Honestly, I’ve never been much of a reader. I’m more of a start, get distracted, lose interest kind of guy. But I did just finish reading my first complete eBook. (No, it wasn’t Winnie the Pooh.) And I’m not alone. Amazon now tells us that they’re selling more eBooks than regular books. Author’s Guild President, Scott Turow (Presumed Innocent, Burden of Proof, et al), is worried what eBooks will do to piracy and writers’ royalties, and eBook makers are slashing their prices left and right. So what’s the big deal about eReading? Seems like yet another bleeding edge novelty that frankly isn’t all that new anyway.
So, I gave it a shot . . . a really good shot. I read an entire novel, cover to cover (so to speak). More about the actual book later. But more relevant to this post are the observations I took from this experience. As I read this novel on an iPhone 4 using the iBooks app, I noted the following.
First, the good.
I’m frequently finding myself with 5-10 minutes to kill during the day as I wait on something or someone. I call it “gap time.” I have a routine to deal with such productivity synapses. Email, Drudge, blogs. But sometimes I prefer to fill my gap time with something a little less heavy, like knocking out a quick chapter of the latest Michael Crichton novel.
Carrying around one or two thick books on the off change you might catch a few pages seems a bit cumbersome. So whether you’re using a iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Nook, or any of the many other eBook readers on the market, there is something to be said for having your library in your pocket. Just launch the app and you’re instantly right where you left off. Viola! Five care-free minutes in some far away fictional world before being wrestled back to the land of the living. And at a footprint of 2-3 MB per book, your pocket-sized bookshelf could be roughly the size of a small municipal library.
Let’s face it. Size matters, especially when it comes to text on a page. Use an eBook and control not only the size, but also the font. (Even margins and text color are fair game on some eReaders like Stanza for the iPhone). Do you prefer stark white pages or that old crinkly paper look? No worries. Got you covered there too.
Prefer reading in a dark room by a dim light? Maybe you’re sitting in a doctor’s office being hammered by harsh fluorescents. Adjust the brightness, and you’re good to go. Lastly (although I could go on), pop in your headphones, fire up the Ambient music channel on Pandora, and you’ve got music to read by. I won’t mention how nice it is to “turn the pages” on the beautifully designed iBooks app. But we could talk about that too.
3. Connectivity and Mark Up
I’m not sure why an author would insist on using a word like “verisimilitude,” but let’s say he did. And let’s say you, like me, had no idea what that word meant. Simply touch the word, read the definition, then continue with your book. “Oh, so that’s what the author is saying.”
Or maybe the author sparks a question for you, one that you’re certain the Internet could easily answer. Again, touch the word, tap “search,” and just as easily head back to your book. Now you’ve gone from reading to actually researching. And you haven’t even put down your device.
Thanks to Mortimer J. Adler, I’ve gotten quite used to marking up my books as a form of reading. So I was a little reluctant to adopt eReading, which seems in large part to limit my ability to employ this new habit. That’s why I limit my eReading largely to fiction and periodicals. But even then I’m not without means to annotate. I can add highlights (in a variety of colors) and annotate those highlights as well. As of the writing of this post, iBooks doesn’t allow for export of these notes, but I’m hopeful this will be a part of some future update.
4. Instant Gratification
Ah, my favorite vice. I want it, and I want it now. Hear or read about a new book you want to check out? Fire up iBooks, touch “Store” and download the first chapter . . . for free! It’s like having Barnes and Noble with you all the time – second only to having Bartles and James with you all the time, assuming you’re so inclined. (Oh, wait! Barnes and Noble has an app too!) I have now purchased two eBooks after downloading the first chapter. Others I simply delete from the library then move on.
Now, the not so good.
1. Screen Vs. Paper
Studies seem to indicate that we read faster on paper than on the screen. Despite all the gadgets, systems, and technology designed to minimize our dependence on paper, we keep coming back to it. We can hold it, touch it, smell it, display it on a shelf. It makes us happy. And I’m not giving it up anytime soon.
Again with the size thing. But can I just say that I really wish I had an iPad? I just can’t pretend that reading an entire novel on a 4.5 x 2.31″ iPhone screen wasn’t at times fatiguing. My hands suffered a little more than my eyes. But it wasn’t as bad as I imagined. I got used to it. On several occasions near the end of the novel, I sat for 30 minutes or more reading with no real taxation on my eyes, neck, or hands. Even still, I must say that a larger screen would have made the experiment more bliss and less bother.
3. Bookshelf Envy
Just because the whole world is on Facebook doesn’t mean we’re not still primarily brick and mortar consumers. We tend to feel the need for some physical representation of the money we spend and the knowledge we gain. If I buy a book and read it, I want to hold it. I want to see it. Shoot, I want YOU to see it. In that light, eBooks seem so ethereal, so distant, so . . . e.
Luckily we have websites like Shelfari, which I use to not only remind myself of books I’ve read, but to serve as a launching pad for discussion or recommendation.
Not Just For Books
I also recently downloaded a handful of PDF magazines to my iPhone. I’m thoroughly impressed with how well iBooks handles these large, highly graphic files. Zooming in on a page is as easy as double-tapping. Unlike other PDF viewer apps for the iPhone, iBooks zooms directly to the area you choose, not to the center leaving you to move the page around to find your spot.
I also tried Zinio, an app designed to allow you to purchase and read magazines. I was a little disappointed by the limited selection of titles, although I understand the selection is greater on an iPad. And after using iBooks to read PDF magazines, I have to admit that I’d much rather see iTunes begin selling these through the iBooks store. No word on this yet. But some “unrelated” news stories are making me go hmmmm.
I’m also a big fan of RSS. I love that I can grab the latest posts from any blog and most major websites, organize them, and read them right on my phone, or anytime I’m on the web. I currently subscribe to over 30 feeds ranging from College Football sites, to iPhone news, to my friends’ blogs. It’s a great way to custom-tailor my daily intake of news and information and keep it synced wherever I am. I can also easily share what I read with Twitter, Facebook, and email. Or I can use a great service like ReadItLater or InstaPaper to save it offline and spend more time with it later. For the record, I use MobileRSS to handle RSS feeds on my iPhone, although there are other other good options like Reeder. On the web, it’s Google Reader all the way.
When I began this process of evaluation, I was excited the way we get excited by anything new. But now, on the other side, I’m excited because this works. It really works. I’m reading more, I’m learning more, and it doesn’t feel like a burden. I truly believe there is a future for me and eReading. The good news is that most analysts seem to agree. Let’s hope this continues leading to cheaper (and better) devices, greater title availability, and new technology that makes it a little easier to walk away from those tired old tomes of the past.
Are you reading eBooks? If so, what are your thoughts? Obviously I didn’t cover every app or every device. So if you have a favorite, share that too.