I have been holding on to paper copies of books and avoiding moving to an e-reader of some variety for a few reasons:
- I am waiting to see how the competition sorts out and avoiding first- and second-generation devices without the features that are sure to be added;
- I am hoping the major players will give up on DRM or, at least, come to an agreement about file format for DRM and non-DRM e-books;
- I love used bookstores; and
- I hate that, with too few exceptions, there are no provisions for selling a used e-book or lending an e-book to a friend.
The first point is still somewhat valid. Sure, Amazon and Barnes & Noble have flipped out a few generations of their respective devices, but Amazon still doesn’t have a book-lending feature or the ability to open ePub files without conversion, and Barnes & Noble is going away from E Ink with their new, color-screen version. One thing for which I am not waiting, however, is a bunch of features to be added: I want a lightweight e-book reader with an E Ink screen, not an iPad.
On the second point, I think everyone would prefer that the Kindle open ePub files. Also, everyone hates DRM, and the music industry has been down this road. Other than teenagers (who tend to pass their paper books around to their friends anyway) and possibly college students, people will purchase non-DRM materials for their own use. People that want free or non-DRM e-books already make use of the many online sources of cracked, free copies. However, I am not holding my breath for the publishing industry to be more forward-thinking than the music industry on this issue.
My third reason is loving used bookstores. There is something about wandering the stacks of musty books and buying something for which you were not looking. Despite Amazon’s excellent website, it cannot replace used bookstores for the sheer pleasure of book shopping. But, I could use an e-reader for new or purpose-bought books and still visit my neighborhood used bookstore for random gems. Further, if used bookstores are going to fade away due to online shopping and e-books, my insistence on paper books isn’t going to keep them alive.
Finally, I purchase paper books and keep them on my shelves for years after reading them because of my expectation that I will be able to grab one after a related conversation and hand it to someone to read. This does not happen. No one wants to read my damn books, so they pile up on my bookshelves and move around the city with me (requiring many boxes and great effort). Certainly, there are some books I keep because I will read or refer to them again, but that is the minority. If I haven’t reopened a book five years after reading it, it is likely, given the number of unread books on my list, that the book will never be opened again. Even the used bookstore in the neighborhood doesn’t want most of my books, despite my impeccable literary tastes.
I am left feeling that a recent, fairly well known book, whether in digital or paper format, is now an expendable item. The paper copy of a book has little or no value to anyone after I read it. The most sensible and sustainable way to read, then, is to buy e-books. The used bookstore market will be good for a long time for finding out-of-print books, but why would the Kindle version of a book ever go out of print?
Plus, how awesome would it be not to have to hold the pages open while reading in bed?