Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On e-books and textbooks

Maybe as a result of lugging, sorting, reshelving (and dusting--let's not forget dusting) all the books I organized this week, I've become transfixed by stories about Kindle, the new e-book reader from Amazon. The great Toni Morrison endorses it, and I can see why.

  • Unlike the Sony reader, the Kindle has a keyboard and allows you to make notes on the text.
  • Apparently you can download Project Gutenberg texts as well as the 88,000 books at Amazon, though for .pdf files you will have to convert them to a readable format.
  • You can get books on the fly, through a wireless connection, without having to download and import them.

  • It doesn't allow you to read things in .pdf format (although some conversions are possible).
  • Books are about $9.99, which is about $5.00 too expensive, IMHO. Since there's no paper involved, why are e-books so expensive generally?
  • If I drop the Kindle, I've just bought myself a $399 brick paperweight. Yes, you read the price right.

    Over the years, when asked by publishers whether I'd consider adopting an e-book, I've always said no because (1) the students couldn't annotate it and (2) they wouldn't be able to bring it to class with them. A device like this might change things, though, since students wouldn't be able to say that they'd forgotten their book that day, especially if their books for all their classes were on a Kindle.

    On the other hand, there are still some drawbacks.

    (1) It's still more work to open a window and type a comment than to scribble one in the margins. And what about the random markings (circling the names of places and characters, for example, or lines and check marks by an important passage) that help readers to remember and find things in a text?
    (2) Would students want a book that they couldn't sell back to the bookstore? Only information stored in physical media (CD, printed books) can be transferred to another person in any legal and meaningful way.
    (3) However fast the electronic pages refresh themselves, an e-book can't reproduce the experience of skipping forward and back in a text. Sometimes the feeling of a book is what you want. For example, flipping through a big chunk o' pages and scanning the text for a word, or even the pattern of the paragraphs, can often get you where you want to be, even though printed books don't have a search feature. (I know, I know: it's called an index, but novels don't have them.)
    (4) What about the charms of seeing your own childish handwriting (with thoughts to match) on a book that you owned back in the day?
    (5) I'm willing to bet that one of these devices wouldn't last a student for his or her whole college career, although a laptop might.

    Does anyone have one of these? Does anyone WANT one of these? I confess that I kind of want one, and if it were $99 instead of $399, I might be tempted.

    Anonymous said...

    If you have to buy the books then it should be free or really really cheap. 200 books at $10 each is $2000, and I assume one would eventually replace them (or maybe that would be after the Kindle wore out).

    Still there appears to be a great deal to be said for it. I am attracted to it.

    Dr. Bad Ass said...

    I'm intrigued but not $400 intrigued. Maybe someone would buy me one for Christmas?? If not, I don't see a Kindle in my future . . .

    Anonymous said...

    I despise the paranoid atmosphere on the death-of-the-book bandwagon, but I have to say, I absolutely hate this thing. When I opened amazon the other day and that obnoxious letter announcing Kindle's release popped up, I positively squirmed. A book is something I need to manipulate; a book has physical weight that reinforces its presence; a book must be cared for -- and a book must also, on occasion, be thrown across the room. The texts on Kindle are not books.

    You can't lend them, unless you want to lend your entire library. You can't give them as gifts, inscribed with beautiful hand-written messages.

    On the other hand, that might just be my elitism showing -- once the technology catches on, these things will perhaps become inexpensive and thus accessible.

    Still, for the first time ever, I kinda want to jump in with the paranoid death-of-the-book crowd.

    undine said...

    I think you're right, cero. It's really a device for reading; Amazon is going to make all its money on books, so it ought to be priced more like a cell phone (a cheap one).

    Dr. Bad Ass, I wouldn't mind getting one, either, but as neophyte says, I like the feeling of a book. Neophyte, I'm still not worried about the future of the book because this looks to me like a toy for rich people, like something that would be in a Sharper Image catalogue. I'm a little disturbed at how intrigued I am by it, though.

    Kate said...

    My husband bought me a Sony e-reader for my birthday this year. I used it a few times and now he's stolen it and uses it constantly. Here's why he uses it and not me:
    -I too love the feel of a book
    -I love going to bookstores and buying books
    -Many of the books I like cannot yet be bought from Sony (though I can get all the classics I want from Project Gutenberg)

    Here's why my husband loves it:
    -We don't need to lug a ton of books anywhere when we go on vacation
    -Many of the titles he enjoys for light reading can already be found through Sony
    -He is a gadget-lover

    I am sure I will use it more over the next year, but almost exclusively for pleasure reading, because of the notetaking issue you've already mentioned. But as a gift to share with a loved one, as a couple that has to do a lot of traveling and loves to read, it was a good purchase (even if my husband bought it for me but is the one who primarily uses it!).

    undine said...

    Kate, it's good to hear from someone who actually has one of these readers. I think I'd end up giving it to my husband to use, too, since he reads more light fiction on trips than I do.

    Another thing that gives me pause is the DRM: you can't even cut and paste a paragraph, apparently, to send to someone. This goes too far.

    undine said...

    Kate, it's good to hear from someone who actually has one of these readers. I think I'd end up giving it to my husband to use, too, since he reads more light fiction on trips than I do.

    Another thing that gives me pause is the DRM: you can't even cut and paste a paragraph, apparently, to send to someone. This goes too far.

    ArticulateDad said...

    I'm really intrigued by these readers, and would love to have one like the Sony (but would prefer if it permitted note-taking, highlighting, searching, and marginalia). I've only seen the Amazon ad once (and frankly, I prefer to let electronics firms develop electronics devices!). But I do believe they will evolve over time.

    I think there is an inevitability about change, but that it more captures subsequent generations. I have a couple digital voice recorders, that I've used on occasion to record my thoughts and notes. But they never feel as convenient and effective to me as paper and pencil. I have somewhat adopted to typing notes (though the keyboard and monitor can't quite replace handwriting entirely for me).

    Yet I suspect my children, or their children, will have an entirely different relationship with the technologies of reading and writing. I won't lament the change (as long as I can still find a notebook and mechanical pencil in some antiquarian stationer's).

    undine said...

    I have tried the voice recorder, articulatedad, but I keep stopping because I'm sure I'll remember whatever it is I'm recording. (I don't, of course.)