Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Sucker for E-Books

100 Scope Notes writes about e-books today. He's taking a wait-and-see approach and asks where we are with e-books; my comment turned into a post of its own. (And I almost titled this post "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love E-Books", but luckily I didn't, because... that's the title of the 100 Scope Notes post, which I hadn't noticed.)

I started reading e-books about five years ago when I had to get a Palm Pilot for nursing school. I discovered that I could download books from Project Gutenberg for free, and read many, many forgotten old books (no classics for me, thanks! I'd rather read Patty in Paris and The Campfire Girls Go Motoring) on that tiny screen. I went to Europe for two weeks that year and instead of taking one book and trying to parcel out the reading, I took dozens and was able to read whatever and whenever I felt like. (At this point people say "Well, if I was in Paris, I wouldn't be doing much READING"--hogwash. There's two long long flights to get through, Paris has trains like anywhere else, and I always do a lot of reading at night when I'm on vacation, once I'm too tired to keep going but it's still, like, 8 PM.)

Now that I've finally started to get over the feeling that we count our wealth in books--that I don't need to buy every used book I see that happens to be something I enjoyed--though I'm still struggling with the idea that if I don't have enough books, people will walk into my apartment and think I'm not a reader--I've started to like e-books even more. My local library is underfunded and unimpressive, and this year doesn't carry many of the new children's and YA books I want to read. So I've been buying more new books than ever before. And I'm buying them in "e" form. I'm not going to want to keep most of them, and I don't want them cluttering my apartment, and they're slightly more affordable.

I kept feeling a rosy glow when I bought an e-book, thinking that I was helping to sustain the author and publisher, but I was concerned that maybe the glow shouldn't be so rosy. I wondered whether authors really made much from the sale of e-books--was this like that writer's strike business, where the screenwriters were making squat from Internet downloads of TV and movies? I asked about this on twitter, and my understanding is that while authors make less from e-book sales, that's more because they cost less than because they're being cheated. Since I wouldn't buy all these books in hardcover--there's no way--I keep feeling rosy.

The downside is that I'm buying these from Barnes and Noble (since I don't have a "device" and read them on my computer, the tiniest of netbooks) instead of an independent bookstore. If there's somewhere else I ought to be buying from, do let me know.

My good friend CLM of Perfect Retort, whose apartment was blissfully wall-to-wall books last time I visited it ten years ago, asks about rereads. I'm happy to buy hard copies of books I want to read over and over, just as I always have. For me, that isn't a change at all--it used to be extremely rare for me to purchase a new book I hadn't already read; I only did it in the case of an author I knew I loved, or perhaps something deeply discounted on the sale table that looked interesting, but even then almost never. (I know that eventually hard copies will become proportionally more expensive, as fewer are produced, but it'll be something I'm willing to pay for.) People often mention that it isn't as cozy to curl up with an e-book as it is with a "real" book; for me, if I want to be cozy, I'm choosing one of those "I've read this more times than I can count" books I own anyway. And I've never been one to take books into the bath with me. (Shudder! Didn't you all see the instructional film in elementary school about how sad it is when books get wet?)

I do keep some of the e-books I buy, though. And I still mourn the passing of my Palm Pilot--I don't have an IPhone--because being able to read a snippet of Rilla of Ingleside anytime I happened to be caught in line was delicious.


Jennifer said...

I discovered Project Gutenberg and similar sites about ten years ago, when I was a teen. For several years we couldn't afford a library card at the bigger city library nearby (dunno what they charge now, but nonresident fee then was $50). I read - literally - everything in our miniscule local library, from the complete works of Jane Austen to I was a sixth grade alien by Bruce Coville. I'd read the many, many books lying around our house. I was desperate! Project Gutenberg was marvelous. Of course, there wasn't much "convenience" about it then - we had dial-up so it took forever to download, the format could really get exhausting on your eyes, and once I'd read all the "good" stuff I was stuck with weird 18th century miscellanea. But I had books!

mamster said...

My friend Liza, who's in the ebook business, maintains a list of DRM-free ebook sellers. All of them are pretty nichey, I think.

I want to buy and read more ebooks (I find reading on my iPhone screen very comfortable), but I have trouble finding books I want that are DRM-free, and that's really important to me.

Wendy said...

I tried googling DRM to figure out what the heck you're talking about, but it's clearly way beyond me.

Jennifer, I think that story would warm the hearts of the Project Gutenberg people... happily, there's a much bigger selection available now. For a while I did proofreading for Project Gutenberg, which was a fascinating thing (that anyone can do...)

mamster said...

Wendy, DRM is software in the ebook file that prevents you from doing what you want with your book. It might prevent you from printing part of it, or using it on a particular device, or giving it to a friend when you're done with it. You can't (at least, I don't think) read a B&N ebook on a Kindle, and you can't read a Kindle book on a Mac or on a Sony Reader or whatever the next big device is.

As far as I'm concerned, these are my decisions to make, not the publisher's or B&N's or Amazon's or whoever. For a typical ebook that I'm going to read once and forget about, it probably doesn't matter--until it does, and I get annoyed.

Scope Notes said...

Thanks for the post, Wendy! I was happy to see mention of DRM (digital rights management) pop up, as this is an issue that is worth discussing. It makes me a bit nervous when the entire eBook reader market is so tied to one company (amazon) and one product (kindle). Hopefully (as has happened with iTunes music and the iPod) the DRM will be removed and readers will be able to purchase books from a variety of outlets and read them on a range of devices.