Thursday, March 12, 2009
The e-book vs. the tree-book, continued
Reading an e-book on an iPod Touch isn't what I expected.
Absorbing text from that tiny three-and-a-half-inch screen is easier and more restful than I at first thought it would be. In an experiment yesterday morning I spent nearly an hour reading a Michael Connelly novel with Amazon.com's free Kindle e-reader software and actually lost track of time without suffering from eyestrain. It was even a pleasant experience for this 68-year-old senior citizen.
So am I going to forsake the printed book? Of course not.
The iPod Touch needs to be recharged every night -- more often if it's used for the Internet. Its battery will last for only about three hours of Webcrawling, or six to eight hours for e-reading. One needs to be close to a 110 volt outlet.
A printed book, we all know, needs no electricity and will keep working even when dropped on a concrete floor. It's not particularly attractive to thieves; you can leave one on your beach blanket while going for a dip. And if it does get stolen or lost, you're out only seven to twenty-five bucks -- less if the book's old or borrowed.
An iPod Touch costs $229 plus tax. Losing one would be painful.
But it's pocketable where even a mass-market paperback isn't. It's unobtrusive. You can read it in the dark. You can read it surreptitiously in church during a long and boring sermon. You can read it scrunched up against other standees on the bus.
There are other advantages. On Amazon.com, current Kindle best sellers cost less than half the price of a printed book. If you use Stanza, another e-reader program, you can download and read free classics from Gutenberg.org. Then there's eReader, whose book prices are similar to Kindle's, but with a much fancier interface that allows you to change background and text colors as well as highlight text to save as notes.
In my view, this new electronic wave will not replace the printed book. Can you imagine trying to read an oversized art or photography book on a small screen? Can you imagine bespectacled Baby Boomers migrating in large numbers to a new technology in the middle of a depression when books are available for free at the library?
I suspect, however, that as time goes on e-books will cut deeply into sales of tree-books, and that publishers will have to adjust their business plans to deal with that. (Barnes & Noble has beheld the handwriting on the electronic wall and just last week acquired Fictionwise, the parent company of eReader.)
E-reading is another means of appreciating literature -- and it's a remarkably convenient one.