You say you want an e-reader?
I’ve had a number of conversations with folks lately about e-books, e-readers, and what all the hype is about. Since the same questions keep coming up, I thought there may be more people curious about the e-book realm, so here are some frequently asked questions (with answers) about e-books, e-readers, and the whole shebang.
What is an e-reader?
An e-reader is a device or computer program that you can read an e-book on.
Usually when people talk about an e-reader, they mean a portable device, like an Amazon Kindle or Barnes and Noble Nook.
However, an e-reader can also be a program that you use on a computer that will display the e-book for you to read.
Surprisingly (at least to me), the majority of e-books are currently read on laptops, NOT devices like Kindles or Nooks.
What is so special about e-books?
Nothing, really. They are just books that you can read on an electronic device. A book is a book is a book.
However, what makes an e-book different from a regular print book is that it can be stored on an electronic device. And depending on the amount of storage that device has, that could mean having 1000 books stored in something the size of your palm.
Can you imagine packing 1000 books in your suitcase for a trip? Many people find this one aspect very handy, having a variety of books available to choose from depending on their reading mood at the touch of a finger. Add to that not having to hold a humongous paperback (or hardback, for that matter) and being able to buy some e-books for cheap (or even for free), and e-books start looking really good.
Okay, so what’s the catch?
First, you have to have a device that can read the e-books. Which means getting a Kindle, or Nook, or Sony Reader, or Kobo reader, or an iPhone or iPad, or a tablet, or a computer. And that can cost money.
Then there is the issue of ownership of the e-book. This is still a gray area with some publishers. In many cases, the e-book is not sold but borrowed or leased. Remember when Amazon “pulled” (remotely deleted) copies of 1984 from users’ Kindles? Can you imagine that happening with a paperback book? Yeah, kind of odd.
Then there are some publishers who believe that because you are borrowing or leasing the book, that you can’t lend the book to anyone, or there are limits to the number of times you could lend the e-book. Again, that isn’t imaginable with a print book – you can lend it until it literally falls apart.
And that’s the key aspect of e-books: they are digital. If you copy an e-book, you get an exact copy. No photocopy smudges, no photocopy fees. And you could make a gazillion copies and send them to all of your friends. Essentially for free.
And that’s what the publishers are afraid of: that people will copy the books and the publishers will lose out on the money they could have made if those books had been sold, and not copied.
Which is why publishers are using DRM (Digital Rights Management) software.
What’s this DRM I keep hearing about?
DRM (Digital Rights Management) is software that basically locks an electronic file. So to access the file (like reading an e-book, or listening to a digital audiobook), you need special software to unlock the file.
They’re just trying to protect their copyright. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea, right?
The problem is that DRM also often limits what you can do with the file. You might not be able to make a backup copy of the e-book or lend it or mark it up with notes like you could with a regular print book. Plus there is the additional hoop to jump through of using the DRM software to access the e-book. This can be inconvenient at best.
So why even bother with an e-reader?
Because you could carry your entire library with you on one small piece of hardware.
Because you wouldn’t need the space for bookshelves (or bookshelves for that matter) because you could store all of your books in one place – that device.
And because it looks like e-books are the next generation of books. Think of what happened to music: records -> tapes -> CDs -> digital files (MP3, etc.). Think iTunes.
What if you thought, “Hey, I’d really like to read <book>” and in the next minute you were able to have that book in your hands? Poof! Instant gratification. It’s almost like Captain Picard asking for his tea “Earl Grey, hot.” You ask for it, you get it. Right then.
You know, I think I want an e-reader. What should I get?
That’s a really good question, which involves getting to know you better. See the next post for how to determine which e-reader is right for you.
In the meantime, feel free to contact a reference librarian for any questions you have about e-books, e-reader, and the whole shebang.