eReaders: Changing my Tune?

21 Oct

Ever since the first appearance of eReaders a few years ago, I have been adamantly anti-eReader. The Kindle, the Sony versions, even the eReader applications for the iPhone. Granted I downloaded a few of those free ones for my iPhone but I haven’t bought a single book for them, mostly because the screen is way too small for me to fathom reading an entire book on it and oh, that small detail that I LOVE actual books. Bloggers and tech writers way more knowledgable than I have written pieces to the nth degree comparing all the devices out there. I’ve never used an eReader so I can’t really make comparisons, but the truth of the matter is that there hasn’t been a device that I’ve felt compelled to at least try out. There seemed to be features missing from each of the gadgets that one of them had and but the others didn’t. None of them really seemed to have all the features that made it potentially worthwhile for me to consider buying one to supplement my extensive library.

My biggest problem with eReaders is that I’m afraid it will usher in the death knell for books and the publishing industry. I’m also afraid that the proliferation of eReaders would shut out readers who can’t afford to buy one, as the publishing industry moves more in the direction of digital books as its main product instead of actual paper books. While I don’t think it will happen quickly, we’ve all seen what the iPod did for the music industry. The sheer fact that Apple seems to be recession-proof speaks to the fact that more and more people are relying on digital files for their music instead of CDs, but the music industry has felt the blow-back because fewer people buy entire albums, when they can just buy individual songs instead. eReaders have the potential to exclude an entire segment of the population and make reading an exclusive entertainment form. What will happen to libraries when publishers start to phase out real books in favor of e-books? (I’ve written about this before, but I thought it needed repeating).

Yesterday Barnes & Noble announced that they will be throwing their hat into the eReader market with the introduction of the nook, “the world’s most advanced eReader.” They aren’t kidding. According to the specs as outlined by David Coursey at PC World, the features blow any other eReader out of the water (see the comparison by B&N on their Web site):

1. Better Hardware: The Nook starts with specifications that closely match the Kindle 2, including the $259 price. Exclusive Nook hardware features include a Micro SD slot, supplementing the 2GB built-in memory and Wi-Fi to supplement AT&T 3G connectivity. (Kindle uses Sprint, lacks Wi-Fi). While standby battery life is shorter than the Kindle (10 days vs. 14 days), the Nook battery is removable and replaceable–the Kindle’s is not.

2. Color Display: Below the main 6-inch “reader display” is a 3.5-inch multi-touch color display, used for control and navigation. (Replacing the Kindle’s keyboard).

3. More Books: B&N offers more titles than Amazon, plus the Nook can access 500,000 public domain titles from Google that are not available to Kindle users. The Nook will load and read Adobe Acrobat PDF documents, which the Kindle does not do.

4. Loan-able e-Books: Nook users can loan their e-books for 14 days at a time to other Nook owners as well as iPhone, iPod touch, BlackBerry, and PC devices (Mac and Windows) running free B&N reader software.

5. Storefronts: Potential customers can try out a Nook at their local B&N store, making it easier for the undecided to make a purchase decision. The stores will also offer special Nook content, including the ability to read entire books in-store for free.

Plus, it’s really pretty:

I definitely consider myself a tree-killing snob that loves her flesh-and-blood books, but the nook might just change my mind. I also did an inordinate amount of traveling this year, and without fail, I always, always overpacked books. I mean, I read a lot of them, but I pack books knowing that I want a selection to choose from and it always, always puts me overweight on my luggage. This summer, I saw quite a few people with Kindles or Sony 505s and I asked a lot of them how they liked the devices and whether it was worth the money. Many of them said that they still bought actual books, but relied on their eReaders when traveling because many of them also provide access to newspapers and magazines.

It’s really hard to admit that I want one of these. Really hard. I’m not trying to rationalize it, but I do think that if I want to eventually go into the book publishing industry, it would be stupid of me not to keep up with the latest trends, right? Okay maybe I’m rationalizing it a little bit. But I definitely don’t think this little sucker will change my book buying habits all that much. Sure I’ll probably buy fewer hardcover books because they’re so expensive (eBooks on the B&N site averge $9.99) and I almost never get around to reading them before the paperbacks are released. Because one feature that the nook lacks — that all eReaders lack: the great book smell you can only get from walking into a bookstore. When they can do that, I’ll really be sold.

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