I’m going to lose so much hipster cred for this.
Okay. I’m going to say something controversial: I love my e-reader. Don’t misunderstand me, I read more than most people do these days. I don’t own many things, but I own a lot of books. When I moved into my new tiny student housing apartment recently, I had to question if there was going to be room for all of my books. They had been living throughout my old room and taking up one of the massive Borders bookshelves that I purchased for quite a bargain when they went out of business. I had to buy four regular sized bookshelves (from garage sales and thrift stores, so I’m not complaining) in order to fit all of my books into my room in a way that resembled order. I love my books. I want you all to know that I am one of you, bibliophile to the end.
I want this to be established when I say that there is an easier way: digital. I’m not, absolutely not talking about tablets that you can download a kindle app on. This is not what I’m talking about at all. That would be a completely different blog post with a completely different stance on the issue. This is exclusively about proprietary e-readers that can do only one thing: display text, typically on a screen that mimics that of a real book. Essentially, it’s not terribly different from a real book (is ‘real’ derogatory? kidding), except it has no paper. The one drawback is that once a month or so, you have to charge it.
The advantages, however, far outweigh the one, tiny drawback. What sold me is the value. I realize the hundred dollar price tag on these things is a bit frightening. You have to consider what you’re getting, though. Websites such as Project Gutenberg offer such a wealth of free ebooks that, even if the prices of e-readers stay around the hundred dollar mark, you’re getting far more than just one book per dollar. Generally, these are going to be older, out-of-print books that have an expired copyright (Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Homer, Cervantes, etc.) This could also be a valuable resource for a reader who has trouble finding a certain book, such as one of the obscure Victorian penny dreadfuls such as The String of Pearls (Sweeny Todd’s story) or Varney the Vampire. If you download the book, you will instantly receive a book that may or may be available in a physical form. This last point does not only hold true to older books, either.
Digital versions of newer books can be a bargain as well. If a book is a bestseller, the price for the e-book is frequently lower than the price for a new book. Admittedly, I would usually prefer to buy from a used bookstore, which is even cheaper, but then you must rely on luck as to whether the book is available or not. Recently, one of my favorite authors (Paulo Coelho and please don’t mock me for this) had a sale, offering all of his books for just 99 cents, letting me literally purchase thirteen of his books for the price of one. Of course, books from a library are cheaper, but not everyone has the luxury of a library close to their home, and they still have the same drawbacks in terms of stock as a bookstore.
The convenience of an e-reader cannot be denied. Once you get over your initial fear of being seen in public with an e-reader, you realize how much lighter a small e-reader is than David Copperfield, Les Miserables, 1Q84, or the entire Harry Potter series (because you won’t stop after you start with the first one). This is especially convenient while traveling, particularly if during an extended trip: you can take an extensive library.
“But wait!” you say. What about books that aren’t available in digital form? Well, to be fair, fewer of those exist than you may think. Besides, owning an e-reader doesn’t mean you cannot purchase physical copies anymore. It only gives you an additional medium in which to enjoy literature.
The unfortunate truth is that bookstores across the country are suffering. They cannot compete with online venders who can offer a used copy for 30% of the price, and they never will be able to. Borders, for example. It’s gone now. I know. I bought one of their bookshelves. I would not be shocked if Barnes and Noble were headed that way as well. What happens then? Well, the places that sell books will include indie bookstores, used bookstores, and major chain stores that don’t specialize in books. Most people are more likely to go to the third, giving places such as Walmart and Target the decision on what reaches consumers. But perhaps that’s just the pessimist in me.
Even barring the previous apocalyptic situation, an e-reader is a tremendous value to those who love to read, and they’re becoming more common. Their persistence in the marketplace has shown that they are not a fad, but the future of literature. There are numerous other advantages that I have chosen not to mention for the sake of time and word count, though I’m hoping the points I mentioned change a few minds about e-readers.