After my recent post about the inevitability of e-books, I was surprised that there were so many misconceptions in the comments section about e-readers and e-books.
For the record, I don’t think everyone is going to or should or will like e-books and converting people is not what this post is about. But I do think people should at least have the facts.
Now would also be a good time to state for the record that I have no financial interest in e-books or e-readers whatsoever and in fact, my job would probably be easier if they didn’t exist. But they do exist, I genuinely like them, and I don’t think this industry can afford to be behind the curve on technology.
Here’s my personal Top 10 list of the mistaken beliefs people have about e-books:
1. “They strain your eyes” / “They’re bad for people with poor eyesight” / “I’ll go blind.”
Aside from reading on an iPhone, which I personally love but realize isn’t for everyone, most dedicated e-readers use e-ink displays, which are very different than the backlit screens of computers and televisions and phones. E-ink literally looks like ink on paper, you can read in sunlight, and it’s crisp from any angle.
Also, all e-readers have the ability to change the text size, so you can instantly turn any book into large print if you have difficulty with small fonts.
2. “You can’t back up your files” / “If you lose or break your e-reader or if a new e-reader comes out you lose all your books”
Different devices do indeed favor different formats, but even still the above statements don’t accurately reflect the landscape.
Let’s start with Amazon and the Kindle. Amazon stores the information about all of the titles you have bought centrally, which means that you can access the titles on any device that has a Kindle app, whether it’s a Kindle, iPhone, or a PC (coming soon: Macs). Better yet, Amazon syncs between the different applications so that if you stop reading on a Kindle and open up the app on your iPhone it will turn to the page you left off on. If you lose your Kindle or it breaks or you want to get a new one you can still read all of the titles you bought on a computer or another device.
Now, Amazon usually uses its own proprietary e-book format, and some people want a more universal format. If so, you might consider the Sony Reader or nook. Their stores use the ePub format, which can be read on most e-reader devices, so you’re not beholden to one device or vendor after you have purchased your books and you can always take your library elsewhere.
3. “I don’t want to have to scroll endlessly through a book” / “I’ll miss turning the pages” / “I like taking notes”
Most e-readers, including the iPhone apps, have pages that you “turn” either by clicking a button or tapping/swiping your finger. While I know some people view this as a sign of the apocalypse, you’d be surprised how quickly it becomes second nature.
And most e-readers allow you to take notes, bookmark pages, search within the text, and highlight sections you want to come back to.
4. “They require a lot of power” / “They’re hot to the touch like laptops”
When they’re not using their wireless function, e-readers using the e-ink display consume very little energy, and you only have to charge them once every few weeks, even if you read often.
They’re also completely cool to the touch.
5. “You can’t check e-books out from the library”
According to the NY Times, about 5,400 libraries now offer e-books, and more are signing up every day. Most library programs work like with physical books – you “check out” an e-book onto your e-reader and “check it back in” when you’re finished, and only one patron at a time can “check out” an e-book while you’re reading it.
6. “You can’t lend to friends or family”
Amazon allows up to six users to access the same account for most titles, and nook has a LendMe function that allows you to share a title for 14 days (if the publisher allows it).
Admittedly these aren’t the freest means of sharing content, but my wife and I share a Kindle account and are able to read each other’s books whenever we want.
7. “E-Readers are bad for the environment”
A Cleantech study asserts that e-readers have a much smaller carbon footprint than physical books when book production and shipping physical books are taken into account, though one blogger felt that the Cleantech study didn’t adequately address paper recycling programs. Although, it’s not as if it’s impossible to recycle electronics.
8. “You can’t read an e-reader in the bathtub” / “I would never take an e-reader to the beach
Put it in a Ziploc bag and it’s more waterproof/sandproof than a paper book.
9. “They’re too expensive.”
E-readers may be relatively expensive now for a wide swath of people, but prices will inevitably come down. And because e-books are (usually) much cheaper than print books, it doesn’t take long before an e-reader pays for itself – since most hardcovers that sell for $25 or more are available for $9.99, all it takes is roughly 20 e-books for an e-reader to pay for itself. You save even more if you read e-books on a phone or computer you already own.
For a casual reader: yeah, a dedicated e-reader probably doesn’t make the most sense. But for people who read a lot, especially new books, it can result in actual savings relatively quickly.
10. “E-books are bad for publishers and authors”
While most agents I know are not thrilled with the royalties authors are currently receiving from the major publishers, so far the deep discounting has been absorbed by the e-book sellers and publishers have little to lose from e-book sales, at least in the short term. According to reports, most publishers still receive roughly 50% off the list price for every e-book sale, meaning that a $9.99 e-book is a loss leader for Amazon and the other e-book publishers, while the publisher receives the same amount as they would for a hard copy.
And while, again, we agents would like to see authors get a fairer split, authors still receive royalties for e-book sales. The low price points of e-books have attracted some of my cost-minded friends who used to mainly buy used books, for which authors of course don’t receive any royalties, so from that standpoint they are much more author friendly than used books.
Samantha Clark says
Very interesting. Thanks for the info. I haven't tried an e-Reader yet — still in love with paper books too much. But this makes them seem more attractive.
One other way ereaders save money – I can (and do!) subscribe to a major national daily newspaper for much less than the paper copy of the regional paper I used to buy. The actual dollars-and-cents penciled out to recovering the cost of the Kindle in less than 6 months.
Starbucks – except for that whole "non-compete" clause in your contract. If your publisher does an electronic edition (mine does) it makes sense to let them have the rights, with a time-limit on their exercise of those rights.
Mary Lindsey says
I love my e-reader. I can't imagine going back to paper only. I was resistant at first, but got sick or lugging my laptop or critique mates' manuscripts everywhere. I bought the Kindle for that reason, but ended up addicted to it. I have doubled the number of books I read a year simply because of the ease of book purchases and the portability of the device.
Thanks for the post. I now have a place to point my nay-saying friends.
Mike Fook com says
I wrote a "50 Reasons Ebooks Are Better" article at my personal MikeFook com site. If anyone is interested. 157 comments here already – amazing stuff! Great article – I shared it with my other writer friends.
Linda M Au says
I've had my Kindle for about a year and adore it. I suffer from ocular rosacea and chronic dry eye, and book reading had become painful (especially if I did it at the end of the day). With my Kindle, it's actually clearer than printed books (no uneven inking) and the adjustable font has been a blessing. I can read for hours on the Kindle — something I cannot do on a backlit screen or even a printed book anymore.
Plus, being able to tote a thousand books with me on vacation is marvelous.
It's paid for itself in public domain classics alone (which are mostly free from various sites).
A little over a year ago, I thought e-readers were evil (I'm a writer too), but I've done a complete about-face since owning the Kindle. Now I'll likely always own an e-reader of some stripe.
Ishta Mercurio says
Nathan, thanks for this post. I am still very firmly planted in the print books camp, for reasons much like those expressed by J. Matthew Saunders and Remus Shepherd, but it was good to hear that there is a little more flexibility in e-readers than I had previously thought.
I just like printed material. I like the weighty feel of a book in my hand; I like that I can visualize where in the book that part I liked and want to go back to was (on the left hand side, near the bottom, just short of halfway through, big paragraph starting with "however"); I like the smell of a printed book, and the feel of the paper between my fingers; I like that no-one can sneak into my house without my knowledge or permission and take my books off of the shelves. I also love that printed material is a physical link to the past, to our history and our culture. Electronic media is good for some things, but for me, it isn't a good way to read a book.
Someone in an earlier thread about this said that reading a book on an e-reader was akin to the experience of going to see a movie, while reading a book was akin to buying the DVD. For me, reading a printed book is a far, far more enriching experience than reading electronically stored text off of a screen, AND I get to keep it at the end!
I think that if more college textbooks were available as ebooks, e-readers would be the most popular electronics in history. Not only are e-textbooks more affordable than the bound versions, but think of the backs we would save if people no longer had to carry around back-packs. They'd just grab a bag with a notebook, paper, calculator, and e-reader. Oh, the possibilities… I just hope that more e-textbooks are available before my sophomore year; then I'd be living in a dream world.
Cherie Le Clare says
I agree with you 100% Brandi. Schools and universities will benefit from e-readers, and be very popular with students.
Cherie Le Clare