Yesterday I decided that it would be interesting to cover the ins and outs of ebooks including covering the appeal of ebooks, the convenience of ebooks, what you might find ebooks useful for and what are the issues surrounding ebooks. Hence begins this article covering the good, the bad, and the downright ugly aspects of the modern alternative to the paperback book.
Convenience: This can be classified into two key areas, firstly with a compatible device you can carry hundreds or even thousands of ebooks at the one time whereby being able to carry your entire library with you wherever you go. Secondly in situations where space or weight is at a premium, an ebook reader will generally weigh less and take less space than the equivalent paperback and certainly less than carrying multiple paperback books.
Cost-effective: As ebooks are online downloads, there are no shipping costs and (I would assume) far less costs that would generally be associated with physical wholesale distribution therefore resulting in generally lower costs to purchase an ebook as opposed to its paperback cousin.
Environmentally friendly: For every ebook purchased instead of a paperback, that brings the world one step closer to saving more trees from being cut down and turned into books. If in future society moves closer to replacing the majority of paperbacks with ebooks this could help eliminate at least a portion of our natural resource consumption.
Youth appeal: This largely comes from my own personal opinion, however with increased access to ebooks I am finding that I am beginning to read more as well is more frequently due to the accessibility of books on my phone as well as other electronic devices that I carry day to day. I feel that younger generations may experience the same appeal that ebooks provide in that they can be purchased and downloaded instantly which appeals to impulse buying habits and the convenience allows them to read at any time where they may find a few spare minutes each day that they need to stave off boredom.
Searchable: Although this does not cover all ebooks, the majority of ebooks can be searched like any other text document you may have on your computer. This can be particularly useful when looking for quotes, or trying to find details for research and study purposes.
Page size: As we move to ebooks there is no standard page size and often with ebook readers such as phones, one thing that must be accepted is that we will not always be able to see a full page on the screen at one time. Thus far I have not found this to be an overly annoying problem, however I fear that when trying to read a book containing images, graphs or tables, these little screens could become a big problem.
Power: to be honest this is a key problem with everything in the digital age, no power equals trouble. For the most part this doesn’t create too much of a problem, however there is the obvious complaint that if the power goes out and their reading device runs out of power their book will no longer be available to read until power is restored.
Backups: in certain cases a user may end up being responsible for their own backups of the books that they purchase. If their computer or reader fails they may not be able to request an additional copy of the download from the original source. Buyer beware, make sure you keep a safe copy of your purchase.
The downright ugly:
Digital Rights Management A.K.A. DRM: Digital rights management is the protection that most publishers put on their digital downloads. Due to incompatibilities between formats, a book that you purchase through one site may not work on the same devices as those from a different site. For example, a book purchased on the Amazon Kindle platform may not be readable on your Blackberry (as an example) until such a time that Amazon decides to support the Blackberry with a client application.This creates compatibility issues especially when you find that you have a platform of choice that you purchase most of your books on, and then find that the book you want is only available on a competing platform. Obviously with paperbacks this would never be an issue.Personally, I feel that with time, and logical thinking, DRM will be relaxed similar to how it has been with music (DRM Free MP3s and DRM free music on iTunes). However at this stage I do not see this happening any time soon. Industry either needs to agree on a single standard or abolish the use of DRM all together to improve the appeal of ebooks to the consumer, which in turn will eliminate a large portion of the confusion surrounding formats and who should by what.
International markets: With the increasing access to international markets that the internet has provided, any consumer could source a book (or really most products) from their choice of retailers worldwide. This provided the opportunity to source books that may not be sold locally from an international retailer and have the products mailed to you. However with the ebook, this is not always the case. I have stumbled across several examples of books that were restricted for sale within the US and Canada only so the benefits of accessing materials from an international market are beginning to shrink and become more restrictive again (in certain cases).
Device/Support/Store goes bust: At this stage I believe this may be largely untested, but lets take the hypothetical situation that you have purchased ebooks in a particular format, and the company decides to stop supporting that format or producing new devices to read the format on. Quite simply you may be left with a book that is no longer readable. This is a danger with any sort of digital purchase, however is something that should be taken into consideration when purchasing ebooks (especially those with DRM that cannot be ported to a competing platform).
OK, now that we have that all out of the way, there are two key questions I would like to sum this up in, why would you, and why wouldn’t you.
Why would you?
If you are looking for something that you need quickly (and in some cases instantly) then ebooks are great. No going to the bookstore and no waiting in line at the checkout. If you travel a lot or (like me) need to carry a range of textbooks for university then a couple of megabytes on a computer are far more pleasant than a couple of bricks on your back.
Why wouldn’t you?
For those that are not technically savvy, the nature of where you should be purchasing from and which books are compatible with which devices could be confusing. If you are not completely aware of the different formats and “Who supports what” then you may end up purchasing a book that you cannot read.
With the advent of products like the Amazon Kindle and the iPad as well as newer tablet PCs and other up and coming devices that can read ebooks, the availability and usability of ebooks is only going to become easier and more readily available.
If you are happy to stick to one platform and ensure all your purchases come from there, you should have no issues with ebooks and will likely find them a great alternative to the paperback. As mentioned above I hope that the publishers see the light and relax the DRM or at least agree on a single standard that all devices should support so that books can be used anywhere you need/want them.
Personally I am a convert, I am loving the ebooks and as a student they are a very welcome alternative. However I am curious to hear your thoughts, what are your experiences with ebooks? Have you tried them and did you find them easy to purchase and read or more difficult and confusing?