Are you ready to let go of the printed page?
If you’ve grown up with an appreciation for the printed word then the concept of an “electronic” book perhaps represents all that’s wrong with the digital age — an age where everything has been reduced to ephemeral ones and zeros. Hesitation to embrace eBooks is understandable, but they do have some merits. They’re much more palatable if you view eBooks as a way to complement your bookshelf rather than replace it.
eBooks are basically computer files that you can read on a wide range of devices. Apple’s eBooks can only be read on its own iGadgets, but eBook competitors such as Kobo and Amazon’s Kindle are far more flexible — letting you transfer eBooks between computers, tablets, smartphones and dedicated eBook readers.
Lightweight eBook readers such as the Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Glo offer many advantages over reading eBooks on a smartphone or tablet. eBook readers don’t feature backlit colour LCD screens. Instead they feature monochrome “e-Ink” displays which only use power when they rearrange the words on the page — a little like a digital Etch-a-Sketch. This makes them smaller, lighter, cheaper and easier on the eyes than a smartphone or tablet because they’re not backlit. eBook readers also offer a battery life measured in weeks rather than hours.
Smartphones and tablets might seem a better choice for flicking through colour magazines, but eBook readers are much more practical for reading novels. One trade-off is that you need light to read by, although the new generation of eBook readers actually feature side-lit screens which offer enough illumination to read in the dark without straining your eyes as much as reading a backlit screen.
The real limitation when buying eBooks is how you buy them and what you can do with them after you’ve finished reading them — issues which many people don’t stop to think about before they take the plunge. Your choice of eBook reader will dictate where you buy your books. Amazon offers the slickest eBook store, but you can only read Amazon’s Kindle books on its Kindle eBook reader or in the Kindle apps available for various mobile gadgets. Most other eBook readers, such as the Kobo, can read ePub eBooks which are available from a wide range of online eBook stores (except Amazon). You might need to use Adobe’s Digital Editions software to transfer ePub books to your eBook reader. You can’t read ePub eBooks on a Kindle and you can’t read Kindle books on other eBook readers, so you need to think about which ecosystem you want to join.
Once you’ve finished with your eBooks, you can’t simply lend them to friends or sell them to your second-hand book store. The Digital Rights Management on eBooks means they’re locked to your account. It’s possible to share the one eBook account between several devices but, in theory at least, you’ll take your eBooks with you to the grave. There are workarounds to strip away the DRM and convert eBooks between formats, although you’re wandering into a legal grey area — especially if you want to resell those books.
At this point it sounds a lot easier to just walk into a bookshop and hand over cash for a paperback, so why would you want to embrace eBooks? Partly it’s about the convenience of buying books on the spot, especially cheap books which you don’t want to keep. An eBook reader also grants you free access to a huge library of public domain books from the likes of Jules Verne, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. It’s also about the convenience of carrying around lots of books on one device, which is particularly handy when you’re travelling or studying.
Before you invest in an eBook reader, take a look at your bookshelves and ask yourself which books are really important to you. Which were handed down to you, or would you like to hand down to others? These are the kinds of books that you don’t want to start buying as eBooks. Now look at the once-read novels which are just sitting there taking up space. These are the kinds of purchases that might be well suited to an eBook reader.