Monday, June 09, 2008

Still Not as Good...

A reader named Tomas commented on my last post about ebook readers. Firstly he admonished me for not doing enough research and then listed some reasons why ebook readers are a good thing.

Here are his reasons, followed by my responses:

1) Because of ‘e-ink technology’ it doesn’t strain your eyes.

Paper books don’t strain your eyes either, and paper books are also far less fragile and cost a hell of a lot less.

2) Because of the same technology you can read thousands of pages (sony portable reader - 7500 pages, not sure about kindle) with just one full charge.

7500 pages on a single charge? Impressive! Oh, but wait, paper books never need to be charged ever…and they don’t cost three hundred and fifty dollars and won’t break if you drop them.

3) You can get electronic versions of books for free (you can download pdfs from various bittorrent trackers) also members share ebooks they buy.

You can also get paper books for free from a library, with the added bonus of knowing that getting them from the library is 100% legal. Getting copyrighted works of fiction off the internet for free is called ‘piracy’ and is highly illegal.

4) You can read long articles which only come in electronic form (blogs,, and so on) without straining your eyes

Ok, that’s kinda nice, except for two things. Eye strain only really becomes a factor if you’re reading the same thing, without a break, for around 45 minutes or more. It shouldn’t take you even close to that long to read a blog post or news article. Secondly, is saving that little bit of eye-strain really worth spending over 300 dollars on? Not to mention and all the time and hassle to get that content from your computer to your ebook reader.

5) Most of the other ebook devices (compared to kindle) support many more ebook formats without drm crap.

Again, paper books have no ‘format issues’ whatsoever and DRM only becomes an issue if you’re stealing the content you want to put on your reader.

Long story short, Paper Books: 5, Ebook Readers: O.

Here’s the thing, Tomas, please don’t get me wrong I think things like the ‘Kindle’ and Sony’s ‘portable reader’ are quite nifty little devices.

My point is that even if you get an ebook reader that gives you zero eyestrain, never needs to be charged up ever, can survive a fall from the top of the Empire State Building and can work with every single ebook format there is going…all you’ve done is matched the performance of a paper book, in every area but the price.

Sure, you can point out the great ‘online’ features that come with a lot of ebook readers, but for fifty to a hundred dollars more than an ebook reader, I can buy a low-end laptop that can do everything the ebook reader can do and a whole lot more.

In simplest terms, in order for a technology to be successful, they have to improve on the thing they’re trying to replace.

Look at MP3 players. They’re better than other players because they’re much smaller, have much greater storage space than portable CD players and you can go for a run wearing one without having to worry about making the CD skip.

Ebook readers get absolutely no benefit from massive storage space because you’re never going to find yourself in a situation where you need six months reading material with you. One song keeps you entertained for about 4 minutes, so you need a lot of them…but even a short novella like ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ is going to keep you entertained for a couple of hours/

Also, you can’t go much smaller than a paperback book with an ebook reader because they need to be big enough to read off.

Even if you find yourself in a situation where it would be awesome to have 10,000 books with you (such as finding yourself stranded on a desert island), the batteries are still going to run out before you get through a fraction of them…and if you have to go home to charge the thing up, you might as well just go home, put the paperback you’ve read up on the shelf and grab another one.

In the end, even if I’m going on vacation and want reading material with me for the plane and for when I get there, I have a choice. I can spend $300 on an ebook reader and hope it doesn’t break, get stolen, run out of power or get damaged by sand when I’m reading on the beach…or I can stuff a couple of paperbacks into my carry-on luggage.


Kelly said...

Nicely said Paul. I would just like to add to it too...Not everything has to be about technology. There's nothing wrong with taking a simple paperback book and laying down for a nice relaxing read. It's just as portable as any ebook player, and there's something nice about actually reading from a book. I have a huge book collection, I love to read, and reading from a 'device' would take something away from it....imho..

tomas said...

Ok, you have your point, Paul :)
Just few more things:
1) ebook readers are still ideal for pupils/students and other people who have to carry lots of books/papers with them;
2) They have about 24 thousand ebooks at project Gutenberg (, which you can download for free without worrying about it being illegal;
3) Not everyone has the time to go to libraries, especially if there isn't one near (you can get ebooks any day of the week without having to go anywhere);
4) Laptops don't use e-paper technology.

Kelly, at least the sony reader still feels pretty good with all those nice materials used for the device and its cover.

Sunny said...

I know nothing about the device you guys are talking about-BUT- I see the pros and cons of all sides. I can see PERFECTLY Paulius, Kelly and Tomas' viewpoints.
Another point I would like to point out is that the device would save paper(therefore helping the environment) - altho on the other hand I'm not sure about how much damage the e-device does in damaging the environment to get the e-books to you FOR the device.

I'm going now- I'm confusing myself

Paulius said...

Well, tomas, here is my second rebuttal:

1) Ok, I'll give you this one, except to say that if I'm going to be spending $350 or more for the convenience of not carrying a lot of books, I'm going to get a laptop instead. I can still read all my ebooks, but take notes and write reports as well.

2) I looked at project Gutenberg...and the reason those books are free AND legal is because 99.9% of them are public domain.
Great if you like classics like Mody Dick, not so great if you want the latest Harry Potter.

3) The way I see it is this...If you don't have time to go to a library, you don't have time to read, I think there are more people who can't afford $350 for a reader than there are people who can't get to a library.

4) Laptops have a hundred other features and uses that offset that limitation.

Anyway, Tomas, I can tell that you own an eBook reader and absolutely love it. Like I said in my last post, I personally think they're nifty little devices.

My point is that they're never going to be a mainstream technology unless someone works out a way to sell them for five bucks a pop...and the price can't get that low because there's just not that much interest in them.