Monday, December 19, 2005

E-Book vs Paper: Which Will Win?

Interested in reading BLOODY MARY, but you're super cheap?

Visit www.ereader.com on December 23rd, and you'll be able to download the entire book for free.

How does it work?
  1. Visit http://promo.ereader.com/free
  2. Fill in some basic info (they ask for a credit card, which is used as an unlock code to open the ebook--no charges are made to your card)
  3. Download free eReader software to read the book (many different platforms available, for PCs, Macs, phones, TabletPCs, etc)
  4. Download free book
  5. Open eReader, open book (using your unlock code) and read

It's a clever little gadget. The text is pleasing and easy to read, and there are some cool features. I've never read an entire book on a computer, but this seems like a painless way to do so. I was leery about giving them a credit card number, but my publisher set up this promotion, so the whole thing is legitimate. The unlock code makes it impossible to share the book with others, preventing file swapping and copying, which is a clever way to protect copyright.

But the big question is: Is this the future of books?

I've thought it over, and have come up with a list of pros and cons.

WHERE E-BOOKS HAVE THE EDGE

COST - E-books are cheaper that print books.
SPEED OF PURCHASE - E-books can be downloaded instantly.
SPACE - Hundreds of E-books can be saved on a device the size of a single hardcover.
PORTABILITY - You can't carry a thousand print books around with you, but you can carry a laptop, tablet, or phone.
POTENTIAL - As E-Books evolve, expect pictures, sound FX, internet connectivity, and other cool things to enhance the reading experience.
ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY - No dead trees or harmful pollutants.

WHERE PRINT BOOKS HAVE THE EDGE

COLLECTIBILITY - People like to amass books (and author signatures.)
FEEL - The tactile pleasure of flipping pages is hard to beat electronically.
WORRY - If you drop you book in the bathtub, leave it on the bus, or set it on fire, it's no big loss. Dropping an E-Book would be bad.
LENDING - Lending books is fun, and many people do it religiously.
BROWSING - Going to libraries or bookstores is an event, surfing a website for dowloads is not.
SIMPLICITY - You don't need batteries, or an expensive gadget. You can read a book anywhere, anytime.
GIFTS - Have you ever bought a download for someone you love? Me neither.
READING TO CHILDREN - The bedtime story would be tough to do in front of a PC.

I don't fear that print books will disappear within my lifetime. While electronic reading will grow in popularity--I do more reading on my computer than I do in print, thanks to the Internet--it hasn't reached the point where it is superior to print books.

A song is a product. It can be delivered to a customer on vinyl, cassette, reel to reel, 8 track, CD, MP3, WMA download, and played on a Walkman, and Ipod, a computer, a record player, a home entertainment system, etc.

A book is a product. But for hundred of years, it could only be delivered to a customer as... a book. The product and the method of delivery were the same.

The electronic age brings a new method of delivery. With music or film, the delivery methods have continued to improve in quality, speed, and convenience.

But watching a movie or listening to music are passive activities. Reading is active. It involves not only involvement with the story, but also with the medium in which the story is presented. Holding a book, reading at your speed, skipping sections, rereading favorite parts, putting it down and picking it up, pausing to reflect, imagining the scene, pretending you're the main character, reading the ending first--these are the pleasures of reading that go beyond the product of written words.

Until technology advances to the point where the delivery system allows for the same experience, print books will remain the prefered method of delivery.