Friday, October 23, 2009

Electronic Books

Technology to read books has been around for a long time, mostly for reading books in some kind of friendly format on a computer. When Amazon released its various iterations of its eBook reader, the Kindle, it initiated a conversation about books beyond the paperback and PC. And the Kindle has been successful in doing for literature what mp3's did for music. Entire libraries can be digitized and stored and a reasonably small device. It's convenient and practical, if not cheap (still in the early phases of this particular type of technology). I figured I'd wait until a better looking, cheaper eBook reader with a touchscreen came out. It still makes me laugh that whenever we have new interactive hardware, the screens are some kind of ugly binary of gray/black, green/black, green/gray (from old Gameboys and PDAs to original iPods and now Kindle).

Barnes & Noble are releasing their Android-powered eBook, the Nook. Dual touchscreen interface (one using that ugly two-tone e-ink) and another interface, in color, utilizing the Android OS for menu control. Still not cheap with a 259 dollar price tag, but it's the early adopters' cross to bear.

I wasn't initially warm to the idea of a battery-powered device that would cost me the equivalent of approximately 43 actual books (softback, $6 each), not including taxes and actually buying books for the device. B&N asserts that there are thousands of books that are free of charge, but I've learned that if someone is giving something away for free, it's because its value is equivalent to roughly zero. But I've been giving it some thought, particularly since I'm moving into a new place soon, and I would be nice if instead of boxes of books, I had one book-sized device to carry. I'm certainly not moving hundreds of CDs with me, as my music collection is almost entirely digital. Why not books? I do enjoy, as it has been stated by many, the tactile experience of holding a real book. But it's irrelevant to the task, because all I really want to do is immerse myself in the story or information and be as comfortable as possible.

Convenience is a big deal for me. I enjoy perusing a book store while I'm there looking for what I actually want, as it's easily my primary method of discovering new books. But I also get out to books stores (more specifically, Barnes & Noble) less frequently because I have less time and less desire to navigate the traffic. An internet-enabled eBook reader affords me the luxury of getting the book I'd like to read the moment I want to read it, provided it's available. And there's no rule stating that I'm henceforth prohibited from physical book stores, should I feel inclined, post-acquisition of an eBook reader.

The price is steep and I can't imagine the price will go down with the first six months, but I'm considering the cost/value of owning the Nook, and with native PDF support I'll already have a healthy cache of books to read before I even begin considering what I'm willing to pay for an electronic book