Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Why you should try digital books

If you've never read an electronic book before, you may be thinking, "Why should I? I'm perfectly happy with print, and, besides, I can't afford an e-reader."

Well, e-reader prices are dropping all the time, and you don't even need one to buy a digital book. But that's tomorrow's post. Today's is all about the benefits of e-books over their old-school print-and-paper cousins.

1) Storage: If your bookshelves are already groaning, or you live in a small place, digital books allow you to add books to your library without adding clutter to your life.

2) Portability: By the same token, reading electronically allows you to take as many books as you want on vacation without weighing down your luggage. Also, if you're like me and read LONG books by authors like Diana Gabaldon or Jacqueline Carey as soon as they're out in hardcover, you'll love reading their doorstopper tomes electronically instead of lugging an 800-page hardcover wherever you go.

3) Privacy: You can read whatever you want on the bus or in the cafeteria without advertising to the whole world that you're reading a sexy romance novel or a political book if you're a Democrat in a office full of Republicans or vice versa.

4) Display Control: Depending on the technology you use to read your e-book, you have anywhere from a lot to at least some control of how the words appear on the screen. Read fast? Choose a small font for more words on the page. Need large print? No more dependence on special large print editions--just choose the biggest font size available. And that's just the beginning. Some e-readers let you play with the contrast or background color or even read white text on a black background (though I confess to being baffled why you'd WANT to--black on white is far easier on the eyes, IMO).

5) Wider Selection: You get to read The Sergeant's Lady, for example, and all the other offerings from Carina and other digital-only publishing lines. E-publishers are often willing to take greater risks and publish books for a smaller market niche than their print cousins. And since e-books need never go out of print, when you discover a new author you can go back and read everything she's ever written, as long as it's available in digital format (and more books are every day).

6) Immediacy: Books come straight to you. You don't have to deal with the traffic getting to your local bookstore or wait for shipment. Pre-order your favorite author's upcoming release, and it's waiting on your e-reader the morning of release day. Finish Book One of a series at 11:00 PM and decide you can't wait even ten minutes to start Book Two? It's ready for you, just a click away.

Lest I come across as nothing but an e-book evangelist, I will acknowledge they do have a few downsides, to wit:

1) Reading becomes less social. The flip side of the privacy benefit. If in the future most books are digital, there won't be the fun of checking out the bookshelf on a first visit to a new friend's home. And if everyone is reading on a Kindle or iPad, you can't see how many of your fellow commuters are reading the same bestseller.

2) Harder to flip back and forth. If you realize in Ch. 13 of your mystery that you should've paid more attention to the argument in Ch. 10, it takes more effort to page back.

3) No technology is foolproof. When Amazon was down last week, I couldn't download a book I'd ordered the day before.

4) If you read while you fly, you'll have to turn off your e-reader for take-off and landing. I usually buy a magazine or two for back-up, because, let's face it, SkyMall isn't so fascinating that you want to read it four times in a week.

For me, the benefits far outweigh the negatives, and I'd say that even if I didn't have a digital-only book release coming next month!