As you may have heard, Barnes & Noble rolled out their foray into the digital reader market on Tuesday– the Nook. It boasts the ability to lend purchased e-books to friends and family, a display meant to mimic a traditional book, and being able to purchase and download books in seconds. It’s meant to compete with the Amazon Kindle. Both are priced at $259, with most book titles running a consumer $9.99 a pop. Digital readers are causing massive waves in publishing at the moment.
I don’t like digital readers.
When I was about ten or eleven, I spent a family trip to Colorado with a digital reader a friend of the family had generously let me borrow. I can’t recall the specific type, but it was something quite similar to the Franklin eBookMan. I read Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon on it. The novel itself was quite good. Reading it on a digital reader was a little odd, but it certainly didn’t detract from the experience of reading the novel. There was nothing better about reading it on a digital reader. It was just another way to read a book.
That, to me, makes the current kerfuffle over digital readers feel a little overblown. The closest analogy for what is happening right now is the introduction of the iPod. Despite the revolutionary rise of iPods, iTunes, digital music, and .mp3 players, actual CDs are still selling. It’s the same product–the means of access is simply a little different. But it’s not the best analogy. You can take all your old CDs and put them on your iPod (or .mp3 player of choice). How does one exactly rip a novel onto a Kindle or a Nook?
At the moment, digital readers are quite pricey. Not only do the Kindle and Nook run you $259 dollars, you still have to buy books at $9.99 a pop. It’s hardly prohibitive, with direct parallels to the iTunes pricing model–except that you can’t add what you already own. It’s a difficult problem. The only solution I can come up with, entering in the ISBN numbers of purchased books, is far too easy to abuse. There’s also the matter of how people treat their books versus their electronics. A reader is hardly going to leap into the tub with her Nook. It’s far less devastating to lose a single book instead of your entire library. It’s a leap from a paper product to an electronic one. It’s going to take a while for digital readers to be more widespread.
Above all, there’s all the physical sensations of reading a book, like the weight of a book, the heft of a book. When I was reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I loved lugging around such a massive tome. It insinuated that it was full to the brim. (Of course, books can be deceitful–a seemingly bursting novel can simply be bloated. I’m looking at you, The Historian.) There’s something to the different smells of different kinds of pages and the texture of the cover that adds to the whole reading experience. Even the minute differences in font help a book. Each book is unique. The uniform experience of reading on a digital reader robs books of their individual natures. There’s a whole level of difference between giggling at trashy romance novels no bigger than the span of my hands and poring through a fantasy hardcover. I like my books being unique, wonderfully papery, and perched on a shelf.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t readers out there to whom the rise of digital readers is a godsend. People who travel extensively will appreciate the portability and ease of buying a book, no matter where they are. I just don’t think the current digital reader market is as large as some people make it out. But who knows what will happen in the future?
In short? The Literary Omnivore does not approve of digital readers.