Monday, November 23, 2009

Why I Don't Have an eBook Reader, And Likely Will Never Get One

I speak for the trees. And the trees are up in arms (branches?) about eBook readers. They're advertised on all the Christmas commercials (really? You're going to spend $300 on your boyfriend for Christmas? How much disposable income do you think we have?). Nathan Bradsford published a list of myths about eBook readers. I don't think he was trying to promote eBook readers, but it certainly doesn't demote them. I'm sure everything he says is true, but here I explain why these aren't myths, but evidence of complaints about eReaders. And I hope someone links to this and points to it when the idiot companies wonder "why aren't you buying our junk?"

Eyesight Issues

I have no problem reading text a computer screen. But I already read a computer screen nine hours a day. Then I'm going to get into bed with another computer and read that? Plus, I don't know if there are any contrast issues. Nathan says it looks great in direct sunlight and dim light. But the thing is, they don't look like black on white to me. They look like not-so-black on Game Boy green. I do plenty of reading on my desktop, but that's a big screen. The Kindle is one size fits all, which doesn't lend well to make each book its own animal. It has a 1984 feel--all your books shall be the same.

Backup Issues

Sure, you can move your book from eReader to eReader or to your computer. But I read a lot of free eBooks, a lot of public domain books. And I have no idea if they're going to work on my eReader, how they're going to look, and what I can do with them. What about fan fiction? What about any text I want to read on an eReader? Word DOCs? HTML pages?

Plus, all this modularity and syncing stuff means that someone behind the scenes is controlling your eBook. What if the servers are down when I'm all ready to read? I don't like being tied to someone else's whims or technology.

Less Meta-Book Usability (Page-Turning, Making Notes)

I don't really care about this aspect. I'd never write in a book, I think that's kind of a violation. But these are features that I'll never use, and probably one of the reasons the eReader is so expensive. Manufacturers are are spending money on features that I don't care about and will never use. It's why college tuition is so expensive--your money is going to sports, art supplies, maintenance on buildings you never enter, salaries for teachers other than your own--in other words, you're paying for a large percentage of things you don't use.

Power Usage

It's just one more rope that ties my reading to something other than myself. My time is at a premium, so What happens when I forget to charge it? I don't get to read and my customer satisfaction experience goes down.

Libraries + eReader = Fail

Nathan says that you can check out eBooks at the library, just like any other library book. Great, but really, what's the point? Only one "copy" checked out at once? Time limits on something that has no tangible value? How back-asswards. The whole reason for eBooks is more efficient distribution. Why would you limit people's ability to read when you don't need to.

Can't Lend eBooks

No matter how much you try to skirt the issue or come up with "solutions", you simply can't give eBooks to other people. They have to have an eReader of their own. It has to be the same one as yours (I think. Thank you again DRM and proprietary formats). And you have to be sure you haven't reached your six-person limit. If you were an author, why would you want to do anything to prevent people from reading your book?

Beach, Bathtub, and Hazardous Areas

I probably wouldn't be afraid to take my eReader to the beach or bathtub, but usually I would not. Because if I'm at the beach or in the bathtub, reading is not usually something I am doing. Plus Nathan's solution of wrapping the eBook in saran wrap? Isn't this painting lipstick on a pig? Not a very elegant solution. And in the same vein, if I drop my eReader--it breaks, and I'm out $300 dollars. I drop my paper book--no harm, no foul.

Too Expensive

This is the biggest thing preventing me from buying an eReader. But because number-crunching is fun, let's break it down.

The Amazon Kindle costs $260 (not including shipping). If a hardcover book costs $25, that means I need to buy ten and a half hardcover books to recover the cost (or, for benefit of doubt 18-26 paperbacks). Now let's look at my reading habits in the past eight months. These are all the books I read, tried to read, or am reading, from March until now.

  • Purchased books (paperback): 5

  • Purchased books (hardcover): 1

  • eBooks (DRM free or CC licensed or public domain from Project Gutenberg): 15

  • Library or borrowed book: 7


  • Of those six books that I purchased:

  • Released more than a year ago: 4

  • Released within the past year: 2


  • I'm not going to take the time to look at each book's price, but suffice to say, even if I doubled these numbers, they would only equate around half the cost of a kindle. Simply put, reading would not be made any easier or cheaper by an eBook reader. And that's not even considering the built-in obsolescence these things have--I'd have to buy a new eBook reader at some point due to the outdatedness.

    Not only that, but the facts demonstrate that the books I read are not typically purchased. It's only public domain and a handful of new releases that are available in the eBook format. And my reading tastes are not defined by what's popular, they're defined by what I'm interested in. And the eBook factor would severely limit that.

    eBooks Are Bad For Publishers/Authors

    eBooks are meant to be a step up in publishing efficiency. Instead of spending money on paper, cover art, ink, shipping, etc. you digitize the words and they reach nearly infinitessimal portability at non-infinitessimal prices (what's the opposite of infinitessimal? Minimissal?). My question is, with these reduced prices, do the authors still get the same cash flow as before? Is that price reduction purely going towards productions costs? It's obvious that taking out a large chunk of overhead is going to lead to jobs being eliminated. Not that any of that would stop me from buying an eReader. But if I was an author, I would fear change. Change that potentially means decreased economic throughput.

    Bottom line, ebook readers are simply not practical. There's nothing I want to do with an eReader that I can't do with a regular book. What can you do to make me buy one?

    1. Reduce the price.
    2. Take off that damn DRM. I want to own my book and do what I want with it. Don't tie me to your servers.
    3. Release everything as an eBook. Including your back catalog. You can't expect me to buy a Blu-Ray player when none of the movies I want to watch are in Blu-Ray format. I'm a connosieur, and I have a lot of catching up to do. Often the publishers of these media figure the expense of converting these works into some new format is not worth the return. I'm rarely reading new releases. Want me to buy an eBook? Make the book into one.
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