My friend Phooky predicts that children born now will grow up with the same attitude towards printed paper books that I, having been born in the 80s, have towards vinyl records.
This prediction invariably causes our bibliophile friends to clutch their dead trees close to their chest, screaming “no, that could never happen,” and retreat into the stacks of books. As though the digital book revolution might bring with it some sort of mass burning. But friends (Romans, countrymen), I’ve had my nook for just over four months now. I have seen the future and I welcome our new e-paper overlords with open arms.
Before I got my nook, I couldn’t tell you the last book I’d read that wasn’t an O’Reilly manual. Reading wasn’t something I really did for fun, and it certainly wasn’t something I’d take with me on a trip. I’ve read more books, fiction and nonfiction, in the last four months than I have in the previous four years. For those of you on the fence about getting an ebook reader, I present my list of reasons digital readers will reign supreme over paper.
My nook remains the same weight, no matter how thick the book I’m reading. I have a herniated disc in my neck, so carrying even a purse around for a day is a big deal. Anyone who has ever lugged a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince can appreciate having a smaller form factor.
On the same note, I live in a 1000 square foot condo which, while spacious for New York standards, is pretty much out of space to store books. My nook on the other hand still has plenty of space in its on-board memory. Not to mention expansion cards.
Carrying an entire library around in your bag is amazing. I’m in the middle of about 4 different books, and can switch between them as the mood strikes. A few weeks ago I got trapped on the subway for an hour, finished the book I was reading, and started right up with the sequel.
With an ebook, your reading selections are your own dang business. If I want to read Twilight, I can do so without embarrassment. Sure, in a perfect world no one would need to feel embarrassed about their reading material of choice. But frankly, no one wants to be caught reading a self-help book on finding your inner tree spirit when they run into their boss on the A-train.
If I decide at 3am that I really, really want to read David Sedaris’s latest, I can have it downloaded and waiting for me on my nook in the time it would take me to find pants, let alone a 24 hour book store.
I should mention that in the coming revolution, we’re going to end up killing brick-and-mortar stores which sell intellectual property (books, music, programs). Large chain bookstores will slowly die. And small locally-owned bookstores will need to take a lesson from the record stores that are still around if they want to survive the transition. Every time I visit my parents I heave a sigh of relief that Hole in the Wall Books is still open. Many great bookstores won’t make it, and the loss will be no small tragedy.
Still, despite everything I love about my nook, the current hardware and software available for digital book readers isn’t there yet. There are still format wars being fought, and not nearly enough books available in digital format. While I love the nook hardware, the software is pretty weak. And there are some types of books, like textbooks, which none of the current ebook readers handle particularly well. So lovers of dead trees have no fear, the end of printed books is still some time off.