As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

May 8, 2011

Gab Bag: e-Readers vs. Paper Books

Guest Blogger, Katie Langston

I admit it.  I'm a huge nerd.  And part of that means that I LOVE Star Trek: The Next Generation.  (In fact, I went into labor moments after watching a particularly compelling episode, and I theorize that even from the womb, my daughter could tell, from his voice, what a total hottie Patrick Stewart is and couldn't wait another second to take her first breath.)

Look at that mug and tell me I'm wrong.
But besides Jean-Luc's subtle sexiness, I found myself fascinated by the hand-held gadgets (called Personal Access Display Devices; do not ask me why I know that) Starfleet officers used to get all their information: status reports, starship blueprints, galaxy maps, personal photographs -- and, yes, BOOKS.

I always wanted one.  I thought it would be so nifty to carry all my books around in a small, handy device like that.  Text books.  Novels.   Short stories.  (ESPECIALLY self-help books -- because, let's be honest, who wants to be caught reading How to Be an Adult in Relationships on the bus?)

So, for my birthday last year, I got one.

Well, technically they call it a Kindle...but you get the idea.

And I have to say: I love it.

Now before any book purists cry foul, there's something else you need to know about me. I'm not just a gadget nerd; I'm a book nerd.  I love to read.  I hoard books with a recklessness that I'm not sure is 100% healthy.  Where sensible people check books out at the library first to make sure they like them before spending their hard-earned money, I go straight for the buy.  It's a pride thing.  I want to shout to the world, Yes, I own lots of books; and yes, I have read them all, thank you very much!

So despite my love of all things 24th Century, I confess that I was as skeptical of e-readers as the next person.  And I won't deny that there are some MAJOR downsides to them.  What follows is a handy little chart I created outlining the major pros and cons of e-readers as I see them...

The neat-o factor. They're just COOL!
You don't get the CRACK of the spine and smell of the paper.  For me, this is the single-biggest downside.  But I'm sentimental like that.
Light-weight.   Makes it easy to lift and carry around, even if you want to bring tons of books with you on vacation.
Can't really see a negative side to this one.  :-)  (Maybe you don't get as good a workout hauling 20 lbs. of books around the beach?)
Share your thoughts via social media. You can share your comments or clippings right from your device.  Especially excellent because, as Facebook has taught us, everyone should always know every single thought you ever have, the instant you have it! 
Notation is harder.  There's just something about attacking a book's margins with a pencil that is so satisfying  -- and you simply can't get the same experience with an e-reader.  You can still highlight favorite sections and make notes...but it's not as good.
Instant access.  Want a book?  You can have it.  Instantly.
Instant access.  Want a book?  You can have it.  Instantly.
Cheaper than print editions.  E-versions of books are often $10-$15+ cheaper than their printed counterparts, so you save money.
More expensive than the library or local used book store.  If you're someone who checks books out of the library or scours independent book dealers for great bargains, you might end up spending more with an e-reader.
Hide shameful titles.  Your kids don't need to know you're reading Breaking Dawn.  Again.  Your mother-in-law doesn't need to know you're reading Dealing with Difficult People.  E-readers make it easy to be discreet.
No way to display awesome titles.  Everyone you encounter should know that you read every single last word of War and Peace.  It's hard to display it on your shelf when it's stuck in your device.
Read more than just books.  You can get newspapers, magazines, blogs, and even personal Word and PDF documents delivered to your e-reader. Create a portable, all-in-one repository for all the content you consume -- and conserve the environment in the process!
Lack of color.  Some e-readers are black and white*, which can greatly diminish the aesthetic experience of multimedia content.  Also, video isn't supported in B&W readers.
Cool secondary features.  Most e-readers come equipped with cool secondary features like web browsers, MP3 players, free public domain titles, etc.
Can't see a negative side here.
Amazing battery life.  Black and white e-readers* have an INCREDIBLE battery life.
Ummm...books don't need batteries.

*A quick thought about true e-readers vs. tablets (e.g. the iPad) and whether you should get a black and white e-reader (e.g. Kindle or Nook) or a color one (e.g. Nook Color)...

If you're more a book nerd than a gadget nerd, choose a black-and-white e-reader.  The technology is amazing.  It is SO easy on the eyes.  It looks like real print on a real page, and behaves like it, too -- you actually need suitable overhead lighting to read it, just like you would any book.  Color e-readers and tablets are back-lit, which leads to eye strain (it's why your eyes hurt after a day of staring at a computer screen) and battery loss.  Plus, it's harder to read in daylight.

If you're more a gadget nerd than a book nerd, buy an iPad.  That thing is just COOL.

In the end, I don't believe e-readers will ever fully replace books -- because there's just something about books.  Even Jean-Luc Picard knew that.

I'm sorry, I couldn't resist.
Here's how I balance my love of gadgets with my love of books: for impulse books, guilty pleasure books, business and how-to books, day-to-day reads, books I want to travel with, PDF files, and work documents, I use my Kindle.

For books I just adore, want to show off, get a great deal on at the used bookstore, or feel I'll need to attack with my pencil, I buy the real thing.  Sometimes that means I buy it on the Kindle, fall in love with it, and get it in print again.  If I love it that much, I don't mind buying it twice.  I figure authors gotta make a living somehow.  :-)

How about you?  Do you have an e-reader?

Are you totally against the idea?  If you have one, how do you use it?  What do you see as the major pros and cons of the digital reading revolution?

Sound off in the comments below!


Camille said...

I received a Nook for Christmas and I love it. To be honest I've only read one book on it so far, but only because I get most my books from the library. However, we are going on vacation soon and I'm so excited to take it with me. My husband would hate it when I would pack 4 big books in our luggage. And it was difficult to keep our bags under 50 pounds when I did that too! It was either that or lug them around in my carry-on. Not fun.
I do have several books on my Nook, just waiting for my vacation!!

Anonymous said...

I have several e-reader apps on my laptop, and I'll admit that I'm becoming more of a fan. But I still go back to my paper books every time because I just love the smell, the feel, and the oneness that I get with a book, if that makes sense.

(And a super fan of Star Trek too...Picard is such a major hottie.)

Amy Finnegan {} said...

This post was so entertaining to read! Thanks, Katie, for making this topic so much fun (and for the Star Trek comparisons that made me smile to no end).

I have a Kindle, but I've never made it through an entire book on it. I totally know that I would love it, and find reading so much more convenient if I used it more, but there is just something about having a paper book in my hand that makes me feel different.

I do like reading on my iPad a bit better than I like reading on my Kindle, though, that much I know. The font looks more like a real book, and there is no flash between pages. So if I ever make the true switch, I'm pretty sure it will be straight to my iPad.

Thanks again for an awesome post!!

Anonymous said...

Wildly entertaining and wonderfully informative post, Katie-friend! I don't have an e-reader, but I imagine I'll probably get one eventually, if just for travel. Like Camille, I pack too many books. I appreciated the advice about black-and-white vs. color readers, too! Thanks for this awesome post!

Anonymous said...

I love my Kindle! I've read several books on it, but also buy regular books. The Kindle is amazing, the books very easy to read, and the navigation is easy. I would definantly suggest the e-book to an avid reader.

Katie L. said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! And thanks for validating my nerdiness. ;-)

Amy, I totally covet your iPad. I went to a conference last month and everyone had an iPad and I thought, "If only I had one, I would be cool, too." :-) Question, though: does the backlighting cause eye strain when you're reading on it? How is the resolution? I want an iPad someday anyway, just because I think it's the niftiest thing I've ever seen, but I kind of had it in my mind that it wouldn't replace my Kindle. Thoughts?

It occurred to me this afternoon that I forgot to mention one other downside. You can't read with your e-reader in the tub. If a book gets wet, it's sad, but you're only out $15-$25. If your e-reader gets wet, you're out anywhere from $130-$800, and that's too big a risk for me to take!

gfe said...

Then there's the option of reading a book on a cell phone, which has the advantage that you don't have to carry one more device around. I have the Android version of the Kindle on my phone, and it's, well ... tolerable (although unusable in sunlight), and the price was right.

Anonymous said...

I have a black-and-white Nook and love it. I do about half my book reading on the Nook and half on good old-fashioned paper. I'm on the computer all day at work and I hate reading on a back-lit screen, but the Nook screen is very easy on these almost-forty-year-old eyes.

Plus, with the Nook I can be sitting around and think, Gee, I really want to read that new 800-page tome by Ken Follet, and can download it through the magic of the 3G network within 30 seconds.

Anonymous said...

Initially I was very skeptical of eReaders as I love the feel of a book. I bought a Nook BW as a gift and was amazed at how many ebooks I could check out from the library and I am having a blast. The eInk is very comfortable on the eye and if you are a book-lover, this is the best thing. I don't own too many gadgets and this is one I can't live without. The best part is that me and my daughter share it and we both have our own shelves on the Nook and we find different times of the day when we can read our books on the Nook.

Rosebriars said...

I thought I was a total print purist but I'm rethinking that stance. We bought an HP touchpad during the fire sale (the first new technology we've purchased in years, we're frugal and/or sad like that) and I immediately downloaded the Kindle app. It's a bit hard on the eyes, and doesn't make it any easier to read while nursing (James can turn the digital page with his up arm just as easily as he can turn the actual page) but I loved having several books on my little fun gadget during a recent out of town trip. I agree about the difficulty of annotation, although it is awesome to be able to browse your notes in one place.

And about the can't read in the bath, I have a friend who owns 2 Kindles; 1 for taking out and about and 1 in a protective sleeve that lives in her bathroom for the express purpose of reading during her long daily bath. I haven't checked yet but I would bet money she's going to purchase a Kindle Fire now.

Anonymous said...

i have a kobo, but i like having the buying my favourite books as actual books just in case the kobo stops working and i lose all the books. i still love having the kobo though!

Valette M. said...

I have an ereader, but I don't dare take it anywhere. I'm too afraid I'll damage my entire bookshelf. :)
"I want to win a book."

Angela - Bookaunt said...

I had an e-reader given to me but I did not care for it. I read one book on it then gave it away. I for some reason still love to hold an actual book in my hand and like to see the books on my shelves. I know you can store more books in the e-readers and they have many free books, but I am still old school. - I want to win a book