Most of the books I read these days are ebooks. My reading happens on my iPad Mini. It’s a first generation iPad and is slow and long since abandoned by Apple. I didn’t buy it, it was a gift. As I hadn’t planned to own it and I didn’t already own a proper ebook reader, the first use I thought of the iPad was to make it a repository for pdfs and epubs that I had scattered on the pc and that I didn’t find comfortable reading there (due too many distractions, basically).
I’m totally aware a Kindle would be a million times better but I haven’t yet decided to invest a dedicated sum of money on a device that can only read books with. Perhaps in the future. Perhaps. Therefore for the validity of this article, consider that my ebook reader of choice is actually a tablet (albeit a good one for its time).
I had heard of tons of people who fell in love with digital books and were not going to return to paper books for any money. I was never fascinated with the “paper smell” of real books not attached to the physical possession of them. They were functional to what I need (= read text in a easy and portable way). I had no prejudice then against ebooks. I thought I was going to switch to them in a heart-beat. Yet it seems not so. I found out to have some gripes with ebooks that are preventing me to make the definitive switch.
Every device can fit a different number of characters on screen and the numbering changes also according to their size. Probably also about different softwares used to render the ebook. A short-sighted person will see a 300 pages long book as a 450 pages while somebody that likes to fit a lot of text on screen at time and has a good sight, may see the same book as 250 pages long. Albeit paper books have differences in numbering between different editions, they are never that big. I find this particulary bothering when citing part of the book or talking about a scene with friends. When I was a kid I used to read parts of books with friends. With ebooks, for this reason, it is not possible.
I don’t like to burn my eyes trying to read a book on screen, and I bet you don’t too. So I enlarge the font as to make it slightly bigger than a real book. Problem is, doing so I can read much less text on a single page than a proper book does. I could shrink the font but then I’d be really hard to read. This cause me to switch pages at least twice per minute, or even less on a light read, and it’s comparably as tiring as to holding a weighter paper books. It somehow defeats the advantage of having a device that is lighter than a single book.
While this could be accomplished on paper too (post-it notes), it is much handier with an ebook. Only, I never really used this feature with paper so I don’t see a good case use on electronic paper either. I usually rely on my memory to remember past parts of books. And it usually works. This is an advantage that isn’t appliable to my specific use more than a disavantage then.
While this is, after all, an advantage in space and weight, it’s also slightly distracting. Whenever I open iBooks and am prompted with a wall of books’ covers, I notice it takes a couple of seconds to open the one I am reading. Like I’m tempted to read something else each time. Clearly this is impossible when you have only a book available, as with real ones. That’s just me of course. You may be of the kind that has a pile of books beside the bed, all started/half read. Then it’s pathological 🙂
If you add the chance to easily access online bookstores and repositories like Amazon or Google Books, then it becomes way too tempting to switch in a few seconds to another book.
I like iCloud. It’s very handy. Yet it still suffer from the threat of every cloud services: the “what ifs”. What if Apple changes its mind and closes it? What if the space is reduced and then you have to pay for most of what is now free? What if it doesn’t accept anymore the kind of files you are putting on it now? What if new software versions make it impossible to access it unless you buy newer hardware too? And things like this. Clearly none of this is probable at the moment (but nobody predicted Google was going to shut down Reader, yet it happened) but still, what if it happens? A paper book doesn’t suffer from any of these ifs, when you buy it it’s yours, simple. The only risk there is physically losing it, akin to losing the ebook reader itself.
With added features come added risks. Such is life, I suppose.
Sending a book to a friend isn’t as straightforward as with a real book. Granted, you can copy it and keep it while your friend is reading it. It’s a tie here.
Some ebooks are really poorly edited. Lack of ToC, no chapters etc. It makes browsing forward or backward in search of another chapter even harder than with a paper book, where the speed of browsing pages is much faster. This clearly doesn’t apply to properly edited ebooks and I hope that it won’t be an issue in the near future anymore.
Price of Ebooks
Ebooks should cost less than real books. Period. I don’t care the reasons why they often don’t, they shouldn’t. The cost of producing and distributing the books is obviously way lower but still they don’t cost noticeably less than real books. If you also include the cost of electricity to power your ebook reader/tablet, it can be higher. This alone can be a reason to keep reading paper books.
These are a few issues I have with ebooks. As you see, I haven’t said anything about the glossy screen of the iPad and its consequences. I know it’s not the optimal medium to read ebooks. A device with e-ink technology would not suffer from such consequences.
Yet I believe my gripes would stand even with a proper ebook reader. They are mostly implicit in the technology and not related to the iPad or other devices. YMMV. This is of course a “just me” article. Many will find that these are minor gripes and the advantages far outweight them. Fine. But I thought that ebooks were an improvement over real books and I believe now it’s not true; they have some advantages, perhaps many, but not as many as to abandon paper books without any regret. I feel like I’ll have many if I really did the switch. I’m not alone as it’s been many years that ebooks were supposed to dominate the market but they keep failing to.
I plan to buy books at local bookstores for the ones I care the most about and use ebooks for those authors that I haven’t read anything yet and don’t feel like spending money and have another book to find a place on my house’s shelves. Yes, that’s the actual, clear advantage of ebooks, less space 🙂
Photo courtesy of Kingston Chen and Negative Space