Making the case for e-readers

When e-readers like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook hit the market, I have to admit to being less than thrilled. An avid reader, I couldn’t imagine reading without the feel of crisp pages at my fingertips, the smell of binding, dusty library shelves, the excitement of acquiring a favorite first edition, and the ever-expanding surface space this lifelong passion inhabited in my home. And then I found the enormous free online libraries that appealed to both the technogeek and the bibliophile in me.

Being a frugal person out of necessity and principle, I started running out of excuses not to get an e-reader around the time gas prices jumped–and so did the cost of just about everything else. I stopped avoiding the advertisements on and decided to take a look. Two things really appealed to me from the onset: the number of e-books available online and the environmental impact, or lack thereof.

When I was growing up environmentalism consisted largely of planting trees (ostensibly to replace all the trees we were cutting down for paper products), avoiding aerosol products (gotta love big 80’s hair), and not littering. Save the Rainforest wasn’t just a slogan, it was the driving force behind environmentalism in my childhood years. It’s so deeply ingrained that I still cannot refuse a donation to a Save the Rainforest charity. While books aren’t the only threat to rainforests, the e-reader allows me to feel like I’m contributing in yet another way to a greener planet.

As recently as January of this year, I was visiting a book store and/or the local library several times per month. I still like to encourage a love of reading with my own children so I haven’t given up the library entirely. But having an e-reader has certainly allowed me to cut back on costly car trips. Needless to say, less traveling is easier on the pocketbook and the environment.

When my husband bestowed upon me a Kindle to call my own, I discovered a laundry list of benefits. Here are a few:

  • The lightweight, compact nature of the e-reader is kind of amazing for this mother of four. Parents who are accustomed to packing any number of necessities and supplies into the car and/or the diaper bag can relate. (Also students who lug around heavy school texts)
  • No more losing my place when bookmarks mysteriously disappear. (folding page corners is a pet peeve of mine) The e-reader remembers my place so that I don’t have to.
  • Whereas I’d never graffiti a paper book with highlights and notes in the margins, I can do so guilt-free and with abandon on my e-reader. And I do!
  • Time is of the essence. That’s why I love that I can browse for books and essays from my e-reader and have them uploaded to the device in seconds.
  • Several days of reading on a single charge, low CO2 emissions. This was one of my only concerns, environmentally speaking. Despite regular and daily use, I recharge my Kindle once a week for approximately one hour. See this report for detailed analysis of environmental impact of e-readers vs. books.
  • Easy on the eyes. The Kindle’s “ink technology” and lack of backlighting makes reading eerily (gratefully, in my case) similar to the paper page. I can also toggle text size with immediate results.

That said, I was a little conflicted reading an article about the impact of e-books on the publishing industry. It would seem publishers are not happy with being rendered virtually useless by e-readers. It’s not that I’m a huge fan of publishers, but I am a fan of jobs in a struggling economy.

I also think publishers can serve an important purpose; namely as a kind of filter for the vast array of literature on the market. No one likes to spend money on a poorly written book with more plot holes than pot holes on a rural back road. Some publishers have a better reputation for filtering than others, which can be of real benefit to authors. Still, reading is mostly a matter of personal taste and there’s just no accounting for it sometimes.

As a would-be writer, I find avoiding several “middlemen” in the publishing world immensely attractive. An author could [in theory] self-publish straight to electronic format, set their own price, and be wildly successful. They would never “sell out” because e-books are limitless. After everyone gets a piece of the action, I could make .35 cents per .99 cent e-book and still rake in over a quarter of a million dollars by selling a million copies. Think it hasn’t been done? Meet John Locke.

It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme by any means. An author may still want to invest in a good editor and Uncle Sam will be around for his cut. There are also personal taste and market trends to contend with. However, self-publishing in electronic format has the potential to provide savvy authors with more creative and financial reign over their work.

After all is said and done, I am enjoying my e-reader much more than I originally thought I would and the perceived cost-benefit ratio helps alleviate the not-so-considerable guilt at having abandoned dead tree reading so easily.