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Johann Hari laments the decline of real books and advocates a 'digital diet'. Do we still "need dead trees to have fully living minds"?
posted by joannemullen (312 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hugs *Kindle.
posted by Fizz at 5:43 AM on June 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Books aren't important. Writing is. And the two are absolutely, positively, not the same thing.
posted by Apropos of Something at 5:44 AM on June 27, 2011 [33 favorites]


As long as people are still reading, I don't see how anyone can have a problem with Kindles, etc. The sensory pleasure of holding a paper book can't be matched, sure, but the pleasure of reading is equally measurable in e-ink form.
posted by moviehawk at 5:49 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't see how anyone can have a problem with Kindles, etc.

The content can be altered while you are sleeping. I don't see how this can fail to be a growing problem.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:52 AM on June 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


Yeah, reading on a decent e-paper screen is a watershed moment for literacy. It's so damn convenient to have a range of books on-hand at any given moment, in something about the size of an almost-exhausted steno pad.

That said, I'd really like e-readers to be a lot more robust - they need to do better at being mishandled and read in dusty, cold or wet environments.

I'd also like ebooks to be much easier to navigate, complete with a complete hyperlinked index and search functions, displaying the result by chapter and/or subchapter, as well as paragraph. Inline graphics also need to be improved. Tech manuals are tough to read on the Kindle.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:53 AM on June 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Premise: Books and writing are not the same thing: True!
Premise: Writing is important: True!
Conclusion: Books are not important: Does not follow AND is false!

Books have a lot more features than simple "sensory pleasure". I can take a book into the shower. Not a Kindle. I can lend a book to a friend. Not a Kindle (without some corporation's permission). I can riffle through the pages to find out when this slow section ends. Not a Kindle. I can leave a book in the car in case I need something in traffic. Not a Kindle. Etc ad infinitum.
posted by DU at 5:54 AM on June 27, 2011 [23 favorites]


As a reader: I travel a huge amount these days and I don't want to lug about a bunch of physical books, but do want to read. My aching shoulders call my Nook their hero.

As a writer: The first week my most recent book came out it sold more electronic copies than physical copies.

Maybe this guy has a problem not being distracted when he reads books electronically. I don't.
posted by jscalzi at 5:55 AM on June 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


This article confuses digital book readers with the internet in general. Reading novels and Facebook are not really the same thing.

I have been thinking about this because I recently moved flat, which for me meant boxing and heaving several Everests of books, accumulated obsessively since I was a kid. Ask me to throw away a book, and I begin shaking like Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice and insist that I just couldn't bear to part company with it, no matter how unlikely it is I will ever read (say) a 1,000-page biography of little-known Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar. As I stacked my books high, and watched my friends get buried in landslides of novels or avalanches of polemics, it struck me that this scene might be incomprehensible a generation from now. Yes, a few specialists still haul their vinyl collections from house to house, but the rest of us have migrated happily to MP3s, and regard such people as slightly odd. Does it matter? What was really lost?

Well I have a lot of books too - most of which I have written notes into - many of which I have read more than once - and a few that I have read dozens of times. There is something, for me, visual about physical books on a shelf. Ask me if I've read a particular book by its title and I might need some more details before I can recall it. Pull a book from my shelf and say "What did you think about this one?" and I can remember passages and page numbers.

Speaking for myself, that same library on a Kindle is far less useful to me.
posted by three blind mice at 5:55 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can take a book into the shower.

Explain please.

Also, ziplock bag + e-reader = waterproof e-reader. Nthing love of e-readers.
posted by Brodiggitty at 5:56 AM on June 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


Yeah, reading on a decent e-paper screen is a watershed moment for literacy.

Indeed. For the firstsecond time in history, only the Haves will be literate.
posted by DU at 5:57 AM on June 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


I love holding a book and physically flipping through the pages. But I also love convenience and progress, so I won't be surprised when the time comes that I make the leap to digital books. At the moment I can't see digital replacing my purchase of photo and graphic coffee table books, but then again, a few years ago I couldn't imagine replacing a physical newspaper with the web versions. I fought an MP3 player until I suddenly realized the benefit of having access to hundreds of my my albums anywhere I go. Having a bunch of books and magazines in my messenger back without hurting my back sounds like a great thing.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 5:57 AM on June 27, 2011


The content can be altered while you are sleeping. I don't see how this can fail to be a growing problem.

Only if you're permanently connected to a network. To extend the already-unreal battery life, I only go online to purchase something. If you're really that worried about it, use Calibre to back up your purchase, convert it to a multi-platform, DRM-free format, and put it back on the device. They get their money up front, you get all the control over the book that you want.
posted by moviehawk at 5:57 AM on June 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


I can take a book into the shower.

Explain please.


lolreadingonehanded, but seriously, if you can't turn pages with one hand while washing with the other, ur doin it rong.
posted by DU at 5:58 AM on June 27, 2011


I have a Kindle and I love it. But, having grown up in a pre-digital world, I still don't completely trust digital media. It just feels like it's much easier to take it away from us. Paranoid and irrational, I know.

Books don't need batteries, either.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:58 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


You don't have to fill up your Kindle with DRMed books from Amazon. I got my wife a Kindle for Mother's Day. I was skeptical that I would ever want to use it, for many of the reasons already mentioned above. I've probably got 25 books on it, of only 1 is a purchased book from Amazon. The other 24 are legal and free, promo copies from authors, public domain works from Guttenberg, etc. I'm pretty sure I can read as long as I want on the the Kindle without ever needing to purchase a rights restricted file.

I'm a convert.
posted by COD at 5:58 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


The content can be altered while you are sleeping. I don't see how this can fail to be a growing problem.

I think we're going to see an end to dedicated e-readers sooner rather than later. B&N and Amazon are not by nature or design consumer electronics manufacturers. Once there are more Android e-paper tablets out there, and now that Apple has relented on the 30% cut of all in-app media sales, B&N and Kindle will likely transition to an e-book delivery service. You can opt not to use either on your reader or tablet - and with trading vendor lock in for wider market penetration, Amazon will be a lot more sensitive to customer service issues.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:59 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


It also makes me blind with rage that people who obviously read very little are going to drive books out of existence. If you think a Kindle is even remotely close to a replacement for a book, you can't have actually read more than 10 real physical books ever.

You can't riffle ahead with one hand to see how long the chapter is while simultaneously reading along. You can't....ah, but why go on. The goddamn march of progress.
posted by DU at 6:01 AM on June 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can take a book into the shower. Not a Kindle. I can lend a book to a friend. Not a Kindle (without some corporation's permission). I can riffle through the pages to find out when this slow section ends. Not a Kindle. I can leave a book in the car in case I need something in traffic. Not a Kindle. Etc ad infinitum.

These are all product convenience issues, they have nothing to do with the sort of maudlin Future of Free Society issues these editorials often seem interested in ("Because most humans have a desire to engage in deep thought and deep concentration. Those muscles are necessary for deep feeling and deep engagement. Most humans don't just want mental snacks forever; they also want meals.")

I could come up with a list of product conveniences that show e-readers actually increase literacy too. Having free access to all texts in the public domain, for instance. The incredible ease with which I can excerpt and post text from my Kindle to social networks. My ability to read Instapapered articles from magazines that are literally just text.

I happily own both, and in month seven of my Kindle ownership have yet to actually buy anything with it, but none of that is ideological on my part. I like reading things, and having a Kindle lets me read more things than I would otherwise. That's a good thing.
posted by Apropos of Something at 6:02 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Paranoid and irrational, I know.

Not at all either of these. Up the rebels, brother. Print Lives.

And Jesus Christ, reading in the shower?

(PS - not that I am against ereaders per se, but to think they do not have serious disadvantages practical and aesthetic over print is just wrong.)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:06 AM on June 27, 2011


Right now I am reading (on paper) Sarah Bakewell's How To Live, or, A Life of Montaigne, John Leonard's Lonesome Rangers: Homeless Minds, Promised Lands, Fugitive Cultures, and Merlin Coverley's Psychogeography. Over the weekend I bought (on paper) The New Painting, Impressionism, 1874-1886: An Exhibition Organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco With the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Edmund Wilson's The American Earthquake: A Documentary of the Twenties and Thirties, Charles Rycroft's little book on Reich for the Fontana Modern Masters series (what great period design), an Oxford Classics edition of De Quincy's Confessions and other writings, and Janice Dickinson's dishy No Lifeguard On Duty (it was two bucks, ok?) Codices are no more going away than vinyl records are and the fewer people who buy those books, the more there are for me.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:07 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can't we have both? Not to belittle the kindle, but frankly I spend enough time in front of a screen as it is. I like the quiet reflection of something that doesn't have a battery pack strapped to it once in a while.
posted by Omon Ra at 6:08 AM on June 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


I know there are financial and publishing issues to overcome, but I'm surprised that I'm not seeing "buy the physical book and get the e-book free" type promotions as a way of softening the physical-to-digital consumer resistance.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:09 AM on June 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


The kindle is going to end up having a web browser and cellphone. That's kind of the point of the article. Paper books by design are a single purpose item and that's the great thing about them: Utter simplicity. They just need you for them to work.
posted by Omon Ra at 6:11 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


It also makes me blind with rage that people who obviously read very little are going to drive books out of existence. If you think a Kindle is even remotely close to a replacement for a book, you can't have actually read more than 10 real physical books ever.

Yes, that's right. I've never read a physical book. Ignore the three physical books that I appear to be currently reading. Those are just fake so that people will think I'm smart. I totally love my ereader because I could never figure out how to turn all those pages in those book things. Good thing someone invented something to make it all better for me.

I find it amusing that part of the premise of the article is that books are good because they force us to deal with the narrative in a linear fashion and your point is that it doesn't.

Also, it would take about 12 seconds for a Kindle developer to create a 'pages remaining in chapter' function if it doesn't already have one.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:11 AM on June 27, 2011 [18 favorites]


Not a Kindle (without some corporation's permission).

I think this is perhaps the most important aspect of the rise of e-books, from a corporate marketplace perspective. Corporations have an increased amount of legal power and control over our entertainment in the book market, paralleling what has already happened in music and television media (that is, you no longer own a book, you license it from a corporation under terms they have set).
posted by aught at 6:11 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


fbreader never deletes my books when I am sleeping. I am sorry your walled garden hinders your digital sovereignty.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 6:14 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Article: "an even more omnivorous i-Phone with a flickering stream of shopping and reality shows and porn "

Fucking Android.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:16 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I definitely sympathize with the author's sense of distraction, but why are these conversations always framed in absolute terms? Like we can only have paper books or e-readers?

You can buy both. (Just like you can buy MP3s and CDs—and even vinyl, in some cases.) Each technology has its own benefits.

I've dabbled with the e-reader thing, and I think I generally prefer paper. But then, the technology is relatively new—and the interfaces on the readers I've used have been pretty clunky. Maybe e-readers will never be as intuitive to use as a book, but they'll undoubtedly get better than they are now.
posted by ixohoxi at 6:17 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love my Kindle, and may never buy a physical book again.
posted by malocchio at 6:18 AM on June 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


but then again, a few years ago I couldn't imagine replacing a physical newspaper with the web versions.

Yikes. If my dissatisfaction with web-based newspapers (local news on the web is largely an embarrassing joke, and large sites like NYT are getting skimpier on content all the time) is an indication of how I'll feel about ebooks ten years from now, I am not optimistic.
posted by aught at 6:19 AM on June 27, 2011


I cannot hide a pistol/loose cash in a hollowed out kindle.
posted by clavdivs at 6:20 AM on June 27, 2011 [22 favorites]


Although seriously, my weak wrists -- which make it difficult for me to hold a paperback at a reading angle but which have no trouble holding my beKindled, iBooksed, Stanza'd iPod up to my eyes for hours on end -- tell Mr Hari to go screw. I stopped reading books until my other half got me an iPod Touch because I literally couldn't sustain a comfortable reading position -- whether sitting or lying down -- for long enough to finish a chapter.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:20 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


The difference between my friends who love e-readers and those who don't:

The ones with e-readers brag that they can carry around hundreds of Great books from Project Gutenberg.
The other friends, the ones who distrust e-readers, have actually read those books.
posted by vacapinta at 6:20 AM on June 27, 2011 [28 favorites]


It also makes me blind with rage that people who obviously read very little are going to drive books out of existence. If you think a Kindle is even remotely close to a replacement for a book, you can't have actually read more than 10 real physical books ever.

You can't riffle ahead with one hand to see how long the chapter is while simultaneously reading along. You can't....ah, but why go on. The goddamn march of progress.


You are old.
posted by TypographicalError at 6:22 AM on June 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


It also makes me blind with rage that people who obviously read very little are going to drive books out of existence.

I don't know if I go so far as to say that, but I have been wondering in some of the ebook pro/con discussions whether one of the differences between the sides of the argument isn't between those who read on the order of a couple books per month and those who read on the order of a couple books per week.
posted by aught at 6:22 AM on June 27, 2011


I borrowed a kindle a few weeks ago to see if I'd like reading on it before I bought one and totally loved it. I actually find it much easier to read than a paper book. I have crappy near vision (and far vision) and love that I can zoom the font size. You never lose your place, don't have to find a bookmark and it's easier to hold than a book. I'm totally sold.
posted by octothorpe at 6:25 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are people who actually read in the shower? Really? I'm not judging, I'm just...surprised. I mean, I love me some reading, but I can't imagine being so into a book that I couldn't put it down long enough to shower.

My two cents; I've read a couple of books in e-form and didn't particularly enjoy it, but I can definitely see a couple of advantages to them. One, vacations; instead of packing a duffel bag full of paperbacks you can just load up your e-reader of choice. Two, what ArmyOfKittens said; many elderly or disabled* readers have trouble with large books.

* I'm not implying you're either, AOK.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:26 AM on June 27, 2011


So the argument is that the people who have gone out and invested in a tool for making their reading more convenient and more varied are the ones who hate reading. OK.
posted by Summer at 6:26 AM on June 27, 2011 [36 favorites]


...drive books out of existence.

We still have AM radios. Print books aren't going anywhere. No new medium ever kills the previous medium (obvious exceptions: 8-tracks, clay tablets). I just won't be buying paperbacks any more now that I have a Kobo. The thing about e-readers is exactly that they capture the aesthetic of reading on paper.
posted by Brodiggitty at 6:27 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The ones with e-readers brag that they can carry around hundreds of Great books from Project Gutenberg.
The other friends, the ones who distrust e-readers, have actually read those books.


No they haven't. My Dad has been furiously downloading every 19th century sailing manual and sailor, sea-captain and whaler autobiography he can get his mitts on - stuff that's out of print for a hundred years, near impossible to find and expensive when you do find it. He has a generic $75 e-reader he bought at a pharmacy.

Go and get your copies of the moldy old "classics" in hardcover, softcover, pocket paperback and comic-book form. If you truly want to take advantage of the public domain and what Project Gutenberg has done for it, you're gonna need a computer.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:27 AM on June 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


ixohoxi: why are these conversations always framed in absolute terms? Like we can only have paper books or e-readers? You can buy both. (Just like you can buy MP3s and CDs—and even vinyl, in some cases.)

I agree with your sentiment, but CD's are being phased out and being replaced with digital. They're not going away as fast as some feared/wished/predicted, but they will be going away. Once the market accepts digital books in large enough numbers the shift will happen there too. I don't believe books will go away in my lifetime, but at some point soon it will be harder to find a a physical copy of many new books. And soon after that it will be impossible.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:27 AM on June 27, 2011


Once the power goes out and everyone has forgotten how to turn the page we'll all be fucked.
posted by Sailormom at 6:29 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to think things like this, but then two things happened. First, I started moving a lot, and there's nothing I hate carrying more than boxes of books. Second, I got stuck in an airport with a loooong layover and the newsstand didn't have anything worth reading. Grabbed an ebook for the iPhone, finished that. Grabbed another one, finished that. Aside from the small screen, I loved it. I can't wait to get an iPad or Kindle so I can finally quit buying and moving physical books.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:31 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Attatching fifteen postit sticky arrows to mark your place is kind of silly with a kindle - they are all on the same page.

Reference books on a e-reader become far more difficult (for me) at least. Sometimes I know where things are by a postit note. Sometimes I know by a rough depth-in search (that's about a quarter inch into the book...). Sometimes I know where something is based on the pictures, problems and what-have you. If I was just reading the latest New York Times bestseller, a kindle would be awesome. Those aren't the kind of books though that I like or that I read.

More power to you if they work for you though. We're all different, let's keep our liberal hats of tollerance on.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:31 AM on June 27, 2011


I agree with your sentiment, but CD's are being phased out and being replaced with digital. They're not going away as fast as some feared/wished/predicted, but they will be going away. Once the market accepts digital books in large enough numbers the shift will happen there too. I don't believe books will go away in my lifetime, but at some point soon it will be harder to find a a physical copy of many new books. And soon after that it will be impossible.

This is not the right comparison, because CDs are digital, which means that the information contained on one is literally the same as the information which is contained on a computer file. A better comparison is to vinyl, which is an analog format and continues to be produced in limited quantities for albums for which it is appropriate.

I expect that books will act more like vinyl in the future than CDs, since books (although they contain the same information as a file) have extraneous properties which make them attractive to some eccentrics.
posted by TypographicalError at 6:32 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why is it that whenever we have a thread about this, 80% of the comments consist of hysterical defensive posturing from people who think someone is gonna come to their house and slap their paper books out of their hands? I have a Kindle. I have a lot of books. Certain kinds of books--say, fantasy pageturners or academic books that I have to get through but don't have to consult--are great to read on the Kindle, others are better on paper or on a computer screen. All the chest-beating ME HIGHLY LITERATE! ME SMARTER THAN YOU! ME LIKE SMELL OF BOOKS! responses are just so weird to me.

It also makes me blind with rage that people who obviously read very little are going to drive books out of existence. If you think a Kindle is even remotely close to a replacement for a book, you can't have actually read more than 10 real physical books ever.

What a stupid thing to say.
posted by nasreddin at 6:32 AM on June 27, 2011 [74 favorites]


Many of the problems with e-readers mentioned in this thread will be solved with the improvement of the technology, i.e. holographic displays, tactile feedback for texture simulation, total weatherproofing and durability, etc.

As they currently stand, e-readers have can be useful and even exclusively appropriate in certain situations.

However, until my holographic / tactile e-reader can emit the glorious smell of paper, I shall remain a bookworm in the old-fashioned sense.
posted by troll at 6:33 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Since I started reading ebooks, I've read so many more books than when I was restricted to paper. Indeed, I read too many books, such that I have trouble getting other things done. Maybe I should go back to paper so that I read less.

I would agree that being wired is a distraction - too often, I also flip over to Metafilter. But that's not a simple codex versus ereader problem - my husband's kobo doesn't go online. (He also reads more since getting a kobo).

as for linearity: ereaders are more linear than codices, which makes them great for novels, but less great for skimming non-novels like academic books.
posted by jb at 6:33 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


More power to you if they work for you though. We're all different, let's keep our liberal hats of tollerance on.

This made me smile. I love your optimism, especially on a site as snarky as metafilter.
posted by Fizz at 6:33 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Once the power goes out and everyone has forgotten how to turn the page we'll all be fucked.

Well, I don't know. Maybe those of us who keep up the skillz of reading paper books will be the new lords and masters in the post-apocalyptic era. That's a consolations, I guess.
posted by aught at 6:34 AM on June 27, 2011


oops, I meant e.g.
posted by troll at 6:34 AM on June 27, 2011


Hari is a shill for photons
posted by clavdivs at 6:35 AM on June 27, 2011


I recently read a Lovecraft story on my iPad, which was convenient while I was in transit, yet it felt awkward; I just didn't like how I had to hold the device.

When I go to bed every night, I pick up a nice paperback and read for 30 minutes (currently re-reading Washington's Crossing). I love the weight, I love the tactile sensations, the smell of the paper and ink.

For me part of the love of reading is the physical contact with the pages. Electronic devices have none of that. So while I might read something on my iPad once in a while, I am still going to buy books.
posted by bwg at 6:35 AM on June 27, 2011


Ebooks are awesome for traveling but I can't see them totally replacing my book collection unless paper is somehow outlawed.
posted by elizardbits at 6:37 AM on June 27, 2011


clavdivs: "I cannot hide a pistol/loose cash in a hollowed out kindle."

Or a rock hammer, come to that.
posted by bwg at 6:38 AM on June 27, 2011


I suppose I'm fortunate in that I derive absolutely no pleasure from owning a physical version of something. The books that I own hard copies of I've tried to source epubs of to go in the cavernous archive on my PC and iPod; I've long since ripped all my DVDs and CDs and thrown away the discs; shelves full of video games for older, pre-download systems are an annoyance, a clutter, an impediment to a mobile lifestyle and a ludicrous anachronism in a time when I can buy a terabyte of storage for £30. I'm not even worried about the glorious looming DRMed future: there'll always be a Linux or an Android and someone to make hardware to run it, even if I have to import.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:41 AM on June 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


It surprises me how often I see someone bemoaning the distractions the rise of constant connectedness causes. I'm a user of this stuff as much as anyone - probably more than most - and I can read and appreciate a book while in a room with Internet-connected devices, reading it on an internet-connected device, just as well as I can in a silent room or quiet corner of a library. It's a skill, and I don't think a hard one to develop. Hari just needs to sit down, read his book and exert the willpower to not get up, check Facebook, glance at Twitter, refresh his email. There's nothing magic about a paper book that enables this skill where an e-reader limits it. Maybe some people are only familiar with concentrating in an environment with specific trappings that actually have no bearing on their concentration. Like a one-person cargo cult. He's advocating programs and habits that remove the temptation of a net connection - actually learning to concentrate outside of your comfort zone is so, so useful and takes the teeth from so many tiny irritations that drive other people mad.

For me part of the love of reading is the physical contact with the pages.

People say this a lot, and I'm a little envious. I've never really felt anything special in the texture of pages or the smell of books, yet I'm one of the biggest book-lovers I've ever met. I can't help feeling like I've been missing out.
posted by emmtee at 6:45 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


An e-reader might be nice, but I can't bore a hole into it and make sweet love to it like I can a book.

Seriously, guys, we get it. You LOOOOOOOOOOOVE physical books.
posted by Legomancer at 6:46 AM on June 27, 2011 [28 favorites]


I like ebooks. I like paper books. I get all my paper books from the library though, so an e-reader would just convince me to spend more money (that I now spend on donating to the NYPL, wonderful institution that it is.)

I can't see me going to all digital, just like I can't see me giving up digital. They have their time and place.
posted by gaspode at 6:46 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I purchased a Kindle over this past Christmas and I've not read a single DTB since. For me it was all about convenience. I have downtime at my work and so sometimes I have an hour or two without seeing or interacting with anyone. Prior to my Kindle, I would have at least 3 different books in my bag, which can get quite heavy. I now have hundreds of books on a single device. I can bookmark, I can save favourite passages, and I'd be quite happy not reading from a DTB ever again.
posted by Fizz at 6:46 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Funnily enough, the one thing I miss about real books is the cover. But if the Kindle has a colour version in the future with the book cover on it somewhere then I'm happy.
posted by Summer at 6:49 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


emmtee: "People say this a lot, and I'm a little envious. I've never really felt anything special in the texture of pages or the smell of books, yet I'm one of the biggest book-lovers I've ever met. I can't help feeling like I've been missing out."

Don't read anything into it (heh); it might just be a personality thing. I've always been aware of how my hands and fingers contact the world around me. Perhaps others are the same.

I'm not saying I might not enjoy a Kindle (never handled one); maybe it's better than an iPad for reading. I can definitely see the appeal in data storage.

But bottom line: I still dig a good bundle of paper.
posted by bwg at 6:50 AM on June 27, 2011


This debate is easily ended by replacing every mention of traditional book with "CRT television for watching lover-the-air broadcasts" and every mention of Kindle with "computing device capable of playing video."

The problem with the Kindle isn't the technological process through which text is reproduced. The problem is, as it always has been, with the content people choose to consume.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:52 AM on June 27, 2011


> having grown up in a pre-digital world, I still don't completely trust digital
> media. It just feels like it's much easier to take it away from us. Paranoid
> and irrational, I know.

"It's not the take-away by Amazon that worries me most. It's the day whatever government or consortium of governments created stuxnet decides it wants to know what I'm reading so it can send out a squad to visit me if I'm reading wrongbad anti-regime stuff. If you're not happy with the security on your kindle, whose firewall, AV and intrusion detection system do you put on it? Not that my own precautions would help much against stuxnet-level exploits, but I'd at least like to make reading over my shoulder inconvenient enough so that it isn't the script kiddie down the street who rats me out." -- Andrei Sinyavsky
posted by jfuller at 6:53 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the author is confusing the distractions of the web with the advent of e-readers. Kindles may have many functions, but they are way better than laptops/iPads for reading big chunks at a stretch. E-ink looks very much like words on a page, and I find that helps me to sink into what I'm reading as if I were holding the actual kindling in my hand. Trying to read anything (articles, blogs, etc) on my laptop causes the kind of over-stimulation that he's referring to. There is always another article to read, a link to click, a word to look up, an e-mail to write... I think that overall, this propensity to mentally multi-task has changed the way I approach dense text. After a few minutes of reading anything substantial, those of us who are used to having multiple browser windows open may find our minds wandering (whether we choose to follow them or not).

I have always been a voracious reader. But, I've had to give up my decades-old print library over the course of three trans-continental moves. Books are just the most difficult, heaviest items to pack/ship. It was heartbreaking at the time, but now I've come to realize that outside of a few beloved titles, I can't remember many of the books that sat on my shelves for all those years. I stopped buying new books, anticipating the hassle of dragging them around. I have another big move coming up, and I couldn't feel more relieved that I only have about ten books to bring with me.

I borrowed a Kindle from a friend, who then let me keep it (because she got an iPad). I love it. I'm reading and collecting books again. I can travel with my favorite titles. This is a huge and wonderful development for me. I'm sure I'll build a small library again in the future, but for now, I'm a happy convert to e-readers.

(Those suggesting that people who like e-readers must not love or actually read books should re-think that position.)
posted by swingbraid at 6:54 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The next Kindle revision really needs a little nozzle that dispenses a waft of book-smell whenever a page turns. They could load it with some kind of knockout gas and/or amnesia drug, too, for those times when they want to delete your books.

Amazon product design team, I am waiting for your call.
posted by emmtee at 6:55 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


People who look forward to an all-ereader future have yet to explain to me what happens to people who cannot afford an ereader or do not have reliable access to electricity.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:57 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can take a book into the shower. Not a Kindle.

I've never done either, but I'm a bit skeptical that taking a book into the shower would work out better than taking a Kindle if you placed it inside, say, a one-gallon Ziploc bag. At least with the Kindle you can flip pages without having to remove it from the bag.

Actually it's a bit surprising that there haven't been more "ruggedized" cases for e-readers; perhaps I'm just not seeing them. All you need is a bit of perspex to see the screen and a way of actuating the buttons, other than that you can put them in a rigid box. There's no reason why they shouldn't be a lot tougher than a paper book when placed in an enclosure like that.

The only major problem I have with the Kindle is that, at least with Amazon's OEM cover on it, it's really awkward to hold and flip pages one-handed.*

* So I can read it while drinking coffee in the morning, perverts. Though given the amount of Kindle porn that is available, there are other use cases that this gets in the way of, too. Where were their UX people?
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:59 AM on June 27, 2011


People who look forward to an all-ereader future have yet to explain to me what happens to people who cannot afford an ereader or do not have reliable access to electricity.

I was coming in to say precisely this, because I am one of those people who at present cannot afford a Kindle and thus love my paper books with a white-hot passion.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:00 AM on June 27, 2011


From what I understand, e-readers are still somewhat useless to specialized audiences. For example, I rarely read books that came out recently. I mostly read math books and books in foreign languages.

The problem with the first is that e-readers don't yet support mathematical notation. Also, I often need to pull a book off the shelf to refer to its coverage of Topic X, and then cross-reference that with the coverage in another book. An e-reader's form factor limits the ablity to quickly flip between multiple books.

My other reading is mostly from books written in non-Latin alphabets. Until recently, the Kindle™ did not display Cyrillic characters. I'm not sure about the other readers. There's also the issue that most of my non-English books were released in small runs and are now out of print and hard to find. There are text versions available, but they are OCRed and contain multiple typos.

So, if you read current bestsellers and potboilers, then an e-reader probably has several advantages over paper books. Less so for me, at least for now.
posted by Nomyte at 7:01 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe those of us who keep up the skillz of reading paper books will be the new lords and masters in the post-apocalyptic era. That's a consolations, I guess.

Ever read Earth Abides? Should that come to pass, we'll be like Ish; worshiped as gods and completely ignored.

E-readers are good for reference materials. I have a dozen or so reference books on pdf that I'd never care to store otherwise. I'm sure I'll acquire more. But to me, buying and having codices around is like buying and having clothes to wear. I can no more imagine living without one than the other.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:01 AM on June 27, 2011


shakespeherian: "People who look forward to an all-ereader future have yet to explain to me what happens to people who cannot afford an ereader or do not have reliable access to electricity."

Assuming further cost reductions in e-ink in the coming decades, couldn't you make a little solar-powered reader with a few hundred meg storage hung off it? Would that be feasible? genuinely asking.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:03 AM on June 27, 2011


When you get home after a long day at work, it's much easier to flip on the TV or a laptop than to actually locate that book you were reading and find the page you were on (and if you're done with a book, going to the store to buy a new book is yet another hassle). Kindles just even out that balance so it's as easy to read as it is to watch TV or browse the Web.

This is a BIG DEAL. A lot of people who were reading practically nothing now spend two or three hours a day reading. I know I read 10-15 books a year before Kindle (more than most Americans but still not a ton), and am on pace to quadruple that post-Kindle. And it's real literature, not the tiny snippets of content we all get online.
posted by miyabo at 7:05 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


People who look forward to an all-ereader future have yet to explain to me what happens to people who cannot afford an ereader or do not have reliable access to electricity.

Are books free where you live?

http://money.bundle.com/article/future-cost-kindle-free

The Kindle famously keeps its charge for a month or so.

I'm not saying those problems are real problems...but books burn, mold, and decay and have their own set of problems.
posted by device55 at 7:05 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


People who look forward to an all-ereader future have yet to explain to me what happens to people who cannot afford an ereader or do not have reliable access to electricity.

Recent history with technology suggests that devices like these tend to get cheaper quickly. In the same way that cell phones are now cheaper for most of the developing world than laying phone wire and creating an infrastructure, I suspect that ereaders with solar chargers for the (remarkably little) power they use will soon be cheaper than the cost of translation, printing and shipping of books, particularly textbooks.

But, again, a little bit of a strawman. I don't see anyone up thread who likes their e-reader enough to say anything other than "It's awesome for me" or "It's awesome for this particular situation." Amazon and B&N have no vested interest in destroying the one product that still makes up the heart of their business model. And, as a general rule, reading things causes people to read more things.
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:05 AM on June 27, 2011


I like my Kindle. Scratch that. I Love my Kindle. Don't care what you say about it.

Johann Hari's mention of "Super Sad True Love Story" on Twitter plus less than 5 minutes of internet browsing was all I needed to have the book in my hands and be reading it. No travelling to the big city to buy it. No ordering from WH Smiths and waiting a month to get it. Saw the description of the book, liked what I saw, had it on my kindle in less than five minutes. Have read 10% of it so far.

It's an alright book. Not great, but alright.

If you like the smell of old books, or you'd rather have something with pages, or you want something you can either borrow or lend then that's good. But this only makes books subjectively better for you. Your reading requirements & priorities for books are different to mine.

re: pro-ebook vs anti-ebook.

(This is aimed generally at the people who are happy to tell me how awful ebooks are.)

There's a difference between me telling you about this amazing new thing you may not have experienced, and you telling me how much better books are. I'm aware of the "book" experience. I have read books. I'd bet that everyone with a kindle is aware of the "book" experience. We are able to make that comparison. However, you may not be aware of the ebook experience. We're just trying to introduce you to it. This is why we're telling you about ebooks.

You don't have to agree with the pro-ebook propaganda. But that whole "you can't take them into the shower, and therefore they're shit" argument is a lot more condescending than saying "you can get old books for free and therefore it's great".
posted by seanyboy at 7:07 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's not the take-away by Amazon that worries me most. It's the day whatever government or consortium of governments created stuxnet decides it wants to know what I'm reading so it can send out a squad to visit me if I'm reading wrongbad anti-regime stuff.

Are you afraid to get EZ Pass for your car, too? No government gives a shit about what you read, because they already know exactly what you are reading. Harry Potter, Twilight, James Patterson, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, etc. Once you read one of these, it doesn't matter if you also read Marx or Chomsky or Deleuze or anyone else, because we no know that your choices are at least in part a product of mass marketing, advertising, and influence through media that are designed to cater to a certain worldview and target a certain mass audience.

We don't live in 1984, we live in Brave New World, which you would know if you read Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman (available for Amazon Kindle for only $4 more than the dead-tree edition).
posted by Pastabagel at 7:08 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I apparently should have previewed. To make it up to all of you, here's a protip: Run your favorited MeFi threads RSS feed through this Yahoo pipe to delay posts for a few days, say 5. Run that into your e-reader through any preferred method - I use If This Then That (I've got two invites left) to Instapaper, but you could use Kindlefeeder or something. Bam - a great way to keep up with MeFi threads you know will have all sorts of great content later that you want to come back to.
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:09 AM on June 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


The article does seem to conflate two separate issues: information overload/ the need for a 'digital diet' on one hand and paper books vs ebooks on the other. The internet can distract you from reading an ebook in just the same way as it can distract you from turning the pages of some mouldering tome.

It is true though, that in both cases the answer seems on the face of it to be simply: if you don't like it, don't do it. If you find too much Internet distracting, switch it off. If you don't like Kindles, don't buy one. That's it. Nobody's forcing you (although DU seems to think that people who never read paper books are going to drive paper books out of existence by ceasing to read paper books).
posted by Segundus at 7:10 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


People who look forward to an all-ereader future have yet to explain to me what happens to people who cannot afford an ereader or do not have reliable access to electricity.

There are over 5 billion mobile phones in the world which would, presumably, have some of the same problems. Mobile phones are affordable because companies sell you a service plan. If Amazon wanted to sell more Kindles they could do something similar.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:10 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


But, again, a little bit of a strawman.

I'm not trying to make a pro- or con- argument, but there has certainly been discussion in this thread (any the many like it) about physical books being phased out of existence, with the potential caveat of existing for niche markets for physical fetishists like contemporary vinyl collectors. Mostly I don't think that will happen, really, but if it does it makes me really worried for, just e.g., kids in inner-city Chicago.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:11 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


So... basically we're just picking teams and slagging off on the other side? Well! My awesome friends go on week-long kayaking trips and bring multiple books in kindle-form. Your fat lazy friends sit in their house where their (awesome) bookshelves are just a short crawl away.
posted by Wood at 7:12 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, it would take about 12 seconds for a Kindle developer to create a 'pages remaining in chapter' function if it doesn't already have one.

Ugh. Don't give me each of the miniscule features I ask for. Give me freedom to use how I want. Then I can "implement" the features myself. I don't want to have a separate button for "pages remaining in book/chapter/mental-anguish-scene/etc". I want to just be able to riffle ahead. Or indeed interact with the pages how I want.

I have to stay out of this thread. It's too maddening watching 4000 years die because of 5 minutes of flashy design.
posted by DU at 7:12 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you think a Kindle is even remotely close to a replacement for a book, you can't have actually read more than 10 real physical books ever.

It's hard to know how to even begin to respond to a statement as ridiculous as this.

From the moment I could read, I pretty much read everything I could get my hands on. I spent my childhood through college years with a book constantly in hand. I mean, good god, I started wearing major parts of what is sort of my "normal" wardrobe (khaki cargo shorts, big pocketed jeans) years back specifically because they gave me someplace to put the multiple books I would inevitably have with me at all times.

As I've gotten older, I unfortunately have less time than I'd like to devote to reading, but I still do what I can -- to this day, when I go on vacation, one of the most stressful parts of packing is figuring out how many books I can sneak into the luggage before my wife starts looking at me like I'm a crazy person.

But you know what? I couldn't give a shit about books as physical objects.

I read because of the words, ideas, and information in books. Not because of the paper they are made of. Hell, I can hardly stand hardcovers, because they're clunky, a pain to bring anywhere, and frankly do not allow for comfortable reading.

My interest is in stories and history and facts, not in fetishization of bound wood pulp.

So, to me, an eReader is a godsend. Suddenly, I can bring as many books as I want with me in a package small enough to fit in one pocket. I can sync up books between my eReader and my phone, so even if I don't have my eReader with me, I can still read if I have a few spare minutes. (granted, the experience is better on the eReader, but still perfectly fine on a phone). The future is here, and I love it.

Now, if you want to argue about DRM and content restrictions, look, I get that. I think there is a valid debate to be had about giving control of your library to corporations, and I think we're still early on in getting the public at large on board with keeping both governments and corporations in check. I would never argue that books should just go away. I still own an awful lot of physical books.

But, you have to realize that your statement is completely ridiculous. People read for many different reasons, and in many different ways, and there are a very large number of people (I would argue a majority of people) who are lifelong, avid readers who nevertheless have a very different attachment to reading than you -- one that is completely compatible with eBooks as a format.
posted by tocts at 7:13 AM on June 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


> It also makes me blind with rage that people who obviously read very little are going to drive books out of existence. If you think a Kindle is even remotely close to a replacement for a book, you can't have actually read more than 10 real physical books ever.

And with that, the entire argument can be disregarded.
posted by davelog at 7:13 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Forgetting the preference issue for a moment, there's another (solvable) issue. I read books occasionally on my iPad. But I read mostly real books, because I can get those from the library. When the equivalent experience exists for e-books, I'll switch. But I fear that the equivalent will never exist, because corporate forces do not want it to. Correct me please if I'm wrong.

(yes, my library has a few e-books to take out, but nowhere near enough licenses to be useful...)
posted by Ella Fynoe at 7:14 AM on June 27, 2011


People who look forward to an all-ereader future have yet to explain to me what happens to people who cannot afford an ereader or do not have reliable access to electricity.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:57 AM on June 27


The voltage draw on e-ink devices is so low that they could be outfitted with solar panels on the back that would allow them to be reliably recharged with sunlight. The reason they don't do this is because they make money selling and licensing the cases.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:14 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love books and cannot imagine living happily without books.

I'm kind of okay with the codex format but really don't mind that my books now often live on my Kindle.

Remember, kids, when it comes to literature, the medium is not the message. Your favorite author wrote longhand, or on a typewriter, or on a computer, or on an iPad, or by dictating to his wife, or her son, who write it longhang, or on a typewriter, or on a computer, or on an iPad. Who the fuck cares? It's words. You want the words. The precise technology used to deliver those words - dead tree pulp vs electronic ink vs LCD - is a matter of personal preference, and does not change a goddamn meaningful thing about the fucking literature.

Now if you'll excuse me I have Nabokov on my Kindle and I haven't read it yet and that's a goddamn crime.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:14 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am confused by these people who apparently take books in the shower and thus won't get an ereader.

If I took a book and my Kobo into the shower with me, I'd give the Kobo even odds on coming out of that working okay. It's not waterproof, but a little rain has never hurt it. A lot of rain might.

The book, however, would be totally destroyed, without a doubt.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:15 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think that if publishers started doing the "buy a tree book, get an e-book" thing that slack-a-gogo mentions above, I would probably end up buying MORE physical books than I do now (without a Kindle), and would buy them new instead of used.
posted by specialagentwebb at 7:15 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


It also makes me blind with rage that people who obviously read very little are going to drive books out of existence. If you think a Kindle is even remotely close to a replacement for a book, you can't have actually read more than 10 real physical books ever.

"Blind" is the operative word there. I live in a house with so many books that it can take me hours to find the one I'm looking for - I have to move the boxes in front to get to the boxes in back, etc. I bought a lot of books before I moved in with my partner, and he has ten books for every one I have. And there's NO MORE ROOM here for more books without throwing away other books.

And we both have Kindles. He's bought about six hundred Kindle books - for example, I think he has every book about Lincoln available on the Kindle. Because our Kindles are on the same account, I can read his books any time I want. I can take hundreds of books along when I travel, without having to decide beforehand which ones I'll want to read next week. We got one for my partner's father, and we can buy him books which will instantly be available for him to read, rather than packing books in a box to ship. I can read the same book on many devices, as they synchronize where you are in the book - so I can read a few pages on my phone when I'm waiting in line somewhere.

The Kindle lets me READ MOAR, which is the entire point. You people fetishizing the book itself - "I love the smell, the feel, etc" - whatever, you're missing the point.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:16 AM on June 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


The article really isn't about ebooks, is it? Seems to me to be about the problem of distraction in a digital age. Ebooks come in because the distraction issue is exacerbated if the technology I am using has multiple functions and web-access. It's a real issue, and maybe an ebook reader limited by design is the way to go, at least for those of us with short attention spans.
posted by howfar at 7:18 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm neither here-nor-there on e-readers, but I can't figure out what failing of books an e-reader is supposed to solve, other than what seems to me to be a relatively trumped-up concept of convenience. In my life-long experience of reading, I've never once wished I could have all of my books available to me at any given time.

This idea, of course, seems to be the selling point for just about every recent consumer technology...instant access and gratification. Unfortunately, I'm not of a generation that seems to take it as my birthright that I need/deserve to have everything I want, when I want it, wherever I am.

When you get home after a long day at work, it's much easier to flip on the TV or a laptop than to actually locate that book you were reading and find the page you were on...

Say what? Seriously? It's difficult to put a bookmark in the book you're reading? And just how huge is your house that you can't find the book you were, I assume, enjoying and reading?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:19 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


This idea, of course, seems to be the selling point for just about every recent consumer technology...instant access and gratification.

You're right. Book reading should be hard.
posted by Summer at 7:23 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


When you get home after a long day at work, it's much easier to flip on the TV or a laptop than to actually locate that book you were reading and find the page you were on

....What? I mean.....what?

(and if you're done with a book, going to the store to buy a new book is yet another hassle).

....Look, I get that you want to defend your Kindle, but could you at least respect my intelligence enough to come up with better arguments?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:23 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


We don't live in 1984, we live in Brave New World, which you would know if you read Amusing Ourselves to Death 1984 and Brave New World. FTFY.

And by the way, you can skip ahead on a Kindle. Tap bookmark, page ahead as far as you want, and then click menu and return to bookmark.

I like books and ebook, but ebooks are going to win. If I had a choice between having my several thousand book library all physical or all electronic, I'd have to choose electronic, though it would be a bit sad. I expect I'll eventually go something like 90% digital, 10% physical.

I wonder if the Assyrians complained so much about papyrus, "But I love the smell of clay drying in the next room."
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:24 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you think a Kindle is even remotely close to a replacement for a book, you can't have actually read more than 10 real physical books ever.

I guess I was just deluding myself when I thought I was reading the 1600-odd physical paper books in my living room.

Seriously, I read 4-5 books per week. I usually finish one when I'm out and about and then I'm bookless on the train or wherever until I get home. Not any more. For me, a Kindle *is* a replacement for mass-market paperbacks. I will still buy hardbacks from my favourite authors, and graphic novels, and art books, but the world does not necessarily need another copy of Game of Thrones, so I'll read it on my Kindle, thanks.

And I take it in the bath every night in a vinyl waterproof case I got for £10. It works great.
posted by cilantro at 7:24 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad: "I'm neither here-nor-there on e-readers, but I can't figure out what failing of books an e-reader is supposed to solve, other than what seems to me to be a relatively trumped-up concept of convenience."

Even leaving aside the fact that to read a paper book on its initial publication you have to buy a stupidly enormous version with stiff, thick covers and massive text that on my worst days I can't hold open in front of me for more than thirty seconds, and that even when they finally come out in paperback they seem to come in larger and larger sizes and I have no idea why: in fact, no, let's not leave that aside at all. That.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:24 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Twenty odd years ago when I was boy my parents drove to Yellowstone from California. I had around 10 books with me in the back seat.
posted by Wood at 7:25 AM on June 27, 2011


Not to be a luddite (and in my house you'll find a whole slew of tablets, computers, smartphones, and many other kinds of modern attention vortexes), but a well-looked after book will almost certainly outlive a Kindle or other e-reader. Not to mention I wouldn't have to worry about charging books off a generator should I be in a situation where there is an extended power outage.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:26 AM on June 27, 2011


Ugh. Don't give me each of the miniscule features I ask for. Give me freedom to use how I want. Then I can "implement" the features myself.

AMEN! One, one thousand, one zillion times amen DU!

Also -

Pro paper "book": increases indipendence (reduces dependence) from electricity,batteries, bloodsucking DRMs; it is human readable without any additional electronic interfacing, that couldn't be self built by 99,9% of mankind ; if bought with cash, doesn't connect you to reading Orwell's 1984 as in "a dangerous book" that would attract the attention of Farenheit 451's firefighters.

Contra paper "book": bulky when compared to most new digital reading devices, can not be fast searched, photocopying is relatively expensive, tends to deteriorate with time, devours storage space in the long term; can't be easily hidden if you fear the 451's firefighters.
posted by elpapacito at 7:26 AM on June 27, 2011


I do think the assumption that reading an ebook and reading a physical book are the same experience is a bit faulty. The first reminds me of the book scroll in that it encourages sequential access to information, while the latter is much better for random access. Sure, you can mark spots in an ebook and can flip backwards and forwards too, but it seems to encourage pushing on. Maybe that's a function of my being raised to read the codex, and not dealing so well with ebooks.

But what do I know - since I got my iPad, I've downloaded a ton of ebooks, but only read two: an Agatha Christie and a book about a vampire with a dragon that jumps out of his chest.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:27 AM on June 27, 2011


People who look forward to an all-ereader future have yet to explain to me...

In fairness to them, I'm not sure they exist - has anyone called for an end to paper books? - and it's tough to explain things when you're not extant.
posted by Segundus at 7:27 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love books too- lifelong reader. Since I was old enough to manage it on my own, my parents tell me I had some sort of book with me every day, and I've continued right up until now. When I was in hospital after an accident, wherever I've been on trips. Even when I went away to army cadet camp. At school, I had the dubious distinction of having borrowed/read more of the collection than anyone else. In numerical Dewey order. I became a librarian just to get better access.

Recently, I've packed up more than 300 of my more contemporary books in boxes and donated them to a local charity-shop- entirely because I've now got digital duplicates of them on my iPad. I don't think the digital/analogue experiences are entirely identical; perhaps it's easier to say that they're comparable. While holding paper pages has more of a homely, comfortable feel, I like being able to put multiple bookmarks in my iPad books. Or look up definitions of unusual foreign loan-words. Or change the font to whatever suits the "feel" of the book better.

I don't imagine that every book in my collection will ever be duplicated, but I'm happy to embrace the digital for now, especially since it makes 400 books a little easier to carry.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 7:32 AM on June 27, 2011


We don't live in 1984, we live in Brave New World, which you would know if you read Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

I read that. In 1985.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:32 AM on June 27, 2011


Horselover Phattie: "a well-looked after book will almost certainly outlive a Kindle or other e-reader."

Not such a concern when you won't lose your book collection when your e-reader dies. I have a £5 memory stick that lives in my handbag, onto which I backup my books every so often, so my iPod, phone, and PC would all have to irreparably fail on the same day my handbag was stolen, and I've have to forget the password to my Amazon account, for me to lose my books.

paranoid? me? me? really? me paranoid? are you talking about me?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:33 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know if I go so far as to say that, but I have been wondering in some of the ebook pro/con discussions whether one of the differences between the sides of the argument isn't between those who read on the order of a couple books per month and those who read on the order of a couple books per week.

In our household, a critical factor was getting around our hoarding tendencies and managing the growing stacks of read-once books that are slowly covering every surface and shelf. So the Kindle is supplementing the pulp that we had formerly been struggling to find a home for in the absence of good used bookstores or charity sales. Another technological benefit is the ability to manipulate font size, which I'm ashamed to say, is becoming useful on my off days.

And we buy a fair number of hard copies as well. It's not an either/or thing. That said, I'm extremely squeamish about the business model and marketing of many ebooks. I don't think that ebooks are going to replace physical copies at any point in the future.

On the other hand, one area I do hope that ebook readers become dominant is the whole college textbook scam. I don't know how many pounds of pulp ended up being recycled as toilet paper in my career due to planned obsolescence. A Kindle in 1995 would have certainly saved me a few years of back problems.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:33 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I moved (hell, every time I move) I sold a fairly large amount of books for pittance (under $100) to an independent book store run by people I know. I have repeatedly given away my OOPs and first editions. I lend people books and tell them to give them to their friends instead of giving them back to me. I fucking hate these things and they just keep piling up and up anywhere I go.

I live and do not plan to leave NYC. The space where I live will never be big enough for a library and I am thankful for that. I yearn for a genuinly good e-reader (I've tried the Kindle -- not good enough yet!) so that I can stop amassing this paper.
posted by griphus at 7:34 AM on June 27, 2011


I love my e-reader for fiction and manuscripts; I have trouble reading my research books on it. The flicker between page flips can also give me a migraine after extended use. Nonetheless, I love the little monster and I buy more novels now than I did before. Chapter sampling and instant gratification are pure reading heroin for me, apparently.
posted by headspace at 7:34 AM on June 27, 2011


> We don't live in 1984, we live in Brave New World, which you would know if
> you read Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman (available for Amazon
> Kindle for only $4 more than the dead-tree edition).
> posted by Pastabagel at 10:08 AM on June 27 [+] [!]

Pasta, I'm just tickled to be able to quote my very own comment from back in the day:

> Orwell wrong, Huxley right. We will be destroyed by stuff we upvoted.
> posted by jfuller at 11:04 AM on May 29

otoh "we" don't all live where Harry Potter rulz. Hint, Hu Jintao. Hint, Vlad Putin. Hint, reading Reading Lolita in Tehran in Tehran.
posted by jfuller at 7:34 AM on June 27, 2011


I'm just happy that there's a thread where the word 'riffle' is being used repeatedly.
posted by Jofus at 7:35 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


"The ones with e-readers brag that they can carry around hundreds of Great books from Project Gutenberg."

I have several local histories on my Kindle that I've been steadily reading through, that are otherwise only available to read on-site in the rare books room at the city library or the state archives. It's awesome! The conversion isn't always perfect since it's OCR, but I'm just reading them for my own edification, not for research, and I have a two-year-old ... hours upon hours in the rare book room is not going to occur. I mean, I can go pick up Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire at the library or bookstore any time (although in fact I downloaded it to my Kindle for much less cost), but the real gift of the Kindle is these RARE books that are difficult or impossible to find in print, not the Great Books.

"I can't figure out what failing of books an e-reader is supposed to solve,"

Here's two little ones. My mom reads on the order of a book a day -- two or three on vacation -- and travels a lot. She literally can't pack enough books to keep up with her reading when she travels. Kindle COMPLETELY solves that problem. (And yes, a lot of what she reads for leisure is mass-market bestsellers, so it's not like anyone's going to want the physical copy of that in 20 years. Or two years.)

I borrowed a Kindle the first time I was breastfeeding and it KICKS THE PANTS OFF BOOKS for breastfeeding reading. I love me some books and have more bookshelves than is really feasible for my house, but holding a book one-handed while supporting a baby in that elbow trying to turn pages one-handed, swapping sides without losing my place, sometimes dropping the book when I got bit, fumbling around at 2 a.m. for my booklight (I'm direly afraid of dozing off while feeding so I must be reading something) ... well, there were a lot of inconveniences, and my choices were limited to books small enough for me to hold and read without fatigue. With the Kindle, I can read whatever I want, the booklight is built into the case, dropping it doesn't lose my place, and I can turn pages one-thumbed! My husband got me one for Mother's Day in preparation for baby #2.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:40 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


It also makes me blind with rage that people who obviously read very little are going to drive books out of existence. If you think a Kindle is even remotely close to a replacement for a book, you can't have actually read more than 10 real physical books ever.

Think about that for a second. How could people who read very little have any effect on the market for books? Explain that to to me.
posted by atrazine at 7:41 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Almost all objections to electronic books are objections to a certain state of electronic book development that is already disappearing if it ever really existed.

You can now, or soon will be able to, take an electronic book into the shower, to the beach, scuba diving, skydiving, firewalking, etc. You can (or be able to) share books (and their licenses) with anyone else just by getting your readers within wired or wireless range of each other. You can (or soon will be able to) read the screens more easily (less eye strain, etc.) than you can read paper books. You can (or soon will be able to) make any sort of marginal notes (including audio "Bullshit!" marginal notes and a picture of your buttocks) and share them with the world if that's what you want. Etc.

And, of course, electronic books can also show you any size print, they can read themselves to you, they can remember you and your preferences, etc.

They could even make an electronic book that looks, smells, feels, tastes, and behaves like a paper book -- you would turn a floppy, character-covered, paper-like page over, which would cause the previously turned page to silently withdraw from the Past side and slide out under the next page on the Future side. Depending on how you thumbed the edges of the book, it would jump the displayed page ahead one page or three or ten or a hundred or all the way to the end.

The only real reasons to object to the very notion of electronic books are the same reasons you might prefer antique chairs to lightweight modern chairs. Modern chairs can be much more comfortable, last many times longer, and support much more weight, and they can be made to look and feel exactly like antiques, but if what you really want is the knowledge that you are sitting in (or have just invested in) an actual Louis XVI chair and you are reading (or carefully storing) a first edition of Johnson's Big Book of Big Johnsons (uncut), you are never going to be happy with the new and improved versions.
posted by pracowity at 7:42 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


> Not such a concern when you won't lose your book collection when your e-reader dies.

Perhaps, but I was referring to being able to read your books during an extended outage, not the fear of losing your purchases.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:42 AM on June 27, 2011


being able to read your books during an extended outage

With my usual daydreaming last week, I was wondering if I could build a generator of the right power output to power my iPad-2 in a post-apocalyptic situation, via hand-cranking or wheel-turning or suchlike physical intervention.

It was only after a few sketches of circuit diagrams and principles for construction, that I remembered in a post-apocalyptic situation I'd be likely to have bigger problems than being able to consult my library.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 7:47 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Perhaps, but I was referring to being able to read your books during an extended outage, not the fear of losing your purchases.

In the event of such a disaster, I don't anticipate doing much reading between bouts of tucking my head between my legs and kissing my ass goodbye. But if I do, I certainly have enough print volumes on standby.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:47 AM on June 27, 2011


I have to stay out of this thread. It's too maddening watching 4000 years die because of 5 minutes of flashy design.
posted by DU at 10:12 AM on 6/27
[1 favorite +] [!]


You know that codices have only existed for about 1500 years (in the west - I don't know the Asian history). And that for the first 1000 years of that history, they were a) handwritten, b) on animal skin and c) so expensive that a few hundred in one place constituted a significant library and the vast majority of the population never had one. So the printed, paper book is just a little over 500 years old - and how many people (rightfully) decried the loss of beauty and artistry and longevity (good parchment lasts better than paper)?

As for the issue of cost: buying paper books has always been expensive; libraries do help offset this, but only if kids are taken there. I recently tutored a bright 12-year-old who had never been to the (massive, gorgeous, recently renovated) public library that was a 10-15 minute walk from his house. The cost of an ereader was not the barrier to literacy in his life; the fact that neither of his parents took that short walk with him when he was six was.

Soon, having an ereader will be like having a Walkman in the 80s - expensive and special, but poor kids did get them (or a cheap version that worked - I was one of those kids). Already, a Kobo is about $125-150 in Canada. The cost of smart phones - initial cost and/or monthly costs - is a far greater division between poor and rich children than simple ereaders.
posted by jb at 7:47 AM on June 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


When you get home after a long day at work, it's much easier to flip on the TV or a laptop than to actually locate that book you were reading and find the page you were on (and if you're done with a book, going to the store to buy a new book is yet another hassle).

The debate really is a product of culture difference, separate from whatever features the latest e-books are touting. I mean, jeez, the book (or books, often) I am currently reading is either already at hand in my book bag that goes to work and home with me, or is sitting on the kitchen counter or living room endtable where I left it when I was last reading, marked with a bookmark (I won't go on a tangent about my cool collection of bookmarks from bookstores all over the world) and ready to roll. I always have dozens of books (or more) on my "to read" shelves, and browsing bookstores is a regular routine that requires no special effort -- in fact is one of the great pleasures of my life. One of the reasons I live in the town I do is that it still has several independent bookstores where I can regularly browse.

But then, I am nearing 50 and have been doing this same thing for many decades (since elementary school). Or to paraphrase what someone sniped about DU earlier in the thread, "I am old" -- presumably meaning my preferences are obsolete and easily disregarded.
posted by aught at 7:49 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously, guys, we get it. You LOOOOOOOOOOOVE physical books.

The sarcasm suggests that, in fact, you do *not* get it at all.
posted by aught at 7:50 AM on June 27, 2011


Almost all objections to electronic books are objections to a certain state of electronic book development that is already disappearing if it ever really existed.

I see what you're saying, but my main objections would be around lendability and DRM. Specifically, the ability of libraries to lend e-books easily. I'm sure we'll get there eventually, but it's going to be a long process I feel. And some of us need libraries to feed our reading habit.

Here's two little ones. My mom reads on the order of a book a day -- two or three on vacation -- and travels a lot. She literally can't pack enough books to keep up with her reading when she travels.

Again, I think e-books are great for people like your mom. But not everyone reads that much, or travels that much. If you only read a couple of books a year, the need for an e-reader is probably less.

Personally, e-books meet one clear need: something to read on the train. Carrying a book or an e-reader can be annoying; but I've already got my phone with me, and I can easily read on that for 20-30 minutes at a time. It's all about the different needs of different readers.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:50 AM on June 27, 2011


which you would know if you read Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman (available for Amazon Kindle for only $4 more than the dead-tree edition).

For the record, I'm confident that if I didn't already own a copy of the Postman book I could pick up a decent used copy on my lunch hour for less than $5 (Kindle ed = $12.99).
posted by aught at 7:54 AM on June 27, 2011


I read something like 3.5 books a month - when I had more free time, I read more than that, but when reading suddenly required me, as an adult, to haul a heavy load of books everywhere, I read less. Vacation? don't even. I took three or four books on a 10-day vacation and bought 4 more, which I then schlepped home.

Ridiculous.

I do not have the NYPL where I live. I have a county library system that is underfunded and doesn't really carry books I want to read. I have physical books -- I have TOO MANY physical books - and keeping our hoarding and packratting and OH IT'S A BOOK I HAVE TO KEEP IT tendencies down is very important to our house being livable and not an episode of Hoarders. If that's not loving books and reading, I don't know what is.

I buy reference books - sewing reference books - online or in person (Amazon Marketplace has actually allowed me to buy books that I really wanted and needed for a decent price - things that would have been otherwise hard to find). My spouse and I each have collections of physical books that we keep for various reasons. But I do not need to own every physical copy of every book I've ever read. I've been to enough estate sales to see what happens to your lovingly curated collection of every trade paperback ever issued in the [insert whatever] genre. Random people pick through it, they take one or two books, and the rest, if you are ridiculously lucky, get donated to the Friends of the Library or whatever. If you are unlucky, they get trashed.

I'm pretty sure that's not why we keep books. So I keep only the books that I really want to keep, that I need to physically have. If you think that makes me a philistine, well, fine. But I can live in my house and I feel fine about my choices.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:55 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm neither here-nor-there on e-readers, but I can't figure out what failing of books an e-reader is supposed to solve, other than what seems to me to be a relatively trumped-up concept of convenience. In my life-long experience of reading, I've never once wished I could have all of my books available to me at any given time.
You've never gone out for the day, knowing you are almost finished a book and needing to bring another book or two to be sure to have enough to read all day? You've never gone on vacation with insufficient books because of weight limits? It's not that I need *all* my books available, it's that I need more than 1 available.

This idea, of course, seems to be the selling point for just about every recent consumer technology...instant access and gratification. Unfortunately, I'm not of a generation that seems to take it as my birthright that I need/deserve to have everything I want, when I want it, wherever I am.
I don't need it, but I like it, and now that it's available, well, it's a selling point because it is one of the main pros of an ereader over a book.

Say what? Seriously? It's difficult to put a bookmark in the book you're reading? And just how huge is your house that you can't find the book you were, I assume, enjoying and reading?
If you have never misplaced a book you are in the middle of, you are a much less cluttered person than I am. Which room did I leave my book in? Did it fall down the couch? Did I put it away? Did the cats hide it? Did I leave it at work, or in the car, or at a friend's house? I temporarily misplace books all the time.
posted by jeather at 8:05 AM on June 27, 2011


My problem is that I lose the book I'm reading a couple of times a year. Losing a couple of Kindles a year could get kind of expensive.
posted by escabeche at 8:06 AM on June 27, 2011


If you think a Kindle is even remotely close to a replacement for a book, you can't have actually read more than 10 real physical books ever.

Or, more likely, you want to have more than ten books on your person at any one time. More e-books are sold now than paper books, so it doesn't look like your "ebooks are for illiterates" theory holds much water.

In truth, I don't know how you could possibly be more wrong about this. It's the 21st century, for real, and having to press the pulp you've made out of a dead tree to deliver text from one place to another is on technological par with trepanning your headaches away, hunting for dinner with flintstock rifles and dying of polio. You might as well be complaining kindles are no good because they don't have a musty old-book smell, or that cars are worse than carriages because you don't get to hold the reins and have a horse ass pointed at you for the whole trip.

I find it hard to take anyone complaining about the way information is delivered and accessed in this miraculous, modern gilded age of ours all that seriously. God, does anyone here remember what having a crappy local library was like? Where the book you wanted may not be in? Where you have to wait months on a list just to borrow a copy of a book, assuming you could get it at all? What a load of antiquated nonsense.

Here's the hard truth: Most books are bad. Most of them are barely worth printing, and aren't worth keeping. But now there's a way to sell books without having to kill trees, burn gas moving them around (and their remainders back) and you can still have a thousand of them and access to a million more in your bag at any time for less than a week's wage, a privilege that any scholar of any previous age would have chewed off their own arm for in a heartbeat. We can have the Library of Babel, for everyone, all the time.

Fuck paper. Really.
posted by mhoye at 8:07 AM on June 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


Horselove Phattie-- Make a list of how many times in your lifetime you'll be without power for over a month, even in the most pessimistic of realities. We got slammed by a CAT 5 hurricane and had power running a couple of days later. Is it really a concern?

I like the kindle because I can read more, easily. My nearest bookstore is 300+ miles away, in another country. I have to physically ship books in, clear customs, work out logistics. Now I can get a book instantly. It allows me to read more of what I love. It's easier to read on the beach, in bed, and I have my library with me, always. Why is that bad?

Paper books aren't going away, you're still free to use them. If in 20 years they are a niche market and you'll have to pay a bit more, who cares? Currently, I pay a dollar or two more for a Kindle book, and I'm happy to do because of the benefits that I get.

For me, there's all this talk of the experience of reading a book. I don't care about what paper it was printed on, or what binding method was used. As long as the authors words travel into my brain in a pleasing manner, what do I care of the smell of glue and ink? I don't have a romantic view of mass market books, or a song on vinyl over MP3, a movie on DVD over mp4, I have a romantic view of the skill of the artist delivering the message.

Oh, and the ability to download the first chapter of most (all?) Kindle books, for free, is *amazing*.
posted by Static Vagabond at 8:07 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


> dying of polio

So, apparently Kindle ownership causes some kind of fatuous equivocation tumor to develop? Good lord.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:10 AM on June 27, 2011


Mobile phones are affordable because companies sell you a service plan.

Erm, no. This is only true in the U.S. and maybe a handful of other places. In most of the world, handsets are unsubsidized. You buy one, cash on the barrel head, and then you buy a SIM card and hook it up to the network.

The average Afrian goat herder or Bengali rickshaw-puller isn't getting a carrier subsidy on his phone. (He may, however, be renting it or buying it on time from a third party.) But the devices are so useful, and have gotten inexpensive enough, that the cost is both possible and justifiable.

That seems like it will eventually be possible for ebook readers as well. So far I haven't seen an ebook reader really designed for targeted at the low-cost segment of the world market, as some cellphone manufacturers have, but I suspect that will change.

And, if software and paper books are any indication, the Bengali rickshaw-puller won't be screwing around with any Amazon-esque service that can make books retroactively disappear. He'll probably buy SD cards pre-loaded with tens of thousands of books from the stall in the corner market for a few bucks,* right next to the place selling 100 Taka copies of Microsoft Office, or the place the schoolkids go to right now to have their paper books duplicated by a guy with photocopier and a comb binding machine. Just because the technology is the same, doesn't mean the business model will be -- and it might end up being a lot better for the customer in places where customers are used to getting their way.

* Assuming he is literate, which might be an unsafe assumption, unfortunately. One of the reasons cellphones have had such an amazing adoption curve is that the barriers to their use are really low, in terms of education/literacy; you can show someone how to use one very quickly, and the benefits and advantage conferred are very obvious.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:10 AM on June 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've read a few books on an eReader and I have a bit of a hard time with the screen. It seems like I'm either getting not enough light on it or too much. I have had a bit better luck with LCDs, which are great for reading in the dark. I think my favourite reading device was my old Palm IIIc. The iPhone I tried not too long ago was great too.

Are Kindles better for glare than say the Sony eReader? I might end up looking at a light LCD tablet instead.
posted by ODiV at 8:12 AM on June 27, 2011


mhoye said ... and having to press the pulp you've made out of a dead tree ... Fuck paper. Really.

Trees aren't the only option. We could use hemp, an annual crop with a much higher effective yield per hectare than timber.
posted by troll at 8:16 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fuck paper. Really.

Can I have your books?
posted by octobersurprise at 8:17 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, book availability and pricing is a pain. I was trying to buy a bunch of jscalzi's books in epub and had to go to a couple different shops, spent money in two different currencies, and still ended up getting about half of them in paper because they were either unavailable in epub or about half the price in paper.
posted by ODiV at 8:17 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Indeed. For the firstsecond time in history, only the Haves will be literate.

Most of the world does not have lending libraries available and physical books are very expensive. Cheaper e-readers already cost about as much as a hard-back textbook, within a decade they'll be less than $50.
posted by atrazine at 8:18 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not an e-reader user myself -- I have tons of books downloaded on my iPad and have never read any of them, only reading whatever physical book is in my backpack -- but I can't disagree with e-book enthusiasm. I tend to think they'll displace a big chunk of the physical book market. I have no personal relationship with the smell of paper and I too have wasted lots of time and sweat moving boxes of books around.

But I think people on this thread are talking past each other. Yep -- if you have an e-reader you can carry around hundreds of books in your pocket. There are definitely situations where that's a useful feature -- like if you're going on a trip long enough that you're going to read more than one book.

I think the point of the original article is that for some people, in some situations, that's a drawback -- what you want to have in your bag is one book, not a hundred, and certainly not the ability to obtain within seconds any one of thousands more.

Of course such people, in such situations, could just carry around a Kindle with just one book on it and disable the internet connection. But wouldn't that eliminate many of the Kindle's advantages? Seriously, I'm asking.
posted by escabeche at 8:18 AM on June 27, 2011


Once the power goes out and everyone has forgotten how to turn the page we'll all be fucked.
posted by Sailormom


My kindle battery lasts two weeks. If I lose power for that long I have more critical problems than reading.
posted by justgary at 8:22 AM on June 27, 2011


escabeche - I'm sure if you asked a lot of people here how they actually read books on their e-reader they'd say they either read one at a time or read significant chunks before changing to another book. Reading proper 'books' isn't like being plugged into email/social media/Metafilter etc - they require concentration, even on an e-reader.
posted by Summer at 8:25 AM on June 27, 2011


My problem is that I lose the book I'm reading a couple of times a year. Losing a couple of Kindles a year could get kind of expensive.
posted by escabeche


But let's say your house burns down and every book in your collection is gone. If you have had a kindle you spend a hundred bucks for a new one and redownload your whole library for free.
posted by justgary at 8:25 AM on June 27, 2011


Of course such people, in such situations, could just carry around a Kindle with just one book on it and disable the internet connection. But wouldn't that eliminate many of the Kindle's advantages? Seriously, I'm asking.

It would certainly eliminate many of the Kindle's advantages if you turned off many of the Kindle's advantages, yes.

Though, if the one book you were reading was, say, Infinite Jest, it still wouldn't eliminate one of the big ones, which is no matter how big the book I'm reading is, my Kobo still weighs just under half a pound.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:26 AM on June 27, 2011


So, apparently Kindle ownership causes some kind of fatuous equivocation tumor to develop? Good lord.

I stand by that. We're not there yet, but we're going to be there in a decade: having to kill a tree to deliver text is not something that happens on the inside edge of modern civilization. Like trepanning, like dying of trivially preventable diseases.

Trees aren't the only option. We could use hemp, an annual crop with a much higher effective yield per hectare than timber.

And then we could cut it down with gas-powered tools, drive it to wherever it's pulped and pressed, bundle it up and drive it again to where it's printed, drive the result to bookstores that people drive to to buy. The remainders that don't get bought will get piled up on another truck, driven somewhere else and incinerated.

Physical delivery of something that can be delivered electronically is pure waste. In this case it's even more offensive, because it's waste for nostalgia's sake. Does it feel like you're staring at a barrel of burning gasoline, when you read a book? Because it should.
posted by mhoye at 8:26 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are certain types of print media that don't translate well to pixels. Artbooks are the obvious example. The formatting and the vagaries of the printing method used change the experience a lot. Those books will stay with us until we get the Holodeck, at which point humanity will have optimal pornography, and will lose the will to reproduce.

The question of what books benefit from this is aesthetic in nature, and therefore irresolvable in general, although certain authors will nonetheless insist on paper over electrons. There are already publishing companies devoted specifically to expensive "collector's editions" of books, with more design than you can shake a ligature at, and I don't think they'll go away.

The argument that only "haves" will have eBooks is a non-starter. I read books on my phone. It's a smartphone, sure, but these days even the contract-free phones at Rite-Aid have calendars and color displays. Won't be too long before one eBook vendor or another gets their reader software into all of Nokia's hardware, or whatever. The contract-free phones cost like $20, tops.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:27 AM on June 27, 2011


device55 said The Kindle famously keeps its charge for a month or so ... but books burn, mold, and decay ...

When your Kindle can hold its charge for 2,879 years, I'll grant you that point.
posted by troll at 8:30 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Crank it up!

I'm 36 and my eyes are still pretty acute, I use small fonts professionally but not too long ago I had an epiphany (maybe a dumbiphany) that was basically "why?" and I started cranking up the font size every chance I could get.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh......

Yeah, that's the sound of my eyes.

Of course lines can't be too short, but basically books would be printed in quite a different font if it wouldn't make them 20 inches thick. How do people really not see the advantages of an e-reader when people have been print books in minuscule fonts on tissue-thick paper for centuries? And shipping magnifying glasses with some of them. Did y'all not notice that?

Anyway the e-reader thing will be DECIDED by old eyes. The haters won't be able to keep up their hate when they realize it is an accessibility issue and they'll sulk quietly.
posted by Wood at 8:31 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, if we're rating the two options for apocalypse survivability, it all depends on the type of apocalypse. Specificity, people.

Rain of fire: books catch light, e-readers probably don't.
Ice age: books will probably be ok, maybe Kindles wouldn't work in the cold? I don't know.
Zombies: zombies don't care what you're reading, man.
Sudden tenfold increase in gravity: books are way heavier than e-books.
Giant ants: I bet ants would eat the hell out of paper books. Just to show us their dominance.

In conclusion: Oh shit, ants.
posted by emmtee at 8:32 AM on June 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Okay, I'm going to amend my earlier comment:

Paper book people AND Kindle people, I get that you each want to defend your camp, but could we all at least respect each others' intelligence enough to come up with better arguments than "but what if I'm too tired to find a bookmark for my paper book" and "but what if I lose power for a month and a half" or whatever?

Both of our camps are coming up with really ridiculous scenarios in order to defend what is, at the heart of it, a matter of personal preference. At the end of the day, some of us just like paper books and some of us just like Kindles, the way some of us just like chocolate ice cream and some of us just like rum raisin. There's no real overarching reason, we just like what we like.

And sneering that "well, my Kindle is better than a book because I never have to worry about a bookmark so neener" sounds kind of like, "rum raisin is better than chocolate because there's rum in it and if I eat enough I maybe I can get buzzed so neener".

We like what we like. No moral failing can be implied based on what we like. Period. If you want to defend your camp, at least come up with smarter arguments. (To wit: personally, the reason I prefer a book is because the Kindle and all other e-readers are, for me, cost-prohibitive. And as for books, I get mine free via Paperbackswap.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:32 AM on June 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


Does it feel like you're staring at a barrel of burning gasoline, when you read a book? Because it should.

Whereas Kindles are grown on small, organic farms by Juan Valdez.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:33 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


You only buy the hardware once.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:35 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a software engineer so I get to read a screen all day while I work. I like to sit with a cup of tea and a paper book during my lunch, and the paper book is actually important so that I don't have to look at a screen for 9 hours straight.

I also like people being able to see what book I have open, and I like friends to ask me about what I'm reading. I like lending my books out. I like being able to scan my bookshelf to recommend a read to a friend, not looking through a pixel facsimile of a bookshelf.

Now I'm asked if we really *need* dead-tree physically-wasteful paper books. After all it's not about the delivery mechanism, right? It's the content that matters. In which case, I'd like to ask, do we really need *screens*?

Literature has managed a long time without screens, so I'd say they aren't essential. That's okay though. You can read your books on a screen if you'd like, and I'll read mine on paper. If you'll just refrain from blaming me for reading a book on a dead tree, please. (and I'll refrain from asking where your e-reader's battery is going to eventually end up)
posted by cotterpin at 8:35 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I keep my whole library in my shower! It's also where I keep my bread! I love mold!
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:40 AM on June 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


If i understand things correctly, physical book lovers are decrepit fetishists, who can barely finish the one book they'll be reading for the next six months, drugged as they are by the smell of their huge libraries which they drag around every time they move in order to restrict their mobility and stay in their land, bound like serfs.

On the other hand, e-book proponents are irreverent, moneyed technophiles, who fill their readers with files they don't read and can't appreciate the tactile/olfactory/aesthetic advantages of a physical book.

Both groups either don't read at all or read too much and thus their opinion should be disregarded.
posted by ersatz at 8:41 AM on June 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Whereas Kindles are grown on small, organic farms by Juan Valdez.

The incremental cost of delivering e-books is very close to zero. For paper books, it's a lot more than zero.

This debate isn't going to get "won" or "lost" on any tactile, aesthetic or apocalyptic-power-outage arguments. It's been decided in the market on that basis alone, and in truth the question is already settled; at this point it's just a question of wide deployment of the technology.
posted by mhoye at 8:42 AM on June 27, 2011


I've read books all my life. I just got an e-reader a couple of years ago. I love them both because they give me such marvelous stories and information. I've discovered that having tried them both, my preference is for the e-books. Perhaps your preference is different, but my question to you is, have you tried them both?

If you haven't, why not gift yourself one or ask for it as a gift or whatever. There's a crapload of books available for free or cheap. So download a few, take a spin on the other side of the argument and see what you think. If you still prefer the other, give your e-reader away. Someone will be grateful to receive it, I assure you.

Until you've really given both sides a shot though, you're really just another person who didn't read the article arguing based on the title of the post.
posted by BeReasonable at 8:44 AM on June 27, 2011


Time to pull out my librarian card. Even as someone who came of age career-wise while still in the age of print books (with the exception of a few awkwardly-accessible CD-ROM references in the large, cutting-edge university library), even as someone who continues to buy print books and is starting to run into the storage problem, even as someone who saves his e-books (almost all freebies) for unplanned downtime and much prefers a physical book... the people in this thread who are arguing most strongly against e-books and e-readers are not exactly covering themselves in glory. Reading ten print books renders you permanently immune to the charms of an e-reader? The intersection of the sets of people who are excited about e-texts of classics from Project Gutenberg and the people who actually read those classics is zero? You read books in the shower? Do you people smoke your books?

There are tons of reasons for having the capacity to carry dozens or even hundreds of books around in an easy-to-carry format, and the arguments against them (do you really need all those books with you? What if you run out of juice? (Duh.)) signify a slightly curdled romanticism, as if you and your battered old copy of Catcher in the Rye are standing athwart the legions of millenial iBorgs and their shiny rectangles of plastic and glass. Yes, there are people who are all about why don't I own a Kindle, but there are also people who insist that I should be watching [TV show X] or that I should ride my bike everywhere, even in the rain or to other cities. I feel free to ignore them, just as I feel free to reject the notion that I have to belong exclusively to one camp or another.

(Oh, and you can loan Kindle books to another Kindle user (and, for those that aren't clear on the concept, you can get a Kindle app on just about any electronic device that you can install applications on), although I should note that the publisher gets to decide whether you can loan a particular title, which is kind of creepy, ditto for Amazon being able to remotely delete a book. So, no, not perfect by a long shot.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:46 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


aught: The debate really is a product of culture difference, separate from whatever features the latest e-books are touting.

Not really. I'd say that the reason that Amazon and B&N have had the success with their offerings is by designing and pitching the device at bibliophiles rather than technophiles. Most of this debate has been spent on the completely wrong premise that ebook-device users don't deeply love books, and that premise strikes me as absurd. Granted, I'm biased in that my social network is stuffed full of bibliophiles. The technophiles wanting 24/7 access to the internet are gravitating to smartphones and tablets.

The difference was obvious to me when I tried to comparison shop for a device. The one electronics store that sold them didn't have a working version on display in contrast to the dozen smart phones and tablets they were selling that week. The working copies we did find (along with people willing to answer questions) were at bookstores and office-supply stores that had a copy shop.

escabeche: There are definitely situations where that's a useful feature -- like if you're going on a trip long enough that you're going to read more than one book.

Or as an example where I would have been an early adopter (rather than a middle-adopter), when I was in college and needed approximately 40 lbs of books for a class.

But wouldn't that eliminate many of the Kindle's advantages? Seriously, I'm asking.

I've never used the Kindle Web browser myself. When I'm in the middle of a book, I'm more interested in what happens next or how the author will develop the argument, rather than shopping for something different.

And if I'm just not into the book I'm currently reading, so what if I switch to something else? I'm a 40-year-old adult who doesn't have a book report due in 4th period on Wednesday. If I'm tried of reading about Buddhism, I'll read Pratchett. If I'm tired of Pratchett, I'll read Dumas. If I'm tried of Dumas, I'll read Bujold. If I'm tired of fiction, I'll read non-fiction. If I don't feel like reading a book, I'll read a magazine. If I don't feel like reading anything in my library, I'll look for something else to read or just go to sleep.

Perhaps it's because I'm a 40-year-old adult who's belatedly discovering the joys of works that were forced on him joylessly in high school, but I'm getting a little tired of this notion that we have to work for our reading pleasure. If I'm not having fun reading it, it may not be my thing, I may not be ready for it, or it's just the wrong day to be reading it, but that situation won't be helped by excluding all forms of distraction.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:50 AM on June 27, 2011


I really wish we didn't always have to litter these discussions with dismissive, arrogant language like "dead tree books" and the obsessively misused epithet, "fetish," which is intended as a derisive parallel to sexual fetishes.

I've got an e-ink reader, which is fine, a nice little outpost of Project Gutenberg, but I take it as a lesser thing because it's resolutely anti-physical and I am, as a member of my species, an animal evolved to deal with a physical world in a physical way. I can't page through it except with clunky electronic mediation, and by and large, these things are designed by clever people who loudly proclaim that a book is just information and then go on to force their own prejudices on the market. I'm fine with my e-reader, but given a choice, I'd like something I can touch, navigating by feel and dexterity, and that's really not a fetish, unless you consider actual sex a fetish now that we can become magical purple elves on Second Life and have crazy CGI sex with customized simulated lion genitalia. But hey, if it's not for actual procreation, what's the dif, right?

I'm also not bothered by my books being made of "dead trees," any more than I'm bothered that I live in a dead tree house, drive a dead ore scooter, and had a delicious dead plant meal last night. Pulp mills are fed by farmed trees, grown and bred to make good paper, not the last mighty redwood standing nobly in a clear-cut field. The claim that the "waste" from paper making is incinerated is clearly one made by someone unaware where a bag of mulch comes from.

Why do we need to break it all down into a battle between those with stars and those without stars on thars? I'm happy to change, if I'm being offered something that works better than what I have without forcing me to trade off something else of value. Give me an e-reader that won't be obsolete by changing standards in ten years. Give me an e-reader that gives me a way to archive my books on media that won't fail or be obsoleted by changing standards in a generation, so I can hand down my treasured books to my nieces, and I'll happily surrender to presumed modernity. Give me something that responds to a physical gesture with a physical response, in the manner of every human tool until the ones of the last generation, and I'll be more than happy to switch over 100%. This so often turns into a strident, ugly contrast of "you're an old man with a rake" and "you're wrecking all of human history." Isn't there a way to create a working middle ground?

In my last life as a microfilm/information archivist, I had to do a lot of work to control the futurist bullshit my sales department would spew, as they advocated an all-digital, all-singing, all-dancing magical realist world where you could scan a client's documents and make them available online and have them last forever and ever and ever. Thing is—there's no archival digital media, in practice. Not one. HDDs fail. Metal substrate CDs/DVDs fail from oxygen infiltration caused by failing varnish layers and microcracks caused by even gentle handling. Solid state media fails from static, dissipation, etcetera. Tape loses its binders and plasticizers, expiring in a rain of bits as it passes through readers. Even the media that lasts doesn't, if it depends on a proprietary retrieval system. What good's your carefully preserved set of backup CDs when there's nothing that can access them? Just ask all the librarians watching their plastic-fantastic collections of scanned documents become unreadable now that the first generations of magneto-optical cartridge readers are failing. Quick! Migrate that data, or as much as you can save.

Meanwhile, I'd get a 200 year-old box of Martha Washington's gossipy handwritten letters on dead tree paper to film, and somehow, I could read them just fine. I'd scan and microfilm them simultaneously, preparing an easy access digital file and a 500-year archival microfilm edition at once. Why can't we buy a paper book and get a download code, too, so we have both?

Even better, why can't we get the machine from Ecotopia, where we can buy a book and have it printed and bound on the spot, if that's what we prefer?

However, the people are right when they say the market rules. Unfortunately, what's good for the market and the marketers isn't always what's best for us, no matter what the salesmen tell us. I just hope that those of us who enjoy a paper book as much as we enjoy the access of e-books have some sort of voice in what happens.

Time will tell.
posted by sonascope at 8:56 AM on June 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


That's why we need books, and why I believe they will survive. Because most humans have a desire to engage in deep thought and deep concentration. Those muscles are necessary for deep feeling and deep engagement. Most humans don't just want mental snacks forever; they also want meals.
I really wish I could agree. I'd like to live in a world where this was true. But I think he's completely wrong about this. Has there ever been a culture in which most of its constituents read long, difficult books for fun? Most people in the first world don't read for pleasure at all, and most of the books that do get sold are easy-to-read, page-turner airplane/beach novels, the print analog of thriller movies, the exact opposite of mental "meals" that require "deep thought and deep concentration."

We have, in historical terms, launched ourselves into the modern world of cheap, ubiquitous media and the continuous-partial-attention lifestyle with astonishing speed and enthusiasm. I don't think we've done that because of some ancient and natural craving for "deep engagement." His comparison with the Inuit is marvelously apt, but I cannot fathom why he thinks we'll collectively dodge the cheap-thrills bullet in this case.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:57 AM on June 27, 2011


I'm dissapointed in all you savages. Printed words on paper is for toddlers and illiterates. If you aren't hearing a oral recitation from a skilled griot you are just wasting your time. The only way to experience literature is through the oral tradition and all of you numbskulls and your fancy printing technology are going to ruin good literature for the few us of who are enlightened enough to really understand the one single right way to convey information.

You people probably listen to recorded music along with your printed word! This is why society is falling apart
posted by fuq at 9:00 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


The incremental cost of delivering e-books is very close to zero. For paper books, it's a lot more than zero.

Oh, you were actually trying to make the argument that ebooks are more environmentally sound than paper books? It's such a fatuous idea that I thought you were trying to be witty. It's very easy to say amazing things about the delivery of ebooks as long as you're willing to ignore the cost of building the damn things to start with (to say nothing of their disposal). Does it feel like you're staring at a barrel of burning gasoline, when you read a Kindle? Because it should.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:01 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


However, until my holographic / tactile e-reader can emit the glorious smell of paper, I shall remain a bookworm in the old-fashioned sense.

Why not simply keep a leaf of an old, musty paperback tucked in your sleeve, drawing it out like Oscar Wilde at the opera and huffing it up whenever you need a dose of that smell?
posted by chavenet at 9:01 AM on June 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I have a ton of books. My parents have an ass ton of books. They buy detective fiction by the crate load They have recently acquired Nooks and they love them. They still read (and buy) plenty of dead tree stuff, but they no longer bother taking books with them when they go on vacation. My mother was cranking her way through the collected Sherlock Holmes which she has never read at home because the book weighs about 10 pounds.

If two adults in their late 60s who have been book lovers since as soon as they could read can think that the Nook is a pretty darned nifty idea then perhaps we can all get along.

I'm sure that every record collector looks at the ipod generation with tears in their eyes. No one cares about album cover art any more. No one cares about the love that went in to pressing a record. No one cares abo... damn right. I don't care about any of that. Never did, to be honest. I do care about being able to carry my entire music collection in my pocket. I'm sure it's very sad to music afficionados that records are dead and it will be sad to book collectors when books are dead (which will happen in our lifetimes), but it doesn't mean that consumers of the new format don't love books, music, movies, etc just as much.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:02 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, the smell of a well-worn used book, or, as it's called in the publishing business, the smell of an author not getting paid.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:06 AM on June 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


One one hand, I think people are right to consider and worry about the drawbacks of ebooks. On the other hand, I think these issues are fairly solvable, if the will is there, and I'm not one of those "rah-rah technology will always save us" guys by any means.

All I know is when I think of a world with less giant big box bookstores full of once-living trees turned into terrible, terrible books, I smile broadly.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:08 AM on June 27, 2011


> I think people on this thread are talking past each other.

Speaking as a person who fetishes both books and electronic gizmos, amen to that. Does it have to be either/or? Why can't we have both?

Answer: of course we can have both. Though I admit I don't own any kindle-like or ipad-like device I've been downloading ebooks and reading them on screens since before the www was even a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee's eye. But my obit is going to read "His house resembled the Collyer brothers' mansion: rooms filled wall to wall and floor to ceiling with books and paper documents and riddled with booby-trapped tunnels. He met his end when he triggered one of his own traps and was crushed to atoms by the large-print edition of the OED."


> You only buy the hardware once.
> posted by LogicalDash at 11:35 AM on June 27 [+] [!]

(fuller stands in e-workroom and ruefully surveys shelves, boxes, and bins of beyond-obsolete computer junque going back to the Apple ][)

Zat Has Not Been My Experience.
posted by jfuller at 9:08 AM on June 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


I love books. I love them as containers of knowledge and storytelling, and as physical objects that have an iconic value. I hate the idea that I have to buy a device to read books. I hate that ebooks won't show up at Goodwill (the books at Goodwill in a University town are quite good) or as used books online or at garage sales. A friend asked my son "What do you most want to inherit from your Mom?" He replied "the books." Will somebody really leave behind their ebook library as a legacy? Will it mean the same thing?

I mourn the passing of bookselling in general, and independent bookstores specifically, because bookstore browsing is such a wonderful way to encounter new books and new authors, which, for me, is like making new friends. Also, I'm a former bookseller, and book people are among my favorite people.

But like most everybody, I buy a lot of books online. That's the only way I'll replace the favorite books I lost in a flood, and that, plus the library, is the only way for me to afford my reading habits. Like many changes, this one is inevitable. I've also realized that I read fewer books and magazines, because I'm online reading blogs, magazines, news, and other formats that fulfill my love of storytelling, news, poetry, humor, photography, comics, DIY and biography.

Welcome to the world in which the most significant constant is change. I simultaneously love it and hate it.
posted by theora55 at 9:17 AM on June 27, 2011


I'm not sure why the notion of the olfactory sensation of a paper book is always so galling to the e-reader loyalists, and such a rich source of mocking, sarcastic critiques. The scent of a book is just a shorthand for the presence of a book. A book is an object, and an idea, and the idea within the object is accessible by a system of physical interaction that works very, very well. Why's that so offensive and worthy of derision to people who prefer e-books?

I've just picked up my e-reader, and it's got a nice physical presence, too. The back has a nice tactile rubberiness, with a pair of gentle ridges that give it a satisfying feeling in the hand, and the page-turning buttons are decently located, with little raised pips to make finding them by feel alone a reasonable prospect. Searching out a page or rifling through a book, on the other hand, are horrible, horrible things, caught up in that wretched little screen at the bottom and the obsessive need of the designers to make something that seems futuristic and modern without actually being highly functional.

Am I fetishy because I'm pleased that this object has, at least in some respect, a satisfying feel in the hand? Has the horror of human touch and our vile, inexplicable bodies made this pleasure a grotesque, ugly thing? Obviously, I'd be happier with it if it had a scent reminiscent of a new shower curtain or a fresh box of Colorforms, but it's the function, and the physicality that's the thing. It's not bad, as a tradeoff for the 30,000 free books from Project Gutenberg, but it could be way, way better.
posted by sonascope at 9:20 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure it's very sad to music afficionados that records are dead and it will be sad to book collectors when books are dead (which will happen in our lifetimes)

Except that records aren't dead. I'm not interested in looking up sales figures, but I'm certain that the market for new vinyl records is still alive. If it happens, I think it's more likely that the end of the physical book will be a result of the end of industrial civilization, than a result of its electronic apotheosis.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:22 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can't figure out what failing of books an e-reader is supposed to solve

Ctrl-F?

Disclaimer: I still buy books (just like I still buy LPs and 45s): used, new, hardcover, softcover. I buy a book if I want to keep it. I read an e-book just like I would a library book. And I LOVE library books.

I'm beginning to think that everyone who says that reading a digital book isn't the same as a conventionally printed book hasn't actually read many (or any) digital books.

The experience of reading on a phone vs. reading paper to me is almost one and the same. The pages are smaller and the bookmark is virtual, but I think our minds are flexible enough to adapt. (I'm not sure what it will do to our eyes though). The interfaces are also becoming more and more flexible to let readers customize the experience to their own preferences.

Maybe it just depends on what and how you read. I read long and short fiction, and don't see much difference. I'm not distracted by the fact that I can check my fantasy baseball scores on the same device. If I want to read, I read.

I do think that digital media will create a different class of readers and writers (just as every generation's technology does), but I don't think the experience itself discourages long reading.

Until you've really given both sides a shot though, you're really just another person who didn't read the article arguing based on the title of the post.

That's really it. Go read Infinite Jest the second time on an e-reader and tell us why it wasn't as good. Seriously.

Inline graphics also need to be improved. Tech manuals are tough to read on the Kindle.

Oh, most definitely. When I claim reading e-books is the same as reading printed books, I'm talking about text-only books. Images are one of the big reasons printed books will never go away.

It also makes me blind with rage that people who obviously read very little are going to drive books out of existence.

All the people downloading Beyonce and Kings of Leon as background music haven't put much of a damper on the number of good new bands out there.

But I read mostly real books, because I can get those from the library. When the equivalent experience exists for e-books, I'll switch.

...

"you can get old books for free and therefore it's great"

You can get most books for free, and therefore it's great.

Most of the world does not have lending libraries available and physical books are very expensive.

This a million times. All books will be digitized, whether you want them to be or not, so that information can be shared. OCR technology isn't that expensive, and crowdsourcing makes transcription possible too.

I see what you're saying, but my main objections would be around lendability and DRM.

epub = mp3

You can lend e-books as easily as you can lend digital music. If this site didn't frown upon, I could send you a link to my Dropbox folder with a small electronic library with epubs that works on most devices or Windows/Mac/Linux/Blackberry/Android/iOS software.

I'm very curious to see what happens to the literary world when ebook file-sharing blows up. The book world right now is still almost like the pre-napster recording industry. Information is free, whether it wants to be or not.

Winter is coming, publishing industry.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:23 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


While I'd argue that, at least for the time being, paper is still the superior medium, I don't see why we need paper books in order to be educated, intellectual, or live the "life of the mind." The content is what's important, not the technology through which it is delivered.

If the technology enhances (or diminishes) the content in some way, then it becomes relevant, but that's not generally the case when arguing books vs. e-reader vs. reading on my laptop.
posted by asnider at 9:26 AM on June 27, 2011


Yeah, see, I love books. I loooooooove books. I also love to read, and I have small hands, and two small children. I can read my Kindle one-handed, while breastfeeding or knitting. I can read my Kindle while working out, which I can't do with a paper book. And I can slip my Kindle, with its hundreds and hundreds of books, into my diaper bag or purse, and know that I'll have something to read wherever I go. Getting to the bookstore unencumbered by the children is actually quite difficult, and getting to the bookstore encumbered by the children is not particularly satisfying, but with the Kindle, I can have a new book ready to read in a minute. I have tons of children's stories on the Kindle; I am always ready for "Mommy, read me a story."

On the other hand: ain't no used books for the Kindle. The "lending" function is a bad joke. I will never buy knitting books or photography books or cookbooks for the Kindle, because that's just not how I use the device. And I can't read my kindle in the bubble bath, because the chance is too high that I'll drop it in the water.

On the gripping hand, my favorite "chocolate-chip-muffin" books (sold as science fiction, but they're really romance novels) just released alllll their old novellas, which have been out of print for years, as $3 ebooks. So that's kind of a win.
posted by KathrynT at 9:26 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure that every record collector looks at the ipod generation with tears in their eyes.

Nope. I looked at it as the same way I looked at 8-tracks, then cassettes, then CDs:

There is a temporary period when everyone says "records are dead!" and throws out their own records. That is the time to keep your eyes peeled.

Then after a little bit, everybody remembers how wicked cool records are and starts releasing ridiculous concept packages ... until the next new format comes out and everyone says "records are dead!" ...

I actually mourned the CD revolution more, because that actually affected the production of LPs, i.e. mainstream artists stopped making them. I don't think MP3s have had that effect, at least not yet. I'd say as many or more artists make records now as they did in 1995.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:28 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love my Kindle and read a good mix of electronic and physical books. (Physical is often the only option; physical book is sometimes cheaper; etc.)

People who are attacking this article as though it's GENERIC_TECHNOPHOBIC_EDITORIAL_31557 are not reading carefully.
I'm not against e-books in principle – I'm tempted by the Kindle – but the more they become interactive and linked, the more they multitask and offer a hundred different functions, the less they will be able to preserve the aspects of the book that we actually need. An e-book reader that does a lot will not, in the end, be a book. The object needs to remain dull so the words – offering you the most electric sensation of all: insight into another person's internal life – can sing.

So how do we preserve the mental space for the book? We are the first generation to ever use the internet, and when I look at how we are reacting to it, I keep thinking of the Inuit communities I met in the Arctic, who were given alcohol and sugar for the first time a generation ago, and guzzled them so rapidly they were now sunk in obesity and alcoholism. Sugar, alcohol and the web are all amazing pleasures and joys – but we need to know how to handle them without letting them addle us.

The idea of keeping yourself on a digital diet will, I suspect, become mainstream soon. Just as I've learned not to stock my fridge with tempting carbs, I've learned to limit my exposure to the web – and to love it in the limited window I allow myself. I have installed the programme "Freedom" on my laptop: it will disconnect you from the web for however long you tell it to. It's the Ritalin I need for my web-induced ADHD. I make sure I activate it so I can dive into the more permanent world of the printed page for at least two hours a day, or I find myself with a sense of endless online connection that leaves you oddly disconnected from yourself.
The objection is to "the e-book reader that does a lot." The idea is that, if the reading platform has Internet access and tons of convenient features, it will be a distraction engine just like the PC. Rather, as we cope with ever denser and faster streams of electronic noise, we will have to plan and work to carve out islands of slow time. This can be accomplished with old-style books, but also with dumb e-readers where Internet distractions don't beckon (I like the adjective "autistic" for this), and computer programs like "Freedom." Far from predicting doom and decline, the author optimistically predicts that we will come to solve the distraction problem by intentionally carving out slow time.
posted by grobstein at 9:30 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


sonascope wins the thread.
posted by troll at 9:32 AM on June 27, 2011


Seriously, guys, we get it. You LOOOOOOOOOOOVE physical books.

The sarcasm suggests that, in fact, you do *not* get it at all.


Then try telling me again how much you like the feel and smell and sound of the paper, how nothing on an e-reader "feels right", how satisfied you are gazing upon your shelves and shelves of books, and the pleasure of watching a "to read" stack physically go down (except it doesn't because you just add more to it!), of how wonderful it is to hold THE copy of 'A Wrinkle in Time' that absorbed 11-year old you that rainy day, of how you can make notes in the margin and then com back and appreciate your own thoughts years later, how awesome it is to discover a hidden bookmark (maybe money!) in an old favorite, the satisfaction of owning a first edition or otherwise rare copy of a beloved novel, of...

...because maybe the umpty-jillion other times it just whizzed right past me and I still don't GET IT get it.
posted by Legomancer at 9:34 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ah, the smell of a well-worn used book, or, as it's called in the publishing business, the smell of an author not getting paid.

But the author *did* get paid. How the fuck often do they want paying?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:35 AM on June 27, 2011


I don't own an e-reader. I see the appeal. I love the idea of being able to cart around numerous books on nothing larger than the size of a writing pad.

But....it's going to be hard for me to change over to e-books, because as it currently stands, this is another example, IMHO, of citizens ceding power to corporations. Link to NYT article about Amazon erasing books from people's Kindles. I sure would be p***ed if I logged onto my computer one morning and found software programs from my computer (that had been purchased legally!) had been removed without my consent from the software publisher.
posted by bonzo_dog55 at 9:37 AM on June 27, 2011


how wonderful it is to hold THE copy of 'A Wrinkle in Time' that absorbed 11-year old you that rainy day

Pretty fucking wonderful.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:39 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not ceding anything to anyone when we use Calibre to back up and convert our ebooks to a device agnostic format. ::shrug:: Then again not everyone will go to that trouble.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:40 AM on June 27, 2011


I don't want to derail, but I'm curious about the ethical objections to downloading unauthorized literary content.

What's the difference between downloading a pirated e-book and buying a used copy?

What's the difference between downloading a pirated e-book and borrowing a copy from the library?

In the former case, I realize that purchasing a used book adds money to the re-seller, who may then put that money into a new book, but the money is not directly contributable to the artist or publisher, nor does she get any recognition (there is no "best-selling used-books list" that anyone cares about).

In the latter case, does the artist receive a royalty based on how many times a book is checked out from a library? If I download it without authorization instead, I am making the physical copy available for a person who does not have an electronic reading device, which is a positive, but the author receives no recognition or compensation, which is obviously a negative.

this is another example, IMHO, of citizens ceding power to corporations. Link to NYT article about Amazon erasing books from people's Kindles.

And then there's that. Nineteen Eighty-Four was written in ... 1948. It is 2011! I don't even want to get into that ridiculousness.

Smack me down if this derail is too contentious (I believe artists and publishers should be compensated), but I am curious that downloading unauthorized digital music seems to be much more acceptable here than downloading unauthorized digital books. Why is it galling that "Happy Birthday" isn't free, but not galling that "Nineteen Eighty-Four" isn't?

Or are all the other pirating book downloaders lurking in the shadows?
posted by mrgrimm at 9:42 AM on June 27, 2011


I read sixty-or-so novels a year, and I love my nook. Right now, I'm reading a bunch of paper books, because I got them for free at BEA, but I'd be hard-pressed to tell you which books I've read in the past year in paper form and which in electronic. As time goes by, I'm seeing where my eReader will become useful as a way to tell which books are worth buying in hard copy and which aren't: the ones i want to turn back to, quote extensively, whose covers I love, which were as much visceral reading experiences as entertainment, will be the ones I buy copies of after reading as eBooks.

But that's not most books. Most books, I just move and read on.

Ironically, I'm writing a sci-fi novel right now set on a generation ship where there's a dead tree library, because at one point the government destroyed data as a means of controlling the people, and all that's left is some dead dude's dead tree collection. I understand the need for paper books, the way that they'll endure in places where technology is precarious and precious. But that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate a device that has facilitated my reading experience generally.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:46 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


The claim that the "waste" from paper making is incinerated is clearly one made by someone unaware where a bag of mulch comes from.

He was talking about "wastage", which does actually get incinerated.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:52 AM on June 27, 2011


If you read a book with your laptop thrumming on the other side of the room, it can be like trying to read in the middle of a party, where everyone is shouting to each other. To read, you need to slow down.

...I have been thinking about this because I recently moved flat, which for me meant boxing and heaving several Everests of books, accumulated obsessively since I was a kid. Ask me to throw away a book, and I begin shaking like Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice and insist that I just couldn't bear to part company with it, no matter how unlikely it is I will ever read (say) a 1,000-page biography of little-known Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar.

...I'm not against e-books in principle – I'm tempted by the Kindle – but the more they become interactive and linked, the more they multitask and offer a hundred different functions, the less they will be able to preserve the aspects of the book that we actually need. An e-book reader that does a lot will not, in the end, be a book. The object needs to remain dull so the words – offering you the most electric sensation of all: insight into another person's internal life – can sing.


Okay, so this opinion is based on someone with ADHD and hoarding issues (I hate to get rid of favorite books, too, but this author apparently never gets rid of any book, ever), who apparently has never even used an e-reader, and the argument is that e-readers are bad because they offer *more* than books?

I've read books in the quiet of the night after everyone's asleep and in the middle of a crowded cafe, books of both digital and dead-tree variety, and it's no harder to concentrate on the one than the other. The differences are that, with an e-reader (like my iPad), I don't have to turn on a lamp because I can see the book just fine in the dark; if I'm using the Kindle app and I come across an odd word choice, I can click on the word right there and see the dictionary definitions for alternate meanings; and I can make the font as big as I need to so that I don't have to squint to read it, wear "readers" or try to find a Large Print edition (I'm over 40, just wait, your eyes will fail you, too).

If anything, reading on my iPad makes it easier to keep from being distracted, for the reasons mentioned above. I completely disagree that books draw your undivided attention because the interface is dull. That's just crazy talk.
posted by misha at 9:55 AM on June 27, 2011


So...Nook Simple or Kindle?
posted by madajb at 9:56 AM on June 27, 2011


But....it's going to be hard for me to change over to e-books, because as it currently stands, this is another example, IMHO, of citizens ceding power to corporations

Um, are you aware that you can put any text file you want on your e-reader? Including stuff from Lulzsec or samizdat or octopus erotica or whatever? And that this is leading to an explosion of direct author-to-reader distribution of books, bypassing the media conglomerates entirely? Whatever this represents, it's not "ceding power to corporations." (And no, Amazon can't delete non-Kindle-Store content even theoretically, as far as I know.)
posted by nasreddin at 10:01 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why the notion of the olfactory sensation of a paper book is always so galling to the e-reader loyalists, and such a rich source of mocking, sarcastic critiques.

Perhaps it could be related to the fact that every time eReaders are discussed, there is always a group of people that give off the distinct impression that they spend significantly more time inhaling the fumes coming off of their physical books than actually reading them?

Look, I'm not an "e-reader loyalist" -- and in fact, I think using such terms is missing the point entirely. First and foremost, I am a reader. I enjoy reading. For much of my life, print media was the only option, and so that's what I used. Now, there is a new option that allows me to read the same content via a medium that offers significant (to me) benefits. Does this mean I suddenly never want to read a physical book again? No. And if, for other people, there isn't an obvious benefit to eBooks, that's fine -- keep reading physical books.

But the fact that "it smells nice" comes up so frequently in these discussions is hard not to notice. And, well, I'm sorry if it really is such a huge deal to some people, but it has always struck me as the most absurd argument for print media that is possible.

It is precisely type of argument I (and I suspect, others) are talking about when we speak of the fetishization of books. We're not talking about sexual fetishes -- the use of the word "fetish" in relation to sexuality is not the original meaning of the word, nor is it even the only common modern usage. We're talking about literally treating the physical object (the book) as having power or meaning all on its own, without any regard to the content within.

I get that people have differing opinions on the subject, and I'm not begrudging anyone theirs (though if your argument for printed books is primarily olfactory, I'm not really taking you particularly seriously, sorry). For me, though, it comes down to this: books exist to allow information (of all types -- fiction, non-fiction, historical, philosophical, etc) to flow from one person to (hopefully many) others. That's what makes them magical. How they accomplish that -- via paper, or e-ink, or audio recordings, etc -- is not even close to what makes them important.
posted by tocts at 10:02 AM on June 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


I like both so fuck all y'all hugs for everybody!
posted by everichon at 10:04 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, you were actually trying to make the argument that ebooks are more environmentally sound than paper books? It's such a fatuous idea that I thought you were trying to be witty. It's very easy to say amazing things about the delivery of ebooks as long as you're willing to ignore the cost of building the damn things to start with (to say nothing of their disposal).

That's what "incremental cost" means; the cost of the part after "building the damn things to start with."

After you've shipped one person a book on their Kindle, whatever that costs, delivering a second book to that person costs basically nothing. Sure, that initial cost is substantial, but you don't incur that cost over and over again, as you do with physical books. You pay for it basically once. The infrastructure is all sunk costs, the device is a sunk cost, in stark contrast to physical books, where all that infrastructure starts expensive and pretty much stays that way.

Sure, there's replacement costs, hardware upgrades and breakage sometimes in the ebook supply chain. But nothing even close to being on the same order as physical books, where the next one you make has to be made, bound and shipped in its entirety.

Seriously, I wouldn't rush to describe an argument as 'fatuous' when you don't know what all the words in it actually mean.
posted by mhoye at 10:17 AM on June 27, 2011


DU: "It also makes me blind with rage that people who obviously read very little are going to drive books out of existence. If you think a Kindle is even remotely close to a replacement for a book, you can't have actually read more than 10 real physical books ever.

You can't riffle ahead with one hand to see how long the chapter is while simultaneously reading along. You can't....ah, but why go on. The goddamn march of progress.
"

It makes me blind with rage that people make assumptions like these.

I started reading when I was 4, and I read voraciously. The librarians at our library used to think I was "playing" at reading when they'd see me check out a book. So, just to show them I could, I read the entire children's section of my library before I turned 13. Every. Single. Book. They started giving the new ones to me as soon as they came in.
I also read very quickly.*
I own many, many books, and hate to part with the ones I have read over and over because they are like old friends.

I also have an iPad, and I love to read books on it. It's convenient to carry around, I can keep multiple books on it at once or download at a moment's notice when I finish one book and want to start another.

For instance, I have read, in the last two weeks, the first three Game of Thrones books and I'm 45% through the fourth.

I know that's how far I am, by the way, DU, because on my iPad, it tells me how far I am in the book, by page number and percentage. I CAN also see how long it is to the end of the chapter if I want, because there are these little dots on the bottom of the screen that correspond to pages, and I can push them to turn pages until I get to the end of the chapter, much like, I dunno, riffling through pages.

I can read in the dark, as mentioned above, with bigger print, etc.

I feel like you are criticizing something you really have no experience with, and that annoys me almost as much as your patronizing (and fallacious) opinion of people who use e-readers.

*I only know this objectively because I took a speed-reading class in high school as an elective. Students were given a test to find our initial reading speed, as ~250 wpm (seems really slow to me, but anyway) is considered average. I tested at ~750 wpm back then. I read, casually, ~1500-1750 wpm now (I can scan non-fiction faster if I need to thanks to the speed reading training, but with fiction I like to linger over the author's descriptions, so I take my time).
posted by misha at 10:25 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


tocts: But the fact that "it smells nice" comes up so frequently in these discussions is hard not to notice.

It's become something of a cliche in these discussions. And while it's invoked, as pointed out above, to indicate not just smell but physicality, the argument that goes along with it is an appeal to tradition and sentimentality, often coupled with the snide accusation made multiple times above that such tradition and sentiment are necessary for true literacy.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:26 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why the notion of the olfactory sensation of a paper book is always so galling to the e-reader loyalists, and such a rich source of mocking, sarcastic critiques. The scent of a book is just a shorthand for the presence of a book. A book is an object, and an idea, and the idea within the object is accessible by a system of physical interaction that works very, very well. Why's that so offensive and worthy of derision to people who prefer e-books?

Because it marries the symbol with what it represents, even if that isn't the only way to go. It's like being against electric cars because it doesn't feel like driving if you can't smell the exhaust and gasoline. While such physical memories can remind us of the higher ideals of what they represent, gasoline is not freedom, and paper is not knowledge.

There are plenty of excellent reasons not to like ebooks. DRM, digital divide issues, destruction of local bookstores, the frailty of digital media, the fact that the typography blows on a lot of the titles, that anything more complicated that simple print is done poorly. But the discussions eventually all revolve around the fact that ebooks don't smell like paper, as if the smell of book had anything to do with the way it imparts information.
posted by zabuni at 10:26 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: It makes me blind with rage
posted by Horselover Phattie at 10:26 AM on June 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


as it currently stands, this is another example, IMHO, of citizens ceding power to corporations.

That argument is exactly backwards. You have wildly more freedom in deciding what texts go onto your e-reading device of choice than you do in deciding what gets published in hardcover.
posted by mhoye at 10:26 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Slack-a-gogo: ...CD's are being phased out and being replaced with digital. They're not going away as fast as some feared/wished/predicted, but they will be going away. Once the market accepts digital books in large enough numbers the shift will happen there too. I don't believe books will go away in my lifetime, but at some point soon it will be harder to find a a physical copy of many new books. And soon after that it will be impossible.

TypographicalError: This is not the right comparison, because CDs are digital, which means that the information contained on one is literally the same as the information which is contained on a computer file. A better comparison is to vinyl, which is an analog format and continues to be produced in limited quantities for albums for which it is appropriate.

I expect that books will act more like vinyl in the future than CDs, since books (although they contain the same information as a file) have extraneous properties which make them attractive to some eccentrics.


I'm definitely in the 'eccentric' bin when it comes to CD's. Sure, I sync all of my music, but a digital album without a folding, color counterpart on my shelf is not meaningful to me-- it's like a ghost. I'm especially pleased with the current, cardboard movement for packaging. Yes, it means a lot to me to touch the art, even to smell it. Get off my motherfuckin lawn.

Nothing is necessarily ephemeral- there are 8-track junkies in our midst, and a New England metal label has recently put out some cassette-only releases.

In this age, we all can find, and make, niches. Why all the bitching?
posted by herbplarfegan at 10:35 AM on June 27, 2011


READYNGE IS ONLY AUTHENTICK IF TIS 'SCRIBED BY T'AUCTORS HANDE. SOCHE PRYNTNGE OF TYPES WILL LEAD TO DIſſIPATION AND ſEDITION, MARK ME
posted by everichon at 10:37 AM on June 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


READYNGE IS ONLY AUTHENTICK IF TIS 'SCRIBED BY T'AUCTORS HANDE. SOCHE PRYNTNGE OF TYPES WILL LEAD TO DIſſIPATION AND ſEDITION, MARK ME

A long S used to start a word? Ye gods! A forger in our midst!
posted by griphus at 10:39 AM on June 27, 2011


ſHUT UP YOU
posted by everichon at 10:42 AM on June 27, 2011 [19 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "personally, the reason I prefer a book is because the Kindle and all other e-readers are, for me, cost-prohibitive. "

You probably thought the same about a computer once, yet now you obviously either have one, or have access to one, right? Seems to me that in the future, the cost of e-readers will go down. And you know, if you can afford a computer, you CAN afford an e-reader, but it is not a priority to you. If, however, the e-reader was the only way to access the things you want to read, it would move up on your list, I'm sure.

By the way, I am not arguing that e-readers will replace books completely. Look at land-line phones. Most of us still have them in our homes, though cell phones are readily available and have become default for much of the population at this point. So I think paper books will still be around in a hundred years, etc., though my kids disagree.

An interesting side-note (to me, at least), is that the white pages are being discontinued because so few people use their phones as a primary means of communication; the accepted default now is email. So not being able to afford things doesn't mean you won't have access to one. We still have low incomes, and yet apparently access to email is at least as available as access to a phone these days.
posted by misha at 10:53 AM on June 27, 2011


You probably thought the same about a computer once, yet now you obviously either have one, or have access to one, right? Seems to me that in the future, the cost of e-readers will go down. And you know, if you can afford a computer, you CAN afford an e-reader, but it is not a priority to you.

....Your point being?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:55 AM on June 27, 2011


A long S can be used to start a word; the real problem there is the doubled long S where he should have used one long and one short.
posted by nasreddin at 10:56 AM on June 27, 2011


Actually, let me clarify my point to you, misha:

And you know, if you can afford a computer, you CAN afford an e-reader

...Upon what do you base this assumption?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:57 AM on June 27, 2011


And why are you trying to convince me that I want an e-reader when I'm perfectly content without one?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:58 AM on June 27, 2011


My two cents.

I read a lot of academic papers. Most of these I read exactly once, so I feel kind of terrible printing them out. I additionally don't want to keep track of paper copies of these papers, so it's much easier to just read them digitally.

Over the last few years, during some key periods of high stress, I've found myself reading from computer screens until three a.m. for weeks on end. Three times this led to the development of styes which became chalazions (ie, hardened balls of pus embedded in my eyelid) which had to be removed surgically for about $350 a pop. (pun intended.)

So a few months ago I went on the hunt for the best e-reader I could find. I ended up with the Sony Daily edition for a number of reasons. The biggest is that it's support for pdf's is way better than the kindle, and is generally far less DRM'ed and Orwell-prone. It has the largest screen (other than the Kindle DX), which is essential for reading pdf's of math papers, and I can read it for hours and hours without eyestrain. (The touchscreen is also nice because I can mark things up a bit, though the sensitivity of the screen is low enough to make it look like a four year old went at the text with a crayon.)

Now, I've also been reading a good pile of fiction since I got it. It's wonderful for reading regular books... There are piles of problems - poor copyediting in e-books being the chief amongst them, as well as limits on available selection - but I believe with time that both of these issues will improve. They have nothing to do with the medium, and everything to do with the media that have been thus far ported over.

In short, I'm pretty much a convert.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:59 AM on June 27, 2011


While I'm at it, my dream device is a netbook-style laptop with an e-ink display on the reverse side of the lid (and some sturdy second cover for that). Basically, a computer that has a second e-reader display built in...
posted by kaibutsu at 11:05 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Read my whole post, EmpressCallipygos,please.

You made the point that the main reason you didn't have an e-reader was because they were "cost prohibitive". Cost prohibitive means that a solution is possible (e-reader) but the financial burden of it is significantly greater than the alternatives (books).

I am specifically addressing that issue: the costs of e-readers will go down as technology improves; if books become less available, their price will go up, and as e-readers become more readily available and technology improves, they will be lower-priced; and if you can afford a computer now (or laptop, etc.) you should be able to afford an e-reader at that time.
posted by misha at 11:07 AM on June 27, 2011


Metafilter: It's words. You want the words.
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:10 AM on June 27, 2011


We're already seeing the costs going down, too. I have a "Nook classic" which cost my husband $250 when it came out. Now, almost a year later, the latest gen nook is around $130.

Speaking of visceral pleasures, has anyone else tried one yet? I'd really like one. So lightweight, with a nice grain on the back. Feels like it replicates the papery feel of a book very nicely, without the weight or floppy pages.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:11 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am specifically addressing that issue: the costs of e-readers will go down as technology improves; if books become less available, their price will go up, and as e-readers become more readily available and technology improves, they will be lower-priced; and if you can afford a computer now (or laptop, etc.) you should be able to afford an e-reader at that time.

No, I got that. But that time has not yet come, so I have paper books now. I was talking about why I have paper books now, I was not talking about "whether I will still have paper books in 2032." I have no idea what I'll decide when the cost goes down, I can only tell you what I do now.

And I'm sure a lot of other peoples' choices are similarly nuanced, and all very valid for their own personal circumstances. Quite frankly, if people are happy with their e-readers, fantastic. I am happy if you're happy with your Kindle.

What I'm NOT happy with is when a Kindle user acts like their Kindle is superior to my book, and thus they have a moral high ground. Because that's just silly.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:13 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the notion of the scent of a book being important is just a shorthand for describing its physicality. For me, if I was to sum up why e-readers are, at this point, inferior to a paper book for my purposes, I'd explain it in terms of holding a paperback book with the binding in one hand as I fan through the pages with my other hand, looking for a specific passage in the book. There's a somatic, visceral awareness of the book as a unit in that gesture, a sense of the scale of the book as a tangible analogue, and there's the physicality in how I can regulate the speed and and detail of my scan by the simplest muscle movements and monitor the passage of the pages by the friction and texture sensed by the thumb that's moving those pages. I can certainly bring up the search function and awkwardly type out a set of search terms, but there's no approximation there, no ability to recognize a passage I want to reread by the shape and form of the text on the pages as they flicker by. You can't do this on an e-reader, not now and likely not ever, because it's something that the gee-whiz design teams, most of whom are young enough that they've spent more time in the sense-dulled space of screens and virtuality than with books.

Still, the olfactory sense is pretty tightly tied up into memory, more directly so than for most of our senses, and I think of the scent of a book as being something akin to the incense in a temple—an establishing presence to help put you into that perfect state of receptivity for reading. It's not an essential thing, to be sure, and it's likely to become less of one as e-readers sweep the marketplace, but it serves a purpose other than just being a sensory delight independent of reading. You pick up the book, there's a sense to it, a feeling, if it's a book you've read and treasured, and that sensation eases the transition into the fictional dream. The thing with physical books, though, is that, once that's established, they become invisible. They're a cultural artifact that's established, comfortable, natural, and functional for most of us.

You know that feeling you get when you're jarred out of a good story, when the train lurches or your dog commences to bark about some little thing or the phone rings, where you're catapulted out of the state of grace you fall into when the words start to carry you along? For me, the e-reader interrupts too often. I brush the little screen of obnoxiousness by accident, and zing, all the sudden, I've got a little multicolored light shining in my eyes. Every page turn gets me that black flash, unless I'm using a LCD-based reader, in which case the eye fatigue finally turns me out into a blurry, pink-tinted world. I suspect these will all get better, but we're being dragged along by the marketing departments before those things get better. I don't mind being an earlyish adopter, but Amazon is going to make us all into beta testers, alas.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but I'm going to miss the process and ritual of reading, as I miss the process and ritual of playing an LP, or the action of drafting on a slanted board. All that's just the process. The fact that the next generation won't be able to pass down a treasured book to a loved one with something more vivid and present than being told that $25 was donated in their name to some charity is a little sad to me.
posted by sonascope at 11:14 AM on June 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


A few comments -

--I've owned many thousands of books in my lifetime, and have jettisoned thousands as well. All the people who talk about moving and getting rid of books? I do it even when I'm not moving. There's a point after which having so many of the things that I can't turn around is hoarding.
--I'm nearly sixty. Books aren't as well made as they were when I was a kid, and they weren't made all that well then, either. It is rare for most books to last that long. They get mold. They get foxed. Beetles eat the pages. I used to work in a conservation department, and it's not easy to keep books in good shape. Think roof leaks. Think floods.
--I've owned, discarded, and bought a number of books over and over again because they wore out. That lovely smell of the paper? It's oxidation. The paper is combining with the oxygen in the air, actually burning slowly, and the pages will disintegrate in your hands. I have author's copies of the two books I published twelve years ago. They're falling apart even though I haven't touched them.
--I'm such a reader that my only child was permanently warped, is getting a Ph.D. in English, and has a house full of books not including the wall-full she left behind when she moved out. She has a Kindle. My husband has a Kindle. I have two Kindles but I mostly read on my iPad.
--I read three novels on my phone on the plane to New Zealand.
--I listen to the utopians at my school who say that technology will supersede reading, and I wonder if, because of global warming, we will have to face up to the immense amount of power (and therefore fuel) our Internet and wireless technology expends and what it's doing to the environment. Do I think reading will become obsolete? I suspect not.
--I can't count on ANYTHING lasting forever. Anything. The Library of Alexandria burned. Borders has closed my favorite location. The world may end. Many of the Important Books of my childhood are now just unreadably awful. Meanwhile, I just conducted my annual re-reading of Pride and Prejudice. On my iPad. Yeah, I read Paradise Lost in paper form and underlined and annotated the heck out of it, which is helpful, but you know what, my colleagues in the English Department are amused that I like it so much.
posted by Peach at 11:16 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Still, the olfactory sense is pretty tightly tied up into memory, more directly so than for most of our senses, and I think of the scent of a book as being something akin to the incense in a temple—an establishing presence to help put you into that perfect state of receptivity for reading.

This argument always cracks me up a little because I'm a very smell-driven person and so many old books smell bad. Like those crusty paperbacks that smell like poop. You know what I mean.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:17 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


This argument always cracks me up a little because I'm a very smell-driven person and so many old books smell bad. Like those crusty paperbacks that smell like poop. You know what I mean.

Hardcover too. I wonder if anyone can explain this smell.
posted by grobstein at 11:21 AM on June 27, 2011


You know what I mean.

I get that, because I have a manual typewriter that I coveted and chased after for ages, and when I got it, found that it had a certain quality to its scent that made me completely unable to use it as a writing tool. And man, what a touch this thing has...just buttery and celestial, but yeah, I can't get past that aspect of it. It's stored in my closet, packed with sachets of baking powder and fresh herbs, in the hopes that one fine day, it'll be right with the world.
posted by sonascope at 11:23 AM on June 27, 2011


In the latter case, does the artist receive a royalty based on how many times a book is checked out from a library?

In the UK, yes they do. I don't think they do in the USA, but I wouldn't stake my life on it.

Of course, even if they don't, librariess have to buy one or more copies of the book, so the author makes money that way (so reading a library copy vs downloading an e-copy would help the author slightly, because the library is presumably more likely to buy more of their works).
posted by Infinite Jest at 11:24 AM on June 27, 2011


> Like those crusty paperbacks that smell like poop. You know what I mean.

> Hardcover too. I wonder if anyone can explain this smell.


It might actually be a poop smell, if the previous owner read it on the can, and left it in there for that purpose.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:26 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


These threads always turn into a dick waving contest about how literate and book loving we all are.
posted by Summer at 11:27 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi said This argument always cracks me up a little because I'm a very smell-driven person and so many old books smell bad. Like those crusty paperbacks that smell like poop. You know what I mean.

Your nose is not everyone's nose. Let's not resort to disputing the objectivity of phenomena.
posted by troll at 11:29 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sure, that initial cost is substantial, but you don't incur that cost over and over again, as you do with physical books. You pay for it basically once.

Or once, until the new Kindle comes out. Or the old one is lost or broken. But let's not lose sight of the point you were making. You asserted that using a Kindle is more environmentally sound than reading a physical book ("Do you know how much oil you book lovers are burning?!"). So prove it. I'm skeptical that the environmental costs associated with the production and delivery of Kindles are significantly less than the production and delivery of physical books. Add in the cost of disposing of Kindles (a machine with a much shorter lifespan than the average physical book) in an environmentally benign way at a 1:1 Kindle: person ratio and I am deeply skeptical of any claim that ebooks are less environmentally costly than physical publishing.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:30 AM on June 27, 2011


These threads always turn into a dick waving contest about how literate and book loving we all are.

Then again, maybe the poop smell is from threadshitting.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:30 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: you don't get to hold the reins and have a horse ass pointed at you for the whole trip.
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:33 AM on June 27, 2011


Hardcover too. I wonder if anyone can explain this smell.

I used to work in periodicals, and I noticed the smell (more "barnyard manure" than "human poop") was particularly strong in some new academic journals, such as (no joke intended) the Journal of Groundwater.

I always guessed it had to do with the sealant on the pages (or whatever it's called) but I dunno. I've noticed it more with new hardback books.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:34 AM on June 27, 2011


These threads always turn into a dick waving contest about how literate and book loving we all are.

I come for the literature, but I stay for the dick waving.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:35 AM on June 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


eDicks don't really offer the same aesthetic waving experience.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:38 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Moby Dick waving, I think you mean.

AWWWW YEAHHHH
posted by everichon at 11:40 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also.
posted by everichon at 11:46 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm skeptical that the environmental costs associated with the production and delivery of Kindles are significantly less than the production and delivery of physical books.

I don't think electronic texts will be replacing physical books any time soon, but it would be interesting to see a comparison of this. I have a feeling that the transport of all the tonnes of books is no small thing. And then you put them in large climate controlled shops and libraries. Of course you've got climate controlled shops for the ebook readers, but in terms of square footage the books would be using more. Would you include newspapers too? That's a lot of paper, too to be printed, transported, then discarded.

There have probably been some numbers run on all of this. My feeling is the less transport trucks we have driving around using fossil fuels the better, but that's only a surface level view and if we look at the production of the ebook we would start seeing some other costs.
posted by ODiV at 11:50 AM on June 27, 2011


I'd say that the reason that Amazon and B&N have had the success with their offerings is by designing and pitching the device at bibliophiles rather than technophiles.

This is a key insight. I loved books when I bought my Kindle. Owning a Kindle has only made me love books - both digital and analog ones - more. I genuinely value their respective charms more than I did before I discovered the Kindle.

I have as much claim to being a book junkie as almost anyone I know, except perhaps my coblogger Tim and my buddy Adam. I've savored books as long as I've known. I studied English literature in college. I keep three books in circulation at any given time. I'm a founding member of a book club that's now six years old.

True story: When I lived in St. Pete, Florida, in 2003, my parents bought me a giant, ultra-heavy mahogany bookcase as a gift. The bookcase was so large it barely fit in the U-Haul we used to move my stuff to California in 2004, so large the movers had to use a crane to get it in the truck to move my stuff to Minneapolis in 2005. So large that when it cracked and broke because I'd piled too many books on top of it, we just left it braced against the wall for months until my most recent cross-country move to DC. Then we finally tossed it out.

True story: When I moved to Uptown Minneapolis in 2005, a Borders had just opened four blocks up the street. Facing it on the opposing block were two independent bookstores - Booksmart and Magers & Quinn. I thought they were screwed. I assumed I'd see the classic story play out once again - giant chain store pushes out cozy mom-and-pop. I vowed to support those bookstores as much as I could, for as long as I could. For the rest of my time in Minneapolis, I stopped in at least once a week and always left with an armful of purchases. (Hence the overloaded bookcase.) Booksmart and Magers & Quinn are still alive and well. Borders closed less than a year after I arrived. I might have danced on its ashes.

Moving days have always been among the worst days of my life. And the toll of moving three times in as many years only underscored that pain. By the time I was relocating to DC, I was well on the way to hating my books. I had gotten rid of so many books - selling them, lending them, giving them away - but when I packed them up, they seemed to multiply. When I arrived in DC, the book boxes took up so much room in my new apartment that I had no place to put my dining table.

I ordered three Crate & Barrel bookcases to replace the one giant mahogany disaster that had fallen apart. Even after I'd filled their shelves, half of my book boxes remained full. At that point I was just done. More than half of my books were going away. And I was happy about this. I weeded my library with relish, discarding all the books I'd never read, didn't care to read again, liked but didn't love, or loved but had outgrown.

The books left on my shelves were the ones I truly valued as physical artifacts. Books that represented me, whose pages spoke to me. They were personal, treasured and rare, the way I imagine books might once have been. There's MeFi's favorite - Infinite Jest, a book that changed my life. The Complete, Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Bill Watterson's three-volume hardcover Calvin & Hobbes collection. Judt's Postwar. Powers' Problem from Hell. The highlights of my literary life.

Meanwhile, back in December 2008, I bought myself a first-generation Kindle. And few pieces of technology have been as magical to me. In Paris, I was able to carry three travel guides and two memoirs of the city (Adam Gopnik's and Ernest Hemingway's) in my little bag everywhere I went, searching all the books at once for mentions of whatever arrondisement I happened to be in. In Amsterdam, when my iPod battery was dead, I plugged my headphones into my Kindle and had it read my book to me aloud while I jogged through the Vondelpark and around the city. When I had to read 1,000 pages worth of newspaper articles for a fellowship project, I merely emailed the document to my Kindle, and there it was, my highlights and annotations serving as an index to the piece. Wherever I was, whenever I finished a book, the next one was there waiting.

I've bought every generation of the Kindle since, and have given several away as gifts.

And I continue to buy physical books, and give them away as gifts as well. But there's a difference - the only books I'm willing to buy today are those that I will treasure as physical artifacts. The other day, for example, I gave my friend a copy of the gorgeous Codex Seraphinianus, purchased from a seller in Italy. For my sister I recently bought The Art of Looking Sideways. Two weeks ago I got myself a pop-up book called White Noise.

As many have said in this thread, e-books don't signal the end of books any more than cars signaled the end of horses. But I suspect e-books may make tree-books rarer and more precious. It's hard not to think of this as a good thing.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 11:55 AM on June 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I love my Kindle. I also love my 1,200-or-so books (used to have >5k but had to pare the collection down when I immigrated). I don't see any need to choose.

I am curious that downloading unauthorized digital music seems to be much more acceptable here than downloading unauthorized digital books. Why is it galling that "Happy Birthday" isn't free, but not galling that "Nineteen Eighty-Four" isn't?
posted by mrgrimm at 11:42 AM on June 27


The thing with 1984 was that people who had purchased the book had it removed unexpectedly by Amazon from their Kindles. The concern that we're ceding control to big corporations is not related to pirating.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:56 AM on June 27, 2011


I haven't purchased an e-reader yet, mostly for traditional Jewish guilt reasons rather than philosophical ones (they are still expensive enough to where I feel bad spending that much money on a non-essential luxury item for myself based on my current financial/familial obligations).

Despite having never used one, I have no doubt as to there benefit, considering I am currently reading the new, nearly 800 page, hardcover tome on the history of ESPN. Good book so far, but there really is no way to read a book of that physical girth comfortably.
posted by The Gooch at 11:56 AM on June 27, 2011


a bit of background.
the most pleasant time of my work life was as a bookseller (retail and wholesale, corporate and independent.) i also took the 2 year plunge and earned an MLS (jack of all trades, Masters of Library Science.)
i own too many physical books and a Kindle. (we're talking about having no art on the walls because there are bookcases everywhere.)
if you love books you have a tendency to hoard them. sending 20 cartons of books from NYC back to the PNW after a year in the city bears this out.
why the Kindle works for me? the experience of reading on it is as pleasing and easy on the eyes as paper. it is not a back-lit monitor that makes reading long format narratives a short hop to eyestrain as the PC does. and yes you can carry a great chunk of your library with you in a light weight compact package.
some things and are not so good? mid-list and back-list fiction in electronic form is lacking. but this is also true of physical books. certainly you may be able to find them used, but if you don't know they exist, where will you look?
this is true of any proprietary format including physical books. if it ain't being made anymore you are not getting a new copy.
ideally the move from analog to digital would not orphan any creative works. (and i would be able to have my kids watch old Burns & Allen episodes on Netflix.)
the allusion to Ecotopia was interesting as the system was notable for the ambitious breath of available titles. (Banyan Tree Books edition pg 111-112.)
physical books are heavy, take up a great deal of space and deteriorate over time. i love them but a digital alternative is also welcome. a more comprehensive selection would be even better.
posted by BoZo555 at 12:14 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


When your Kindle can hold its charge for 2,879 years, I'll grant you that point.
posted by troll at 11:30 AM on June 27 [1 favorite +] [!]


To nit-pick - the date on that Chinese scroll is 868 AD - which makes it actually 1143 years old. I've seen manuscript codices from that period, but that's very impressive for paper (the dry environment of North-West China probably helped).

Survival is a serious concern for archives - that's why there isn't a rush to digitise and the pulp our historical records. (That, and the fact that there isn't money for archives to do anything). But while an individual digital copy may have less life than a single paper copy - digital copies can be copied over and over and over again - and be deposited all over the world with little effort, making for more robustness for surviving natural disasters -- the archives at Cologne couldn't survive that less-than-natural disaster; they are desparately trying to reconstruct them from digital images taken by researchers and stored off-site. That said, for survival over time, we need to start getting archivists and computer people talking to one another. Already, we are beginning to lose documents which are inherently digital - like spreadsheets - because in most institutions, computer people don't care about archiving for the 100-year spread, and many archivists don't know computers. (This is a bit biased - it's based on my experience working in an archive for an institution which has records going back to the 1300s, but where material since c2000 is being lost due to a complete lack of digital archiving. One archivist's idea of preserving a spreadsheet was to print it out which, of course, loses all of the information in the formulas.)

But for the average home library? Most books published in the 19th and 20th centuries disintegrate can disintegrate easily, due to the acidity of the paper; most people have no wish to preserve their books for more than a couple of years. If you think of the ereader being an aid to reading like a reading lamp, and the actual file as the book (which is more accurate than ereader=book), then you will see that files which are properly taken care of should last as long or longer than paper books. Your lamp needs charging, and may break and need to be replaced, but the books are still there.
posted by jb at 12:15 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lover of physical books and digital books reporting in.

I will always have shelves of books, because
1. some aren't now available in digital format and probably won't be in the near future (obscure/foreign language/OOP)
2. some are of a content or format which I don't want to experience digitally (art/antique Gothic font/leather binding)
3. I love having shelves of books to look at, walk along, select at random, pile around myself on the floor (and when I sit and gaze at my shelves, all these worlds stutter into existance for a nanosecond, almost subliminally).

I will always have digital books because
1. many books don't feature beautiful bindings
2. I simply don't have room for many more thousands of books
3. all of the convenience arguments mentioned earlier. And I believe many of the drawbacks will be addressed in time.

I have an iPad, which allows me access to all digital formats (sometimes after conversion, of course). I didn't want to be restricted by a company suddenly making a business decision that would lock me out of new purchases or delete old ones.

As to the experience, I find the iPad a bit heavy for reading onehanded for extended periods, but with the case, it opens like a book for twohanded reading. And the fact that it is not e-ink means I can read in bed with no other lights on and mr.likeso is undisturbed.

No, there is no ink/paper/glue/leather smell. But lately, I've caught myself thumbing/fingering at the top right of the iPad, trying to turn the page.
posted by likeso at 12:17 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing with 1984 was that people who had purchased the book had it removed unexpectedly by Amazon from their Kindles.

I understand that. My question is basically why not download Nineteen Eighty Four for free and not worry about DRM at all? I found a free epub download and was reading it on Calibre in about 5 minutes.

"O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast!"

The concern that we're ceding control to big corporations is not related to pirating.

Sure it is. It's the DRM that allows Amazon to do things like remove Nineteen Eighty Four from your Kindle.

Reading pirated e-book files with open-source reader software will cede less control to big corporations than using an official Kindle/Nook/iPad and DRM-ed files, no?
posted by mrgrimm at 12:22 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


To nit-pick - the date on that Chinese scroll is 868 AD - which makes it actually 1143 years old.

Good catch. I obviously read it as BCE somehow.
posted by troll at 12:24 PM on June 27, 2011


Bill Watterson's three-volume hardcover Calvin & Hobbes collection.

I heard this thing was a piece of crap w/r/t binding and general quality. Have I been misinformed?
posted by griphus at 12:26 PM on June 27, 2011


Sure it is. It's the DRM that allows Amazon to do things like remove Nineteen Eighty Four from your Kindle.

Mmm, not really. It's the fact that Amazon controls the platform and can cause it to execute specific and probably arbitrary code on it at their choosing that enabled this. This isn't the same issue as DRM.

And as for "metafilter has no problem with pirating music but does with books", who do you mean by Metafilter? I've heard a lot of anti-DRM opinions here but they're mostly pro fair use rather than pro-piracy. Some try to defend not paying for music but I hardly think they constitute the universal opinion of Metafilter, not by a long shot.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:29 PM on June 27, 2011


> Most books published in the 19th and 20th centuries can disintegrate easily,
> due to the acidity of the paper;

I hope it's not out of bounds to link here to my AskMe about transforming a paper book to e-format because of just this issue. It seems likely that a thread like this would have lots of participants with relevant knowledge and/or an opinion. (If it is out of bounds, sorry and delete away.)
posted by jfuller at 12:30 PM on June 27, 2011


Mmm, not really. It's the fact that Amazon controls the platform and can cause it to execute specific and probably arbitrary code on it at their choosing that enabled this. This isn't the same issue as DRM.

And what would you call that "specific and probably arbitrary code"? DRM? Potatoes v. potatoes.

they're mostly pro fair use rather than pro-piracy.

Again, potatoes v. potatoes. I don't see much difference between fair use and piracy. I suppose I define "criticism" and "scholarship" more broadly than most people. I'm surprised more life-long learners don't agree with me. ;)
posted by mrgrimm at 12:45 PM on June 27, 2011


And what would you call that "specific and probably arbitrary code"? DRM? Potatoes v. potatoes.

DRM is more specific than a general purpose vendor backdoor, but we'll let that one lie.

Again, potatoes v. potatoes. I don't see much difference between fair use and piracy.

Then you don't know what fair use is.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:52 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Most books published in the 19th and 20th centuries disintegrate can disintegrate easily, due to the acidity of the paper; most people have no wish to preserve their books for more than a couple of years.

This is key: paper before the 19th century was (like dollar bills today) made out of rags, not wood pulp, making it inherently much more durable and resistant to the passage of time (although, of course, also much more expensive). Perfectbound paperbacks were another technology that slashed the lifespan of books. Most books for the mass market today are unlikely to survive a quarter as long as an eighteenth-century book would.
posted by nasreddin at 12:53 PM on June 27, 2011


I suppose I define "criticism" and "scholarship" more broadly than most people.

Missed the significance of this, sorry. I wasn't referring to the quoting or derived work aspects of fair use, I was referring to the ability to shift copies of a purchased work onto other devices, still for one's own use, back it up, etc. I'll leave aside the inability to loan or resell a DRM'd asset, that one's a bit thornier.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:58 PM on June 27, 2011


The technophiles don't buy eBook readers, they buy tablet PCs as Jobs intended.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:02 PM on June 27, 2011


Nah, techophiles buy e-readers and tablets.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 1:11 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can I just have the memory of having read the book directly transcribed into my brain?

Oh wait. Now I'm just Dick-waving.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:15 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


...damn, wish I'd noticed that I was following a comment by Horselover Phattie with that. It's almost too perfect.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:18 PM on June 27, 2011


200 odd comments. About six of them acknowledge the existence of the article in the FPP, and they're pretty much ignored. The rest prefer the same tired debate about e-books vs. physical books. Did you know that that isn't what the article is about? It's pretty interesting, maybe you should read it.
posted by Kwine at 1:28 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, personally I did read it. And have nothing to add to what jscalzi and tbm said about it. Then got involved in the ensuing discussion which, yes, digressed. Is that bad?
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:36 PM on June 27, 2011


Another issue I failed to mention: if your Nook or Kindle breaks, I'm assuming that you can re-download all your previous e-books for no additional charge, right? Pardon me for sounding cynical, but it seems to me that if Amazon and B&N figure out that the e-books are the new "cash cow", will they find ways to "continuously charge" for an e-book, in the same way that software companies might have you subscribe in order to keep using it? Just asking....
posted by bonzo_dog55 at 1:37 PM on June 27, 2011


> I'm assuming that you can re-download all your previous e-books for no additional charge, right?

Yep, you can read your Kindle purchases on several different devices now. I think it's up to four, and if you want to read a purchase on another device then you'll have to "de-authorize" a previously used device. The device is secondary; your Amazon Kindle account is primary.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 1:39 PM on June 27, 2011


if your Nook or Kindle breaks, I'm assuming that you can re-download all your previous e-books for no additional charge, right?

Yes. In fact, you can download them onto multiple devices simultaneously. The Kindle itself isn't even needed - I do most of my Kindle reading nowadays from my iPad and my Android phone. I get the impression that if Amazon could eventually ditch the Kindle hardware itself because everyone has some Kindle-compatible device, they probably would.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:40 PM on June 27, 2011


Did you know that that isn't what the article is about? It's pretty interesting, maybe you should read it.

We must have read different articles. The one I read was about how ereaders and anything other than paper books were "distracting" from the experience of reading. There isn't really anywhere else this discussion could go with that premise.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:42 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


200 odd comments. About six of them acknowledge the existence of the article in the FPP, and they're pretty much ignored. The rest prefer the same tired debate about e-books vs. physical books. Did you know that that isn't what the article is about? It's pretty interesting, maybe you should read it.

This was partially a result of the framing of the post and partially a result of Hari's own weird choice to emphasize the physicality of the book in question, which doesn't really seem relevant to his argument.


Another issue I failed to mention: if your Nook or Kindle breaks, I'm assuming that you can re-download all your previous e-books for no additional charge, right? Pardon me for sounding cynical, but it seems to me that if Amazon and B&N figure out that the e-books are the new "cash cow", will they find ways to "continuously charge" for an e-book, in the same way that software companies might have you subscribe in order to keep using it? Just asking....


Odd to see something that clearly constitutes a genuine advantage ebooks have get turned into an argument against them. I mean, does the publisher give you a free copy of a paper book if yours gets lost?
posted by nasreddin at 1:44 PM on June 27, 2011


I mean, does the publisher give you a free copy of a paper book if yours gets lost?

No, but a digital file costs nothing to produce, while a book has real costs.

Apple, meet orange.
posted by troll at 1:49 PM on June 27, 2011


> The one I read was about how ereaders and anything other than paper books were
> "distracting" from the experience of reading.

It's an actual issue but I would put up with it if I could have what I originally hoped for. Which is for portable game consoles to be the platform that won, so I could have all these various functions (phone, email, texter, browser, camera, surreptitious concert recorder/VCR, stylus notepad, e-reader, phaser) folded into my gameboy. I know they'd have to cut some corners to do all this and still make it affordable, so they can leave out the stun setting on the phaser.
posted by jfuller at 2:04 PM on June 27, 2011


I find ebooks entirely as absorbing as paper books, and I'm no more likely to switch to another task on the tablet than I am to put it -- or a book -- physically down and do something completely different. But then, I'm habituated to physical books, is is presumably everyone else here. Assuming ebooks become the norm, will children raised with multipurpose devices instead of physical books develop different attention habits?
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:11 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


We must have read different articles. The one I read was about how ereaders and anything other than paper books were "distracting" from the experience of reading. There isn't really anywhere else this discussion could go with that premise.

I don't think he was really arguing against ereaders as such, but the way he constructed the article wasn't helpful. It seemed like he was arguing against ubiquitous connectivity - or at least arguing that this was distracting, as you say.

"A book has a different relationship to time than a TV show or a Facebook update. It says that something was worth taking from the endless torrent of data and laying down on an object that will still look the same a hundred years from now". It seems to me that an ebook, or a pbook would equally fit this description, and that he'd be just as happy with either. But by beginning the article with talk of moving house and of the smell of books, he framed it in such a way that we are discussing those issues, rather than the idea of disconnecting, of going on a digital diet.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:23 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fuck paper. Really.

Be very wary of paper cuts.
posted by reynir at 2:23 PM on June 27, 2011


Assuming ebooks become the norm, will children raised with multipurpose devices instead of physical books develop different attention habits?

Now this is the question that is most interesting. Only time will tell of course, but haven't we already experienced the MTV effect on attention spans, for example?
posted by likeso at 2:35 PM on June 27, 2011


I hate to admit it, but Hari has a point about e-distractions. Before I hopped on the Kindle bandwagon and set up Google Reader (and joined Metafilter?), I read about 2 to 3 print books a week. Purchased all of them brand new at mostly chain brick and mortar stores. Unfortunately, because I'm an idiotically compulsive reader, I keep putting off book reading because I feel compelled to read All The Internets first, mostly by attempting to clear all my Google Reader unread items ("Mark all as read?" NEVER!) then refreshing Twitter and Tumblr.

There is definitely a shift in psychology for me. The Kindle makes it so easy to obtain books where it used to be a bit of an event before, and perhaps this ease causes me to take books for granted as I'll always be able to get one any time, anywhere. But I blame myself, not e-books or e-anything, nor will going back to print books solve the problem in that magical way Hari has described.

After I post this comment, as MeFi as my witness, I'm closing my laptop and retiring to the lounge chair to read the two Kindle books I purchased yesterday. I think. Don't anybody say anything interesting while I'm gone.
posted by peripathetic at 2:42 PM on June 27, 2011


With regards to free replacement, the publishers will more than make up for any losses there by eliminating used sales and acquirement by inheritance.
posted by ODiV at 2:50 PM on June 27, 2011


There are people who actually read in the shower? Really?

If I've understood it correctly, I think they just smell their books in the shower.
posted by martinrebas at 3:06 PM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


... Hari has a point about e-distractions.

But that point has nothing to do with whether you read paper books or Kindle books, is it?
posted by me & my monkey at 3:09 PM on June 27, 2011


er, does it?
posted by me & my monkey at 3:09 PM on June 27, 2011


Kwine: Well, having re-read the FPP three times, that's about what it comes down to. Hari spends a fair chunk of the article confusing device with medium with message. The punchline is here:

The object needs to remain dull so the words – offering you the most electric sensation of all: insight into another person's internal life – can sing.

I've actually spent a fair bit of time avoiding novels for the same reason that I avoid the Internet after a certain hour at night, I'll gleefully binge-read 10 hours at a stretch on a worknight, and there's a limited number of evenings I can get away with that. As Cory Doctrow (a stopped clock, correct this time) points out, people have been reading text of all lengths delivered by computers since they were invented.

As I've said above, I've not tried e-ink for Web browsing, but the Kindle has all the grace for minimal hypertext of a w3m session over a VT100 terminal. The Kindle is a device that's optimized for a single purpose: reading text one screen at a time. Everything else demands awkward and clumsy use of tiny, secondary, and sluggish controls. And those secondary functions just feed into the main purpose: reading text one screen at a time.

I'll make the argument that e-ink readers occupy similar niches in a post-PC world as internet radios, dumb VoIP office phones, mp3 players, game consoles, and DVR appliances. They are single-purpose appliances that may or may not use TCP/IP in the background. But, the Nook and Wifi Kobo have hidden HTTP clients that appear to be unreliable in use. Sony appears to be eschewing wireless connectivity for SD cards and USB. I'm not convinced e-ink devices are front-loaded with distractors now, or will be in the future.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:13 PM on June 27, 2011


I have to say that while my bare bones Kobo might be less distracting than your average ereader, I actually read ebooks in a far more focused, concentrated way than I read paper books, simply because the Kobo takes about a minute to start up, and it's not worth picking up to read just a few pages.

I keep paper books and magazines around which fill that particular niche of non-concentrated reading nicely, but I don't think I'm more distracted when reading my Kobo, simply because I know that if I set it down for any length of time I will have to go through the power up sequence. I reserve it for times (and books) that I am able and willing to devote considerable time to reading.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:23 PM on June 27, 2011


But that point has nothing to do with whether you read paper books or Kindle books, is it?

No, and I thought that was what I said. I agree with Hari that the buzzy internet does get in the way of book reading, but the book format is quite irrelevant to me. Whereas Hari appears to believe that we need to cling onto print books because they're less distracting, and less threatening to book reading. Sorry if I wasn't clearer.
posted by peripathetic at 3:32 PM on June 27, 2011


This argumenting is all fascinating and for naught. Everyone was predicting the decline of books due to e-readers 10 years ago. The decline is actually now occurring, not because some argument was won but simply because the technology is in fact good enough that many people prefer a Kindle to a physical book in at least some situations

Physical books will never truly disappear - they exist in cultural memory and as artifacts now. But whether it's 5 years or 15 years until people have rollable paper-thin color e-ink multi-touch reality augmenters, books as a popular medium for content distribution are done. Any non-digital device used to record, store or present information is or will very soon be part of history, or something kept for purely non-functional/aesthetic reasons. The sentimentality for them will remain long after all practical use is gone, and that's great

But uhh, the future's gonna be pretty cool. If version 1.0 isn't your thing, just remember DOS
posted by crayz at 3:32 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love actual books. I have them piled in my office, the garage and everywhere else that I fit them in the house. I endure the wrath of my wife and kids for owning so many books.

And I dream of one day owning a house big enough that I can dedicate one entire room to my "library" filled with all the books I've purchased and fought to hold onto.

That being said, I love the kindle. I take it everywhere. I read novels on it voraciously. And unless a book either isn't on kindle or has some visual elements that make it inappropriate for kindle, I will gladly buy it on a kindle.

The silly thing about all you ebook haters? The people who love ebooks the most are readers and book lovers just like you....with one addition. An open mind.
posted by cjets at 3:39 PM on June 27, 2011


You realise that the only way this argument can truly be won is by referencing increasingly obscure pieces of literature. Rules: 1. Canon only. 2. No Genre Fiction. 3. No Film Adaptations. 4. No Autobiographies.
posted by seanyboy at 3:46 PM on June 27, 2011


Just realised that made me sound like some kind of crazy version of Lodovico Settembrini. Doh!


... and point for ebooks.
posted by seanyboy at 3:50 PM on June 27, 2011


This thread is longer than some of the ebooks I've read this month.

I've got bookmarks on my Sony Reader, in Stanza & the Kindle apps on my iPod, a library book, and some other books sitting around the house. Hari's missing the point that anything can be made into a distraction, whatever format it's wearing.
posted by dragonplayer at 3:50 PM on June 27, 2011


Anyway the e-reader thing will be DECIDED by old eyes. The haters won't be able to keep up their hate when they realize it is an accessibility issue and they'll sulk quietly.

Actually it's already being decided by old eyes. One of the largest groups purchasing ebooks are the 50+ crowd. And as somebody well past the 50+ age, I love my Kindle and iPad.
posted by jgaiser at 4:10 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


But uhh, the future's gonna be pretty cool.


When I was in my 20s I thought this too. Now that I'm in my 30s I'm not so sure. The tech we invent is value neutral, most of the time, but the way we adopt it is not. And we tend to be a very thoughtless lot about how we adopt it (see cell phones interrupting everything).

I'm always weary when people proclaim that the only reason that things aren't awesome is that we don't have enough technology. That technology is the main way forward for civilization, that all atoms should be transformed to bits, that the future is shiny because of tech, that all information should be free all the time, that there should be no filter, that we should get everything right at the convenience of our own homes and never leave for anything, not to the bookstores, not to the library, that we will all achieve some glorious singularity once we're connected 24/7, that there isn't a problem in the world that can't be solved by the awesome power of the chip.

And that's kinda why I like paper books. They're not connected to anything and they don't do anything but be books. They are the same efficient thing they have been for centuries and they always work. They aren't screaming at me to be modern or up to date.
posted by Omon Ra at 4:20 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, the nice thing is that even as ebooks become more popular, it's now easier than ever to print a book.

This is bad for traditional book publishers, but not necessarily bad for books. My guess is that in the not-too-distant future, authors will write, illustrators will illustrate, editors will edit (perhaps on a freelance basis), and somebody whose job title isn't quite set yet will do the typesetting and formatting and digital output. And the result will be a range for formats, for e-reader devices and tablets, but also prepress files for digital printers.

Those who want an actual paper book will be able to go to a place with a printing machine and order up a single copy of the book they want, and in twenty minutes will have one. Or you'll be able to browse over to Amazon and order a copy.

The only thing that I really see ebooks threatening are mass-market, pre-printed books, of the type that need to have thousands or millions of copies to be economical, and the organizations that have built their business models so tightly around that paradigm that they're unable to let go of it. They're admittedly doomed.

Printed books will probably become more expensive, but this makes a certain amount of sense: why should cutting down trees, transforming them into paper, printing words on the paper, binding it into a book, and somehow getting it to you be cheaper than just shipping you the words in digital form? It won't. Books will be more expensive than ebooks, in the same way that getting an album on 180-gram vinyl is typically more expensive than getting it from the Amazon MP3 store. Such is life. Digital distribution is cheap (in part because the buyer pays for a chunk of the infrastructure).

On the plus side, the books that you'll be able to buy will probably be printed on much better paper, and will last much longer, than today's airport-bookstore brown pulp. Fewer books being printed, but the ones that do will be a lot less ephemeral.

Anyway, if you love printed books, I don't think there's any reason to fear and a lot to be excited about.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:52 PM on June 27, 2011


Kindle GRAR, DTB GRAR, GRAR GRAR ...

Pretty much a normal day at MeFi.
posted by bwg at 5:40 PM on June 27, 2011


DU... One of the greatest trolls I've seen on MetaFilter in a long time.

It was a troll, right?
posted by jgaiser at 5:59 PM on June 27, 2011


reynir: "Fuck paper. Really.

Be very wary of paper cuts.
"

And lemon juice.
posted by bwg at 6:04 PM on June 27, 2011


I make ebooks and ereader software for a living, so I'm glad I arrived after this thread spiraled into complete meltdown and now don't have to comment.
posted by nev at 7:39 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find it really hard to understand the impassioned anti-ebook sentiments sprinkled throughout this thread. I'm honestly not trying to be snarky: have you actually tried out a Kindle or other e-reader? Because they are awesome!

My parter and I both love to read and live in a home overflowing with years' worth of paper books. Running out of space. So a few months ago I got a Kindle and I love the thing.

The Kindle removes a lot of the convenience/access barriers to reading (in terms of discovering, acquiring and transporting books, not in terms of money). I've actually read much more since getting it and have discovered a number of classics I ordinarily wouldn't have gambled on buying. I use Calibre so I'm not limited to the Amazon store, and I admit I un-DRM and loan my purchased e-books to my partner to read on his Kindle, as I would share a physical book.

About the multitasking and distraction aspect, one "multitasking" feature I think is great is the built-in dictionary. I like looking up words on the fly without disturbing the flow of my reading.

I've not given up paper books 100% - paper books are just superior for some uses and presentation formats - but to imply that e-books and e-readers are somehow killing the Pure and Noble Art of Reading is just silly to me.
posted by asynchronous at 8:02 PM on June 27, 2011


I thought of another thing: can bed bugs live in an ereader? They sure can live comfortably in books and bookshelves.

Also, one great thing about dead tree books is that they can be stacked to make platforms or hold doors open or burned for warmth and energy. I've used books for all sorts of real life physics puzzles and I don't think anyone mentioned that aspect of books. I used Joyce to hold up my printer all through college and the works of Burroughs and Lewis to get some airflow under my laptop.
posted by fuq at 8:09 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find it really hard to understand the impassioned anti-ebook sentiments sprinkled throughout this thread.

Frankly I only see a tiny fraction of people absolutely hating e-readers and a huge amount of people viciously going against paper books in the thread. Maybe my perception is skewed since I prefer paper books, especially for longer works, over e-readers, but I'd say 85-90% of the people here are overtly pro e-readers.
posted by Omon Ra at 9:01 PM on June 27, 2011


It is entirely possible to be pro-ereader without being anti-book.

Most of the people on the thread who are defending ereaders are doing so defensively, against the fairly common attacks that they face for liking ereaders. That doesn't meant they hate books -- most of them confess to owning quite a large number of the things, actually.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:06 PM on June 27, 2011


Sigh. I'll miss used bookstores. One of the world's wonderful smells. Sitting on the floor cross-legged reading cheap horror comics. Finding the exact edition of "I Claudius" I'd had in school...
posted by Trochanter at 9:48 PM on June 27, 2011


I hope "real" books die out completely. I have the patent on coffee e-readers.
posted by rdhogan7713 at 10:23 PM on June 27, 2011


I'm in a funny place in this transition right now, as my summer goal was to read Ulysses, and like you do, I went out and bought the actual book so I could write in it if the spirit moved me. My husband recently bought a nook and was horrified that I'd buy the paper book, and went ahead and loaded Ulysses onto the nook too. At first, I was adamant that I was planning to read the physical book, and got through the first 70-odd pages that way.

Then we were packing for an overnight trip to an out-of-town wedding and my husband protested at the amount of weight the huge paper book would add to the luggage. I stood my ground, but he was right; the real book is a lot heavier than the nook, and he eventually wore me down. I read a fair amount of the book over the course of that weekend on the nook.

Ever since, I've been alternating between the nook and the book. I read the book at home, and the nook on the bus or when out and about since it fits in my purse. It's been weird; I can't decide how different the two reading experiences actually are. The nook loses some of the formatting - but how much does that matter? The book weighs a lot, to the point where I can't hold it in one hand for very long - but is that actually a dealbreaker for me?

I definitely wasn't against ebook readers - I famously read much of Moby-Dick on my phone while waiting in line at Disneyland one day - but I thought my first experience of Ulysses, a novel I've been too intimidated to approach for much of my life, ought to be in old-school paper format. I guess the lesson I've learned from this alternation of formats is that I actually don't have nearly as much of an attachment to paper books as I thought I did. The distinction just doesn't seem to matter very much to me anymore.
posted by troublesome at 11:21 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


coffee ereaders? am I just to tired to get the joke, or do you want to invent an electronic device that would let me drink coffee through my eyes? Because that would be weird, but awesome.
posted by jb at 11:26 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is bad for traditional book publishers, but not necessarily bad for books. My guess is that in the not-too-distant future, authors will write, illustrators will illustrate, editors will edit (perhaps on a freelance basis), and somebody whose job title isn't quite set yet will do the typesetting and formatting and digital output. And the result will be a range for formats, for e-reader devices and tablets, but also prepress files for digital printers.

My worry about this is that the author would bear the initial cost of all this, which would be a big barrier for many. Also, how do readers learn to tell the dross from the gold when there is no selection process from a publishing house and all publications are equal within the ebook store?
posted by Summer at 1:33 AM on June 28, 2011


Summer: "These threads always turn into a dick waving contest about how literate and book loving we all are."

What do you know about literacy, you're a dire wolf.

Omon Ra: "I find it really hard to understand the impassioned anti-ebook sentiments sprinkled throughout this thread.

Frankly I only see a tiny fraction of people absolutely hating e-readers and a huge amount of people viciously going against paper books in the thread. Maybe my perception is skewed since I prefer paper books, especially for longer works, over e-readers, but I'd say 85-90% of the people here are overtly pro e-readers.
"

I think you're perception is skewed; most of the e-reader supporters have made a point of saying they like paper books, too.

I would like to see a little less defensiveness from the paper book only crowd. I think because many of us were singing the praises of e-books, the paper book only crowd feels we were knocking paper books down. Not at all! We were responding to the absurd, "Bet you've never read ten real books in your life," contention upthread.

I love paper books. I have two standing double bookcases in my den that are over-flowing, even after culling books for the last "Friends of the Library" book sale. I have shelves devoted to Terry Pratchett alone, and I wouldn't trade my signed-by-Terry-Pratchett Hardcover copy of Small Gods for anything!

I may prefer my iPad for reading at night, for taking with me when I travel, for downloading the next book in a series the moment I've finished reading the previous one. But when a particular book really takes ahold of me, often I'll want that paper copy for my permanent collection, too.
Still, it is nice to know that I also won't have books that I *didn't* care for as much cluttering up my shelves now.

Out of curiosity, is there anyone in this thread who has actually tried an ereader/iPad for a week or more (because I think you need to give it a fair chance), read a few ebooks and decided, "Nope, this is not for me"?
posted by misha at 3:19 AM on June 28, 2011


Will somebody really leave behind their ebook library as a legacy? Will it mean the same thing?

heh. I actually told my husband recently that if something happened to me to make sure my niece gets my ebook collection. I don't have jewelry or expensive furniture. I have some art, but not a collection, and not bought as investment. I'm pretty sure my ebooks are the most significant thing I have to leave to somebody.

I love books in whatever form I can get 'em. I'd love to live in a big house full of books (and a slave to dust them), but I've moved 35 times, and have always lived in small or smallish apartments as an adult. Add to that the fact that I live in a place where books in English are limited and expensive, and it means I am so, so, so, so grateful to have my Kindle. It's been a blessing.

So, yeah; the idea that ebooks readers are not real readers? ... I read all the time, always have, and the only thing that's ever slowed me down was the availability of physical books, which is no longer a problem, hallelujah.
.................................................

Also, the argument that The Man can just take away your ebooks is a red herring. Back them up. And/or don't use your reader in online mode. I never have had connectivity; I bought the Gen 1 (which I am still using) and don't live in the U.S., so I never had "Whispernet." I just download books to my computer and then load my Kindle via USB.
posted by taz at 4:43 AM on June 28, 2011


I think you're perception is skewed.

Doing a rough count of the past 50 comments, there's 26 pro ereader, 5 on the fence, and 19 neutral. I'm willing to bet there aren't more than 5 people adamantly anti ereader on the whole thread.
posted by Omon Ra at 5:12 AM on June 28, 2011


Just got my Kindle yesterday and the newest version (3 I think) is much better than the one I'd borrowed. They fixed a lot of the button placement issues and the screen refresh is much quicker. Bought Gibson's Zero History which isn't out on paperback yet and zap, it downloaded within a minute. The future can be a cool place.
posted by octothorpe at 5:34 AM on June 28, 2011


Doing a rough count of the past 50 comments, there's 26 pro ereader, 5 on the fence, and 19 neutral.

At the risk of speaking for someone else, I think you're missing the point here. The claim you made that was being rebutted was:

... a huge amount of people viciously going against paper books in the thread.

There have been almost no people who are "going against paper books". There are instead quite a few people who love books, own many paper books, but feel that eBooks offer benefits that are worth the perceived limitations.

It bears repeating: pro-eBook does not equate to anti-book.
posted by tocts at 5:35 AM on June 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


You're right, tocts. My bad. And I think what I wrote (it was late, sorry all), the "viciously" part, wasn't accurate.
posted by Omon Ra at 5:42 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I got curious and started up at the top of the thread, to see where the first definitive snark came in...

....And I'm afraid to say that Team Paper made the first strike here:

It also makes me blind with rage that people who obviously read very little are going to drive books out of existence. If you think a Kindle is even remotely close to a replacement for a book, you can't have actually read more than 10 real physical books ever.

Come on, Team Paper. We can co-exist.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:37 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


It doesn't matter who started it, say you're sorry and shake hands. Now Team DTB take that e-reader out of the toilet and Team ER take that book out of the dog.
posted by Summer at 6:53 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Out of curiosity, is there anyone in this thread who has actually tried an ereader/iPad for a week or more (because I think you need to give it a fair chance), read a few ebooks and decided, "Nope, this is not for me"?

Am I chopped paper? I've played with Kindles and I've played with iPads. (Of the two, I like the iPad better.) Ereaders seem ideal for a certain kind of reference text. I have a dozen or so reference books/books of criticism on pdf that I'd never care to store otherwise. I'm sure I'll acquire more. For lack of a Kindle or iPad now, they all live on a thumb drive and when I want to consult one I plug it in. Since an ereader isn't a pressing need, I don't have one, and to be honest, if I had the extra hundred dollars or more, I can think of physical books on which I'd rather spend the money. That isn't because I think that ereaders "aren't for me," it's because I don't think I need one now. I can't do anything with an ereader that I can't do as well or better with the materials I have at hand. I don't object to ereaders; there's a niche they can fill. I do think that "the future's so bright, I gotta wear shades" attitude toward them is silly.

I also like books as physical objects, which makes me different from some of the people in this discussion. Where they see a shameful fetish, I see art, design, history, and occasionally even craft. I'd no more want to reduce every book to its "message" than I'd want to reduce every piece of art to a reproduction.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:12 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


As is often the case, I don't grok "Team" anything here, much less where octobersurprise got his last paragraph.

But the nice thing about being adult is that I don't have to justify my silly uses of leisure time.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:56 AM on June 28, 2011


Out of curiosity, is there anyone in this thread who has actually tried an ereader/iPad for a week or more (because I think you need to give it a fair chance), read a few ebooks and decided, "Nope, this is not for me"?

Yep, I've tried five or six times to read a book on the iPad without success. I might well like the Kindle better, though.
posted by escabeche at 8:06 AM on June 28, 2011


My worry about this is that the author would bear the initial cost of all this, which would be a big barrier for many.

A legitimate concern, but two things to keep in mind: (1) the initial cost is potentially much lower than producing even a moderate-run paper book, and (2) the cost is variable. You can spend as much or as little on producing an ebook, if you want to.

If you really want to do it on the cheap, you can type up your manuscript (typescript? digiscript?) in any old word processor. You could edit it yourself, if you wanted to—not that this is a good idea, but you could. And then you can create the EPUB yourself, using free tools or even hand-rolling the whole thing. From there you can convert it to Kindle-native MOBI format, and you've just covered the vast majority of the e-reader market.

It's a whole hell of a lot easier to produce an ebook in your basement than it is to print an actual book. The barrier to being an author just got a whole lot lower. Not that I really think that most authors will want to do it themselves; there are already a variety of services for doing the conversion (from, say, Word or PDF to EPUB); it's a labor/capital tradeoff as to whether you want to DIY or outsource the job. But even if you outsource the whole thing, it's still going to be cheaper than having someone print a run of books for you. (Since then they'd have to do roughly the same amount of work, and then print it.)

Also, how do readers learn to tell the dross from the gold when there is no selection process from a publishing house and all publications are equal within the ebook store?

Well, nobody says that all publications "are equal within the ebook store." That's a decision of the store owner/operator. There's no iron law saying that Amazon has to put Joe Blow's self-published tome in the search results right next to items from Random House. They could pretty easily give you a checkbox while searching that would restrict the results to items from major publishers, or maybe just items that have an ISBN. If the problem of polluted search results gets really bad, maybe they will.

But I think that there are other, better ways to determine whether a book is good, besides whether a major publisher decided to pick it up. This is another one of those things that's an inevitable consequence of print-book economics, which has some nice side-effects, but there are lots of other ways we can achieve the same ends (filtering), without creating the huge barrier to publication that the traditional process involved. Amazon's ratings and customer reviews, the "other customers also bought" system, and recommendation systems like that used by Netflix could all be employed to steer customers towards content that they're likely to enjoy.*

Filtering is definitely going to be a valuable service, though; I think there's a ton of room and opportunity for people to create services that do social or profile/preference-based recommendations of books, helping readers find new content, etc. What many paper book readers seem to be missing is the experience of just going and browsing the shelves in a bookstore and finding new material to read; that's something where ebooks haven't really caught up yet. (Because in a bookstore, even a big one, there's a certain amount of implied filtering just by having an item on the shelves, in stock.) Amazon makes it easy to search for ebooks, but they certainly don't have the whole browsing experience locked up yet.

So yes, legitimate concerns, but they seem very tractable to me.

* Which is different from "high quality" content in an objective sense. I'd argue that doesn't exist in a meaningful sense; quality is subjective. The books that major publishers turn out are the ones they think a lot of people will find subjectively good, but that doesn't make them objectively better. A recommendation engine might do a better job in maximizing individuals' enjoyment than a team of editors who are trying to hit the mass market in the middle of the bell curve.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:07 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yep, I've tried five or six times to read a book on the iPad without success. I might well like the Kindle better, though.

The iPad is really too big to be a good e-reader, imo. You can hold it with one hand, but not very easily and my arm would probably get tired holding it while standing on a train.

I don't have one, but I think the Droid 2-size phone screen (4 inches?) is pretty much the sweet spot for me.

I have a fairly little LG Android phone with a 3.2-inch screen and it works fine. It cuts both ways. Extra screen room would be nice, but so is a smaller blob in my pocket.

Filtering is definitely going to be a valuable service, though; I think there's a ton of room and opportunity for people to create services that do social or profile/preference-based recommendations of books, helping readers find new content, etc. What many paper book readers seem to be missing is the experience of just going and browsing the shelves in a bookstore and finding new material to read; that's something where ebooks haven't really caught up yet.

I agree, and it will be really interesting to see where the industry goes. What's interesting to me is that the digital "store" has all the books available for you to browse at your leisure, 24 hours a day in your home, so how do they prevent people from browsing forever and never buying? That is the big issue I see.

But they will never be able to recreate the feeling of going into a bookstore or library. I agree there.

I also like books as physical objects, which makes me different from some of the people in this discussion. Where they see a shameful fetish, I see art, design, history, and occasionally even craft. I'd no more want to reduce every book to its "message" than I'd want to reduce every piece of art to a reproduction.

I think most of the people here agree. I have first editions and autographed copies and favorite art books, etc. The material book is even more mystical to me than the magical LP.

E-books are like library books to me. I see no need to even keep the digital version when I'm done. It's already out there online somewhere if someone else wants it...
posted by mrgrimm at 9:14 AM on June 28, 2011


much less where octobersurprise got his last paragraph.

It's a minority view, but there's an attitude among some (even here!) that the physical book is a vehicle for the transmission of ideas or facts, nothing more than a vehicle, and regarding it as anything more than a vehicle, is weird, or absurd, or somehow squalid. Yay, Team Nerd Rapture, I guess. Personally, I like the look, feel, and smell of my Seven Pillars of Wisdom first trade edition, despite the fact that I could buy it for the Kindle for 99 cents.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:24 AM on June 28, 2011


I guess I'm ambivalent largely because I'm personally interested in a number of things that have been obliterated by market pressure, and it makes me sad to think that, in my lifetime, paper books will disappear. They may not disappear as art objects, or as print-on-demand copies of the clunky, machine-logic typeset edition that we get with e-books, but they'll disappear as the end product of a skill set that evolved over time to produce superbly readable volumes that don't fight your eyeballs. Algorithmic typesetting will get better, but I doubt it will ever match a hunch, a guess, or an instinct.

Sitting in front of me, I have a 1949 hardbound edition of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. It belonged to my late mentor/antagonist, a deranged poet currently remembered primarily for an annual ritual carried out at Poe's grave, and it's a beautiful, incomprehensible thing. The typography is workmanlike and basic, in a perfectly reasonable font with perfectly reasonable hand-done justification and hyphenation, but it's a world of difference from an e-book rendered from raw text. I can't understand a word of it, of course, because it's Wittgenstein and I'm not particularly smart, but it's also a one-off, and a posthumous collaboration with my friend, with little notes scrawled in every bit of free space detailing his intricate adventures in trying to comprehend this impossible work.

The book is the book whether it's on paper or in a cloud of data. One can make notations in an e-book, too, but they are data without nuance, text without the push and pull of the muscles in the hand or the looping stream of one's distinct, personal handwriting. It's true that those things may be immaterial in the world of the future, just as the authorial paper trail is drying up now that there are no rough drafts, no revised editions scrawled with notes in the margins. In the future, the author really is dead, and that might just be a good thing, I suppose. Things have to stand on their own.

At the same time, I've got another book that will one day be handed over to someone I care about, provided they've kept me happy in my dotage. It's a perfectly ordinary hardback first edition of Life, The Universe, And Everything that I bought for a quarter at a thrift store in Olney, Maryland, along with a nice pair of duckpin balls in a pretty two-tone ball bag. I was thrill to find a folded five dollar bill in my three dollar bag, making it a net profit of $2, and I just shelved the copy of the Douglas Adams book for the time being.

When I decided I felt like rereading that old familiar friend, rather then add wear to my much-loved original paperback edition, I grabbed the hardback and flipped through a few pages, hoping to find another bit of cash or at least something interesting. I was irritated to find the margins scrawled with notes, a peril of used book buying, with a few old-fashioned mechanical credit slips from those machines where a cashier had to manually slide the imprinter over the card. As it happened, the name on the card in question was Douglas Adams, and it gradually dawned on me that I had in my hand a copy of the book he'd carried with him on a promotional tour around the time of the book's North American release.

I went a little numb and tingly with this discovery, and that book is now very well protected in a secret vault miles below my house and guarded by alligators and peregrine falcons with substance abuse issues. It's a lovely, treasured thing in my life that also happens to be a book.

It means nothing to the story of that third book in the five-part Hitchhiker's guide trilogy that it's been vandalized with ink pen and left with receipts that probably should have been filed with Adams' publisher (an omission that seems very Adams, to be sure), but it means something to me, given that those stories meant something to me when life seemed awfully bleak. My eldest niece adores Adams, but I don't know that such an artifact would have much value in the long run, except as a sort of posthumous documentation of the passage of a cult celebrity.

People describe the sort of veneration of a thing as fetishistic, but there are times when market forces create new niches without leaving anything to fill those other functions or voids. A book full of ballpoint-packed margins is a book, and a history. The book can be a book regardless, whether it's an e-book, a paper book, or an unabridged book on tape read aloud by Stephen Fry or even the author himself. Without a presence, though, something to invite the casual intervention with a pen (and typing out notes on a little chicklet keyboard or tapping them into a picture of keys in a field of pixels isn't the same), that extra history doesn't get written.

Maybe it doesn't matter.

I spent a few years obsessed with the Wurlitzer 165 Automated Military Band Organ at Glen Echo Park, and was occasionally invited into the murky space behind that gorgeous machine to watch the mechanism at work, and oh my—what a joy for my clockwork heart. There's just ten of those wonderful hummers left, and it won't be long before they're delicate enough that they're finally silenced to save their magnificent bones. You can record the music they make in perfect 24 bit digital splendor with a dozen microphones, but there's just something to being there, where all their huffing and chuffing and tickety-tapping click-clapping sounds lie just under the surface like the breath and the beating heart of the beast. The music will survive as a period curiosity, but it's sad when a medium dies, even if it's only sad for a vanishingly small number of us. I feel sorry for everyone who will miss out on what there was, though.

And yet, I sat on the train this morning reading Thoreau's piece on walking cited in another post on mefi, having downloaded it into the magical memory of my little e-reader. I sat on a train in a future Thoreau couldn't have fully comprehended, with my folding bicycle collapsed into a tangle of aluminum by my side, and dreamed of walking in all the landscapes that rose and fell outside my window, which I could do because I was able to instantly find that book in the miasma of data swirling around my fingertips.

I love the future, but if it drives out the useful things of the past as anything but a fading historical artifact, it's hard for me to celebrate in earnest. Of course, like most change, nothing I do can alter that course. Just like I can't buy a manual typewriter anymore, or a standard street motorcycle with a 350cc engine, or a new electric fan that doesn't sap the breeze with excessive grillwork, my will is only as good as what industry and the market will allow.

One can hope, though.
posted by sonascope at 9:26 AM on June 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


The love of handwritten notes in books doesn't quite work for me. Part of it is that having struggled all my life with significant dysgraphia, looking at my own handwriting is often profoundly depressing. Also, it's only been in the last few years that I've had the privilege of actually owning a majority of what I'm reading. Most books in my life were either borrowed, traded back for more books, or sold at the end of the semester to make ends meet. Scribbling in them was just shy of outright defacing them in my respect.

So what if it's called a "fetish," when it's something that we gleefully indulge ourselves in? I have fetishes for hand-knit mittens, Pelikan fountain pens, sketchbooks, Couch vinyl products, and my complete run of Jame Delano Hellblazer, along with some bound volumes I'll carry with me until I pass them on to someone else.

I don't see the ebook as displacing the quality heirloom, but rather, pulp. Ebooks are perfect for the kind of stuff that was published serially in magazines or on the cheapest available paper with bindings that self-destructed after a single reading. Sometimes that stuff trickled up to quality bindings and sometimes it didn't. But I can't be the only person frustrated by the physical quality and typography of mass-market volumes lately.

I like Baen's introduction to the free Vorkosigan books. Fans buy books. They'll buy at least one copy of the next novel when it comes out. They'll buy print volumes as gifts for their friends. They'll possibly buy other works in the catalog.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:55 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Scribbling in them was just shy of outright defacing them in my respect.

Scribbling in books isn't shy of defacing them, it is defacing them.

Which is perfectly fine if you own the book, and have no intention of every selling it or donating it anywhere. Because I don't need to see your scribbling every time I look for a used book.

Also, people who write in or mark library books ought to be summarily shot. If it's an accident, we'll just wing them in the arm as a warning to be more careful.
posted by jb at 11:16 AM on June 28, 2011


A friend asked my son "What do you most want to inherit from your Mom?" He replied "the books." Will somebody really leave behind their ebook library as a legacy? Will it mean the same thing?

All due respect, maybe speak with some friends whose parents have already died:

Young people, who can't afford a place big enough to store their parents' book collection even if they wish they could, and end up having to deal with selling/giving away the books...

Older/richer people, who have anyway accumulated their own book collection that presumably duplicates anything that they especially loved about their parents' collections.

Honestly if someone asked your son, after you've died, what's the legacy he treasures most from you - I'd be pretty surprised if he said it was your books.

I've been one of the younger, poorer people, and I can tell you that having to deal with the book collection was NOT a comforting part of the mourning process.

If e-books mean that in the future what gets left behind are just a couple of books with real sentimental meaning (as individual books and not as components of a 'library'), especially by virtue of having been somehow special - written in, passed down, etc, that seems like a good thing to me.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:52 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Print books vs e-books life-cycle analysis from an environmental website. Covers production, distribution, end of life disposal. Verdict: 1st place: used books, 2nd place: e-reader with alt power system that you keep for ages, 3rd place: new books.

I love the physical features of books, the smell and feel and all that. But once I start reading, I'm like Stephen King - I fall into the hole on the page that takes me into the story. And after that I don't notice the physical features anymore, unless someone were to set on fire the object I'm using to read, I guess.

I love being able to switch to fiction when I need time to process the non-fiction I read for work purposes. I love having a choice of books when I'm on the train. I doubt print books will ever go away, and I don't want them to, but there are so many advantages to e-readers it seems a bit silly and stubborn to decide they're evil and lament the day they were invented.
posted by harriet vane at 8:29 PM on June 28, 2011




Honestly if someone asked your son, after you've died, what's the legacy he treasures most from you - I'd be pretty surprised if he said it was your books.

With all due respect, Salamandrous -- and my sympathies on your loss -- the theora55 was reporting that someone DID ask her son what he would most want, and he did say "books". I respect that you differ in opinion on this issue, and for very good reason, but who is to say that theora55's son doesn't know his own mind well enough to know what he'd sincerely want?

And speaking as someone who has indeed inherited books while being a "young person who can't afford enough space to store the collection" -- some of us make the room for the things we really, really want. Again, I respect and sympathize that it was difficult for you to sort through things - I'm just making the gentle observation that your own difficulty does not as such mean it would be similarly difficult for everyone.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:46 AM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


With all due respect, Salamandrous -- and my sympathies on your loss -- the theora55 was reporting that someone DID ask her son what he would most want, and he did say "books". I respect that you differ in opinion on this issue, and for very good reason, but who is to say that theora55's son doesn't know his own mind well enough to know what he'd sincerely want?

Yes, that's how I read it too - that theora55 is actually alive and her son is speculating in advance as to what he would most value in the future. She also didn't say how old her son was, or how imminent a possibility her death really is to him. I'm saying that what he imagines now will be most valuable may not actually be what is most valuable in the future.

And speaking as someone who has indeed inherited books while being a "young person who can't afford enough space to store the collection" -- some of us make the room for the things we really, really want. Again, I respect and sympathize that it was difficult for you to sort through things - I'm just making the gentle observation that your own difficulty does not as such mean it would be similarly difficult for everyone.


I definitely agree that things fall out differently for everybody. Which is why I don't think it can be taken as a given that it's sensible to hang on to a book collection just to be able to pass it on as a legacy. Since, too, books almost always are fungible, there's nothing stopping a parent from giving their children the books they would cherish even before the parent dies.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:04 AM on June 29, 2011


I definitely agree that things fall out differently for everybody. Which is why I don't think it can be taken as a given that it's sensible to hang on to a book collection just to be able to pass it on as a legacy.

....Except in this specific instance, the child in question has said he would enjoy that particular legacy.

I mean, I get your point that a parent shouldn't think of books as "a legacy for my child" in the case of a child who has never expressed an opinion either way, and if that is the sole reason they're hanging on to the books, but this seems to be a slightly different situation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:48 AM on June 29, 2011


I didn't keep my mother's books. She had severe Parkinsonian dementia and couldn't read them any more, and besides, she had moved from a home to an apartment to assisted living to skilled nursing, and got rid of most of her possessions in the process.

I inherited her love of reading instead, god help me.
posted by Peach at 2:28 PM on June 29, 2011


And my dad has a Kindle and won't be leaving me diddly-squat, besides.
posted by Peach at 2:30 PM on June 29, 2011


At last measure I have about 120 linear feet of books and for a while I've been thinking about getting an e-reader to reduce some of the mass, mainly eyeing a Kindle. But after seeing several posters here mention reading on their phone I decided to to dig out my iPod touch and give it a try.

Previously I never considered it a viable option thinking it was too small a screen to enjoy but in the last week I have read three novels on my iPod and really enjoyed the experience. I think I even read faster on it than I normally do with a physical book.

So for now my iPod is loaded with the Kindle app and a handful of novels and I'll continue reading PDFs and technical manuals on my tablet pc and maybe upgrade to a larger e-reader when they get a little more advanced. And my progeny will still have quite a few rare books to inherit from me when I'm gone.
posted by the_artificer at 5:48 PM on July 4, 2011


This seems like a good place to point out that it is entirely possible — and a damn good idea, IMO — to archive ebooks so that you can pass them down to your progeny or just make them secure against a simultaneous loss of your computer/Kindle/Amazon account/Gmail login. If I was going to replace a significant quantity of paper books that I'd amassed over time with ebooks, I'd really want to make sure I did this right.

1. At minimum, you should get the books onto a device that you own and control. I.e., not a Kindle. Install the Kindle for PC/Mac application, download all your books, and then copy the folder it creates (~/Documents/My Kindle Content/ or inside My Documents on a PC) someplace safe. That guarantees that your content isn't going to somehow disappear, although it's still encrypted at this point so it's not of much use to you. But if you are particularly squeamish about possibly breaking any laws, this is where you can stop.

2. If you are not so constrained, you can then remove the DRM. Wired apparently has no issue showing you how to do this.

3. Then, you just need to put them on some appropriate backup media. If you have a lot of ebooks, you might want to avoid putting your eggs in one media basket, and do something like burn them to CD in addition to keeping them on a Flash memory card, while also not deleting them from your PC.

If you did that, then there's no reason you couldn't pass down a lifetime's acquisition of ebooks. Although my guess is that, within a few decades, doing that might seem a bit odd; it will be the composition of the library — what titles you chose to buy, and thus the insight it gives into you as a person — that matters more than the easily-downloadable content itself.

I could easily see the metadata associated with a person's digital library becoming far more personally important than the content itself, especially if — like the Kindle — the metadata contains highlighting and annotations.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:19 PM on July 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


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