Ebooks, E-ink, E-yawn

I link less to this slashdot item about an e-ink driven ebook reader and more to the discussion thread. Starting with the very first comment, you see all the same bullshit few remarks I always see in ebook conversations. It’s to the point where I can map out what people will say before they do, because they are so invariant. Bring up ebooks and at least one person will reply that:

  • Paper books are just fine. Why do we need ebooks?
  • The screen sizes are too small/the resolutions are too low/I don’t like reading off of screens all the time
  • You can’t read ebooks in the tub
  • I like the feel/smell of paper books

Having been through these arguments repeatedly for the last 5 years, I’ve hit the point where I no longer feel like engaging with people that say these things. My experience, having read dozens of full novels on various handheld devices of higher and lower resolution, grayscale and color, is that it is not one bit less agreeable than reading on paper. I just the other day read a discussion of how the DPI was too low on a handheld device for comfortable reading. Bullshit! I read all the time on a device of about 80 DPI and it is perfectly fine. Like I’ve been saying in this blog, the enormity of the paper books I own overwhelms me so I am getting rid of them. There’s really nothing to say to someone who can’t see how a 10 ounce device that is always on my person and contains the text of hundreds of novels is preferable to me than having those hundreds of novels spilling off my shelves and onto the floor. I’m tired of hearing these opinions about how handhelds are no good for reading from people who have never made a good faith effort to try reading on one. I wouldn’t dream of writing a restaurant review of a place I’ve never eaten at, but these people are happy to expound on why these devices make for poor reading. As Cory Doctorow points out, “More people are reading more words off more screens every day.”

I’m a bibliophile. I love reading, and I love books. Just as much as anyone, I like that musty old books smell. However, that doesn’t mean that I have a romanticized view of the book as an artifact. Books are great, I love them. I have some books I’ll never give up, such as my copy of Buckminster Fuller’s Synergetics. Most books in my house, though, I have for the words and I couldn’t care less if those words are printed on the page or bits on my secure digital card. These are the books that I want to have electronically, which more and more I get that way. For several years now I have subscribed to Asimov’s and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction via Fictionwise. I wish I could trade in the 15 years of paper copies of each that live in my basement and make them electronic. I don’t care about the artifact, just the words. If you can’t understand this feeling, I’m not engaging you in this discussion. When it comes back to “I just love paper so much” we just don’t have anything more to talk about.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.

4 thoughts on “Ebooks, E-ink, E-yawn”

  1. la gringa says:

    Dang! As a professional in the world of publishing, I would lose my mind if I had to read everything on paper. About three years ago, I made the switch to reading manuscripts on my Palm 3c. I discovered that you could creat pdb files on Documents to Go, and then read them as ebooks on Palm Reader. I’ve been an avid e-book reader ever since. With the high-res screens on the newer Palms (like my Zire 71), the clarity is as good as or better than paper. You can adjust brightness & contrast, adjust font size and type and even the colors.

    At any given time, I have at least fifty ebooks and manuscripts loaded onto an SD card in my Zire. I read nearly every Del Rey manuscript that I will be working on as an ebook; I can’t remember the last time I lugged a paper manuscript home.

    Reading with a Palm on the subway is infinitely easier than reading a paper book — you don’t have to change pages. And if you aren’t dumb like me and occasionally let your battery run down, you will always have something with you to read. I travel a lot for my work, and don’t want to carry seven or eight books with me.

    I do read paper books still. I like the convenience of the trade and mass market formats, and find they are easily disposable on trains and planes. And when I’m at home, I usually read paper books. But I don’t have a preference for them.

    When I was a bookseller way back when, I was extremely skeptical of the concept of e-books, until my pal Ku loaned me his Rocket Book for a weekend. I was totally hooked after that, but wantd a smaller device. The Palm is the perfect compromise.

  2. Dave says:

    Colleen, thanks so much for your comment. I consider this some pretty strong validation of my main point. When book professionals like you and Ku-Yuo agree that this is a fine way to read, what more is there to say?

  3. A.R. Yngve says:

    I’ve been publishing my older novels as web-serials for five years, and I can safely say that the readers don’t complain that “it’s not on paper”. If they absolutely have to, they can always print out the pages, but it seems most of’em don’t.

    (Those books can be read for free — PayPal donations are optional. You’re welcome to visit my homepage and have a look! :))

  4. dbonneville says:

    I know this article is very very old now…but what device were you reading on at the time you wrote this? I’ve been reading on my Centro – very tiny but hi res screen. No problem at all! We have a few other palms which are just as enjoyable, but watching for Kindle 2…big step up!

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