James Harris has some interesting thoughts on going paperless when it comes to magazines. In particular he looks at how his Kindle has changed the way he reads. I have a Sony Reader which uses a similar screen and I agree with him that it is a very pleasurable way to read. Here are some quotes from his post.
We are really very close to having a paperless society that pundits have talked about every since I can remember. People always exclaim they hate reading off the computer screen even though they spend hours a day doing so. Now the Kindle offers a better way to read, even better than paper, and that starts to suggest going paperless is possible.
I’m a little less optimistic. I think we have a long ways to go before the infrastructure for really being paperless is in place. I agree that all the technology is there, but things have to hit a critical mass before they really become useful and I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
Paper is still very inexpensive. The used paperback I bought for $1.00 is very durable and I could go through 300 of them before approaching the cost of an electronic reader. Even more important, the books still retain some value after I read them. I can give them away, sell them, or trade them in for other reading material.
I think electronic readers would start making sense if a $15 book was now $3 or $4, but they aren’t. Publishers are trying to keep the prices only slightly lower than the print editions even though they are basically one-time-use.
Consider a DVD, you can buy it for $15 or rent it for $2.50. (I know that technically you can read your electronic book again, but in actual use you probably won’t read an electronic book over and over again.) The use of an electronic book is more in line with renting a DVD. However, to buy a book for the Kindle, you’ll pay $10 while a hardback will typically cost $15 to $17. Paperbacks will usually run a bit less and if you buy the book used it can be substantially less. You read the book and then eventually delete them if you run out of space on the Kindle–or you keep it around indefinitely. With the physical book, you can resell it, if you purchased it used, you’ll probably only be out the shipping costs to purchase it–maybe a bit more. You can share your ebook with other people who you trust to use your $300 digital reading device, but that is about it–oh and you can’t read something else while they read it.
When it comes to magazines and newspapers the economics are a bit different. A newspaper typically has very little value a few days after it is published (unless you keep birds and need something to line the cage). So there is pretty much no resell value in a newspaper and it is unlikely that you will loan the paper to someone else. The Wall Street Journal on the Kindle costs $10 per month. At $120 per year it is about the same cost as the physical edition along with the online access option.
I feel like I’m getting more for my money with paper but I actually read more stories when I get the Kindle edition.
That is an interesting observation. Based on the numbers above, he is getting more for his money when buying a book. It would probably be a better test to see how he feels in 18 months after the novelty of the Kindle wears off a bit. One of the nice things about something like the Kindle or Sony Reader is that they are limited use devices. When you try to read on your computer it is easy to jump around opening other browser windows, looking things up, and clicking on interesting advertisements or links. The electronic readers are much more focused on reading, so it tends to be easier to read longer stretches at a time with them than on the computer.
An interesting side note is what Steve Jobs said about reading books on the iPhone. He basically said, “people don’t read any more”. Interestingly enough people do still buy books. So even if reading is going down book purchases are still going well. But if people are buying books they aren’t reading, they are probably going to be more interested in something that will sit on their bookshelf than a file that other people can’t see.
Do you use a digital reader of some type? What do you think it would take for digital books to really take off?
Jim Harris says
Hey, I noticed your post from a pingback on my site, so I stopped by to read what you had to say. You make some good comments. Books are somewhat cheaper for the Kindle than the Sony. I almost bought a Sony, and actually prefer its look and ergonomics, but the pricing at Amazon for books was better.
You’re right, I need to see how I feel in a year or two. In the past ten years I’ve already gone through one reading transformation: the audio book. I carry my iPod everywhere and listen to unabridged audiobooks. I finish around 40-50 a year, far more than I read with my eyes.
So the Kindle is a secondary device, or actually tertiary because I still find more printed material to read than what’s available to select for the Kindle. Recently I was told about three SF novels I wanted to read. They weren’t available for the Kindle. I bought them on hardback, used. Another book I bought recently, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die just wouldn’t have worked on the Kindle, because of the beautiful illustrations, photos and layout.
Going paperless is hard. I don’t think it will work for books, at least not for a long while. Newspapers are easy to phase out. Magazines are harder, but they might be doable – but not with the Kindle. I might need to use something like Zinio.
My rationalization is buying books is fine because they are usually saved for decades, if not centuries, and so they are worth the resources that go into them.
I don’t buy books at all, I go to the library and read as much as I want for free. While I like the idea of the Kindle, the ability to take a pile of books and newspapers and magazines everywhere I go, It is an expense that I cannot justify.
Mark Shead says
@Jim – Thanks for stopping by! One of the differences I didn’t really focus on is the wireless aspect of the Kindle. That really changes the game because you can get a book when you find you have time to read it.
Mark Shead says
@Sarah – If you could just checkout a Kindle from the library … :)
I’ve been getting free books from wowio.com. A Kindle would help me actually read the free downloads!
Mark Shead says
@Stuart – Thanks for pointing this out. I wasn’t familiar with them.
Jim Harris says
Actually, the Kindle is a way to get thousands of free books. Many ebook sites are reformating their texts for the Kindle. Some even provide methods for sending the texts directly to your Kindle mailbox. Not only is the true for out-of-print books, but for new books too. Tor books recently had a promotion where it gave away ten of its current titles, one a week for ten weeks, as electronic books, including an edition formatted for the Kindle.
Authors are finding it worthwhile to post free short stories and essays on the web. I can actually find more high quality free reading than I’d have time to read in several lfietimes.
I think of the Kindle like a magnifying glass. It’s just a tool to help with reading. Since my eyes are getting tired, the Kindle is actually a large print book maker for me.
I don’t have any sort of electronic reader. What I find most interesting about them is the possibility of having books I use for reference frequently at my fingertips all the time. No weight, no inconvenience that I’m one place and it’s another.
The other potential benefit that I see is the amount of square footage devoted to shelving in my home. We have so many books that we bought and read, and might read one more time so keep on the shelf. Of course, our solution to this has been to check books out of the library before buying them.
The big drawback to a reader in my view: I like to read at the beach. Sand + water + electronic = not a good thing.
Michael | University Scholar says
If the kindle supported PDF files I would get one. Especially as a college student, professors love to send you articles in PDF format. Also I don’t believe you can put ebooks from the Gutenberg Project on it.
I’m waiting on a new generation of ebook readers. None of them seem to be worth the price for me.
Mark Shead says
@Michael – I thought you could email a text file to it. Maybe I’m wrong. Does anyone else know?
Jim Harris says
There are some conversion sites I think for PDF and Word, but mainly the Kindle handles Kindle, txt and unprotected Mobi, which allows for many books and magazines from places like Fictionwise. You can put Gutenberg Project books on it by emailing or by USB connection. However, there are many sites that have reformatted these public domain books in much nicer editions.
Go look at http://www.feedbooks.com/ – it’s an extremely elegant site for such public domain books. Another huge site for free books and reading is http://blackmask.com/
I’d probably recommend that most people not become early adopters – but at some point you have to jump in if you want to play with new tech. For the average user I’d wait for Kindle 2.0 or even 3.0
Joe Richards says
I’ve been reading books on my palm pilot for over 5 years. It has been one of the best things to happen – it allows me to read books a night in bed without turning the light on and disturb my wife. It allows me to pull it out and read it while waiting in line at stores or waiting in the doctor’s office.
Do I still buy books? For sure I do – there will always be something in the holding of a well worn book, but reading books electronically allows me lots of space on my bookshelf, allows me to think I’m being a bit environmentally friendly by not using paper. I do find the books to be significantly cheaper than the paper copies.
I use ereader.com for buying the books I read. It has an electronic bookshelf where they store all of the books I have purchased and I can download again if I want. I can share them – if I trust someone enough to give them my credit card number to unlock them on their palm device.
The great layouts and designs cannot be mimicked on a palm screen and it is not for everyone – but it has been a great thing for me.
Lillie Ammann says
I have been reading on an e-reader for 8+ years, starting with the original Rocket eBook. Now I use the eBookwise from Fictionwise. I seldom read print anymore because my poor vision makes reading most books difficult. I wish I could make the text larger than the largest size on the eBookwise – I think one advantage of the Kindle is the wider range of font sizes.
As Jim said, there are plenty of free books online, but I still buy a lot, also. However, I generally buy e-books from small publishers rather than the big guys. The prices are much lower, and I find lots of great reading. Books can be downloaded directly to the e-reader from Fictionwise and remain on my bookshelf forever so I can download again any time. The device also reads html, text, and Word files. I can convert PDF to Word and import to the reader.
I’m a total e-book fan and always advise my self-publishing clients to make their books available as both e-books and print books.
Books for me fall into two categories – “read once” and “read over and over ’til they fall apart then buy new copies”. Okay – there is a third category, but let’s leave “not interested” out of the mix.
It is not unusual for me to buy a book, read it, and donate it to my local, criminally under-funded, library. It’s also not unusual to borrow a book from the library, then go out and buy a copy for myself. Either way, the library is a large part of my reading “cycle”. When I can borrow books for a Kindle from the library, I’ll get one. Until then I guess I’ll stick with ink and paper.
Jim Harris says
Lillie, I had an eBookwise reader before the Kindle. I gave it to a friend interested in ebooks after I got the Kindle. You might like to know that Fictionwise supports the Kindle and anything you bought there that’s not in protected format can be sent to your Kindle from your Library. That’s a wonderful thing about Fictionwise. They save your books for you to get again, even in another format for another device.
The text on the Kindle is sharper than the eBookwise Reader, and can be larger. Although if you are happy with the eBookwise Reader, I’d stick with it until it breaks. $399 is a lot of money for a reader. (I keep telling myself that part of that money is for unlimited cell phone access to Amazon.)
The eBookwise reader is heavier, but the Kindle is full of buttons, making it harder to hold. I put mine on a reading stand and just reach up and press the next page button when needed.
Mark Shead says
What do you mean by this? Are you talking about the ability to browse the Amazon store from the Kindle?
Jim Harris says
Mark, I can browse and buy books from Amazon. I can also download sample chapters. I can surf the web in a weird text mode that’s mainly good for sites like Wikipedia, and I can send myself books through email. Since I have a Fictionwise account, I set up my Kindle with them – you tell your Kindle account who to accept emails from – and that lets me buy books at Fictionwise and immediately send them to the Kindle.
I’ve yet to connect my Kindle to my computer with the USB cable. I keep meaning to, but it’s much easier to pay Amazon a dime, or is it quarter, and send it by email. But that’s only for documents you create yourself or download from the web. For instance a free Gutenberg book.
Jim Harris says
LisaS, I wouldn’t recommend this type of ebook reader for a reference book. That’s the biggest drawback of ebook readers like the Kindle, especially ones that use e-ink. There is no random access that’s equal to flipping through the pages. They are designed to start reading on page 1 and keep going to the end. You can bookmark and you can search on keywords but that’s not always convenient for finding stuff like just flipping through the pages and sampling bits as you go.
They are good for collecting hundreds of classics in one place and jumping over to other books to just get the feel of how another book reads for comparison purposes.
And like you said, electronic readers aren’t good for the beach or the bath. I consider mine a magnifying glass or instant larger print book maker. I have a very specific need.
I just read my blog feeds off of the computer screen.
I don’t know much about the Kindle and haven’t used one by Scobleizer gave it some bad reviews when it first came out.
Check it at: http://scobleizer.com/2007/11/25/dear-jeff-bezos-one-week-kindle-review/
Has it changed, or does it still seem to be easy to use? Just curious.
Thanks, Jason M. Blumer
Jim Harris says
Jason, many of his complaints are valid but they didn’t bother me. I think I read his post before I ordered mine. If I want to buy paper books from Amazon I use my computer.
I thought the menu system was pretty good for the limitations of the system. E-ink isn’t like a computer screen.
I would recommend that anyone considering a Kindle wait until they see one in person first. They are a quirky little device. I showed mine to a couple recently and they both liked it, and I expected them not to like it. So there’s no telling how you’re going to react.
Thanks, Jim. Maybe I need to hold one personally before making my decision.
Thanks, Jason M. Blumer
i think that digital books would really pay off because unlike a regular book you can read what you want and just put it down and pick up were you left off. and a regular book you close it and youlose were you left off and you would have to read that page all over again and for get awt it was about you no and that gets messy sometimes so that is why i think every school ,house ,every job site ,and every thing else should have a digital book.
I read books on my Palm m500 with a free app called ReadThemAll. This way I always have something to read without any extra bulk, including lengthy classics like Vanity Fair. My middle-aged friends say they’d never be able to read using a 2″ square interface, but it works for me. If I wanted to carry something the size of a book, I’d carry… a book.
Rob Dunbar says
The Internet Archive has probably the best free public-domain library around at http://www.archive.org/details/texts (the Open-Access Text Archive–the parent for the Gutenberg Project, I think). The DjVu browser plug-in from LizardTech lets me read all DjVu books on my laptop. If someone made a mobile reader for DjVu files, I’d buy it. But I can’t afford a Kindle either.
Infopackets.com posted this link (warning: LONG url!): http://www.friedbeef.com/2007/04/09/best-places-to-get-free-books-the-ultimate-guide/
for the best places to get free books–34 sites submitted by readers. Includes audiobook sites and book exchange sites as well.
Dave R. says
Remove the DRM and provide the books in a standard format so I can choose how, when and with what I read them, and charge a reasonable price considering the marginal cost is virtually 0, and I’m well and truly sold on the idea.
Until then, a real book, my scanner (with feeder) and http://textonphone.com and a few minutes’ work will get me much farther than the Kindle will.
Jim Harris says
Dave – I’m wary of DRM content too. When I buy something for my Kindle from Amazon I assume I won’t get to keep it forever. I think the Kindle does have limited appeal, so I don’t promote it as the book of the future like some people do. So far it appeals to:
+ bookworms that travel
+ readers who want larger print
+ a handheld reader for free books
+ saving money on volume reading
I still buy regular books, audio books, pdf books, so the Kindle is just extra way to read and not a book replacement.
Justin Long says
One thing a reader can do (I have a Kindle) that no print book can do–search across all the books in the library. I am working on replacing every professional book in my library with Kindle versions as soon as they become available, and the ability to search for a particular topic is absolutely priceless.
I can’t rave enough about my Sony Reader and how it has changed my life. I’ve got a huge number of ebooks at my disposal now and I’ve gotten rid of a complete bookcase of books in the process – 6 boxes worth! I now have the same books available in ebook format along with many, many more.
I also don’t have to lug around several different books on trips anymore just because I’m uncertain about which book I might want to end up reading. Now I can bring however many ebooks I want (Sony Reader can potentially expand to 10 gb of space which is hundreds of thousands of books).
I wish I had the Reader when I traveled to India for two months. I ended up packing over 10 books, which was a huge strain. Though I read many of them during my trip, it definitely did not go well with my goal to travel light with a backpack. If I had the Reader, I could have taken way more books with me without the weight and space.
My only regret is that my local library can’t/won’t “rent” out e-books for the Reader (or the Kindle or anything else). Apparently these e-books can only be viewed on the respective site with some kind of login/password. I’ve never been able to figure out the weird system. So I admit that I generally end up downloading these books for free.
I’m an author and I want to tell you something you seem to overlook: it took me 7 months to write my new book. Apart from what I had to pay for my rent and for my food during this intense time of writing I had to pay photographers, layout and editor (that’s 3 separate people/companies). Printing is merely another item in my list of expenses.
I also have a kindle edition on amazon.com (which would cost another us$300 to produce). I priced it at 9.90us$. Amazon intends to give me 70% royalties (which I still have to see if it’s true). If I sell less than a 1000 ebooks that wouldn’t even cover the costs; although I of course hope that the printed edition will eventually make up for my expenses.
So my point is: just because it’s an “ebook” doesn’t mean there’s no costs to produce it. Plus there’s a critical amount to be sold before it even covers these costs of production
Mark Shead says
Who did you pay $300 to in order to get a Kindle version of your book?
I’d assume rent and food are expenses you’d have regardless of whether you are writing a book so those aren’t necessarily “book” expenses. (You can’t deduct your rent off your taxes as a business expense for writing the book.) Most of the expense of a normal book is in printing the first run (and publicity if your publisher does it, but most do very little). My point is that most authors who work with a publisher get less than $1 per book for a typical hard back. So a price in the $3 range should be plenty to cover typical expenses and still give authors a much larger cut than with the traditional publishing model. At that price point I see ebooks as really bringing significant value to the end user. At higher price points, buying a physical copy of the book used is probably a better value.