Some reflexion on my growing usage of ebooks, with my iPad as ebook reader.

Reading on a screen

This could be a show-stopper for some people. It certainly isn't for me: I'm used to read long articles and even books on my PC since the screens changed from CRT to LCD. I do not find it more tiring or difficult for the eyes than reading on paper, so I suppose that I was from the start a potential customer for ebooks.

The opportunity

As an avid reader, I normally always have one book with me, frequently two  (typically one fiction, one non-fiction - I'm not always in the mood for serious reading), to have something to do when waiting at a restaurant, sitting in a train or plane, or enjoying a nice calm evening. I'm also used to take some books with me on holiday, to have something to do during long plane trips. The problem is, as I tend to read pretty often and pretty fast, that the books begin to weight in the baggages.

The two last times, however, I did decide to leave with my iPad as my sole book (having it loaded with both fiction and not fiction), and I'm now pretty sure I'll continue to do so :

  • While the iPad is probably heavier than a book, it is certainly lighter than three.
  • I did buy an ebook on amazon during our holiday in Brazil (a long awaited sequel to a series I like very much), able to get it immediately and in English, which would not have been easy should I would have gone for the paper version (some English book are available at the biggest stores, but you need to be in a major cities for those).
  • While not mat as paper (or e-ink), it is readable in most situations, even outside, excepted (obviously) in direct sunlight.

The book reader

My actual reader is my iPad, which does a fairly decent job as an ebook reader. Probably not the best, but I'm not (yet ?) ready to carry a full sized tablet and an apart e-reader. The only selling point would be the e-ink, but as said before, reading on the screen of the iPad is quite comfortable for me. Applications exists for all imaginable formats. By the way, it is a pity so many exists: in addition to the preinstalled iBooks, I also have the Kindle app (amazon) and CloudReader (a nice generic reading application, with all the needed features: send a PDF by wifi, accept different formats, etc.). So you have to remember which book in on which app, but apart this, its pretty much hassle free.

I would not recommend buying an iPad if it is to use it only as a book reader, but as I had one, it is certainly good enough to not require an additional tablet.

The price and what you get from it

While I agree that selling ebooks at the almost same price tags as their paper counterpart is outrageous in regard to production/diffusion costs (I fail to see how the few megabytes used by a PDF and some bandwidth could cost the same as the paper, the print and delivery of a physical book), I think this is not a valid point in the question of choosing between a paper or paperless book: with similar prices (however illogical), I'll simply buy the most practical media. Which for me is the ebook (I reckon your mileage may vary).

Some advantages in my common usage:

  • Size/weight (in comparison to several books)
  • Got my whole bookshelf with me, so I can lookout for an info or reread something when I want to
  • Efficient bookmarks (I start my book app and it put me directly at the page I was reading - for each different book)
  • My note application (Springpad, a nice, free concurrent to Evernote) is only one touch away for some quick notes related to my lecture

Some disadvantages :

  • Impossible to lend a book. I would say, even with/when some lending system will be available, it would probably not help (most people around me are firmly in the "paper" camp).
  • Expensive reader, but I did not buy it only for this.

It -is- a book

To finish with some humor/language anecdote, I refer more and more to my iPad as "my book" ("I'll take my book with me"), which make s some people smile. It is no joke: what makes a book is not the paper or the ink used, or the materials it is made of,  it is its function. A book is something that you can read easily. Big or small, shiny collector edition or old second hand volume, "War and Peace" stay the same. It is still a book, even in Kindle edition.

On the title: I've found the expression "Book-less shelf" several times, as a parable around ebooks. I think the reality is actually the opposite: who would keep a shelf if you have nothing to put inside (I've other ideas of piece of furniture to put at their place!) ? The books will stay, they are only changing forms. The shelves are the ones that will go.

I'm curious to know what experience you have with ebook and readers.

Martin

Near this subject, this week, something from Tim Bray