This site hasn’t been around very long, and already I’ve written several scathing posts about how ereader makers and ebook publishers are screwing up ereading. That’s because I don’t want to see a corporate pissing match hijack the development of a potentially groundbreaking device that could shape the next stage of literary culture in our country. (And only partially because I’m a naturally negative person.)
But this post is about the upside of ereaders and their future potential. This is why I want Sony and Amazon and Random House to quit screwing around and consider their customers when it comes to ereaders and ebooks. This is why reading on ereaders is better than reading paper books.
Partially, this advantage of ereaders is obvious: you can fit your entire library on an SD card, and have it with you wherever you go.
But it’s more than that: ereaders are simply easier to read from. No more holding a book open with a salt shaker when you’re at a restaurant. No cracking bindings, no losing places, no letting the pages snap shut.
The physicality is not perfect of course; most noticeably you can’t flip through pages. But the new Sony, despite its flaws, is breaking ground toward page-flipping. Soon even that will be as good or better than paper books.
The experience of reading: novels, not books
eReaders strip away the physicality of the books and magazines you read, presenting USA Today and the new Salman Rushdie novel in the same package. Once you adjust to reading on a device, this homogenized packaging breaks down the tangible accoutrements of different media (not to mention some of the expectations and prejudices that come with those accoutrements). Reading becomes a more completely mental experience.
In short, your books literally cease to be physical objects. It’s the difference, as your tenth-grade English teacher taught you, between a book and a novel. A novel is not a physical object, and as odd as this might sound, ebooks are well-suited to a digital form. You no longer hold the story-so-far in your left hand, you hold it in your mind, which I’m liking more and more. Plus, you begin to take everything you read on its own merits, which is easy not to do.
Reading a book in the background
I’m currently reading Anathem by Neal Stephenson, in addition to whatever else. I think of it as reading Anathem in the background. Normally this is the kind of book that’s too big to even take anywhere (960 pp. paper). I’d be lashed to my couch, and I’d have to set aside time specifically to read it. I rarely finish books this size because of the physical limitations (and, to be honest, because I get intimidated, which is helped by the homogenized packaging mentioned above).
With an ereader, I can read bits and pieces wherever and whenever I can. I’ve been able to keep up so far, because it’s more about the frequency of reading jags than the depth of them. Next up: Gravity’s Rainbow. That might take more focus than the subway provides.
Potential of epublishing
I won’t rehash those posts, but suffice to say that the democratization of publishing will only be good for readers.
Work still to do, but it’ll only get better
There’s still plenty way to go for ereaders. Contrast ratios, touchscreen interfaces, open wireless networking, Bluetooth, the list goes on; we’re admittedly nowhere near a perfect ereader.
The other day, Eric posted that certain kinds of books wouldn’t work well on ereaders. I strongly agree, and I’d go so far as to say that ereaders aren’t ready for serious books at all. But they’re not going to get any worse as time goes on.
These capabilities of these devices are slowly growing, just like all other types of gadgets, and that’s got to be exciting for readers. At the end of the development road lies a new way of reading that will be able to do everything paper books can, and a whole lot more.