My ebook problem

It’s okay, friends – I’m not up on my piracy soapbox today. But I was recently asked for my general opinion of ebooks and realized, I seldom think about them. As you know, I love books with a fervour that approaches the religious and have plenty of opinions about technology, but where those two things collide, I just shrug and go, “Meh.”

Basically, I’m suspicious of the medium. Dedicated e-readers look frumpy, cumbersome, fragile. When I look at them, I think, “Landfill.” Smartphones are sleeker and newer iPads have some green credentials, but they’re still not that sustainable. Analyses vary, but the number I hear most is that you have to read at least 40 ebooks a year to outweigh the environmental cost of the same number of new paper books. (That’s if you believe the most-quoted figure.) For how many years? More than it takes to get the next generation e-reader, for sure.

I already spend my days on a laptop, drive a car, fly long distances to visit family, and eat for pleasure rather than sustenance. Sometimes, I slip carrot peelings into the garbage instead of the composter. And without going all Willy Loman on you, I’m putting off buying a dishwasher because new ones are designed to last only 6-8 years. I think I’m turning into a cranky hippie but basically, I dislike stuff.

So today, I’m thinking of things that need to happen before I’d want an e-reader or smartphone. My first device should:

- last more than 5 years

- be made without sweatshop labour

- be recyclable (and not just in theory)

- cost less energy to produce than, say, 25 paper books (roughly the number I bought new last year)

- be beautiful

And that’s excluding all the readerly functions I’d want: huge range of titles, full-text searchability, linked index, ability to turn more than one page at a time, proper illustrations.

What about you? What are your criteria for getting an e-reader? If you already have one, what persuaded you it was worthwhile?

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10 Responses to “My ebook problem”

  1. Pam says:

    I have had two ereaders, and neither went to the landfill, there is always a kid who doesn’t have as much who can access free books from their library willing to take it. Before we get into the ‘my library has nothing’ in Northern California we have a digital library that houses e-books and audio books and you can get everything.

    There are readers who have the exact things you want, but you have to pay :D

    The iLIAD by iRex technologies and the Entourage eDGe for example.

    I love that Google Books has made it easy for me to buy from my local indie and it isn’t just a big box game anymore. It saves you don’t know how much space in my house. As a book blogger I get at times 20 books in one week, I am an apartment dweller! With the ereader I can buy the books I want to read on my own digitally and even have the option of e-galleys when available.

    With the baby I can read while feeding and doing other stuff because I don’t need two hands. Yes I love books, the way they look on my shelves and the smell and leafing pages but honestly my e-reader keeps me reading when I otherwise could not!

  2. Colleen says:

    When I began my job search, I decided that once I got a job I’d get a Kindle and use it only for gigantic heavy books, such as War and Peace or Clarissa. As the job hunt continued, I decided I’d probably not bother, as it occurred to me that if Clarissa was too heavy to carry around the problem was not the book, and that I needed to go to the gym more.

    As I buy only about 5 new books a year – the rest I get used or borrow from the library – I can’t see an e-reader ever being more environmentally friendly than that.

  3. Ying says:

    @Colleen: FIVE new books a year? I’m in awe. Do you think that’ll remain consistent, with the bookstore in your past? And @Pam, if I read 20 books a week, I’d have an eReader too! I don’t know how you do it. And I appreciate your points about buying from indies and space-saving (both of which I love), but I checked the 2 readers you mentioned and they don’t seem to do it all – especially from an environmental perspective. Donating used stuff is great, but it’s all still ultimately landfill. Sigh.

  4. Becky Earl says:

    I don’t have an e-reader, i always said i would never get one, I love my books and the whole experience of holding them and flicking the pages, and the smell and feel (I’m a total book freak! don’t be scared.)

    However i did download an e-book as i was desperate for some information for an essay due in Monday morning and this was Sunday evening, I used Amazon’s free Kindle program, and then just downloaded the book i wanted from Amazon which cost me a fiver.
    Therefore i didn’t pay any extra money and don’t have an e-reader to deal with and i can download books to my computer now if i ever want to again. Seemed like a good compromise, but for me it is books in physical form all the way

  5. Colleen says:

    By new books, I mean bought in a store in which only new books are sold. So, yes, only about 5 a year. I buy a lot of used books. I find the browsing experience in used bookstore infinitely more interesting than in new bookstores, the latter of which generally all have the same things. I like to be surprised in bookstores and in Toronto, that doesn’t tend to happen in new shops anymore.

  6. Brigi says:

    I don’t have an e-reader either – I like the idea though, but I don’t think it fits my reader personality (if there’s such a thing). I buy quite a lot of new books and sometimes it gets difficult to find enough space for all of them, but I have this fantasy of having a huge library at home one day. :)

    As far as I’ve seen, often I can buy a paperback cheaper than the e-book version of the same title, and as I’m a poor student price has a major factor when I decide which version of a book (hardback / paperback / e-book / new / used) I’m going to buy.

    I think an e-reader is especially useful when you are doing academic research and you don’t need a whole book, so you can buy only the required chapters in electornic format; or you don’t have to wait for the library to get the book you need from another library. Similary, it must be a lot more comfortable to read articles and essays on an e-reader than on the computer.

  7. ellenceleste says:

    I love my ipad. It was one of those love-at-first-sight, who cares if it’s environmentally correct, I-want-it-right-now kind of lusts the moment it was introduced last year. What really sold me was the Kindle and Nook apps where I could download books and the illustrations would be in color. I love to quilt and the first book I bought was The Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt, with a letter to this magazine from the 1920s on one page and a quilt block on the opposite page. It’s superb. I can increase the size of the illustration until I can see each individual thread if I want to. As a bonus, when I spend my summers in the Rockies off the grid, I can receive email, and even download books while miles and miles from the nearest store. And it entertains my grandson when we’re in the car. My ipad is packed with pre-reading apps, mostly free, for him, puzzle games for me, and books and music.

    As a school librarian, I’m the first to read the Newbery winner, which I can download the moment it’s announced at ALA. I can download my state’s list of recommended books for the year and carry them all with me without carrying an extra bag. And when I finish a book and want its sequel, I can download it in a heartbeat. When I hear about a book on NPR, I can download it at the next stoplight.

    As an amateur writer of fanfiction, I can place my work in epub format and share it with friends, or carry a work of fanfiction from a friend on my ipad and read it at my leisure. No paper costs, no mailing costs. I’ve been reading and writing fanfiction for decades and fanfiction has always been really expensive! $20 and more was standard more than 20 years ago just to pay for copying costs. Now my friends and I can share our work freely and read it anywhere.

    My ipad is tough, and tested by a three year old. Yes, we’ve dropped it. More than once. We do have a bumper on it, and usually leave it in a leather case when moving around. It’s used daily and still has no dents or scratches on the screen, that glass is tough!

    I’ve loved every minute of having my ipad around and reading books in the car, the airport, in the dark — there’s a brightness feature that really helps with that. It’s more than a reader, and exactly what I hoped it would be: tons of fun!

  8. Ying says:

    ellenceleste, yours is the most impassioned and convincing case I’ve yet heard! I love that it’s your companion, rather than merely a *yawn* tool. Maybe that’s the emotional justification that tips the balance? I suspect I’m a long way from loving any object that much, but I’m intrigued. Thanks for commenting!

  9. Alethea says:

    My husband and I just moved and I while I dearly love (almost to the point of hoarding) my “real” books, I never ever want to have to move all of these books again. It took us nearly 2 weeks to move, I am estimating, 2000+ books. This would have been so much easier with a hard drive and a Kindle :(

  10. Ying says:

    Oh, moving is agony! Glad you survived, Alethea. I still mourn books that I gave away/sold in previous moves but wish I’d hung on to. But now that I’m never moving house again, I think of them as the best kind of wallpaper. ;)

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