I’ve been thinking about e-readers a lot too, recently. Largely because of the long commute to college, but also because I love reading and I love books.
As Fuzzy said, nothing can beat the feel of paper between your fingertips. But there’s a lot more to ‘the real thing’ than just that. When you think about it, all the ‘traditional’ story-telling devices that books use (blank pages, breaks in paragraphs..) have evolved from the fact of their physical form. Then there’s illustration and cover design- which, sure, will still be available on a screen, but there’s a reason the Mona Lisa isn’t just preserved in high-res digital format (that is more accessible to people, easier to maintain and occupies less space) and the same is true of book illustration. But all this, I will concede, is somewhat romanticized argument. The real argument lies in the drawbacks of e-readers themselves. Availability of books is an issue. Further, since they haven’t been around very long, the copyright-protection laws on e-books are sometimes ridiculous (and only made more so by competing e-reader manufacturers). They make legitimate sharing and transfer pretty impossible and there are all kinds of restrictions on format that further limit the books you can buy. Even more importantly, you don’t own the books you buy; you have the license to read the books you buy. Meaning, if these e-readers do poorly and e-books become a thing of the past (which, granted, doesn’t look likely), there’s a good chance that you can’t read the e-books you bought (although this would be less of a problem if the content transfer issue was settled while still somehow protecting against piracy)! Also, this owning-of-license-business is the reason that some e-books are cheaper. I mean, nobody’s going to pay more to be legally permitted to read a book as opposed to owning one that is theirs to use as they wish.
There is much to be said in favour of e-books, though. There’s the obvious: the portability (ranks high on my list!), the durability (no worrying about pests/dampness), the compactness, the ease and immediacy of purchase. But what’s really interesting is that e-books also offer a possibility for authors to earn much more off their writing. Normally, with printed books, the author either receives a flat fee or royalties on sale. With flat fee, the author is paid a fixed amount for a book, regardless of the number of copies it will go on to sell. If the book does poorly, the author still has his fee and the publisher loses out. Alternatively, the book does incredibly well (as does the publisher), and the author still has his meager fee. The other option is to receive royalty (a certain percentage) on every sale. This is still not a large amount, unless the book does very well; and then, it is still not as much as the publisher makes! E-books could potentially increase that percentage in the author’s favour because the publishing process is now much simplified.
So there you have it folks.
E-readers- To buy or not to buy: that’s the question.