Decision Time: E-Reader vs. Books

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This isn't social media related per se, but here's my dilemma. I'm on the fence about the Kindle, especially since I keep reading about the slow extinction of print everything and don't want to contribute to that. Also, maybe I feel some hipster guilt about e-books generally. What's your take? Should I cave to technology peer pressure? Is this just embracing the future?

~Book Lover


You know, I love technology. I love that I can play Scrabble, listen to Glee songs at a really low volume so no one knows I'm not listening to TV On The Radio or some other socially sanctioned band, and post a blog on my iPhone all while waiting for the bus. I love that Twitter enables me to experience the profound insights of 50 Cent on a daily basis, such as, "I can't belive my grandmother's making me take out the garbage I'm rich fuck this I'm going home I don't need this shit." I love that I can find an apartment, a job, and a blow job with a few clicks on Craigslist.

But when it comes to books, the future can embrace its cold, glossy exterior with my fist! Reading, for me, is a pleasure that should not be experienced on an LCD screen. E-mail is great, but love letters are better. I want to smell a book's crisp pages, run my hands over its binding, marvel at the oily dents my fingers have created by re-reading the same favored passage over and over. Books are my muse and my dominatrix. They are meant to be adored.

That said, I am an avowed bisexual, and I see everything both ways. Here are some non-ranty pros and cons of Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and other e-readers.

Pro: The e-reader is lighter, weighing 8.5 ounces. Your average book weighs 12 ounces. A hardback weighs about two pounds.

Con: Seriously? Your pansy-ass hipster arms can't hold a two-pound book? You're an embarrassment to asymmetrical haircuts.

Pro: You can safely read your Girl With The Dragon Tramp Stamp books without anyone on the bus being the wiser.

Con: You can't flirt with cute, bookish strangers or strike up conversations if no one knows what the hell you're reading. One of my favorite urban bonding moments occurred when a girl and I realized we were reading the same Annie Proulx book on the train. Takeaway: You cannot e-drop e-asily with e-readers.  

Pro: E-books are cheaper, and they're free if the copyright has expired, meaning you can download most of the classics for zilch.

Con: You're screwing the writers. The average author royalty per book is $3.90. Per download it's $2.12. Also, are you really going to read all 1,200 pages of War and Peace just because it's free? That's what I thought, asshole.

Pro: The carbon footprint of e-readers is way smaller than the carbon footprint of producing print books.

Con: E-waste is still a huge problem for such devices, though, especially because Amazon.com will no doubt keep making newer versions of the Kindle, thus rendering older ones obsolete -- or at least less desirable. Plus, spill coffee on a book, no problem -- or, at worst you'll need a new book. Spill coffee on a Kindle, and you've just made yourself a really expensive coaster. Of course, renting books from your local library remains the most cost-effective, best-for-the-planet approach to reading.

Pro: It's great for travel, and many people say owning an e-reader has significantly increased their reading habits.

Con: It's great for travel, but now you have another electronic thing to worry about recharging/getting stolen/leaving on the airplane. That said, I heartily support more people reading, especially because Oprah has stopped being the sole cause for most Americans to pick up books. Here's a different con though: It seems like almost daily, I'll read (yes, on the Internet) about a local book store closing. Hell, even megagiant Borders filed for bankruptcy in February. This makes me sad.

Pro: There's a built-in dictionary and translator for foreign language text. Plus, you can increase or decrease the font size to accommodate your level of blindness.

Con: If you're not blind already, print remains the easiest on the eyes.

There you have it. It's a tie. Everyone wins when you're booksexual!

Social-media mistress Anna Pulley likes to give advice about how to play well with others on the internets. If you have a question about etiquette involving technology, shoot her a question at AskAnnaSF@gmail.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @annapulley and @ExhibitionistSF

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16 comments
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SmartAssProducts
SmartAssProducts

Great article.

I LOVE technology. Always have. I've had computers and computer-based gadgets in my home since the '70s, when practically no one had any clue about such things. And I was one of a very few women in the field when I started programming and system administration on UNIX systems in the 1980s. I love my Android smart phone and my houseful of Linux-only computers.

But guess what I like to read? BOOKS! Real books. I have hundreds of them and I treasure each and every one of them; they're proudly and lovingly displayed in floor to ceiling bookcases in my house. I love going to the library and browsing through volume after volume; I also love the smells and the textures and knowing that other people over the years/decades have held and read the same books I'm holding.

When it comes to books, I can't imagine anything in the near future changing my preference--I'll read mine the old fashioned way.

Randyshoward
Randyshoward

I'm the type of reader who underlines and writes notes in the margin. I'm not "hip" to the Kindle/Nook technology, but my guess is I couldn't have the same level of interaction. Also, I tend to be a slow, methodical reader. When I finish a good book it becomes a trophy of sorts, and I slide it on the shelf next to the rest of my darlings. I guess I consider finishing a book to be an achievement of sorts. So I'll continue on my merry way with traditional books until Big Brother (Google?) knocks on my door or Ray Bradbury's ghost sets my house on fire.

Scopedog
Scopedog

Randy, this is the best comment I've seen. Nice points, and I did the FAHRENHEIT 451 reference.

Strangely enough, that book seems much, much more relevant today in light of the digital movement....

SB Gypsy
SB Gypsy

When Amazon took back that title (at the request of the author, but without notice to those who thought they had actually bought it) I decided that I'd never own a Kindle. If I buy a book, I don't want it to disappear without notice - or even with notice. No disappearing titles!

Besides, they have the (free)software to make your netbook into a reader, and it works just fine. I don't have to buy a reader, so I won't.

Nicole
Nicole

That stunt Amazon pulled is part of the reason I decided on a Nook instead of a Kindle. That and the color LCD screen so I can read magazines.

Laer Carroll
Laer Carroll

Idiotic question. No one is being forced to choose one OR the other. Both media have advantages and disadvantages. They complement each other. I choose BOTH.

Scopedog
Scopedog

I like that attitude too, Laer, but what gets me p'od are those who keep gleefully spewing out how awesome it will be when print is dead. THEY refuse to allow both. They only want one medium, and I also suspect that some of them do not give a shit about the writers and artists this will affect.

We do need both for balance. I'm in agreement with you on that.

Jenny
Jenny

The ebook royalty changes depending on the format. If you buy an e-book of a mass market paperback or a trade paperback, the author makes considerably more money, in fact twice the money in some cases. I tell my clients who write in those formats to concentrate on promoting e-books only.Jenny Bentwww.thebentagency.com

Andrewdboyer
Andrewdboyer

You can also take ebooks. "out" of the library with the Nook.

Micheline Ruf
Micheline Ruf

I didn't think you could take ebooks from the library with the Kindle nook, you are saying you can? Please let me know cause I am thinking of buying the Sony reader so I can get the books from the library for free. Thanks.

Chuck
Chuck

Library's mostly use the ePub format through Overdrive.com. Sony Reader, Nook, tablets and smartphones recognize this format. Kindle uses a proprietary format and I don't think most Libraries can lend in that format.

Randolph III
Randolph III

You bring up a good point about planned obsolescence with e-readers. There's none of that with the book. The technology hasn't changed much in, oh, a few hundred years. And once I own a hard copy of a book, there is nothing in the way of my being able to read it for as long as I have vision. No, I can't bring every book with me at all times, but that sounds like such a deluge of information, as well as a paralyzing excess of choice. Along with the newspapers and magazines I will likely read on a trip, one book is usually plenty.

And you also bring up the great point about not ever being able to recognize what a person is reading, and perhaps make a connection as a result. This is also the case with the music that once sat proudly on our shelves for our guests to judge and rummage through. When a person in public is deeply engrossed in their preferred device, I haven't a clue what they're doing (if it's a Kindle or Nook, I suspect they're reading), and I even feel intimidated to disturb their private world.

There are some good points, like when GaryG points out the benefits for authors, especially independent ones, but I feel like the purveyors of new technology have hit the big score once again. With enough to think about, and enough things to spend our money on, we have to concern ourselves with yet another imperfect device that will likely become obsolete in favor of the next great idea. There's gotta be more to life than this shit.

Scopedog
Scopedog

Great points, Randolph.

It's weird for me, because years ago I was eagerly awaiting e-readers. Now...I simply find them distasteful. I have a friend who has convinced me to re-consider the Kindle, but I'm still a bibliophile, always will be. Even if I do get a Kindle, you're darned tooting that I'll get a book more than a e-book.

And your last points were perfect. You're right--there's gotta be more to life than this shit.

GaryG
GaryG

A fun read but a couple of points/clarifications... The Kindle has an e-ink screen, not an LCD. Big difference. My aging eyes find e-ink much easier to read than either an LCD screen or a paper book. I think this is the main reason my reading has increased four-fold since buying a Kindle. The Kindle can hold 3500 books -- even Arnold in his heyday couldn't carry that much tonnage. As for authors getting lower royalties for ebooks, that remains to be seen. The publishing industry is quickly changing, empowering authors in new ways, since a huge publishing house is not needed to print, advertise, and distribute ebooks. Finally, it doesn't have to be either/or. I still read paper books, and will probably continue to do so. It's nice to have the choice.

Anna
Anna

Werd. I wasn't just referring to the Kindle re: LCD screens, but yes, many find e-ink to be easier on the eyes.

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