Yes, I know. I’ve been a long time iPad owner. So why in the world was I so happy to get a Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday? Why was it even on my wishlist to begin with? If you’re a longtime reader, then you know: I do an awful job of actually reading books on my iPad. I have a terrible attention span, because every time I pick it up, there are so many other things I could do with my iPad–things that don’t include reading. There are sports scores to check, fantasy football trades to be made, games to play, social media apps to browse, news to read . . .
And maybe once I get to it, a book to read too.
I don’t like that. I hated that I wasn’t reading as much as I used to. I’ve been doing some “reading” on audiobook now, and that’s very nice and helpful, but I still wanted to do more with books. The Paperwhite seemed ideal for this. It’s strictly an eReader. It doesn’t do anything else. So when I pick it up, I’ll be reading books on it. End of story.
Why did I choose to go with Amazon? While I think in many ways they’ve been extremely bullyish when it comes to books, as a consumer, I have a hard time looking elsewhere. They’ve got a huge selection, great prices, a super cloud service, integration with Goodreads . . . In the end, you have to look at them and acknowledge that–like it or not–they’re a Force to be Reckoned With. I just went and bought a couple of books, and they were on great sales. It was easy and convenient. They’re delivered automagically to my Kindle.
It’s one thing to be against something in theory. (Though let’s be clear–I have never been a rabid anti-Amazon fellow. I’ve been more of the “I don’t have one, so I suppose it’s okay if you’re upset about them” type when it came to those debates.) It’s quite another to actually start using a product. I haven’t been a book buyer in years. Why? Because I use the library for my reading (hello!), and because all those books take up so much space. Space I just don’t typically want taken up, unless it’s a book I absolutely adore, or one written by a friend. eReaders solve that problem. The books are cheaper, they take no space, and I can read them at night with the light off. 🙂
Bringing books down in cost is something that the more I think about it, the more I think it’s a net win for authors and readers. I don’t mean free. I don’t believe books should be free any more than I believe music or movies should be free. But I will drop $3 on an app if it’s one that looks good or I’ve heard good things about. It’s a low enough cost that you don’t have to debate the purchase. Paperbacks have been cheap like that, but the problem with paperbacks is that I don’t view them as a longterm investment. I buy them, and they might get thrashed. I buy hardcover books when I want something to last, and so those have been the only books I buy. eBooks–easy, cheap, user-friendly–make a consumer like me much more likely to buy books. I don’t have to worry about the cost or them getting thrashed. If it’s a book I end up loving, I can buy a hardcover later on and feel fine about that.
Plus, Amazon’s doing some really attractive things. Things like offering drastically reduced ebook prices for books you already own in print. (It would be even more attractive if it were a free add-on, but maybe I’m getting greedy). They’ll let you buy the audio version of a book for a reduced price, too. That’s something other bookstores can’t compete with.
So how do I reconcile this ease of use and consumer bliss with the other side of the coin? Because I firmly believe brick and mortar bookstores–and libraries–are important and need to have a place at the table. When Amazon becomes the only player in the room, then suddenly it can do whatever it wants. We need competition to keep things honest. Plus, discovery of good quality books gets harder and harder. Case in point: Amazon bills its “Kindle Lending Library” as this big bundle of awesome. Be a Prime subscriber, and you get access to hundreds of thousands of books for free–you can check them out whenever you’d like and return them when you’re done. No overdue fines.
Except when I browsed the offerings, I discovered that they were a swamp of self-published stuff, with no easy way to hack through them to find books I’d actually want to read. Even if the service has a few thousand quality titles, what good are they if you can’t find them?
I realize that there are some very fine self-published books out there. But there are far more–far more–books that are just plain junk. Look at it this way. If I read a book a week (optimistic), and I live to be 75, I’ve only got about 2,000 books left in me. If I read one a month, I’m down to under 500. Why in the world would I want to waste one of those precious slots on something poorly edited, weakly plotted, and just plain boring?
I depend on gatekeepers: recommendations of friends, librarians, agents, publishers. Yes, things like Goodreads can alleviate some of that, but again–it’s all about discovery. There’s something about seeing a book. Browsing through it. Touching it. Something that you miss out on with an all digital experience.
Okay. I realize this post has zigged and zagged between enthusiasm and disdain for eReaders, but that’s likely due to the fact that that’s where we are right now. That no-man’s land where we’re not quite sure where things will end up. It’s made more complicated for me, since I’m there as three different people: Bryce the Reader, Bryce the Author, and Bryce the Librarian. At least I’m not a publisher or agent, right?
Suffice it to say that for today, I’m very happy to have my Kindle. For better or worse, I don’t think Amazon’s going anywhere, and I’m happy to hitch my reading books up to that train. As for the future of books, I suppose we’ll have to all just RAFO: read and find out.