Recently, the great and popular social media blog Mashable posted a poll called “Reading Faceoff: eBooks Vs. Print Books” in its Mashable Battles subsite. The poll challenged readers to vote for their preferred reading format – electronic reader or the old stand-by, hard copy books. The choices were one or the other or a tie vote, indicating that the voter saw advantages to both formats. I voted for the tie, and now I’m going to spend a few minutes explaining why I voted that way.
Like so many other folks, I was the proud recipient of an Amazon Kindle 2 during the 2009 holiday season. I’m now about six months down the road in using it, and I’ve established some pros and cons in my own mind about when to pull it out and when to defer to the old stand-by.
The first time that the benefits of a Kindle really clicked in my head was when I was sitting at O’Hare airport with a friend and colleague waiting for a flight to depart. Out of my briefcase, I pulled my 770 page novel with which to ride out the wait. Out of hers, she pulled her version 1 Kindle and said to me, “You know, you could have had that on here.” That message tends to hit home when you’re dragging a 770 page book around the country in an already-stuffed briefcase. Despite my love of all things digital, I had been avoiding the investment in the Kindle, but this point-of-impact reality reminded me of the old commercial that declared “You could have had a V8″ after someone swallows a boatload of calories with little nutritional benefit.
Upon receipt of my Kindle, the first rule that I established was that, if I already owned the book in hard copy, I would not purchase the book in electronic form as well. This was a decision that I came to from not only a financial perspective, but from a sustainability one as well. (Having said this, I will choose one that I don’t own in hard copy when traveling!) Given the state of the economy and the need to conserve purchases, I’m also fairly judicious about what to hold and pick up at the library versus what I will choose to own. If I’m not sure, then I’ll test drive the library’s copy before ordering either the hard copy or digital version of my own.
I’ve found the Kindle 2 to be less than ideal for some nonfiction titles, particularly when detailed graphs and charts are plentiful in the publication. No matter what one tries to do with the font size, the formatting on those things still has a way to go in my mind in order to equal the print version. Although I’ve mastered the highlighting feature on the Kindle, it is a much riskier process to search for a favorite passage and then to find one’s way back to the furthest read page than just thumbing through the hard copy version. There are not page numbers per se in electronic books, only “locations” with four digits and a hyphenated number – way too much to remember when flipping back and forth. The “sync to furthest page read” feature provided with the Kindle’s wireless service seems sort of inconsistent in performance.
The inability to bounce around in the e-published works can also be frustrating if you decide to demonstrate or share your Kindle with a friend who innocently pushes a few too many buttons and loses your page or, worse yet, tries out the store and inadvertently purchases a few, too-easy-to-order titles on your account without realizing it.
On the bright side, if one needs a book in under a minute for any number of reasons, you can’t beat the Kindle. Find the title on either Amazon’s website or through the Kindle’s built-in store, click “buy” and it gets delivered wirelessly as if by magic. The voice-to-text feature has been favorably reviewed for its potential in assisting patients recovering from brain injury who suffer from aphasia, a re-ordering of the speech and cognition pathways. If you don’t mind the slightly computerized-sounding voice reminiscent of a telemarketing message, it isn’t half bad! I suppose if you’re one to leave your book lying around somewhere, losing the Kindle is a heftier financial loss than losing the hard copy – although if it’s just the download and not the device that you lose, it is conveniently backed up on your Amazon account.
For fiction, the Kindle hums like a well tuned machine. As there is less need to go back and refer to the passages again, the bookmarking/place-finding issue is less pronounced. The slim frame (for which so many wonderful protective covers have been developed to make it seem more “book-like”) travels well outdoors and is readable in direct sunlight, and with a cover to attach it to, a slim booklight can be clipped on to make night time reading a snap as well.
Last week, I watched Robert Scoble’s interview with the Flipboard CEO Mike McCue. I hadn’t seen the great need to play with an iPad until I watched that video, but now between the Flipboard demo and the demo of the Wired Magazine tablet application demo on CrunchGear, I’m feeling as though the next big disruptive wave is about to wash over us and I want to be ready. Of course, that probably explains Amazon’s recent drop in price on the Kindle of about 70 dollars.
Incidentally, in Mashable’s poll, printed books won the faceoff by about a 7% margin over the tie vote. What are you reading?