Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Will e-books take over the world?

With the advance of the e-book, there is a real possibility the real-book will suffer the same fate as Little Nell

That blurb in the Times Online site caught my attention, as it was meant to. My first reaction to it was “Not with me, never, no way” – pretty much to be expected from any book lover, I guess, not just me.

E-books didn’t attract me in the least, not even when one of my favourite authors, Stephen King, offered a book written specifically for the Net. The book was not available nor would be in regular shops like other regular books. E-readers were meant to pay for and download the book, chapter by chapter. I’ve never been a fan of serialised novels, so that was a minus. But even if the entire novel had been offered at one go, I still didn’t like the idea of a book that I had to read on my computer. I couldn’t carry it around conveniently and printing the chapters off on regular paper didn’t appeal much. A book has to look and feel and smell like a book. Papers clipped together do not a book make. Not in MY book. Not even Stephen King’s books.

Then it dawned on me that e-books (the kind you have to download and read on your computer) have been around a while – so why an entire gloomy article on what sounded essentially like re-hashed news? That was when I decided to read the article and then re-consider my initial reaction on a slightly more informed basis.

I have to say that although in the back of my mind, I was still stubbornly thinking “Not with me, never, no way”, the front of my mind was actually considering the latest take on the e-book. Apparently it is “portable, lightweight, with unlimited operating time and no battery worries” plus, it is “wireless and cheap”. It certainly sounded perfect… lugging around books can get pretty heavy quite quickly (although it’s still more convenient than a computer!). For instance, struggling with a handbag, a piece of hand luggage, a bottle of water, sometimes a coat and a book or two (which rapidly gain weight quite out of proportion to their size) at airports should be an experience familiar to most people.

So on the face of it, one small, light, cheap e-book that could contain many books does seem like a good idea. I don’t know what these e-books look like, or how they might work, but I’m assuming that the font type, size, colour, background, etc can be changed according to individual tastes. That bit sounds like fun, sort of. I'm sure even I'll get an e-book, just to try out its novelty value. But I dont see it taking over my "real" books.

Sure, the iPod changed the way we listen to music (walkmans and personal CD players are on their way out, arent they?). I've got an iPod, but I still use CDs. Maybe e-books will come into force when we run out of trees... but can they (e-books, not trees) be prevented from crashing or getting corrupted by viruses? How many books in an e-book? How many e-books in a personal book collection? And how would an e-book ever, ever brighten a bookshelf or attract interest in its contents?


Anonymous said...

I am just like you - will never ever read books that are not printed. I hate scrolling through pages or reading only 10 lines per page - it drives me nuts. And I cannot find a comfortable way to hold the readers - they feel ill-equipped to balance on my lap when I'm sitting or hold it up in front of me when I'm lying.

As for the portable size, most of them are atleast 6-7 inches long, which would be just about the same size of a paperback (except for the thickness).

And, I don't understand 'no battery worries' - if they don't use batteries, they still need to be charged like phones and I'm not sure how many pages they can display before the juice runs out. And it might take more power to display the text brighter.

I agree that paperless books could be easy on trees, but unused e-readers can also add to the e-junk (all unrecycled old cellphones, mp3 players, other electronic devices) that are starting to clog up the environment.

And I absolutely hate to scroll and read. Also, I think if e-books take over because they're cheaper than the print edition, it might make it harder for publishers to take chances on writers and writing my turn out to be a less profitable profession (if for every copy sold, the writer and publisher loses out 10-15$). Maybe I'm over-reaching here , but I need to rationalize my undying love for printed books.

Radha said...

You luddite, Shyam! :P

But I'm also proud to be counted a luddite in this particular instance - nothing, but nothing, can ever replace the heft and feel and smell of a good book (especially old books).

meerkat said...

I want a technology that has great clarity, portability, long life, upward and downward compatible and great value for money. also want to move backwards and forwards easily and with a good bookmarking facility.

so i read a paper book.

(sounds like an advertisement but i am no luddite. i think this is a better technology)

closetconfessions said...

i don't care how backward i might seem - i will never prefer an e-book over a real one.
they just don't smell the same!

gooddaysunshine said...

Hey! Been reading your blog but never commented.

The only time e books serve a good purpose is when you're in the middle of a book and unfortunately have to get to work and are simply itching to read, then just download the e version and read away! No one will know a thing!! But can you imagine not having rows and rows of books on a nice wooden shelf in your study!! And the alternative is neat folders on your hard drive! Never!!!!

Anonymous said...

Anon: Wow, you sound like you have personal experience with e-books... that, or you have tried reading books on a PC! :)

Radi: Pot calling kettle black here! :)

Meera: Nothing so reader-friendly as a book. (Although some readers might need pictures to help them read!)

Broom: Haha...true :)

Gooddaysunshine: Well, now that you've delurked, may I ask that you continue in that vein? :) You speak true - neat folders on a hard drive arent as attractive as even haphazardly stored books!

- shyam

churningthewordmill said...

seems like im the last one to comment on this post, but i am totally with you on this one.. ebooks are just not the same as paper books... i tried reading a few books online, it strained my eyes and for some reason killed the joy of reading..i'd stick to paper books,any day..

vasudha said...

hey shyam..have been a regular reader of both ur blogs..
my 2 cents..i love e books( don't hurt me ppl!!)..i travel a lot and at the end of the day in a dreary hotel room or a new e book pretty much is my night time reading.Also no late fees and library fines.
I still love regular books and have a small collection..but i have around 300 ebooks..some of which i reread constantly

Anonymous said...

Mandira: There's no such thing as "last to comment" - I'll always trump you by replying :D Oh, and I agree that e-books dont cut it as reading material.

Vasudha: Wow, 300 e-books, really? I'm amazed! So there's only space for one novel per e-book? Where do you download them from? How long have they been around??

- Shyam

GettingThereNow said...

Yes, printing books may be a burden on the trees. But then one always can recycle them. The burden is on us, the readers, to recycle and on paper manufacturers to replace trees they cut down with more trees. I think books are the greatest gift to mankind. I can never read an e-book with as much fascination as I would a paper book. I recently read(?)/heard(?) a book on CD and wrote a brief post about it -

I feel the same way about e-books. I might give them a try but will never be a die-hard fan of them. As it is, I have a hard time following news from desh as I CANNOT bring myself to read and enjoy electronic noospapers :(

GettingThereNow said...

By the way, I linked to your blog in my blogroll. Hope you don't mind.

Anonymous said...

CK: I've kind of got used to reading foreign newspapers on the Net... but it doesnt seem right to read Indian newspapers that way. Plus I hate the pop-ups you get with most Indian news sites.

Thanks for linking me, why would I mind? :)

- shyam

CW said...

It's the year 2040. Nobody buys paper books anymore. We will then read this post and go 'those were the days'.

Shyam said...

CW: That reminds me of a sci-fi story by Isaav Asimov, called "The Fun They Had" :)

Orange Fronkey said...

lol@ CW's comment.

I'm not too keen about e-books... I like to hold and feel the books I read.. and I so absolutely love the covers (LOL)... it's gonna be a while before I gravitate towards e-book.. i find it so irritating to sit in front of the computer or laptop and read things longer than a page.. it's not good for your health :P!!