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How Books Are Not E-Readers and Vice Versa

January 18, 2010

5 reasons why e-readers shouldn’t be compared to books

A while ago, I read this article on whether or not e-readers would help spread knowledge or wall it off. At the time, I agreed with the comparison Shardanand (the author) makes between e-readers and books: that e-readers are currently not as effective or useful as books are. Recently, I’ve been reconsidering the comparison, and here’s a 5 reasons why:

1. An e-reader is more than just a book; it’s a tool. While you might not be able to fold the pages down or make notes in the margin, e-readers have other points in their favour. The most important (and useful) in my mind, is that it’s a lot easier to carry an e-reader than a library of books 100,000 large.

2. E-readers aren’t a revolution. It’s a niche thing (right now); people who can afford $300 on top of the price of the books they want to read, people who travel a lot — these are the people who might buy an e-reader. As a student and someone who might not even read $300 dollars of books in a year, I’m unlikely to buy one.

3. The simple existence of e-readers won’t wall of knowledge to the elite who can afford them. The introduction of e-readers into the book-buying market won’t stop the book publishing industry from printing books. In fact, since Amazon has recently allowed authors to self-publish their works in Kindle format, the barrier to entry for publishing a book is lower.

4. Shardanand points out that it’s hard to share books on an e-reader (short of lending the reader itself). But the problem with this statement is that e-readers have not taken over book publishing by storm yet. They’re a small share of the market, and I still think that the technology is very much in beta. As with television, the way we use e-readers will most certainly change over time. Consider the prevalence of DVR — not many people I know watch TV shows when they air live anymore.

5. A book is a book is a book. One book printed today isn’t a whole lot different from what was printed by the first Gutenberg press (the processes aside). But the development of e-readers is going to be much more strongly affected by competition. There’s already talk of an Apple reader in addition to Barnes & Noble’s and Amazon’s, among a host of others.

E-readers are in beta testing. It’s just a widely publicized, very scrutinized beta test.

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