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Bookmark this and tell me why e-readers are better

25 July 2013

I travel a lot. I’m always at airports and on planes and in hotel rooms. I’ve learned to pack light. Books are heavy so I get the practicality of an e-reader and that’s exactly my complaint. I read because that is what you do on an e-reader. You just read in a linear, unimaginative, straight forward, plain, practical way. There’s no turning down the corner of the page, no ease of flipping back and forward to find that line or paragraph you suddenly want to show someone, no in-store purchase or lending experience.

I understand the convenience and need for online. I’m the first to stand up and praise online retail and the convenience of mobile banking - just look at the phenomenal success of banking iPad apps (Westpac’s has been downloaded close to 300,000 times in the past year). But when it comes to e-readers V books, I’m a traditionalist. Not that I haven’t given the new technology a go, but where’s the sense of occasion? Why did books on my e-reader not inspire me and fill me with the same excitement as they used to do? Why wasn’t I interested in reading, anymore.

And then one rainy wintry Saturday I stepped back inside my local bookstore and there it was: that old feeling of anticipation and excitement. I’d missed pottering around the bookshop, chatting with the owner about what was new on shelf and what I might like and what that author I had in my hand had done at a recent book signing.

E-readers suck the joy out of reading.

I’ve been on planes and sat with many people who swear by their e-reader. (I must say, they’ve been men, predominantly.) My daughters are of the generation who could and would also be users, but we love our physical libraries: the coloured spines denoting hours of enjoyment, and where a slot is vacant, a book out on loan to a friend, there’s a physical feeling of loss and pain. (I wouldn’t want to be the person who fails to return that book.)

I’ve been thinking about the other pros for me. You can enjoy a book in direct sunlight. I’ve yet to see an e-reader conquer the glare of an Australian summer holiday on the beach. And what about the initial technology costs: you can pay anywhere between $100 and $500 for an e-reader. Popular best sellers or classics can often be purchased for less than $10 and a library goer or second-hand buyer has even less overheads.

Don’t quote me on this, but unlike a traditional collection of books (which can be passed on to your children and grandchildren), e-reader content is licensed to you for the term of your natural life. Once you die those licenses, similar to music bought online, terminate - just like the batteries that run the hardware.

And then there are the eco arguments: according to a New York Times study the e-reader life cycle from birth to death is relatively high in fossil fuel, water and mineral consumption. Books are not perfect angels, but the impact of one e-reader is around 40-50 books.

40 to 50 books is probably three or four years' reading for your avreage person, by which time you may well need to replace your e-reader either because it has been made obsolete or the battery is dead.  

In 2013, US-based research firm Gartner estimates 432 million mobile devices will be sold to end users. Many of those devices have e-reader capabilities but what of their content? There’s a reason Amazon’s Kindle has been so dominant – but even more so a good bookshop.

E-readers also provide access to out of print or hard to get books, and often allow users free download of classics. They are not however a great way to read and use travel guides.

Are you an e-reader and what am I missing out on?