I seem to have been one of the lucky few who had no issues with the postage service – my e-reader arrived very quickly (I have a 505) – so I didn’t have to wait with bated breath (good thing too – my artistic talents do NOT hold a candle to Brandyllyn’s). Since I travel a lot for my job, I went into the trial hoping that the e-reader would be a good solution to my book haulage problems (especially with the airlines getting really stingy about luggage).
So you have some idea of where my preferences lie – I’m not a writer. I AM a voracious reader. Books are almost like crack for me. If I find a book I love, I am highly likely to go and buy every book in print by that author (especially a series that I enjoy). I discovered the “Dresden Files” by Jim Butcher the week before the e-reader trial – and bought (and read) the entire series in a week. My name is Mary, and books are my drug of choice. The day the package arrived was a bit like Christmas morning, with the obligatory eager tearing off the wrapper. My first impression was “wow, this is a lot smaller, lighter and thinner than I thought it would be – maybe I’m going to have to squint a lot”. Straight to the office I went, loaded up the software, made an account on the Sony bookstore, hooked the reader up and let it charge. Maybe I’m just a little too vanilla, or not far enough out on the cutting edge of technology – but I had absolutely no issues getting set up, charged up and loaded up with reading goodies. I was all set – and I never even opened the instructions (my motto in life: when all else fails, read the instructions… but not until every other possibility has been exhausted).
Now, I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite places to read is in bed. Especially when it’s raining. So I was all set to crawl under the covers and read in the dark to my heart’s content. I then discovered my first disappointment: no backlight. To be fair, books need lights too, but somehow with a backlight on my watch, my cell phone, my iPod, my laptop… I’ve been conditioned to expect a backlight on electronic devices. Yes, yes I know… you can buy a booklight to attach. But c’mon – it’s a device intended solely for reading – what genius decided that you can do without a light to read by (or will always have one handy)? Actually, reading in bed with the reader was a pleasure – it was easier than with a book (no pages flapping over, no thick spine to contort my fingers around, no pages falling out from having broken said spine).
Over the next couple of weeks I took my reader to all the places I usually take a book: to school, to the doctor’s office, to work, to a restaurant (I read at the table when I’m on my own) and on the plane. Very handy, and the battery lasted a long time without a charge – rather impressive. The downside… people kept admiring it, asking what it was, asking me about it and in general interrupting my reading. I got more reading done at home than on the road.
I do have a few small gripes about the reader.
a) The menu button isn’t intuitive. It took me days to figure out that to get out of the book I was in, and back to the main menu, I needed to keep pressing the “menu” button. I then had to work out how to navigate back into the book (thankfully the chapter can be selected in the table of contents).
b) That was the second problem: having to menu surf back to the top menu, and then forward to get back to where I was is a pain in the you-know-where. I’ve since learned that if you bookmark, getting back is easier, but still… is a “home” button too much to ask for?
c) Speaking of buttons – they need to be bigger. Two tiny buttons you have to press with a fingernail, and one other built into a directional button just don’t work well. Granted, if they’re too big you could accidentally turn a page, but there has to be a middle of the road solution.
d) Pages take a couple of seconds to turn (I hit the button before I reach the last line and it works OK – but the flash/flicker is annoying). As someone else said: the reader has ONE function (to be read from) and it should do that flawlessly. No flicker, no delay turning the page.
e) Not enough contrast on the screen – there needs to be an adjustable control. Lighting where I would have had no trouble with a paper book, required turning on the light for the e-reader. I had to increase the font size (which is depressing – makes me feel old). Increasing the font size wasn’t even a good solution, since that increased the number of page turns (see above) and the resulting formatting was also weird and bothersome to read.
f) No wireless meant I could only buy books at home – I couldn’t ‘impulse’ buy even if I wanted to
Some things that were great:
a) easier to handle than a book. Seriously, holding it to read from it was very comfortable – even more so than a paper back. Very natural – no need to hold it in odd positions to be able to use it. The screen could stand to be a tad bigger, but it’s much better than trying to read on something the size of a postage
stamp (eg: my Blackberry).
b) much easier to carry on the plane than books – it even fits in the seat pocket! Barely takes up any room in the bag, and I would never have to choose between books and clothes again
c) battery life is terrific. I didn’t need to take a charger with me on a week long business trip (this is huge by the way – don’t get me started on a ‘every device has a separate freaking charger’ rant – just about my entire briefcase is filled with chargers).
d) the cover does its job – and doesn’t get in the way. I like that it was included with the reader.
e) the metal frame feels very sturdy, and not at all cheap and plasticy In general, I was very pleased with the reader, and think digital books are definitely the way to go in the future.
However, the sticking point for me is not the device (which would be a great solution for me) – the problem is the medium. Warning… rant ahead.
As Sarah has pointed out before, the way publishers, bookstores, Amazon and everyone else are treating DRM is nuts. I just want a book, and I want to be able to buy it from whomever I want to, wherever I am, and know the darn thing is going to work on whatever reader I have… just the way I can with a paper book. The whole idocacy with Amazon removing Animal Farm from readers’ Kindles was way too “big brother” for me. If I’ve paid for the book… I OWN IT. Period. I’d like to see Barnes and Noble try to come and remove any paper book I’ve
bought from my own home! Why in the name of ever-loving-sense would it be different with digital books? I’m in business – and this makes absolutely no sense to me from a business standpoint.
a) there’s already a high cost of entry for digital books. You must own a computer and/or an e-reader – both of which are expensive. The responsibility for backing up the collection is the readers’, and if the “format” changes, the entire lot could become unusable – flushing a lot of money down the cyber sink-
b) to grow the business, publishers are essentially going to have to convince readers to change from paper to digital – changing behavior developed over centuries. You’d think they’d be trying to ensure there were as few barriers to entry as possible.
c) digital is going to reduce costs substantially if publishers can convince the majority of readers to go digital. Economics 101 people!
d) Pissing off your customers is a bad business strategy – and the more restrictions put in place, the more unhappy consumers you’ll have. Take notes from the record industry publishers – make it easy or your business is going to decline in a big way.
I buy my books from three sources: Barnes and Noble, Amazon and the airport booksellers. Barnes and Noble is where I go to browse – and even if I were to go fully digital, I’d still go to B&N because I’ve discovered that (for me) books are a very visual thing. Does the cover attract me? What catches my eye on the displays? What do the fab B&N staff recommend? I spend a fortune on books, and if I went digital, B&N (where I live) might just collapse. Like Sarah, if I could buy digital books at B&N I would – after I’ve found the ones I want by visually
browsing. Bookshops are like the spa for me – I go there to relax, enjoy and find unexpected pleasures. How many stores do you know that let you tuck into the merchandise over a cup of coffee in a comfy chair before you’ve even paid for it – or even if you don’t end up buying what you’ve consumed? Bookstores are the only ones I’m aware of. I do NOT want to give that up – and I realize that I can’t expect to get that experience forever if I’m not throwing some cash their way. Equally, why can’t I buy a digital book from the airport booksellers? Yeah, the e-reader stores a butt- load of books – but if I’m just not in the mood for any of them, then I’m back to shelling out for a paper book that I have to cart home (because with the e-reader I can’t even buy them wirelessly).
Which brings me to my biggest gripe with Sony. Their bookstore sucks. Several times when I’ve logged on intending to buy books… it’s down. The purple swirly arrow of boredom appears every time I click on a new category or book (I have a fast PC and super-fast internet connection… so I KNOW it’s not me). It doesn’t have the features that Amazon does (especially helpful… the “peek inside” feature – which Sony doesn’t have). Hell, I can’t even read the blurb on the back of the book jacket. Amazon may be da debil… but they do a terrific line in
almost replicating the bookstore experience. I usually go to them when I’m looking to save money on books by authors I already know I like when I’m not in a hurry for the books (4 for the price of 3, free shipping, delivered to my door). It’s not a comfy chair and a cup of coffee – but it’s damn close.
I freely admit, I’m not into searching out multiple sites where I can buy books in a format the e-reader will accept (unlike other test drivers – I had no digital books before I got the e-reader). Either I have to change that – or I’m locked into a proprietary store – with whichever e-reader I buy. If the press releases are true and the forthcoming Plastic Logic reader will only let me buy books from B&N (unless they’re in PDF) then that’s one more freaking proprietary reader. Why… why, why, why would Amazon, B&N and Sony do this shit? I
understand it’s an almost irresistible temptation to lock anyone who buys a device into buying books only from you – but hell, it’s a shortsighted, greedy, moronic decision. It will make people like me – who want the least fuss possible – actively seek out a reader that will accept PDFs and then find publishers who I can buy from directly – skipping the booksellers entirely. So far, none of the e-readers seem to be a killer device (the way an ipod was). Why would a bookseller want to restrict their potential customer pool by only allowing the books they
sell to be read on only one device? Is your product books or e-readers? If it’s books: make them open format and compete for your customers by offering a better service or price than your competitors. If its readers, make them able to read any format and compete for your customers by making the best device.
I’m a big fan of the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Stupid. When I find something I like, that’s simple and works for me – I stick with it. There is no way on God’s green earth that I’m going to buy multiple e-readers at $300 a pop, just so I can buy books from wherever I want. Piss me off enough and I’m the kind of customer who will go to great lengths to ensure you will get.not.one.single.penny.more from me. Note: if the price of the readers was a helluva lot lower, I might feel differently (if it was $50 per unit, I could maybe see my way to buying
Phew. I feel better now! Bottom line for me: while I love the promise of digital books, the ease of carrying a library around in my purse, not giving up any more floor space to bookshelves – the whole digital publishing/proprietary format – and its attendant greedy and hamfisted attempt to straightjacket customers into buying only from one publisher – far outweighs the positives.
I think I’m just going to sit back, watch the players duke it out, and see what happens when the dust settles.
Until it does, digital books are probably not for me – it’s not like I don’t have a paper alternative to keep me high on words, squeeing over fabulous stories and buying everything an author ever wrote!