A couple of years ago the big argument was about whether ebooks would inevitably replace physical books. Depending on who you believed, print was so past dead the fumes were making our eyes water and physical books would go the way of the buggy whip within a matter of months, or ebooks were pathetic fads that everyone would abandon once the batteries on their Christmas Kindle went dead.
Now that the smoke and rhetoric has cleared, I think it’s safe to say that ebooks are here to stay, but that printed books aren’t going away any time soon. We live in an intersticial time when both forms are popular and both easily available, and as someone who likes both books and ebooks and most of all the text and words and ideas both carry and beam into my brain, this is a good thing. It’s a crazy time when all the old rules are being questioned and the new ones still being written, when we have the opportunity to experiment, to play, and to get into interminable arguments about what format or publishing model or piece of equipment is superior to all others.
Case in point – e-readers. There are a bunch of different ones out there now with different features, and tablets that can be used as e-readers, and smartphones, and emulators for PCs, and they all seem to do different things and it just makes my head hurt. Some people say Kindles are best, some say the Nook is best, someone somewhere probably thinks the Kobo is best, other people think you’re crazy for not just having an iPad, and now the Kindle Fire is coming and to be honest I’m not even sure what that is but it’s very shiny.
For my part, I run a Kindle emulator and Adobe Digital Editions on my PC and little eeePC, and that works pretty well. Well, mostly. The eeePC is great, but it’s not designed for reading ebooks, and thus there are always little problems of readability, of page size, of display and of trying to balance it on my knee as the morning bus goes around a corner. And the other problem for me, as an ebook publisher, is that the display I see in the emulators doesn’t really match the way the book will look in a proper handheld reader.
So I’m thinking of getting an e-reader of some description, preferably a cheap one (unless someone really wants to get us His and Hers iPads for our wedding, and if you do I am prepared to allow it). And the relative merits of each brand and type isn’t as interesting to me as to what it does, why that’s a good thing and what impact it all has on the most important feature, which is that it lets you crack open an ebook and slurp up the juicy words inside.
I guess what I’m asking isn’t ‘which e-reader’ is best, but the more general question of what does an e-reader need to be and do? Forget the technical specs and the display sizes – what functionality do you, as users of these devices, want and need in order to read an e-book to your satisfaction? E-ink? E-paper? E-spines? Web browser? Tags and bookmarks? An actual physical book instead?
This is a call for comments. Forget the brand, forget the model, forget whether you can play Angry Birds between chapters. Tell me what matters to you as a reader of books, and why.
I have no idea what I will do with this information. But it all helps my buggy whip business.