My e-book vs. paperback experience

I got an e-book reader for my birthday and opted for a Nook. I expected to mostly use it when traveling or to read manuscripts on instead of printing them or sitting at the computer.

To my surprise, after spending a week or so, recently, using it as my primary reading surface, I returned to a paperback and… in some ways it wasn’t as pleasant an experience as the ebook reader. Now, I much prefer the paperback as a tactile object, but I had to hold it open the whole time and the pages made the lines of text curve, so that I was constantly rocking the book back and forth to read.

While I know it has always been like that, removing the mechanics from reading made me very aware of them when I went back. I suspect that hardback books will be different because the pages tend to lie open better but it gave me a tiny taste of what it might be like in a future where reading on screens is the way people grow up.

As tactile objects I still prefer a paper book, but I think I may have lost my taste for mass-market paperbacks.

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27 Responses

  1. Aliette de Bodard

    That’s funny… I got one two months ago, and I think it’s still slightly more tiring than a paperback (not enough contrast, so the lighting I need to have is much stronger–which doesn’t always happen in public transport). But I’ve seen no difference in my paperback reading experience.

  2. Keyan

    I hope not… I have to admit that reading spec fic online has made me a lot less tolerant of print magazines – I find the printing cramped, the margins ridiculous and the paper dull. And I used to be able to read anything, having grown up on a diet of old books in bad condition. I’m resisting an ebook reader for now. I don’t want my entire collection of paperbacks to become instantly obsolete.

  3. CS Haviland

    That’s an interesting observation. I’ve been staying away from the e-book hardware for a long time, thoroughly convinced that it would never really take off. In my figuring, having to keep it charged (and forgetting to do so leaving me without reading material) would kill popularity momentum… Plus the cost and its sensitivity to the elements. (You can drop a book by accident, or it can get wet from the start of a rain shower or splashed by a passing car, and you’d not be nearly as worried about it.)

    But seeing everyone use them on the Metro-North train into NYC every day made me wonder if I had badly miscalculated, and I admit the tactile familiarity of holding a book (and the smell of its pages) has always biased me.

    They do have their annoying aspects though. Mass-market books and tradebacks spring shut like traps, and hard cover books get a little heavy when you’re lying down or schlepping them around in your carry bag… and then there’s always the bookmarking issue.

    Being an avid iPhone fan, and with the iPad now out, I will probably wade into e-reading with an iPad sometime down the road. That way my device is an e-book reader but also a portable office for writing and a more comfortable web-working experience.

  4. Monica

    Mary, are you concerned at all with the e-book storage or the technology of the reader? How would you feel, for example, if a new Nook upgrade was released or your e-books were lost?

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      One of the reasons that I went with the Nook is that the books it can handle are epubs and pdfs which means that I can read them in other ways. I also rarely read a book more than once, so I’ve always seen the price akin to paying $25 to go to the theater and see a show once. It’s never bothered me. That I CAN read it more than once is a bonus but one I rarely exercise, but that’s just me. Not everyone has that relationship with their books.

  5. Tom

    I am at the point that I like my nook so much that reading paper versions are feeling weird. Holding a paperback while my nook was charging felt strange.

    Shall really test next week when I pick up a hardcover novel I have been waiting for. Have all the books in HC so have to keep getting in HC to complete my collection (yes I am weird)

  6. Skott Klebe

    I’ve now read dozens of books on my first-generation Kindle, and I think it’s slightly more tiring on the eyes than paperback, but much less tiring on the fingers, hands, and arms. The display quality on the gen-2 Kindles and on the Nook is much better than on the gen-1, so if I ever upgrade my Kindle I suspect I’ll fall in wholeheartedly with Mary.
    E-readers also accommodate challenging reading situations much better than books. If you like to read books while walking or running on a treadmill or similar contraption, an e-reader will be your new best friend. If you’re a beach reader, take your Kindle in a ziploc bag and you’ll wonder how you ever put up with paper.
    I’ll have an iPad once the 3G models ship. I’m interested in seeing how it addresses the one challenging reading condition the Kindle doesn’t handle well – darkness. You can use a book light, but you get glare off the display surface.

  7. David Forbes

    I just bought an iPad and love the reader sofware, both iBooks and Kindle. That said, I *despise* e-ink because of the way it refreshes pages. Call me a technology snob (“Forbes, you’re a technology snob!” — there, I said it for you), but that process looks like it was developed around the time Edison invented movies. And a monochrome display? I just can’t do it.

    I think there will be a (small) niche for readers that use e-ink, but it’s going to stay small. I think the reader software will have more success as the iPad and other tablets grow in the marketplace.

    And yes, I know about screen glare, which is an issue if you read outside, which I don’t, and which is why I think there will be a continued small niche for dedicated e-ink readers.

    I don’t mind LCD backlighting and you can control the brightness in the iBooks reader directly (the Kindle software allows you to reverse the text to white on black or use a sepia tone background), so I don’t consider that an issue. The screen is also significantly larger than a standard Kindle.

    I just don’t see expensive, single-purpose ereader hardware surviving, at least not at their current price points. They’re going to have to come down to almost disposable price levels (like $20) to even have a chance of hanging on.

    My $.02.

  8. Andrew Mayer

    The e-reader as a replacement for the mass-market paperback was something that I hadn’t really considered. I probably haven’t more than one or two books in a mass-market edition over the last decade, since I made a conscious decision to always seek out a hardcover or trade version of the book, especially since Amazon makes it easy to find those editions at great prices.

    I’m considering an iPad, but the idea that I can’t share the books in my library is still something that’s hard for me to accept.

  9. Dario

    Don’t laugh, but I read a lot on a 10-yr old Sony Clie PDA that someone gave me free several years ago. I used to think nothing could replace print books, but within five minutes of starting to read on the PDA (which is tiny compared to today’s eReaders), I was sold. I still enjoy looking at and owning printed books, but the advantages of mass storage and portability of any sort of eReader are huge.

    I personally think Amazon and the rest made the wrong call when they decided to make devices with the heft of a paperback. Except for the PDA’s shortish battery life and lack of an ePaper screen (i.e., usable in strong daylight),, the fact that I can fit it in a shirt pocket makes it immensely superior to something four times the size, and I don’t even notice the extra page turns.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      I read on my PalmPilot all the time and would probably still do that if I hadn’t swapped to a Google phone. That screen is just a bit too small for my taste and there’s no good reader platform wat has a decent selection of fiction for purchase.

  10. John Rea-Hedrick

    I’ve been using the Sony Reader for several months and really like it. It’s lightweight and feels good in my hand. The lighting is an issue in certain locations, but I can always get a case with a light if it becomes a problem. I like that I can carry many titles around easily depending on my reading mood. Regarding the text itself, I can zoom, annotate, highlight, bookmark and even look up words via the built-in reference dictionary. It also supports pdf and epub and I can check out eBook titles for 21 days from my local library so I don’t have to purchase every book I’d like to read on it. Regarding pricing, I purchased BONESHAKER last year for $9.99. (I also used it to read and take notes on an early draft of Glamour in Glass.)

  11. John W. S. Marvin

    I love my Kindle DX. The big one, as I like to read the NYTimes every morning on it. And before you hit me, I bought it *before* Amazon yanked the preorder of your book.

    I love eInk. I’m 54, and so are my eyes. I never want to read a book on a backlit display. I know young people read books on iPhones. I suspect an Illuminati conspiracy between Apple and Amazon/Sony. Apple will ruin your eyes, then Sony/Amazon will sell you the alternative reader. 😉

    As you say, you no longer have to prop the book open. I can now brush my teeth while reading w/o resorting to holding the book open with a toothpaste tube that obscures half the page. 🙂

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      My displeasure with Amazon ceased when they started carrying my book again. I no longer trust them, but my upset was limited.

      Ah… the toothpaste tube. I’m totally starting to take for granted the ability to set the Nook down and keep reading, without having to find something to prop it open with.

  12. CS Haviland

    I admit I myself have tried to read some books with the iPhone 3Gs (there is a Kindle app, and some public domain e-book apps) but my eyes are 44 going on 45 and boy does the small text give me a headache. I know you can zoom in but I hate all the scrolling around every five seconds.

    As I say I’ve got my eyes on the iPad but I’m going to probably wait another model or two, so that they have time to widen the e-book inventory and expand some of its other functionality. I tend to not want the first models off the line. The iPhone 3Gs is my first iPhone and I’m glad I waited.

  13. -d-

    I’m not much of a reader, but I tried Mary’s Nook when she first got it and I really liked it. I liked it better than a real book for several reasons not the least of which is that it was easier for me to read.

  14. Karen T. Smith

    I have a Nook, too, and really like it. I generally prefer hardbacks, because they’re easier to manage on the exercise machines (I’m someone who reads all the time…while eating, drying my hair, exercising, with a bitty book light while putting the kids to sleep, etc.) Needless to say, the Nook revolutionizes the “read while working out” thing. I can read on the stairmill, which was impossible with any other kind of book!

    I’ve had the nook since xmas and have read about 20 books on it so far, and find the experience far superior, though I won’t stop buying hardbacks of my favorite titles.

    One thing I’m looking forward to, though, is the netflix-like model for ebooks. B&N is on the road with the Nook’s ability to loan out a copy of an ebook to a friend, but I’d like to go further. I’d PAY to subscribe to a service that let me have an ebook copy of any title out (one at a time) until I finish it. I’d probably be comfortable paying $20/month (or 30/month to have access to a higher-tier of books, like those only available in hardback), since I typically read about 1 book a week (mid-grade and YA, which are often at or around $5-6/book on B&N’s ebook store.) Less and it’d be a no brainer. Hope we can get the publishers, authors, agents, and retailers to get their heads around something like this soon. Although I like your concept of spending the $ like you would for a one-time performance, I still have a bit of trouble buying these ebooks, since I’m a heavy library user.

  15. Jeff P

    I’m glad the new technology is working for most folks on here. I imagine it will for me, too, eventually.

    But I have to come to the defense of the mass market paperback. I cut my teeth reading genre fiction in mass market during the 70s, and there’s something very comforting to me about holding that small bundle of fine-smelling pages. I know it’s only psychological, but to me it’s real.

    My hope is that, with the advent of e-readers and the forecasting of the death of paper books, people will end up just as wrong as those who foretold of the doom of movie theaters when VHS machines came on the scene.

    That said, I’m looking forward to getting an iPad down the road, and will no doubt try the e-book experience.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      I’ve long been a fan of the tactile sensation of books too, in paperback and hardback. Which is why I so surprised when I went back to paperback and found that I enjoyed the ebook experience more.

  16. Tom

    I have also discovered something about me that the publishers might not like.

    I am finding that if I have to deal with DRM then my price to buy is lower. I have over 300 Baen books and some I have purchased at $15 (eARC’s) Not that I plan on doing anything with the book except read it on my nook, I guess its the whole “It’s not really mine is it” thought behind DRM.

    But the new Raymond E Feist novel that came out last week is $14.99 as an ebook and I did not buy it. I might actually get it as a HC but part of me is wondering if I will just hold out and wait for the book as a cheaper ebook.

    It is actually their fault because they released book #1 in the series as a free ebook. Which also fuels my “lets get it all on ebook” feelings.

    But in analyzing my feelings, I found that I can hold out longer. I want it on my nook more than I want to read it right this second. Which is kinda scary really since Raymond has been one of my “buy as soon as the book arrives” authors.

    I am not real sure if this will continue with other novels or not. But thought it was interesting.

    And then the non-scientific survey was tossed out because EOS is sending me an ARC of the book. So now I am loosing my objectivity.

    Now I will have to find out what I would do with my next “must have book” that I want as an ebook.