Saturday, August 14, 2010

Look Who's E-reading Now!

That's right folks. This is a summer of self-discovery for me. For some it happens in their teens or early 20's. For me, it hits right at the tail end of my 30's. Better late than never I suppose.

Actually, I think I'm a funny consumer, I'm an early adopter in some things, while in others I'm damn near a Luddite. I was years late to the whole MP3 thing. I hated the sound quality, was frustrated my the transient nature of the format (I've lost enough electronic devices in the past to know that what you store on them won't last either) and I enjoyed the format of the CD itself, the art, printed lyrics, even thank yous.

But I made peace with those shortcomings and instead embraced the good things about the new format, my exposure to new kinds of music (or, as fate would have it, podcasts), the convenience of having a gigantic library at my fingertips. And now I can't easily really recall the last time I bought a CD, I see them now as pieces of nostalgia from our previous age.

But books, that is a different story. I love my books. I quick glance at my downstairs den shows just what I've managed to put together in the past 6 or 7 years as I realized that I was purchasing the same books over an over again without noticing until I got a few chapters in that I'd already read whatever it was I'd just purchased. My epiphany is probably the single best reason book sales have gone down across the board during this time. I wasn't buying a copy of Rendezvous With Rama every 18 months any more.
I need something over my fireplace

Needless to say, I have been leery about e-readers for some time now. How am I supposed to slap a finished book on my shelves it I have it as a digital file? Regardless, I found myself with a shiny new iPad in my lap that my beloved gave to me.

I got a quick lesson in the pluses and minuses of ebooks right away. They are certainly beautiful. The iPad screen is impressive. I tried the iBook app, the B&N app and the Kindle app right away. I immediately found a few things annoying.

Aside from my aforementioned frustration of not being able to place a finished book on my shelves at home. I also have to deal with book covers that look like this:

WTF? I'm pretty sure someone in the art department needs to get fired over this one. That looks like total shit. I didn't really realize how often I flip to the cover to see if a particular scene, character or moment is captured. Compare with the actual cover:
I don't especially care for the real world cover any more than most other books, but if I just paid the same (or possibly more) for the right to read a DRM laden, and non shelvable, version. What gives?

Problem two - prices, the experience of reading on the device is actually not bad. Lying in bed at night while my wife sleeps comfortably just wasn't possible before if I wanted to read. Now, I dim the brightness and off we go.

But does the cost really need to be that high? I mentioned reading The Dresden Files - about half the books were read on my iPad. I could run down to Borders, use a weekly coupon, and get a copy of one of the books for around $5. For some reason, they were $9 for digital copies. Have I mentioned the covers?

Another plus, the whole whispersync thing with the Kindle app is pretty awesome, if I didn't care to take my iPad with me I could read on my phone. An acceptable compromise if I felt nervous about hauling my way too expensive iPad around town. My iPhone has had all sorts of problems upgrading to ios4 so I can't use the iBooks app. Looks like Kindle won the battle of e-reader apps... for now at least.

One of the things I liked, alot, was the ability to take notes... see below:

Looking things up, taking notes, bookmarking, all that stuff is pretty awesome. The only thing I seem to use the notes function for was to point out typos and continuity errors. Something which thrills me to no end.

Here is my proposal to the publishing industry as a whole... fix the pricing thing. You are being very greedy. I've read some pretty lengthy arguments regarding the pricing thing from both sides. But the bottom line is this: The e-versions are missing just enough that I feel like I'm getting ripped off. If you have to protect the hardback market then I'm ok with that. Leave those expensive. But those mass market paperbacks that are in some cases 40% more than the paper equivalent. Without the costs associated with printing, shipping, warehousing - the only real cost is bandwidth. They can rant all they want about the expenses, I don't believe them. I'm being ripped off.

How about this? If I go buy the physical book - let me download it for a huge discount. A coupon or something so I have my digital copy for an additional dollar or something. As nonchalantly as I make my request I am serious, that seems fair.

C'mon publishers, you can do it. Don't be evil.

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