The Amazon Kindle and other electronic book readers solve two problems:
- For readers, they provide a convenient device on which any number of
books can be stored, or even downloaded on the road, and provide a
decent reading experience.
- For publishers, they solve the pesky problem of libraries and
lending among friends. In other words, e-readers make it so that
people have to buy every book they read.
As far as #1 goes, more power to the consumers. I'd love to be
able to have a huge stack of books with me at any time in a small
package. But #2 is where the problem lies for me. Nobody should be
surprised by this coming from a blog with "library" in the title.
First of all, I am not going to argue from the aesthetic experience of
reading books. Some people like the feel, weight, and smell of genuine
books. Other people prefer to have a sleek and lightweight gadget on
which to read books, papercut-free. As a public transit commuter, I
admit that I would much prefer to carry an e-reader. Big bulky books
bring bad looks on the bus. On the other hand, I do appreciate the
variety of book smells (with the notable exception of mildew), and there
is something appealing in the act of physically turning pages,
especially near the end of a book. But I do not think that aesthetic
considerations are most important here.
The important aspects of e-reader devices come from the restrictions
which digital text place on the reader. Because of the digital
restrictions management put on e-book files, you cannot share books with
your friends. You cannot borrow them from the library. You cannot make a
copy in a different format. That is exactly what the publishers and
proprietors of e-readers want. Content providers want each consumer to
be in a silo. Every good and work they want to consume would be
purchased directly, and sharing would not be possible, since every
purchased would be bound to the original consumer.
Clearly these restrictions are disadvantageous for us (the "consumers").
Libraries provide an important function in our society - allowing
knowledge and culture to be shared for free amongst everyone. And there
is something to be said in favor of loaning a favorite book to a friend.
I currently have several books loaned out to friends, and in turn I have
some of their books. Books are also good from an environmental
standpoint, because they are a durable good which do not require any
additional material or energy after their initial manufacture.
I like e-reader devices. Perhaps some day contemporary works will be
published in a digital format without restrictions. If that happens,
I'll be first in line to buy an e-reader. Until then, I'm content with
the tried and true form of dead-tree books. And I think that paper books
will hold their own in the market, because of their intrinsic merits.