Monday, October 27, 2008

Wendy Takes On Ebooks

By now most of you probably know that the mighty Oprah threw her considerably marketing clout behind the Amazon Kindle late last week. Dear Author has a good post up about it, along with several comments. Instead of hijacking that thread, I thought I should probably ramble on about my "librarian perspective" on my own blog.

Recently I had to go to the dentist to have a cavity filled. While I was waiting on my dentist, I pulled out my Sony Reader. Suddenly I was the most popular girl in the office. The hygienist had to play with it. My dentist had to play with it. They both thought it was the coolest thing they'd ever seen. Wow, ebooks? Who knew! You mean there are ebooks? And you can buy a reader to read them on?

Hand to God people.

And this was my dentist. An educated man. A reading man. A man, who looking at my checkbook as Exhibit A, has plenty of disposable income to buy an ebook reader. And he was looking at my Sony Reader like it had just been beamed down from Mars.

Sometimes I think it's easy for us to forget that not everyone is plugged into the same corner of cyberspace as we are. Not everybody uses the Internet every day of their lives. Not every reader is trolling online review sites, blogs and Amazon. Some readers simply wander into a bookstore or library, pick up a book that looks interesting, and read it. Then when they finish reading it, they might not breathe a word about the experience to anybody.

Yes, these people exist. I used to see them every day of the week when I worked with the public.

So what does Oprah's endorsement really mean? Well, I'm here to tell you.

It will raise the profile of ebooks. People who didn't know before, like my dentist, will now know that ebooks exist.

Will Oprah increase Kindle sales? Maybe. Honestly with the shittastic economy right now I'm not convinced. Also, it's doubtful to sway people who are "in the know." The number one reason I've seen for people not buying the Kindle? They hate the monopoly. They hate the idea of the books they buy being tied to "one device." Oprah endorsing it is unlikely to change their minds. But for people not "in the know," who have $300 lying around? Who don't care (or know) about the books being tied down to "just the Kindle?" Yeah, they might be swayed.

But that's the rub, because even with Oprah getting people a $50 off coupon, I just don't see a mass of people running out to buy a Kindle. Sure as shootin', not now. Which brings us to the fate of the ebook market in general.

Right now, I can walk into any library, pull a book off the shelf, and read it. And if I have proper identification and proof of address? I can take that book home. For free! I don't need to give the librarian $300+ for a device so that I can read the book. I don't need to be technically savvy at all. All I have to be able to do to open up the book, and read. It doesn't get much simpler than that people.

And that's what the ebook market doesn't "get." Librarians will tell you, we see people every single day (Every. Single. Day.) who are freaked out by the idea of a computer mouse. Yes, a mouse. Can you imagine if we started explaining to them about downloading ebooks, the gazillion different formats, and oh yeah, you might have to convert that file in order to read it? If they didn't curl into the fetal position and start weeping, their heads would explode.

Which means ebooks will never (ever) take off until the technological divide is erased, and publishers dumb the process down - a lot. And I just don't see that happening. Because even if a first generation Reader For Dummies device lands on the market and it only costs $50? There will still be plenty of people out there who won't and can't buy it. Heck, you can buy a cheap MP3 player these days for less than $30, and does everyone own one? No.

So will Oprah's endorsement obliterate print books? Shit, even she's not that powerful. Will it knock all other ebook readers off the market? Extremely doubtful. The eBookwise is still one of the best damn deals in town, and the Sony Reader was advertised in the Target flier that came with my Sunday paper.

Still, it gives all of us something to dither about.


Liza said...

I don't have an ereader yet, just because they are so expensive. I still read ebooks on my laptop. I think I'll really have to do some research before I'm willing to hand over $300 for an ereader. Plus, I still really love to hold a book in my hands while I read.

Nonnie said...

I don't have an ereader, and I don't know if I can make myself get one.

How do you, as the SL, feel about eReading? You obviously have a reader, but do you like to read via the reader as much as holding the book in your hands? Does cold, hard metal really offer what the warmth and smell and weight that a hardcover does?

I've been reading SSB Sarah and DA Jane's takes on the ereaders, and I just don't know if I can choke down enough of the various aids (such as SSB Sarah's Kindle-aid) out there to breakdown and buy something I fear won't offer me the same reading enjoyment.

And believe me, I'm not even in the same realm as a luddite, so that's not the's the experience baby, the experience.

Wendy said...

Nonnie: That's probably a whole separate post - but here it is in a nutshell....

I love my Sony Reader, mostly because the screen is easy to read and I can enlarge the font. The older I get, the crappier my eyesight gets. That being said, I don't see myself giving up print entirely. For one thing, I own an obscene amount of books. For another, I like owning my favorites in print. 30 years from now I'll still be able to read my "keepers" if I have them in print. Electronically? Well 30 years from now will the file still work? Will I be able to convert it? Etc.

What I'm hoping is that the Sony Reader will break me of my Harlequin hording addiction. I own an obscene amount of Harlequins and they take up a lot of space in their print format. I'm hoping that I'll eventually be able to move entirely to electronic for category romance....but not sure when and if that will happen 100%. Like I said, I already own an obscene amount of books.

As for the experience? Honestly? It's about the same for me. That being said, sometimes eReading is more "comfortable" because I'm one of those sickos who hates to break the spine on my paperbacks. My OCD isn't so much an issue when I'm using my Sony Reader.

Barbara said...

I told my husband that all I want for christmas this year is an e-reader. I love, love, love my print books, but I really just don't have room anymore. My closet is--what I call--an organized mess. I books from floor to ceiling.

Having an e-reader will eliminate a lot of the clutter. I'm just wondering if it is harsh on the eyes. I read ALOT and I don't want to have to end up getting a thicker lense each trip to the eye doctor.

Wendy said...

The eInk technology is really easy on the eyes, and not "harsh" at all. I had this fear that it would be like looking at a computer monitor, and it's really not at all!

The Sony Reader and the Kindle both use eInk. I've seen displays for the Sony Reader at many Borders stores, so if you have one in your area, it would probably be worth a window-shopping trip.

I can't speak for the eBookwise, but I know several readers who have one and really love it.

little alys said...

Well, I may as well admit I'm one of those that walks into a bookstore or library, browze around and walk out with one the same day.
Another thing I'd like to add my penny in is also the fact that when I have the book, I can flip through it. Skim a little and decide if I want to purchase the book.
Ebooks would be designated to 'auto buy' authors and I really don't have that many.
Besides, out of all my friends (about 8 peeps), only ONE person was able to buy an ereader. The Kindle. And how? The other 7 of us pooled our money together, along with her parents to get her the Kindle and a little gift card to jump start her collection. My friend loves her Kindle. Loves ebooks, even buying her old print books on digital. She's trying to get the rest of us to get it too and I trust her much more than I would Oprah.
I love my print and I'm all for the ereaders, but Oprah's endorsement doesn't do much for me. Not much at all. 1)Can't afford it. 2)I like to flip through a book before getting it. 3)Libraries are my second home and 4) Again, I can't afford it.

Mollie said...

Amen sister.

I'm a librarian and I haven't delved into the ebook world. I know about it, I can use it if I so choose. But I'm a traditionalist. I love the look, feel, and smell of books. I don't want to read off of a screen. I know some people LOVE ebooks it's convenient and easy for them, great. But I WANT MY BOOKS. Paperbacks and Hardbacks. I like the whole visceral experience of going to the bookstore and picking out a BOOK. Not downloading a file. It's just not the same.

All that being said, I'm surprised I haven't jumped on the ebook bandwagon. I'm a big techie. I love MP3 players, phones, TVs, laptops, computers, etc. But Ebook..??? Just not my thing.

Kati said...

I've been on the fence about an ebook reader for sometime. I love my books, but then I think of being able to keep 100 books on an ereader, and that's really, really enticing to me.

Plus, I'll admit it, I'm hell on books. I crack the spines, fold over pages, and do all manner of things I'm sure you'd disapprove of, Wendy. So, that's another thing in the plus column.

The Kindle does entice me, I'm not gonna lie. I like the wireless feature. But I'm not sure that I like is $50 worth, which is the price differential between Sony and Kindle, right?

SIGH. I've got to think on this.

Wendy said...

Kati: With the Oprah discount, the Sony Reader and the Kindle are now basically the same price (I saw the Sony Reader advertised for $299 in that Target flier).

I really like my Sony, but yeah - no wireless feature. And I gotta be honest, that's the entire appeal of the Kindle for me. Being anywhere in the world (assuming you can get a signal), and downloading a book right to your reading device. Takes impulse shopping to a whole new level.

tracy said...

I'm hoping all those women who sat through the Oprah show (most remind my of my mom) and got a Kindle will have no idea how to use it, and either give them to someone who does, or someone who can sell it to me on eBay. Preferably with a further discounted price tag.

Mel Hiers said...

I'm a 50/50 reader, and I've been doing the e-book thing on my Palm for a while. I've resisted the e-ink readers, mainly because I LOVE being able to read in the dark/dim with my backlit screen without having to fiddle with a book light.

I don't know how many libraries offer e-book downloads. I'm a lowly clerk in Tennessee. But we have access to a state-wide e-book/audiobook downloading program through the regions. ( They only deal in one format (although they're looking at Mobipocket as well) with clear instructions and a pretty good collection. In my opinion, it's digital downloads done right for the typical patron.

Although they do have to let go of that mouse phobia to use it. :-P

Through READS, we get regular checkout stats from patrons who would rarely come into the building.

Nicole said...

You know, I had an eerily similar experience at my last dentist appt when I whipped out my Sony Reader.

I have to say I agree with you here, but if nothing else, we can get things going for the next generation...

Wendy said...

Tracy: Ooooh, you're devious! LOL

Mel: We do eAudio through Overdrive and it's been very well received. I'm personally loving it! Can't tell you the last time I listened to an audiobook on CD.

We haven't launched into eBooks yet, but that's because we're trying to scare up the funds. I'd love to see it happen though.

I know several readers who read on their Palm - and honestly I'm wondering if smartphones aren't the wave of the future for e-reading. I love having a dedicated reader, but there's a lot to be said for having one device that can perform a variety of functions.

Kati said...

I think I'm sold, CJ. I'm gonna go for it. But I need to do a bit more research. My big thing is the Kindle only reads Kindle format, yes? And the Sony Reader reads multiple formats, right? That could be the feature that sells me on the kindle.

Oh, and hand to God, my word verify is "pricks". Just what kinda site are you runnin', Wendy?

Kati said...

And why I called you CJ, I just don't know, except that I was just exchanging comments with her.

Sorry WENDY, I know this is your place.

Sheesh, this is what comes of posting and watching baseball at the same time. SIGH.

Wendy said...

Kati: LOL - you can call me CJ if you want to :-)

I'm not sure what formats the Kindle can read. I'm assuming "just" the Kindle stuff - but not sure if there's a way you can convert files etc. Any Kindle owners out there know the scoop?

The new Sony Reader has been opened up - and I recently just downloaded the software update. I haven't tinkered with it too much, but in theory I should now be able to read all PDF files on it, regardless of where I purchase them from. Prior to the upgrade, it didn't really play nice with PDF files purchased outside of the Sony store......

Here's an article about the Sony update via Dear Author:

Mel Hiers said...

"...and honestly I'm wondering if smartphones aren't the wave of the future for e-reading."

I recently switched from a Tungsten handheld to a Centro smartphone, actually. I always have the darn thing with me. I haven't carried a paperback in my purse for months and I don't have to juggle devices. I think it all boils down to a reader's lifestyle. For my part, I can't see the sense in purchasing a one-function item when I already have access to something that does that function and more. Just my $.02 anyway. :-)

Amy said...

"...I'm wondering if smartphones aren't the wave of the future for e-reading. I love having a dedicated reader, but there's a lot to be said for having one device that can perform a variety of functions."

Why not go the other way and have ereaders with more functions? I'd love to be able to type a doc, check my email, and send texts on a wireless reading device with a bigger screen! My boyfriend has an iPhone and while it's cool, the constant expanding and shrinking of websites to be able to read anything (and despite my cajoling, I haven't convinced him to try an ebook on the darned thing...yet).

Amy said...

Ha, didn't really finish my thought there... What I meant to say was the constant expanding and shrinking of websites to be able to read anything would drive my insane.

sybil said...

There is a difference in O getting many to go out and sent 15 to 20 dollars on her, IMHO awful, book club and getting peeps to go out and spend 300

But it shall be interesting to see what happens... noticed the Sony in the Target flier as well.

Tracy said...

I absolutely LOVE my ebookwise and am so happy that I bought it. I thought I'd start out small and then if I needed something more I could get it later. So far I've not needed anything more - it's wonderful!

I didn't know about the Oprah thing but it makes so much sense that someone, who I KNOW is not an avid reader asked me about a Kindle. Strange, I thought. Now it all becomes clear.

I love ebooks and will continue to buy them. :)

Nonnie said...

Thanks for the response Wendy! If eReaders ever drop in price to where they're more affordable, I may consider it. I'm trying to keep an open mind.

Kelly C said...

I am not that keen on ebooks/e-readers.

I do like the compactability and the fact that I wouldn't have to house the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books I currently do.

Plus I might save a tree or two thousand.

The *good* news, I guess, for me is that if I put the bug in one of my co-worker's ear that I was interested in either a/the Kindle or Sony Reader, she'd probably run straight to our boss and he'd buy me one for Christmas.

And no, I am not *dating* him nor am I blackmailing him. :-)

So, the question is : to hint or not to hint? ;-)