Let me introduce myself. I was that bookworm kid who came home from every library trip with an arm full of books, and then was ready to go back a week later. I spent weekends and summer vacations buried nose-deep in whatever book I was currently reading. As an adult, I actually had my daughter tell me, more than once, that it was rude to read at the dinner table when someone else was present. I’ve belonged to more book clubs than I can count, and I’ve never been able to pass by a bookstore without window shopping.
So, yeah, I like books. When eReaders were first introduced, I was interested, but cautious. A few years ago I made the leap and purchased a Kindle. It was a revelation. I loved its portability. Shortly after getting the Kindle I took a week’s vacation. Instead of having to pack several books, worrying over their weight and size, considering what I’d do when I finished them, I took the Kindle. It had all my books on it. I loved that I no longer had to choose which of the several books I was currently reading when I left the house. It was so much more comfortable for reading in bed, and I no longer had to grapple with holding large books. Being far sighted, I could adjust the font size to make every book comfortable, and I noticed less eyestrain using the Kindle.
I was in love. Sure, it wasn’t perfect. The black and white reading surface, while easy on the eyes, also made illustrations useless. Almost every book I read had some typos in it, making me wonder how carefully the process of transcribing books into the eReader format was being managed. I felt that the price being charged for new books was unnecessarily high. I worried that something as simple as a lack of power could eliminate my library. Selecting books was difficult; I missed the enjoyment of wandering through a physical bookstore and picking up what looked interesting. It’s harder to browse online.
My biggest issue was with the ownership of content. I resented that my purchase of a book bought me nothing but the right to read a downloaded copy. I didn’t “own” anything. Amazon retained the right to update or delete the content I had purchased at any time. Unlike public libraries that have always safeguarded checkout records from any governmental oversight, my reading list was now stored and accessible to anyone with a warrant. I also resented the lack of transferability with “my” books. When I finished a good book, I couldn’t loan it to someone unless I physically loaned them the Kindle device.
It’s been 3 years since I purchased that first Kindle. I’ve upgraded to a Kindle Fire, which eliminated issues with viewing illustrations. There are fewer problems with typos and errors in books.
I definitely prefer the format of an eReader to that of a standard book, so much so that I don’t enjoy reading the reading experience much when I do pick up a traditional paper book. I do believe this is the future of books, but I want a few things to change:
- Allow real ownership. There is no technical reason why, once purchased, an eBook cannot be owned by the purchaser and no longer subject to updates or deletes by the seller.
- Revise copyright law to manage distribution of eBooks by owners. Back in the dark ages, each physical copy of a book was a single iteration of that book. The purchaser could resell it or lend it, but they lost physical possession. The proliferation of copiers challenged that, but it was handled by clarifying the law. You can copy a single page of a book, but you can’t walk into a copy shop and have them make you a copy of that new Stephen King novel. Do the same thing with eBooks; maybe the answer is that you can lend a single copy at a time.
- Create brick-and-mortar eBook stores. I’d love to go to my favorite neighborhood bookstore and get a chance to peruse physical copies of books, make my choice, and then purchase the e-version.
With or without the adoption of my suggestions, eReaders are here to stay. There are, and will be, other kids like me who can’t put books down and find themselves caught in another world story after story. The format is meaningless; it’s the content that matters.