In all the current talk about new eGadgets and their impact, the eBook has pretty much escaped condemnation — except for the dwindling population still committed to the printed page. And some of us hold-outs are beginning to waver.
Two old friends, Peter and Martha Klopfer, arrived from North Carolina yesterday with 60 or 70 books to get them through 10 days on the west coast. Peter, who is a Duke Professor Emeritus of biology, and Martha, who is a thinker, runner, endurance rider and generally literate person, are prone to go off into the jungles of Madagascar or trekking in the Jordanian desert or climbing Machu Pichu. On these sorts of trips 30 or 40 books in their old-fashioned form are difficult to manage.
Enter the justifiable eReader.
There are by now enough eReaders to fill an old-fashioned 8 1/2 x 11″ piece of paper in 10-point Times Roman type. There’s the pioneering Kindle and the Kobo and the Nook and the Sony and of course the loudly heralded iPad, and there are probably a dozen others poised to debut.
Absorbing the written word isn’t what it once was. Whether you’re a new convert to e-reading or a die-hard fan of bound pages, you can’t ignore the evolution of reading. News reported by websites, e-mail and text messages is strangling printed newspapers. E-mail has replaced handwritten notes. And entire books can now be read on hand-held computers with a mere 6-inch screen.
The issue Ramnarace and others are debating is all about the reading experience. Can you be transported to another realm, as has always been true with paperbacks devoured on secluded beaches or under old trees in back yards — or under the covers with a flashlight for that matter, by a bunch of words on an eScreen? Maybe. But hard core print-book people think not.
“When books become computerized, you lose that contact with the maker,” says Cindy Bowden, director of the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. “When you pick up a book, you notice the feel, the touch, the way the ink bleeds into the paper.”
If anybody thinks the paperback or its big brother hard cover will ultimately defeat the eBook onslaught, however, it is probably wise to think again. The copies you can buy in a bookstore that can’t also be bought in an eForm are getting fewer and farther between every day.
Not all books are available as e-books, but many are. Of the two industry leaders, Kindle boasts a library of 285,000 books, most for $9.99 each. The Sony Reader provides free access to 500,000 books in the public domain, including classics like Jane Austen and William Shakespeare; the Kama Sutra and the Bible; and contemporary works like Sue Grafton and Dennis Lahane, even “The DaVinci Code.” Another 100,000 are available for purchase from the Sony eBook Store.
Over time, e-readers could prove more economical than traditional books. For the price of buying 26 new hardcover books, one could also purchase the same number of e-books, plus the Kindle itself. And the devices allow readers to sample the first chapter of any book for free before purchase. Digitizing words could help elevate the medium, and in turn, boost a struggling publishing industry.
Peter and Martha are en route to the 40th annual Ride & Tie championship in Trout Lake, WA, where there is great beauty but not library and where they will celebrate their 55th anniversary in a manner somewhat more strenuous than most post-50th observances. After the race, there will be eReading.