32 comments:

Joel Farnham said...

WriterX,

Thanks for the info.

I will only get an e-book when I find that is the only way to read my favorite author. Books are far more permanent, I mean you can read books without an energy source. E-books require energy therefore requiring an energy rich enviroment.

Writer X said...

Joel, I'm with you. But I'm torn. Seeing that Nook last week has me thinking. No doubt about it, it would take getting used to. Many of my friends are writers who read books almost 24/7 and not even they are interested. Far, far from it!

Joel Farnham said...

WriterX,

Here is another thought. I rarely loan my books but no one will even think to complain. How would you loan your e-book to your friend? Won't that be a violation? I mean if your e-book is your library, won't you just download your file to your friend? Won't someone complain? Or do you have to give up your whole e-book to actually loan the book out?

Writer X said...

Joel, I know that with the Nook you can loan (download) a book to your friend for up to two weeks which, admittedly, sounds very restrictive. I don't believe you can do the same thing with the other devices. With the e-Readers loaning books might be a thing of the past and I'm sure that's how the publishers want it: With each download the publisher makes money and the author earns a royalty.

Kurosawa said...

I'm a gadget freak and I hate ebooks. I love the tactile feel of real books and the ability to quickly flip back to prior pages for reference. That said, I read most books on my iPhone these days. While I don't have time to sit down and read recreationally, I can zip through novels on the subway, waiting in the supermarket line, taking the elevator, etc. I've read around 25 books this year thanks to eReader on the iPhone, and I have another 25 novels queued up (which consumes about 0.0003% of my iPhone's memory). E-books are practical in that sense. But the ability to search text, annotate, etc., seem like gimmicks. With a real book I can dogear important pages, add post-it notes, and highlight passages and instantly know what I've done to the book. With ebooks, I have to open a file, punch in codes to comply with the DRM, read one screen at a time, scroll to find annotations, reference pages, etc. What a bloody chore. But sadly I will probably never read real books like I used to in the pre-iPhone era.

Writer X said...

Kurosawa, I can definitely see the advantages of e-Books to those who travel a lot or take public transportation. It'd be easier than carrying around books and newspapers. Like you, the thing that would take getting used to for me is reading one page at a time. But, they're convenient.

Joel Farnham said...

WriterX,

I guess I made my point badly. I buy a book. It is mine. I can do with it what I want. Whether it is loaning, writing in it, giving it away or just plain selling it to a used book store. If in extreme cold I can even burn it for heat.

E-books restricts my use of books.

Writer X said...

Joel, Gottcha. And they would provide a heat source! ;-) You're right: they are much more restrictive than the real deal. What you might gain in convenience, you lose in ownership flexibility.

patti said...

i have often suspected that the electronic devices for reading books is not for me. how can it replace all that i get from holding a book in my hands?! and what of the old book smell? does it have an app for that?! and most assuredly it would break if i threw it across the room. nah, your thoughts echo mine. i need my books.

Writer X said...

Patti, you definitely don't want to throw a $400 device across the room--unless you never want to see it again. An app for the new/old book smell? I've no doubt some smart geeky computer guy out there is already developing one.

Joel Farnham said...

Patti,

You throw books across the room too? You know there is something so satisfying of actually throwing a piece of dreck against the wall.

Tennessee Jed said...

Writer X - another in your continuing series of fascinating posts. The e-readers kind of remind me of the new technologically driven range finders in golf. There is no question they can be greatly beneficial, but somehow seem to take much of the "romance" out of the game.

Maybe a better analogy is Kristi Yamaguchi. There was an Asian skater who once challenged her supremacy, and was stronger technically; e.g. more tricks such as triple jumps. But watching her skate was like watching Devo. Kristi was always the best at blending technical proficiency with world best choreography and unparalleled grace.

I probably inherited this from my grandfather, but am a collector of things, notably books. I have a library in my home along with my desk top computer, leather club chair, and wall to ceiling shelves overflowing with real hard cover books. I think hard cover books in that environment are the "Kristi Yamaguchi" of literature.

Writer X said...

Jed, well said. E-readers definitely take the romance out of reading. There's something sterile about curling up on the couch with a computer.

Kindle and downloadable book sales are still just a small portion of the major publishers' overall sales, but they are growing. We'll see real books and bookstores for the foreseeable future.

USArtguy said...

The Nook E Reader?
Now there's a well thought out name.
Scrolling for pinups, ha ha.

Writer X said...

ArtGuy, hadn't thought about it that way, but it works!

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, Thanks for another interesting article!

I can totally see the use for an e-reader for college text books and for people who travel a lot. I can also see the use fo newspapers or magazines (they should offer bulk subscriptions).

But when it comes to reading at home, I will always prefer the book experience. I like the smell, the feel, the weight... being able to flip ahead and back in a milisecond. Plus, I have been collecting old books for a while and I really love the look of having them in a shelf.

So I see this as having a place, but I don't think it will ever replace books.

Thanks again!

Writer X said...

Andrew, you're welcome.

I don't see books going away any time soon, although at some time in the future (in a place far, far away) they may become collector's items. I do hope that 100 years from now, though, kids don't ask, "What's a book?" It's sort of how I feel when my young nephew asks me, "What's a record album?"

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I don't think books will go away in our lifetime, but I can't speak to 100 years from now.

Young people get used to new things and then reject the old. So after a couple generations of reading school books on e-readers, who knows if they will want stale, old paper books?

If I were making an e-reader, and I wanted to get us old people. . . us dirty stragglers, I would try to make one that looks like a book before you open it. And I would try to find a way to give it a realistic "flip function." Add a book smell, rather than a plastic smell, and I'll bet all kinds of us low-tech luddites will jump on board.

Writer X said...

Andrew, I saw this open flap-leather doohikey (that's the technical term) for a Kindle. It kinda (kinda) made the book look and feel like a book. You slipped the Kindle inside the leather thingy. BUT, you still had to page up and done with the button. That's as close to feeling like a book that I saw. And it smelled like plastic leather.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, That's not quite what I had in mind. I was thinking of a heavier, book-shaped reader (with a leather cover) that is double sided when you open it (simulating two pages), with each page being sensitive to swiping (like a mouse pad) that lets you flip through pages by swiping. I think that might get me out of my paper cave.

A lot of people talk about a paperless office, and I've actually come as close as a lawyer can get -- scanners, e-mails, electronic fax by e-mail, on-line research, electronic filing (in Federal court at least), etc. But when it comes to pleasure reading, I still need that tactile experience.

Writer X said...

Andrew, these e-Readers are not anywhere near that look and feel yet. Not sure if they will go that way because many people who use/like e-Readers are those that do a lot of traveling. And bulky for them is not better. I think the next step after e-Readers is simply to jam a wire into our temples, sit back, close our eyes, and let the book slip into our brains by osmosis.

StanH said...

Thanks WriteX! My wife, and I are in a quandary, because of our daughter we are drowning in books. As I said earlier, we bought our daughter the Sony Reader, and she doesn’t like it. So we were hopeful that the Kindle would be vastly improved, but from your research, it sounds sadly no. The Barnes & Noble “Nook,” I’m with you, I would want to hold it in our hand to decide. However, I fear that the results will be the same. We are now discussing a 3 to 4 hundred dollar gift certificate to her favorite bookstore, and invest in lumber to build more bookshelves, LOL! Thanks for the info : )

Writer X said...

Stan, you're welcome. Thanks for suggesting such a timely topic.

I'm totally with your daughter on the Sony Reader. The Kindle was better, and I just read this morning that they're coming out with a pocket Kindle! Oy. You could spend a fortune upgrading electronics.

Good luck with your search - let me know what you think of the Nook. With a $300-400 gift certificate, she could buy herself a Nook and at least 10 downloadable books, probably more.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, I love the image of drowning in books!

Good for your daughter!!

StanH said...

I’m not kidding Andrew this kid reads one to two books a week and has done this for several years, ever since the first Harry Potter book, thanks J. K. Rowling, I mean it! She insist on owning the books, no library. Not a bad habit so we indulge her.

WriterX: You must understand the Sissy savings plan, we give her that gift certificate, and she will be looking at us to still purchase the “Kindle” so she can use the certificate to buy books, LOL! We’ll keep you posted.

LawHawkSF said...

WriterX: I still maintain a full, solid law library, although it's getting to expensive and too space-consuming for a semi-retiree. Most attorneys are using the online services with computer searches, which I only use for backup. But then again, I was the last lawyer in town to computerize my office. I see the wisdom in the e-books, but they'll never have that wonderful musty library smell. LOL

Writer X said...

Smart girl, your daughter! ;-) Seriously, she will thank you one day for giving her the gift of loving to read. There's nothing else like it.

Writer X said...

LawHawk, I know that library, musty smell well. I also think they pump it into some of the local bookstores around my home.

Space is an issue for me, too. Everywhere I turn, I'm always knocking over a book. And I'm not all that upset about it.

FB Hink said...

Thanks for looking into the e-books. I hadn’t even begun to consider a purchase but the cost of these things is what got me. $400. Really? I guess for traveling, maybe, but I would think you can download onto a laptop as well.

I once said I would never, ever, get my primary news from the Internet. Getting my start in newspapers, I really liked the smeared ink on my fingers. I canceled my paper subscription late last year – and not necessarily because the paper was growing too liberal, that’s a given – but I found papers pilling up in my driveway, getting mashed by tires and soaked in the rain. The Internet has just become too easy to receive news now. Books, well, I love dog-earing them, writing in them, and in some extreme cases, throwing them across the room just like some of you. I’ve learned to never say never but maybe I too will succumb. I hope not, though.

Writer X said...

FB, you're welcome.

As competition grows and the technology gets better, my guess is the prices on e-Readers will come down like all other electronics. Right now it's the shiny new toy on the block.

I will always love books but I'm willing to give e-Readers a try, if the technology feels a little less like reading from a programmable thermostat and more like the real thing. I don't think I'll ever give up books, though. Old habits and all that. In this case, it's hard to improve upon the real thing.

rlaWTX said...

I know that I am late on this one - last week was BUSY! - but I've recently been considering an ebook reader - but I wasn't enamored with the un-bookness of it AND, when I figured out that they were mostly about $9-10 for ether sent to a computer, when I can get paperbacks at B&N for $6-8 & used on Amazon for $4-6, I decided that I wasn;t interested.
StanH - I empathize with your daughter - when I was a kid we rarely bought books - too expensive. Lots of library books and borrowing from my grandmother. Then, I had to GIVE THEM BACK!!!!!
I got old enough to support my own habit and am piling up the collection. Nearly all paperback (get 3 for the price of a hardback). And since I read pretty fast, ... well, it's quite a collection - and I GET TO KEEP THEM!!!! :-)

Writer X said...

rlaWTX, you're right about e-books hardly being a bargain. Yet. It's a different feeling too--seeing real-live books on your shelves and then seeing their file names on your computer. I can empathize!

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