Wednesday, February 13

The Revolution That Isn't

There was an article today in the Washington Post about an invention called the Book Ripper. Apparently if you have lots of money and nothing else to do with your time, you can buy this device and use it to copy your home library into a digital format. Pointing to the Napster hullaballoo of a few years ago, the author of the article questioned whether the publishing industry was worried about wide-spread pirating. The answer from the publishing industry is: not so much.

And really, why should they? There is a market for digital book readers, but that market is fairly small. Although publishing has been offering books in digital format for years, readers have been fairly slow to jump on the bandwagon. The reasons are many. In the past reading a book digitally has meant dealing with eletronic scrolling, awkward font sizes, screen glare and so on. But the electronics industry keeps trying. recently joined in with its much ballyhooed Kindle which it markets as (and I kid you not) a "New Wireless Reading Device." Um, not exactly a new idea. I think they call those things BOOKS.

And therein lies the reason that the publishing industry is not worried about pirating. Books might not have whiz-bang gimicry to entice techno-geeks, but that's about all they lack. Think about it. The Kindle measures 7.5" x 5.3", or roughly the size of a paperback novel. So it's not going to win over readers based on size. It's supposed to weigh only 10.3 ounces. I don't have a scale handy for my latest read, but I feel fairly confident that the weight of the average paperback is comparable. Unlike an electronic reader of any kind, a book doesn't require batteries or a power adapter. You don't need to tinker with a scroll setting because you turn the pages when you're ready. And most books are remarkably sturdy, even the paperback versions. I have quite a collection of my own and they've held up through several rereads over more than 20 years ... heck some are probably twice that old. How long, you have to wonder, will that nifty $400 electronic thingie last you?

When you really think about it, the only upside of digital readers is that they can hold the contents of several books. Perhaps helpful for academics and researchers; but personally I'm usually only reading one book at any given moment. I may be in the middle of several books, but I usually keep them where I am mostly likely to reading them: the paperback in my totebag for reading on the subway, a hardback next to the livingroom chair, and something of a nonfiction nature at my bedside. The nice thing is, they stay right where I need them. That's another downside to e-readers that I can see: you would have to cart the thing around with you from room to room; you can't leave it at the bedside when you leave for work in the morning or you won't have anything to read on the subway.

And just try to use that button covered plastic thingie to even up table legs, or press flowers. I bet you can't tuck a photo or recipe inside for safekeeping, either.


Louisa the Lip said...

My heart agrees with you, though I must admit to disliking mass market paperback books because of the way they feel in my hands. But my mind and my lifestyle argue in favor of the digital reads, if not the digital reader. My life right now causes me to move from my house to another house with some regularity. I feel nervous without a good supply of books around me, but a good supply of books weighs plenty and takes up too much room. So, I put them onto my computer, which I'll take with me to my funeral pyre and every other place between now and then. If my life were stationary, books. My life is mobile, digital.

Wonderful post, BTW.

McB said...

And that's one of those markets where digital reads work so well. Also, for people who have trouble holding a book.

I prefer hardbacks as well. More substantial, the pages lay better, the font is better spaced, and the paper much easier for reading. Alas, so many of my favorite reads were never produced in HB.

Some day they'll come up with a reader that floats the virtual image of a book and allows you to "turn" pages. You'll be able to have the image float in front of you at whatever height or angle you desire and the font will be sharp and clear. Until then, I'm sticking with my paper library.

And thanks for the compliment!

Merry said...

I love audio books, especially when you can't fell asleep but don't want to turn on the light. But a digital reader seems more pain than gain.
This might be a generational divide thing however. Maybe the young'uns will prefer them.

dhgglc - dang whippersnappers could probably read that word too.