I am a True Believer!

I have at last come around to the beauty of the e-reader.

Nook Ipad 400Back in the long ago of 2008, I bought the first Kindle to use as an aid to reading manuscripts. It was nearly four hundred dollars, which boggles the mind even now. Why? Because Kindle 1 had serious problems: it was a poorly designed, clumsy device with page flip buttons in all sorts of weird places; it had problems with poor contrast and refresh rates on page flips; and it broke just after its year-long warranty expired. The latest iterations look pretty spiffy, but Kindle 1 was so awful and the customer service so terrible that Amazon forever lost my business.

After it broke down, I bought an iPad, but I never really used it for reading books. Wasn’t keen on the iBooks interface, with its silly animated page flips. Wasn’t about to give Amazon the satisfaction of downloading more books to its Kindle app.

Then I went on a work retreat/holiday, and I downloaded some books to the Nook app for the week. I read three of them. And now I don’t want to read books on anything else. In fact, I came home to find four books I’d ordered waiting. I returned them to the seller and downloaded them instead. This is how it will be from now on: I plan to get rid of many, many physical books. First big haul to sell at the Strand will be this morning before lunch. And you know what? I won’t miss ’em.

I completely sympathize with those who fetishize physical books. God knows I do: I have a collection of signed first editions that I will never part with, and other books that I just feel some strange sort of cathexis for that goes beyond all reason.

But most other books I don’t need in physical form. For example, most nonfiction. I am a political junkie and consume books like Game Change and The Bridge like butter-slathered popcorn, but such books are topical and quickly outdated. Why keep an actual copy? And journalism such as the great David Grann’s collection of essays The Devil and Sherlock Holmes? I can’t wait to read it, but I don’t need to own it.

Sadly, this is true of most novels, too. Most novels are disposable unless they truly touch me in some way. In those cases, I’ll buy a hard copy of the book. (That’s how I operate now when I read a book in paperback and adore it—I end up tracking down a hardcover to add to the library.) But good as most novels are, few are so great that I want them lying about forever.

And now I can carry twenty books with me easily, and choose between books depending on my mood. I can switch from Patton Oswalt’s collection of essays Zombie Spaceship Wasteland to the most recent Newbery winner, Moon Over My Hammy—er, Manifest. And then I can reread William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition just for fun.

It’s amazing. My digital reader is making me read more and buy more books.* And I am never going back.

Has anyone else out there experienced a similar Saul/Paul conversion?

*Though not True Grit. I returned the physical copy I’d purchased and dragged along on vacation, where it went unread. But when I went to download it, discovered that the nookbook version costs more than the paperback on line. Really, Overlook Press? Is that how you want to play? Well, fine: I’ll read something else before I’ll pay more for a virtual book than I pay for the paperback. For shame.

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  2. I feel compelled to cringe at the thought of replacing the physical with digital … but all points well taken, your reasoning makes sense in its context.

    Hell, I get that the e-reader is likely opening more readers to new books. I just have a hard time letting go of the texture, smells, etc. of its printed parent.

    Perhaps there is a line to draw in the sand so that not all traditions are lost but embraced?

    Thanks for the insights on a subject near and dear.


  3. Can’t say I was a reluctant convert. Years ago I worked at a B.Dalton; the paper waste of book returns made me sick, and our store was only a little mall branch. So I pretty much jumped onto ebooks, hoping they’ll someday reduce the number of paper books over-printed, over-ordered, and returned.

    I use an iPod Touch to read, my husband an iPad. I’m excited this week to discover that nearly 200 ABA indie booksellers have signed on to sell Google Editions. I can now support my local indie with my ebook purchases, so I’ll be using the Google app for most books.


  4. I was happy to make the move to e-readers. Like you, vacation was a turning point. I used to take piles of old used paperbacks on vacation and then just leave them wherever I happened to finish them. (As a side benefit, this also created extra suitcase room for the things we ended up buying on vacation.) But at some point, having 1/4 of a suitcase filled with old paperbacks seems ridiculous.

    It was harder to get rid of my old paper books though, but once I did a few times I’ve given away so many I’m almost completely digital. I loved having full bookshelves, but we have two kids and not enough space so we had to make room somewhere.

    I have a Kindle 2 and love it, although it just broke (last night) so my continuing use of a Kindle will depend on a great deal on how my customer service call goes with Amazon.


  5. On Twitter someone pointed out that many e-books are cheaper on Amazon, and while that might be a consideration for some, I am past the point of caring about a buck here or there. I’d rather be happy with where those dollars go.

    I am much more keen to try out the Google e-reader app and to support my local indies. I read about a bookstore that tagged their shelves with barcodes that allowed browsers to just download an e-book immediately, and that seems to me to be the future. If it is, it won’t be one I mind terribly much.

    And Jason: That’s exactly what happened here. I used to haul around many pounds of books. Much better to just have this device with me.


  6. Apparently I’ll still be on the Kindle since my customer service call apparently went much better than yours. Even though my Kindle is well out of warranty, my problem (broken 5-way stick) is apparently an uncommon but known issue so I’m getting a new Kindle for free. 🙂


    • Well, Bezos was nicer to you, Jason, and to Elaine, than he was to me, and I am grateful. I’d probably still be reading on my Kindle (so-so) and not on the iPad, which is a superior piece of machinery. Should be thinner and lighter, but that, too, will happen.


  7. But see, that’s why I use the library. When I want to keep a book forever, I also buy a hardback, but I only buy a book at ALL once I’ve already read it for free at the library. I can’t justify buying a book if I can’t have a physical copy of it, because I can’t even justify buying a book I’ll just read once.

    I see the future of eContent (I don’t call them books– eNOVELS maybe, eStories, eLiterature, but books are physical objects– books ARE their media, not the content) being more flexible, with lots of crossover in the types of art being created for it. And somehow I feel like the pay-per-download model doesn’t quite work. I think I’d be more willing to pay for a subscription service– like Netflix for literature– than I would for individual titles. But this is coming from someone who can’t even pay for a knock-off mp3 player, let alone an iPad, so maybe it’s different for people with disposable income.


  8. Ah, it seems like only a few months ago I was predicting you’d all bow down to the e-book. That was quick. And the e-book prices haven’t even collapsed yet.

    If B&N is smart they’ll recognize that they are uniquely positioned to meld e and dead tree. The problem with e-bookstores is that search works but browsing doesn’t. If you have a book in mind it’s easy to download. But if you don’t then you find more, more quickly at a bookstore. B&N should have free very high speed WiFi in-store and an easy way to browse the physical then download.

    B&N should be advertising this as a feature. Keep the social and ease-of-browsing aspects of the physical store, then make that impulse buy for your Nook (or iPad) right there in the store. Of course this will mean fewer stores and smaller, with shelves used more for display and less for storage of multiple copies, and less storage space in the back.

    Now, for predictions: Within the next five years e-book prices will average $3.99, half of all books by established authors will be self-published in digital only, Costco and Wal-Mart will get out of the book biz, the number of bookstores will drop by a third, at least 2 of the big 6 publishers will be out of the book business and Amazon or B&N will be the largest publisher, and we’ll see widespread closures of public libraries. (Less so with school libraries.) And we will very soon see the melding of book and app, a sort of juiced-up enhanced e-book. That last one will be less than a year from now.


    • I love the “Now, for predictions” paragraph, which reads like a bourbon-fueled wish list of yours, composed on the fly. I suppose we shall see.

      B&N already allows this, and definitely bookstores will be more about display as a means to browse their own ebookstores. I just wish there were one master app that shared all files, so that we wouldn’t have to segregate our books based on vendor.


  9. I love my iPad, and read endlessly on it, combining iBooks (I quite love the bookcase and the interface), nook, Kindle (two of my customer service calls clearly went much better than yours, including their immediately (next day) replacing my original Kindle that froze during their software update well after its one year warranty had lapsed), Google Library, calibre to transform other types of docs and free ebooks to epub format to add to my iBooks library, plus a nice pdf reader. I still treasure my print books, however, autographed, and just old, well-loved books where the sensory connections of touching the page and smelling the paper are as treasured as the words. But these days I buy hardcover books only if I can’t get a digital version, or if the digital version is inexplicably more expensive than the print version. I travel a lot, and the idea of being able to carry hundreds of books with me on my iPad is irresistable. Glad you finally became a convert! How unfortunate that poor Amazon service delayed your discovery of digital reading pleasures. I would hate to see the demise of the print book, but love having both edition options.


    • I bet the print book won’t die. It will be more like vinyl in music, which has resurged as a collector’s format and for die-hard fans. And instead of the cheapjack book production that has become the norm even among the most expensive books. Instead, you’ll pay for a well-made edition that will last and be lovingly created.

      And that’s my prediction!


  10. Michael:

    As you well know, everything I write is bourbon-fueled and done on the fly, so that took no special perception on your part.

    I agree to your last note on upscale books. And I (ahem) made that point in a speech to the SCBWI in Miami two years ago. Just before that was when I told my corporate overlords that Amazon was moving into publishing in a big way.

    Why do you resist the self-evident truth that I am a prophet? I think I have kind of an Isaiah thing going on here and I won’t be the least bit surprised to see a fiery chariot descending from the sky. Ah, well, a prophet is not without honor save with his own (former, alas,) editor.


  11. I love my Kindle 3, and my 5th grade daughter now has one too–before this, neither of us could ever bring enough books to last us through vacations. Although we still buy some physical books, we buy at least 80 percent e-books now–and I’d say our book-buying has easily tripled since we both got our Kindles.

    My Kindle has worked perfectly, and since I often read outside I needed an e-reader that works well in bright sun. I also have the lighted book cover for all those times I’m awake in the middle of the night, not wanting to wake my husband by turning on the light. So I’m now reading an extra hour or two a day, thanks to my Kindle. I, too, when I absolutely love a book and want to keep it forever, will go out and buy a hardcover.

    I’m trying to get my husband to give up his three newspapers a day and subscribe on an e-reader to reduce the clutter around our house, but sadly that hasn’t happened yet.


  12. I received a Nook for Christmas and I do love it. It is so much easier to have a book, a number of books at your fingertips, especially when traveling, and yet…there are moments in reading when I wish I had the physical book in my hands…to quickly flip through the pages to find a particular passage, to peruse the awesome picture on the cover…I’m reading an ARC now on the Nook, but I know I’ll buy the physical book when it’s released.

    Sometimes, it’s just easier to find particular things in the book itself and go back and forth between sections. I also like to giveaway awesome books on my blog. But my Nook is here to stay and I’ll definitely be doing a lot more reading on it for sure 🙂


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