Friday, July 15, 2011

Reading through electrons

I’ve written various posts about e-reading—the devices, software and even the paradigm itself. Now that I’ve been doing it for awhile, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

Back in August of last year, I downloaded the Kindle Reader software from Amazon for both my iPod Touch (this was before the iPad and iPhone) and my desktop Mac. Kindle edition books are significantly cheaper than the dead tree versions, and more importantly, they’re downloaded in minutes and there are no shipping charges, sales taxes/GST, etc. It’s a pretty good deal.

However, it’s not easy to get non-Kindle books into the software. It’s supposedly possible, but I haven’t actually done it. Still, any books I buy and download are available on my iPad, iPhone and desktop Mac, and they sync with each other so no matter what device I’m using, my book is always on the same page and my notes/annotations, if any, are shared. Those are all good things.

I also tried Stanza, and while I like it, getting books from my desktop Mac to my iPad or iPhone was so difficult that I never did figure it out. On the other hand, it’s simple software, works well and is fast.

Finally, once the Apple’s iBooks software was available in New Zealand, I decided to try that. I already buy nearly all my music and Mac software through Apple’s stores, so why not? Well, for one thing, when it was introduced, there were no books apart from some public domain old books. While good to have, here was nothing current to buy.

Turns out, there’s still nothing to buy: All 16,000+ books available in New Zealand are free, as near as I could tell. Many are classics, all free and in the public domain. On the other hand, iBooks is for me by far the easiest of the three to add ebooks from elsewhere: Simply drag and drop it (in epub or pdf format) into the Books window on iTunes and you’re done (when synching you may need to tell your device to synch the book). I subscribe to the digital edition of a magazine and can drag the PDFs into iBooks to read on my iPad.

I also downloaded the free app for The Nation magazine. It comes with one free issue and after that you can subscribe or buy individual issues. They’re cheaper than buying the printed versions in the store—which are imported, of course—and can be bought in Kiwi dollars, which is a plus. I also downloaded the app for The Hill, which covers political news in the US. Newspapers have similar apps, some better than others.

So after trying all this, I’ve reached some conclusions. First, I think these devices are good for most magazines, since we tend not to keep them, anyway; I think that magazines where photography is important might be better on paper, even though the iPad screen is good. I also think it’s good for some books that date quickly, like software books—especially because they tend to be expensive in printed form.

I’m more dubious about them for books I want to keep around, and that includes classic books. I think it could be good for classics we’ve never managed to get around to reading, and we can always buy a printed version later. It could be good for new books that we don’t know will stand the test of time, too.

However, for me there’s nothing better than the feel of a real book, the smell of ink and paper, the look of them when they’re all lined up on bookshelves. No e-reader can match that look, feel or feeling, even with their page-turn animations. So I think that e-readers like the iPad are really good and useful, especially for certain types of books, magazines and other publications, but I certainly won’t be abandoning real books any time soon, nor as fast as I did CDs.

1 comment:

d said...

I totally agree - nothing like the feel of an actual book. Hard-cover, especially. :)