Scott Hanselman

Reading more than ever: An analysis of four lazy years with an Amazon Kindle and no dead trees

October 24, 2011 Comment on this post [71] Posted in Musings
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Bezos on the cover of NewsweekIt's nice to finally see ebooks going mainstream. By mainstream, I mean that my Mom bought a Kindle Fire with minimal angst and gnashing of teeth. I've been reading ebooks since my first Apple Newton and I coveted the Sony Reader nearly 5 years ago. Finally bought a Kindle for my birthday in 2008, so come January I'll have had a Kindle as a part of my life for four years.

Even more, I haven't purchased a physical book in that time. In fact, I actually spend more time in my local libraries now than I did before the kindle. My library is the place where I get dead tree books. Ironically, my local library just announced their ebook lending program.

Interesting Historical Aside: I did architectural consulting with netLibrary around 1999. They were a totally-ahead-of-their-time e-book company. They scanned thousands of ebooks in anticipation of the coming ebook revolution. It's tragic they were at least a half decade if not a full decade ahead of their time. They are gone now.

According to the Amazon Kindle Social Network (yes, they have their own social network! You and I can connect and you can stalk my books as well) I've purchased 141 books since I got my Kindle and read 90 of them. It doesn't see books that you copied to your Kindle from free websites, so that's maybe another dozen or so. I'm in the middle of reading 5 books right now. 

The Kindle keeps my current page sync'd between any other devices I may choose to read on. A few pages on the iPhone, a few on the PC, then back to the Kindle.

I read before, but never so much as when I got a Kindle? Why the change? Laziness. It's effortless to get books. The Kindle is literally a one-click link between my wallet and Jeff Bezo's bank account. I see a book and click, I'm reading it. You might think that gets expensive, but for every $8.99 book I get (which is not a lot) there's a lot of really good books I grab under $5 and some for free or 99 cents.

Remember all the blog posts about how Kindle would never work because it was $359? Well, three years later and the cheap Kindle is $79. That's less than two copies of The Walking Dead Compendium.

It's the reading, stupid.

A recent study showed that it doesn't matter if you read from paper or from an electronic screen. The words make it into your head all the the same. Here's a passage from the Mashable article, emphasis mine.

The study was conducted after readers in Germany became skeptical about reading from electronic devices like ereaders and tablet PCs compared to traditional printed books.

Participants in the study read a variety of texts with different levels of understanding on an Amazon Kindle 3, Apple iPad and in print. Their reading behaviors and brain activity were examined using an EEG machine and eye tracking tools.

The study proved that reading from an electronic device instead of print has no negative effects, contradicting the misconception from German readers.

Everywhere I go I take my Kindle with me. And everywhere I go I end up meeting someone who says what all non-Kindle owners say "I just like the tactile experience...the feel of the paper." At this point I ask them if they've ever read a book on a Kindle or used an ereader. Most never have. They're just down on the idea of change. I get that, and I too, mourn the end of the physical book. But at the same time I, for one, welcome our new e-ink overlords.

I issue them the same challenge I'll issue you, Dear Reader. Read one book on a Kindle or small e-ink device. Just one, cover to virtual cover. I'm confident that most folks will never go back. I realize there are advantages to reading from paper just as there are advantages to using photographic film over digital cameras, but they are few and they don't outweigh the overwhelming advantages of a small e-reader.

Some folks swear by iPad or other illuminated LCD reading, but I believe those screens cause eye fatigue. They have a lower resolution than eink, they are hard to read  - if not impossible - in the sun or outside, they have limited battery life and they just don't look like paper. Each of these reasons is reason enough to go with e-ink. I went overseas for a week and didn't even take my Kindle charger. No need to. It lasts weeks on a full charge; that's almost long enough to pretend it's not an electronic device. Even the 3G wireless worked seamlessly all over Europe without me doing anything special.

I feel awful about it, but I can't count how many times I've been at a small airport bookseller, browsed, looked at a book, then purchased it on my Kindle while standing right there. If only there were a way to give that book seller some money for the referral.

My 4 years with a Kindle have got me reading more than ever because the Kindle has:

  • made it easy to get books
  • made it easy to carry my whole collection
  • made it easy to read even large books with thousands of pages (I'm looking at you, Neal Stephenson)
  • made it easy to finish a book in a series and immediately start the next book.

These are the reasons I've read more in the last 4 years with my Kindle than in previous years. It's removed what little friction physical books had imposed while seamlessly fitting into my life.

Nicolas Negroponte said last year that physical books would be dead within 5 years and Kindle ebooks surpassed the sales of physical books at Amazon last July. In fact, it's starting to be a multiplier, where for every 100 physical books sold there's perhaps 200 ebooks sold.

Everyone believes that the DTB (dead tree book) is on its last legs. How long do you think it'll take, Dear Reader? 5 years? 10? Will it be Amazon's centralization and DRM (digital rights management) that will hold it back or do you think that Amazon will eventually do what iTunes did, turning off DRM in favor of MP3s and low prices?

How long until physical books die, then are brought back from the dead by future-hipsters just like vinyl records? (Bet you didn't know vinyl sales were up 40%, did you?)

I don't know, but I know physical books will die. Why will physical books die? One reason and one reason only.

Because it's cheaper to move electrons than molecules.

Ultimately that's why ebooks will win.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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October 24, 2011 23:17
Man you can even post articles from the future! It's 3:15 pm in here.
October 24, 2011 23:19
Ok UTC does appear in comments.
October 24, 2011 23:19
I have the 'big' kindle and also ordered the Fire. I will agree that for novel style books kindle is awesome but where it falls short is technical books.

They suck on the kindle, you can't ever get what you want to see in the entire page and you can't see examples with the text. I never realized how important a '2 page' view is for programming books.

That being said kids took over the kindle and its really great.
October 24, 2011 23:21
Agreed that most technical books are lame on the small Kindle. I read technical PDFs on my iPad, but more and more I'm seeing technical publishing companies (including my books) make custom Kindle-formatted books. The ASP.NET MVC 3 book from Wrox/Wiley looks great on a small Kindle.
October 24, 2011 23:25
Perhaps book sellers should all have amazon referral accounts and QRCodes on their shelves. Take a picture of the code, buy the book, they get a cut...

My wife reads 50+ books/year. Most from the library. She is the one person who I know would make the most use of a Kindle, but it would drive the cost of her reading up by hundreds of dollars given the lack a rich digital Library. Seeing that mp3 books on tape are poorly supported by our library (limited authors on Overdrive), I don't see this being solved very soon.
October 24, 2011 23:29
First of all, great post. I was going to write a post on my Kindle experience, but I am still within the first year. (Also, you've said so much of what I wanted to say, and better than I would have said it.)

I grow tired of people acting like an eReader will stop people from reading. "OOOOH, BUT THE SMELL OF THE BOOK IS AMAZING!" Really? It's dusty and moldy. Good luck. I'm more interested in the words within said book. The kindle isn't perfect, but it's damn good. I truly enjoy the experience. And if the book is that good, I will eventually buy a dead tree copy...but I'm no longer pressed to do so.

I also love being able to pick up the NYT without having to fold the paper or feel inconvenienced on the train. Buying a book in a terminal, platform, taxi or wherever I am is amazing. I am willing to try different authors and genres now that I have this. And I don't have to worry about hauling a million books when we (eventually) move.
October 24, 2011 23:33
Great article. You're preaching to the choir here though. I finally got a kindle (small one, with the keyboard) last week. I've already bought 3 books. I will say that while some of the technical ones are difficult, I still enjoy it. I'm reading through Design Patterns by GoF and I can't stress enough how enjoyable it is to read it while lying down. Normally technical books are near impossible to enjoy while laying down, but not anymore. The zoom feature makes the diagrams easier to read for me and that's enough.

Buying books is dangerously easy. Being able to read a sample first adds to the danger, just one click and by the time I can press the home button, my book is downloaded. It is well worth it to have one. I honestly don't know why I waited so long!
October 24, 2011 23:36
I love my Kindle but I still buy paper books too. I agree with you that reading on the Kindle is not really any different to reading with a book. I can't read books on an LCD screen for long though without my eyes becoming fatigued.

The main reasons I have for buying paper books still are:

1. The price - I don't know if it's the same in the US but in the UK there's tax on eBooks but not on books. In a lot of cases there's very little price differential and sometimes the eBook version is more expensive than the paperback. Some of this is also caused by publishers increasing the price, presumably in fear of losing the paper product they have been successful with and the risk of copying the eBook version.

2. Resale. It seems wrong that I can't resell a book and allow someone else to enjoy it when I no longer want it.

3. Localism. Like you at the airport I guess. If we keep pumping all of our money into Amazon and other large resellers we risk losing our local shops. Local economies are very important to me as it ensures the vibrancy of the places we live and keeps the money local where it pays for local jobs and services.

4. Type of book. Some books just don't work on a small, monochrome screen. Even if I had a colour e-Ink screen I don't think I could enjoy "Life on Earth" as much.

Some of these things are fixable of course.
October 24, 2011 23:38
Mmm.. I'm back to pbooks for programming books with a lot of code (for example jquery, csharp in depth2) in it.

The code listings (and general tables) are unreadable formatted on a Nook (epub books from manning).

I hate it, because a don't want to drag along pounds of death trees.

Is the reading experience better on the Kindle? And the to be released kindle fire?
October 24, 2011 23:39
I think the stat is that they are selling more ebooks than they are selling HARD COVER books. Not more ebooks than books.

But still. I agree. F' paper. I just added the Kindle touch to my Christmas list.
October 24, 2011 23:52
I would love to get a Kindle, but it annoys me that publishers are forcing prices up to match print editions. I should not have to pay the same amount of money for a product that I cannot resell.
October 24, 2011 23:56
I bought a Kindle more as an experiment. Haven't been reading much books lately. That totally changed with the Kindle.

I have read the MVC 3 book on Kindle in just a few days and certainly prefer it to reading a real paper book.

I also gave away my half-read Code Complete, and bought it on the Kindle.
October 24, 2011 23:57
My biggest gripes about e-readers.

Loaning a book that I've purchased on kindle to a person who doesn't own a kindle. Loaning features in general are not good.

A paper book can be resold, not an e-ink book. The discounted cost does not reflect this. When I can buy a used copy of a book in hardcover for $6 on Amazon Prime, but the kindle version will cost be $18 or $29 I'm just not interested in paying for the kindle version.

Technical books look like crap almost always. (The bigger kindle helps with this some)

All the paper books I own don't contain a license to read them on the kindle so I'd need to re-buy the book. Which I won't do because that's against my principles to double pay for something.

Creating a technical library for work, work will only buy paper books based on the above reasons... which means I don't get to put them on my kindle which means I'm still dragging around 2-3 paper books every where I go. (And one of my kindles, and my ipad)

October 24, 2011 23:57
I'm holding onto the dead trees, for a number of reasons that I haven't properly analysed. Certainly DRM / transferability is a factor. In music and film I've ended up buying multiple formats of the same item over time. I'd rather not go down the same route with books.

I still read books that my Dad bought in the 50s and 60s. I wonder if we'll be passing on our eBooks in the same manner?

I also wonder about the ephemeral nature of our digital media. Where libraries have preserved books from the middle ages, and museums have inscriptions such as the rosetta stone, in comparison I struggle to open file formats from ten years ago...
October 25, 2011 0:01
I stalked your reading and found the book I'm very interested in Zero Day by Mark Russinovich.
Can someone tell me why the kindle edition costs $18.32 and the hardcover (made from dead trees) is only $16.49.
The prices are the biggest problem for me at the moment. I'd expect am e-book to be cheaper than a normal book, and not only by 2-3 $.
And there is the problem of lending a book. I normally give my books to my brother so he can read them too, how should I do that with a e-book covered behind a DRM system?
October 25, 2011 0:09
made it easy to read even large books with thousands of pages (I'm looking at you, Neal Stephenson)

As someone who is currently straining his wrists reading "REAMDE" (which is fantastic, by the way), I chuckled loudly.
October 25, 2011 0:20
I read ebooks all the time, but don't use a kindle. I actually prefer the Barnes and Nobel nook. As for technical manuals, ya, pdf and iPad work pretty well. With the new Epub3 working its way into main stream, should help change ebooks even more. You should research it out. The epub3 will include multimedia support and other support that will make reading even more enjoyable.
October 25, 2011 0:51
Great post. I loves me some Kindle. I read mine every day. My wife gave me one as a present and I had no idea how much I'd love it. You are spot on about laziness being the barrier. Now I only have two kinds of media: kindle and kindling.
October 25, 2011 0:53
My mum got diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a few months ago and ever since shes not working as much, or doing as much.

So as a result shes reading more.

Two weeks ago I went to New Zealand, bought her a Kindle Keyboard w/ 3G.

Opened up a whole new world for her :) She loves the thing. My dad spent 30 minutes playing with it, and bought one. He's all excited because he has access to all these books you can't get in NZ.
October 25, 2011 0:55
I have to agree that I love my kindle for reading books. Buying a Kindle 3 also increased my reading for pleasure, but when it comes to technical manuals or programming books, I can read them on my computer monitor but that is not always ideal or available when i'm working on a project.
October 25, 2011 1:11
I've never used an e-reader and have no strong desire to get one, for one simple fact: all my books are sitting neatly on my bookshelf, and they can't suddenly be taken away with a few keystrokes by Jeff Bezos or any other large corporation.

If Amazon does go the iTunes route, or otherwise relaxes the current DRM restrictions, then I would be more inclined to invest in e-books. Plus some of us collect physical books just to collect them, and you can't really display electrons on a shelf.

I agree that the DTB is on the decline and I don't know when it will eventually disappear, but I give it waaay more than 5 years.
October 25, 2011 1:23
Josh, Amazon ebooks eclipsed the sales of *all* print books in April, not hardcover.
October 25, 2011 1:24
"They're just down on the idea of change." Really?

That's an awfully broad assumption. All change? To state a preference ("I like the feel of paper books") is not to declare an opposition to change, technical or otherwise. I don't own an eReader, but I do read on my laptop and phone. Nevertheless, in spite of research conclusions to the contrary, I find it easier to digest technical manuals on paper. Maybe it's the act of underlining and highlighting. Who knows. I'm not opposed to reading on screen, and I lament my use of so much paper, but paper works for me.

As to your other points:

"made it easy to get books" - with free, two-day delivery. It doesn't get much easier, but then, I don't travel often and have little need for instant gratification with books.

"made it easy to carry my whole collection" - technically compelling but practically unnecessary. I love having all 10,000+ songs in my music collection on my iPod, and it's easy to quickly enjoy one song at any time. But unless you're using ebooks for research, do you need instant, anywhere, anytime access to your entire library? Maybe.

"made it easy to read even large books with thousands of pages (I'm looking at you, Neal Stephenson)" - Easier than paper? I guess books that size do get heavy, granted.

"made it easy to finish a book in a series and immediately start the next book." - I've never read a series where I didn't know well before I finished vol. 1 that I wanted to go on to vol. 2. Again, two-day delivery, but maybe this, too, is a travel and availability issue.

Having said all that, I admit that I am an unapologetic sentimentalist, and I do love paper books. I love holding them. I love seeing them on my ever more crowded bookshelves. I love the conversations they spark when house guests see them on the shelf. And on, and on. As long as paper is available, there's no reason to change just for the sake of change. But to each his own.
October 25, 2011 1:46
My girlfriend just got her new Kindle for her birthday. She had used my friend's Kindle, who offered to let her use it anytime, but she just "had to have her own."

She will make good use out of it, because while I prefer my Audible reading (due to driving a ton), she prefers books (and now, Kindle) for her public transportation. She also loves classics, and guess what, Project Gutenberg usually has Kindle format for many of its books. Plus, many classics are just free, even on Amazon.

Does anyone know if Kindle offers book tracking? Specifically, the $80 Kindle. My girlfriend uses an Excel book to track what books she wants to read, which ones she's read, and how many times she's read them. If Amazon can give her that functionality, right on her Kindle, that would be a huge win in the ease-of-use department. Extrapolate for a second and imagine the Kindle would notify her of sales on her wishlist, when they are free, when new books she's waiting for are released, or recommend additional books. Nothing but money flowing in, Amazon. She's been trying to convince me to make a webapp for her to do that, like I did for video games, but if Amazon can just do it (which they can), that'd be easier.
October 25, 2011 1:54
I love the idea of e-books. I don't own a current e-reader but I used my iPaq back in the day to read A LOT of ebooks. What ultimately turned me off was the lack of three things:

1. Loaning Books - I would read a really great book, tell all my friends about it, and wanted to loan it to them but couldn't. Right now, I have four books loaned out to friends and when they're done, we can talk about them. Even though reading is done alone (movies are the same way), chatting about them with my friends is a very social experience.

2. Airplanes - I hate having to put my book away because it has an 'on' button. Not a huge deal but when I travel a lot I hate sitting in the plane like a sucker while the pilot drives us around.

3. I dig a good bookshelf. I spent my youth in the library. I love perusing books, reading little snippets, and selecting books based on whatever page I may have flipped to. I know you can frequently read the first few chapters of an e-book but that's not the same. I like providing that same experience to my kids. I've read a ton of stuff over the years and I love that they are able to grab something from my personal bookshelf and read it, share it, whatever.

I absolutely love the idea of e-books but the implementation still leaves something to be desired.
October 25, 2011 2:42
I have/Had a kindle, I've read two-three books on it - give me dead trees please, or for that matter, the Kindle software on the PC. I gave the kindle to my daughter, who has managed to break it 3 times, the last time I refused to call Amazon to have it replaced, again, as I don't think they really owe me ANOTHER one (they replaced it twice already - free)
October 25, 2011 2:58
I'd be 100% eBook format if it weren't for publishers holding eBook prices higher than paperbacks in some (many?) cases. As for technical books, I'm still paper, too, though I like to get the PDF version and store it on dropbox for quick reference.

I'm on the Kindle 2, the wife has a Kindle 3, and I'm eyeing the Kindle Fire.
October 25, 2011 3:22
I've bought and read half a dozen Kindle books on my HTC Desire and at some point I might shell out for an actual Kindle. I have a few problems with the e-books though:

1. I can't flog them again

2. I can't buy second hand copies.

3. There's a couple of great Amazon UK marketplace bookshops I usually give my business to (yes I know Amazon get their cut) and with e-books I no longer have the choice to buy from them.

3. I really do enjoy reading paper books, I love the feel of books and the look of them on a bookshelf.

4. There's a rip off going on - in the UK there are e-books that are more expensive than the dead tree format (and on top of that add VAT). I wouldn't mind paying full price if they gave me the book in both formats (many new DVD/Blu-ray releases are multi format now - why can't paper books provide a QR code to get access to a free or heavily discounted ebook).

Unfortunately the current model isn't fair or flexible enough for me to take the full plunge. Also sadly there isn't enough of a customer revolt (in the same way that DRM was forced off of music downloads) to make Amazon and the publishers think of more innovative ways to sell ebooks.
October 25, 2011 3:54
Physical books dying off in 5 or 10 years is a bit of a stretch. How long have we had MP3s? iTunes (and their ilk) have been running for a few years now, but I still can't see the physical CD/DVD medium leaving us within that time frame. I think books will take significantly longer than music.

Considering primary schools; when kids have to 'take a book home' to read, I doubt they're going to be loading up personal kindles.

Give it a generation, and we might be closer to a total E-experience.
October 25, 2011 5:36
Like Greg's wife, I get my books from the library. I check out about 70 books per year and read an average of 1 book per week. I buy less than 1 book a year. I will get an ebook reader when I am forced to. Maybe it's unfair for libraries to circulate books over and over for years, but it saves me and a lot of other folks a ton of money.

btw, my library allows me to request books online, and I can renew them online indefinitely so long as there is not a request for the book. I use RSS to subscribe to books by my favorite authors so I know the day the book is available for request. Mine is routinely the first request for new books.
October 25, 2011 6:05
I can't remember the last physical book I bought since I got my Kindle last year in November. I bought lots of digital books, though, all from Amazon, O'Reilly, InformIT, or Apress. The latter 3 offer multiple formats (PDF, epub, mobi usually), and I'm generally happy with the technical books I read (mostly SharePoint).
I also read a lot more, as I too have my Kindle with me everywhere. In the mornings on the bus to work, during lunch, in the evenings, when the wife is shopping, etc.
October 25, 2011 6:27
I own a Kindle for 2 years and I have read ebooks (cover2cover) in a number of devices. This is my favorite media (in order)

1 - Dead tree books
2 - Kindle
3 - Kindle on smart phone
4 - Kindle on tablet

Basically extended reading on LCD became impossible to me.

As much as I love my Kindle it still lacks the felling of dead trees. Personal preference
October 25, 2011 9:20
I can't help it but feel I don't own the books that I've bought digitally. Call me old fashion (for someone who's only 24 years old) but I love the sight of a full book shelve. Guess it's some kind of collecting disorder...
October 25, 2011 9:53
I like both DTBs and ebooks personally i think that if you buy a hardcopy you sould have access to the electronic versions too? After all you've already paid for the content so why can't you access it through a different means? Its only like having a CD (remember those?) and having to buy MP3 versions of the same songs if you wanted to listen to them on MP3 players which was until recently the legal (although not actual ;-)) situation in the UK.

I travel a lot and always feel limited by the number of books I can take by what my shoulder will manage to bare. When at home I want the physical experience but when I'm away I still want to read the same books but can only carry one, two at most at any time.

Currently Apress run a scheme where if you have the physical book you can buy the eVersion for $5 which isn't perfect but I can understand that their servers aren't free so am happy to pay that. Why the other publishers or even Amazon dont do this I dont know?
October 25, 2011 10:34
I like both the paper and ebooks. It is nice to get the book instantly though instead of waiting for a couple of months.

I use my iPad to read the ebooks. Been happy very with it.

I have always been a long time reader of ebooks. Even used a HP PocketPC.

The only complaint I have is why are ebooks about the same price or at times more expensive than the paper versions.

October 25, 2011 11:19
I like the idea of eBooks if only for the fact that the room on my bookshelf is reserved for true works of art and not the latest political memoirs that serve no purpose beyond the first (and often incomplete) reading.

I feel a lot better about "throwing away" (or otherwise forgetting) an eBook after having read it than throwing away a physical book.

As for physical books themselves, there's something to be said about tactile contact and our emotional response to it. I prefer to read the works of Jules Verne (among my favorite authors) in my unabridged collection handed down 3 generations than on my iPad. The same is true with other great works, and though I own very few really old books, I'd rather read a great work in dead tree form than in electronic form.

I'm currently going through the Sherlock Holmes books now on my iPad and while I do get great enjoyment from them, I feel like if I were holding a similar medium that those in the time of Doyle used, I'd have a greater connection to the story.
October 25, 2011 12:41
Do you read ebooks in the bath tub?
October 25, 2011 13:20
I think E-readers are great for paperback fiction, and I enjoy the convenience of my Kindle when I'm travelling. However, it's useless for anything other than pulp fiction. Others have mentioned issues with technical books, I read a lot of art and photography books, with lots of images and photographs. The kindle is hopeless for this. The iPad is better, but again has major limitations especially in bright light.

Then, here in the UK ebooks are often a similar price or even more expensive than normal books. Also, it's very important to support my local economy. I tend to buy my books from the local bookshop. I'm lucky in still having one, many places don't. I don't want to send all my money to a large American company. It may cost me a few pounds more, but it's worth it.

When finished with a book, I want to pass it on. Either to a friend or I give it to the local charity bookshop who resell it in aid of the local hospice. Again, I feel it's very important to support the local community.

I love browsing secondhand bookshops. I live 45 minutes drive from Hay-on-Wye with the world's largest, and 2nd largest secondhand bookshops,(along with about 26 other bookshops). This is my idea of heaven!

So, ebook readers are great fun, very convenient for certain types of book but still have major technical limitations. However, from a moral point of view I don't like the globalisation issues that they exacerbate. I know the book industry is a global industry, but if I can help the local community out in just a small way, then it's worth it.
October 25, 2011 13:31
Amazon make it so hard to get on board with eReaders in the UK - we see all the cool releases in the US, Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire et al, but we only get to choose between the Kindle Keyboard or the smaller Kindle "No-Keyboard".

It is hard to purchase the UK Kindle options when all the cool stuff is being released in the US. It feels like we are buying old devices!

After reading your post I know I want to buy an eReader, but we really don't have the awesome choices you guys get!
October 25, 2011 13:47
There is one differentiator between DTBs and eBooks that I think trumps the others... Social (aka community.)

When you're reading a book, you have paper in your hands. If you want to talk to someone about it, you can call them, email them, txt them, or meet in person. All of those are great, but how awesome would it be if you could have those same conversations right in the pages of the book, whenever you happen to be reading?

My team (just this morning!) launched a new Social Reader for iPad called Subtext. Our aim is to bring community into the pages of your books. We give you access to inside scoop from the authors themselves, total strangers, and/or your closest friends. You are in control of your experience.

Last thought related to this post. One area where I think Amazon has missed the mark is their closed format which makes it unnecessarily difficult for companies or individuals to enhance your reading experience. So in addition to trying out Subtext, I'd encourage everyone to ask publishers to support open formats like ePub for their digital editions. And go download Subtext. It's free!
October 25, 2011 14:43
Two things come to my mind when I look at eBooks vs normal, talking strictly about amazon: 1) eBooks are only marginally less expensive; 2) DRM may or may not be an issue in future.

With 2) being a potential issue, the difference between the cost of a digital vs a printed copy makes me head towards a copy.

If they were cheaper, I'd likely switch. If I was happy that DRM wouldn't be an issue and I could store my own copies of the data, then I'd switch. Of course, I haven't looked at it for ages now, so DRM or storage options may be greatly improved from what my ignorant opinion suggests.
October 25, 2011 15:14
I very much like the idea of taking my books with me in a compact form. Whenever I go on a trip, I always take at least 4 or 5 books because I don't know upfront what books I'll want to read (or I might just read them all).

However, I can't let go of my bookshelf. It's been stated before in the comments above, but I like it when friends or family come over, browse over my shelf and start conversations because of it. In a way it seems very natural if not obvious for ebooks to replace pbooks over time, but I don't know how they'll solve this one. Having a monitor mounted against a wall that displays my ebooks just doesn't sound as appealing...
October 25, 2011 15:51
The problem that I have with eBooks taking over is that some people then won't be able to get the "Coffee Table Edition" which is never intended to be read, just to make them look intelligent. What do those people do now?
October 25, 2011 16:22
I find it interesting that in an e-book that I'm reading,, where humanity was mostly wiped out by a plague, all that e-stuff disappeared. Thus the folks of the future had to deduce what the folks of the past were like from their leftover DTB's which were only the classics, like Mark Twain.
October 25, 2011 16:47
Ditched my kindle for reading on the iPad mainly for technical books.
October 25, 2011 17:00

Import a Kindle to my country cost me the double of the price charged by Amazon, but it worth every penny.

I actually using the Kindle to read a lot of pdfs that was lost in my notebook, blog articles (including yours), comic strips and even the MSDN Magazine.

Sometimes small screen is a limitation but I can live with this. I will probably still buying some "dead trees' books overtime, mostly because of the bad services of local bookstores relating to e-book selling.

About DRM, my opinion is that it is only usefull as a kind of sadistic pratice to torture those who want to pay for content. What´s killing media business is a lack of imagination and no piracy.

Victor Zamora
October 25, 2011 19:16
I'm sticking with dead trees too until the ebooks are half the price of their physical counterparts - e.g. Moonwalking with Einsteen is £1.50 more for the Kindle version.
October 25, 2011 20:31
You guys are nuts!!!

If someone told you 10 years ago that some entity would know which book you are reading, which pages you have opened, and which works you have highlighted, you would tell them they are nuts!

Fast forward 10 years:

You have no privacy with e-book. See above
You don't own the books
You pay more

I'm all for technology but at with reasonable expectation of privacy (see 4th Amendment).
October 25, 2011 20:34
Greg hits the nail on the head. If your primary source of books was the library previously, currently your cost goes up by an infinite amount by using a Kindle. (minus taxes used to pay for the library obviously). I know that some libraries are moving to an e-book lending model, but think of the scale issues here.

1) Either everyone needs an e-book reader and the library digitally "lends" books to their devices. Even if Kindles sold for $40 this would unfairly exclude those with low incomes.


2) Libraries have to buy hundreds (maybe thousands?) of kindles to let people take with them - and presumably still pay a fee for the e-books they lend) - this option is brings a more level playing field for borrowers but I'm unclear how the cost structure works out over time for the libraries (who are run by counties and municipalities that are not necessary flush with cash right now).

I'm under no illusion that the transformation that publishing is currently undergoing is in any way reversible but I worry that just because the cake-eaters (and I consider myself in that group, as pejorative as that term may be) love such a shift in paradigm, that those who are less fortunate may spend a period of time out in the cold until "e-lending" can be perfected.
October 25, 2011 21:28
"A recent study showed that it doesn't matter if you read from paper or from an electronic screen. The words make it into your head all the the same."

But do you even want them in your head..dun dun DUNNN:

"Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking." - Albert Einstein
October 25, 2011 21:57
An E-book Reader is both book and bookshelf. Most E-Book reader fail hard on that last feature. Browsing your bookcollection is hard and slow.

I still use a PC for managing my Ebooks.
I use the free Calibre Ebook management software for this.

The fire is not available in Europe ;(
October 25, 2011 22:12
I can express enough how handy the eBook is and how much it has 'saved' my career. I commute 3.5 hrs each day via car->train->subway->my own two legs. The longest legs of my commute involves a lot of dead time in which I choose to read. Until I got my Kindle, I never read technical books. Their too big and too heavy to lug around. Now I buy about a book a month and read + learn every day. I love it. Not only that, when I'm at my computer, and I need the reference material, it's right there in front of me, instead of sitting on the bookshelf somewhere else. (I try and get the majority of my eBooks through other vendors outside of Amazon (O'reilly comes to mind) because they offer the books in the (Kindle friendly) ePub, pdf, and other (DRM Free) formats.
October 25, 2011 22:51
I don't have a Kindle, but I do have a Xoom. It is amazing to be able to lug 200+ technical books around in pdf. Sadly, my preference of laying down and reading doesn't lend well to the Kindle, or any eReader for that matter, so I end up also getting a physical book about 90% of the time. The one thing that I surely enjoy that a Kindle can't give me is the look on peoples' faces when they walk into my apartment and are confronted by massive stacks of technical books. :)
October 25, 2011 23:33
What I say to those people who get all misty-eyed about paper:

"Suppose it was the other way around. Suppose Gutenberg had invented the
Kindle, and everybody reads e-books. Then somebody comes along and says
'Hey, I have a great idea! Instead of using ereaders, let's start cutting
down trees by the forest, mash them up into a paste, spread that really thin
and dry it out, then smear ink on the sheets. All the copies of a bestseller
will fit in a modest-size house. Then we can pay distributors
to send them to bookstores, and pay the bookstores to sell them to
people. Then all we'll have to do is talk people into going to
the stores and buying these objects and taking them home and carting them
around to read them. But they'll feel really good in your hand! And smell
good! Doesn't that sound GREAT?!?'"

Makes the conversation really short.
October 26, 2011 0:59
There is no resale value on an ebook, but being able to share an account is more valuable to me. We have three kindles and read the same material on all of them for one price. I never get around to reselling a book anyway. I do agree they should be cheaper and most of the time they are. If they aren't I move on to something else. There's plenty of stuff out there to read. I'm tempted to get the big one though, pdfs are difficult on the small one and I keep several manuals on mine, still camera, video camera, phone system at work, etc.
October 26, 2011 2:06
Too bad Kindle products are getting less book-reading friendly - the new android tablet, and the even the new e-ink kindle touch which doesn't even appear to have page turning buttons - no more one-handed reading...
October 26, 2011 2:09
I still like to be able to show off the paper on a shelf. Also, I find things like Ordnance Survey maps (popular walking maps for the uk) to be great in physical format, and off course for kids there's pop-up books and other tactile things. Also, regarding music, I still by the physical format for several reasons: I can have the full sound quality not offered in downloads, I can browse more easily on a shelf, I can show off the shelf, the cover art is more accessible and I can easily make a portable digital copy for when I'm out and about. Alas physical books can't be ripped like CDs, so you buy both or compromise over which benefits are most important. For the record, I don't have a Kindle, and have bought paper books, CDs and Vinyl Records this year.
October 26, 2011 4:53
2200 A.D: "The robo-apocalypse of 2190 had a chilling effect - nothing had been printed on physical media for 170 years - and when the E.M pulse destroyed our electronic empire, 170 years of history and learning was erased."
October 26, 2011 8:22
You know what I like about my collection of dead tree books (and LPs, CDs, paintings, clothes, photos, tools etc)?
They are my legacy.

I have such fond memories of digging through my parent’s bookshelf (and record collection, garage, cupboard etc) and finding all the books they bought when they were younger. Those books helped open my eyes to the world. They also helped me learn who my parents were, outside of being my parents.

While I am aware of, and agree with, all the e-book benefits you mentioned, I worry that we are losing an important part of ourselves, our legacies, by moving to non-physical mediums. Because you can be damn sure that your already 4 year old Kindle isn’t going to be holding up so well (or even working) by the time your kids are in their teens and are ready to start digging through your old books. This is also exacerbated by the decreasing life span of most modern media formats. Remember <a href=”” title=”Lost Formats”>MiniDiscs, Jaz Drives or Laser Discs</a>? Me neither. Sure you could transfer all your old e-books to newer formats as they become available (assuming the DRM doesn’t stop you), but only the keenest and most diligent of us will continue to do that for next 50 or so years as technology continues to progress.

Now I am aware that wanting to have a legacy is a somewhat ego driven desire, but that should not lessen the value of that legacy to its recipients. Be it a parent/child, grandparent/grandchild, teacher/student or some other relationship, it is valuable when the lessons, knowledge and wisdom of one generation are handed down to the next. Of course this happens in other ways like talking, teaching, seeing, participating, but there is some visceral pleasure in discovering a person through the things they have chosen to surround themselves with.

It will be a sad loss if/when all the things we have chosen to surround ourselves with (in digital only format) slowly disappear into the land of the lost as the ability to read/play/listen them slowly becomes extinct.

I try not to be a change-a-phobe, but I really do like the idea of a person buying a book and that little piece of them still being around in 100 years for their great grand kids to learn from.
October 26, 2011 14:47
Book > E-Book
October 26, 2011 16:35
A book is a physical object, with associated emotions acquired during reading. A book has a texture, a smell, it can be shared and reread or just admired in a library. And trees are 90% wasted by packaging, newspapers and magazines.

>I know physical books will die.

I am not sure, but I admit that my fingers are today much better at using a keyboard than a pen. It will certainly take more than a generation before books totally die.
October 26, 2011 19:23

Manning epub books on Kindle?

If you email them over with Convert in the subject line the table of contents gets mangled, but at least the text size is handled. If you just email the pdf over it's a fixed size - 1 page to a screenful - so very small and hard to read with code almost impossible to see.

October 26, 2011 23:28
Great Post Scott

I recently listened to Hanselminutes Show 267. I like the discussion you had with Jeff Atwood about how the Kindle and how that when you are using the device you are using it to read and not playing "Angry Birds"... So next pay check ;-) Kindle Touch here I come if the following pans out.

Have you or anyone else here ever read a Apress e-book with the Password authentication? Are you able to unlock PDFs that use the Apress type of authentication?
October 27, 2011 13:20
I don't see all paper books dying... some reasons come to my mind:

- Collectors: some people buy books to collect and display them. A kindle fire is not a good view in a bookshelf of a Victorian house
- Value over time: in 50 years, some books that you bought for 50$ might become rare and be worth millions. An eBook will be worth... nothing.
- Large formats: some books are meant to be printed in a much larger format than the eReader size
- Pop-Up books: and other specific formats, they just don't pop up out of the eReader :)
- Book exchange and trading: looking at your books with your friends, and trading them, will still be a nice experience with paper books.

On the other hand, I can see some formats dead, like economic editions. Books under 10$ can (and should) quickly be replaced by eBooks. That would save lots of trees and waste less space in houses.

I would also like to see books that become obsolete in 1 year (like school books, technical books...) replaced by eBooks, but publishers will not allow that.
October 27, 2011 14:19
Say what you will about how great the ebook readers are but we all know there is no feeling like receiving and opening a brand new physical book! C'mon Scott, admit it. :-)
October 27, 2011 18:07
Kamran, re: book tracking...

check, there's some rudimentary tracking you can do there. As far as I can tell (not having given it much time yet) it's just for books bought via Amazon (Kindle and otherwise). There's nothing on the Kindle itself.
October 27, 2011 20:02
Anyone read technical books on the Kindle DX? If so, how was the experience?

October 28, 2011 7:24
I love my Kindle - it makes it easy to check out books from overseas without the massive postage cost & wait (hi, Australia). Problem is, a lot of the books in the areas I'm into - queer theory, sexuality, performance art, activism - are on Kindle. Many are from small publishers who apparently can't afford to convert over.

Also I've got all these books that I would LOVE to have on Kindle format, don't need the dead trees, but there isn't an easy way to do them. I wish there was a way you could donate the books to a charity or library or something, and in return you get the Kindle version of the book for free.
October 30, 2011 18:57
I love being able to buy a book and read in on my Windows Phone, PC, Kindle, and Android tablet!!!
November 12, 2011 1:55
EBooks like other digital technology are a great tool to censor, spy, control, create hacking disasters, and offer solutions. Mass media (Newsweek etc.) will promote it until the participants volunteer every last bit of their private identity into a public profile for marketers to feast on.
October 09, 2012 4:36
There's still the bathtub problem and the out of juice problem. The out of juice problem will be solvled by longer battery lives and passive charging systems, and indeed are more than are well on their way to being solved. But people like to read in places that, if an accident happens, they are only out some paper (or if it dries well enough and you don't mind the wrinkles, not even that). Will we be able to solve that problem with tablets or e-readers?

Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.