12 reasons I love e-books (and a few areas for improvement)

The long holiday weekend, during which I did plenty of reading, reminded me once again why I love e-book and why I am an e-book convert. Since obtaining my first e-reader (a Kindle) I’ve read 26 books in e-book format. I have since graduated to reading on an iPad (Kelly is now using the Kindle). Here are 12 reasons why I love e-books:

  1. Ubiquitous access. Sitting in the park yesterday, I was able to open the Kindle app on my iPhone and continue reading Stephen King’s Insomnia from where I had left off on my iPad earlier in the morning. And it took all of 5 seconds!
  2. Travel light. I can take my entire e-book library with me wherever I go and in doing so, add only 601 grams1 to my luggage, no matter how many e-books are in my library.
  3. Read in the dark. It’s nice not to require a book light to read in bed at night when the room is dark.
  4. Take notes to your heart’s content. I always hated the thought of marking up my physical books. I cringed when I saw people breaking the spines of paperbacks (mine are all unbroken) and I just couldn’t bear the thought of highlighting or writing in my books. But I have no qualms at all about marking up my e-books. I highlight passages, I jot down notes. It’s great and completely non-destructive.
  5. They lay flat. I no longer run into complications when eating and reading at the same time. You know: the book won’t lay flat. The pages flip when you set it down so that you have to find a stapler or rock or other heavy object conveniently accessible to hold the pages open. And then you have to adjust it every time you flip the page. Not so with my iPad. I just set it on the table to the left of my sandwich and it lays perfectly flat. I can eat with two hands.
  6. Sample chapters. When browsing Amazon for a book, if I am uncertain, I can download a sample for free. It appears on my iPad instantly and I can start reading and decide if I want to continue reading. No more buying the book and then deciding, nah, it wasn’t really what I was hoping for.
  7. Instantaneous gratification. When it comes to reading, when I get excited about a book, I want it right away. It’s nice to be able to get it almost instantly, no matter where I am. It’s also nice to be able to pre-order a book that hasn’t been released, and find it sitting on my iPad when I wake up on the Tuesday morning the book finally comes out.
  8. Searching the text. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve wanted to go back and find a passage in a book I’ve read and have had to basically thumb my way through the whole book, skimming page after page to find what I’m looking for. So I love the fact that I can just search a book for the text that I’m looking for and jump right to it. This feature alone probably saves me hours over the course of an entire year.
  9. Usually cheaper than paper. I like the fact that I can usually get a new book (or even one that’s been out for some time) cheaper in e-book for than I can the hardcover. I recognize that sometimes the e-book price is about the same as paperback, but even when I was buying paper books, I almost always bought the hardcover. Given the number of e-books I’ve purchased, I’d say that the money I’ve saved over the hardcover equivalents have more then paid for my iPad.
  10. Looking up words. I find it incredibly convenient to just touch the word in the text that I want to look up in the dictionary and have the definition pop up for me. Perhaps there is less romance to this than pulling out the dictionary and thumbing through it, but the fact is I’m more likely to look at the definition if the intrusion in my reading is minimal.
  11. More privacy. There is a great scene in an early season of House where Greg House is sitting in the airport reading a copy of a book called something like Amazon Women in Prison. He’s holding the book so that anyone walking by can see it. I’m not anti-social but when I’m reading, I’m usually absorbed in what I am reading and not very interesting in making small talk. I always smile reluctantly when someone comes up to me and says, “Oh, hey, the new Stephen King, how is that book?” Or more frequently, “That a sci-fi book you’re reading?” It’s nice, therefore, that people can’t actually see what I’m reading because it means less interruption. Of course, there’s still the fairly frequent: “Is that one of those iPads you’ve got there?” that I have to deal with.
  12. A more interactive experience. Overall, I’d say that e-books make for a more interactive reading experience (for me) than paper. I highlight more. I jot down more notes. I look up more words. Since I have a browser handy, I am more likely to Google something that I’ve just read about than if I just had the paper book in front of me.

This is not to say that e-books are perfect.  There are a couple of areas that require improvements, but I suspect that the marketplace will evolve in a direction that will address these issues over time:

  1. E-book aesthetics are not quite there yet. Justification and hyphenation are two areas in particular that need some work.
  2. Scanning typos. It would appear, from the kind of typos I see in older books, that they are being scanned in from the original text and not being proofread after so that a number of scanning errors are introduced. For instance, where you expect to see the word “turn” you instead see “tum.”
  3. Standard formats. The vast majority of my e-books are Kindle format. I can’t read these in iBooks. This can limit the usefulness of a e-reader device. On something like an iPad, I can read many formats by simply downloading the app for each format which is a workable solution. But an iPad is an expensive e-reader. Better overall compatibility would go a long way to addressing this issue.
  4. Expense. Even the cheapest e-readers are priced too expensively for many consumers. Amazon now has a Kindle for as low as $79 but that is still quite an investment for a casual reader. Improvements in technology or publisher subsidies (similar to how phone services often subsidize the cost of cell phones) might help bring the prices down to a more reasonable range.
  5. Book lending. If I have a paperback book, I can give it to someone else when I finish reading it. An e-book is more of a challenge, although some publishers are now granting a “lending” right on their books. There is still too much chaos in the market for a good solution to this problem, but I’d expect a good solution to present itself out of sheer market demand for this functionality. Maybe not right away, but eventually.

  1. The weight of an iPad 2 according to Apple.