Monday, May 11, 2009

What's cool about ebooks - a message to book lovers

Ebooks have been gaining a share of the reading market as more people discover the pleasures of digital reading or at least are giving it a try. Countless articles have been written by book lovers defending their tree-based medium, which always leaves me wondering why they feel so threatened. I love books too, and ebooks just offer another way to read. I believe that books will always be a part of the media landscape, but that ebooks or digital content will take on a much larger role.

Multiple reasons will contribute to the rise of reading through the digital medium. First among them is the matter of resources and fuel. Trees are at an ever increasing premium on our poor beleaguered Earth who is getting to be more like the old woman who lived in a shoe every day. Of course other plants like hemp can be used to make paper but the process is still energy and water intensive. Scaling back on the consumption of paper will likely be necessary and ebooks do not require paper. Resources are consumed to create and consume ebooks but not on the same scale as harvesting trees, running paper mills, and trucking books all over the continent.

Aside from the issue of resources, ebooks have many appealing characteristics that fulfill needs for readers. Many ebook enthusiasts simply ran out of physical space for shelving their books. Instead of giving up reading, they have scaled back on paper book purchases and adopted digital reading for the sake of space. Ebooks also spare them the need to lug around books.

Next comes the disposability factor. Even a very enjoyable read in the form of a physical paper book becomes obsolete to its owner upon finishing the book unless he or she intends to keep it as a reference or perhaps re-read it. Then the choices are: 1) put it on a shelf to gather dust and take up space 2) donate it to the library 3) give it to a friend 4) donate it to a thrift store charity. All of these things are nice things to do but they still involve storing and then carting around piles of books. With an ebook you can let it hang out in your digital library or simple delete it when you are done reading it. Ebooks are a great replacement for mass market paperbacks, which are almost disposable products anyway. Mass market paperbacks have very limited resale value and tend to start falling apart after two or three readings.

Book lovers rebut these positive aspects of ebooks by insisting that they love to hold a book. They love the feel of it in their hands and turning the pages. Some people even extol the smell of books. I would argue that book lovers love the content of a good book. Do they love holding a bad book that they are not enjoying? When I first started reading ebooks, I was completely unaware of the device upon which I was reading as soon as I became immersed in the story. When I first got my Sony 505, my fingers would actually move to turn a page because my brain had forgotten that I was holding something besides a book. I've also found the screen quality of ebook readers to be great and I have not experienced any eyestrain whatsoever.

As for the often proclaimed devotion to holding a book, I would ask such book lovers if they need to hold the TV during a good show. Do they need to touch the stage at the theater? Do they need to cuddle the radio? In reality, to read an ebook, you are holding a device, so you do get to hold something. And I'll confess that I love holding my ebook reader.

Many people who have never tried an ebook will say that they cannot try it because they do not want to read that much on a computer screen. This is totally understandable, especially with a desktop computer because sitting at a desk just does not seem to be the correct position for reading a book. The ebook reading experience is much more enjoyable with some type of handheld device. Some people are even reading them on their cell phones. Some readers also find that reading an ebook with a laptop computer is also comfortable. I also happen to know that some people even do read novels on their desktop computers. They tend to be bored office workers desperate for stimuli not meant to crush their spirits.

I think book lovers feel threatened by ebooks because they fear that books will go away. I think books will stick around. I like to hope that we'll save the paper for the really good stuff. Most likely is that print on demand production systems will take some waste out of the paper book scene.

With all the reading options presented by ebooks, I think that hardcore book lovers should give digital content a try. The ebook form is definitely going to influence the future of reading.

For those of you who truly love reading and are running out of shelf space, investing in some kind of digital reader could be a good thing. It's great to slip an ebook reader in your bag and have a selection of books to read. If you're like me and are chronically reading three or four books at the same time, an ebook reader is a great convenience, plus I never lose my bookmark.

I still read paper books. I still like them, but I'm happily including ebooks as a way to access reading material. I know if you've read this essay the whole way, you'll think that I'm just praising ebooks because I sell them, but the truth is I sold lots of ebooks before I ever read one. I gave ebook reading a try so I could see what the appeal was and also improve my products, and the above information represents my honest and informed opinions.