Ready To Give Up Paper Books Yet? Amazon & Google Hope So

The “promise” of e-books is so old it’s got hair on it, but now two online giants are stepping up to the plate with their own spin on how best to sell books digitally. Next month, Amazon will finally release its long-rumored Kindle, an e-ink reader which will wirelessly connect to Amazon via EVDO, so you can purchase books even more easily than new iPod Touch owners can buy songs while they’re at Starbucks. And before the end of the year, Google will start charging for full online access to some digital copies of books in its database.

The Kindle, in particular, may provide some competition for Sony’s year-old e-ink Reader, a small device about the size of a very thin tradecover, that can display e-books bought from Sony’s own online store. An analyst with Jupiter Research is doubtful either device will be very disruptive:

“Books represent a pretty good value for consumers. They can display them and pass them to friends, and they understand the business model. We have had dedicated e-book devices on the market for more than a decade, and the payoff always seems to be just a few years away.”

“Envisioning the Next Chapter for Electronic Books” [New York Times]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. Uriel says:

    ya, whatever you do, dont buy that sony digital book-thing that uses real ink in its design to form the digital words. Breaks REAL easy, only accepts certain text-format, and its way overpriced. Goodday!

  2. ReccaSquirrel says:

    It will never fly. Sure, they might get sales out of it, but they’ll never replace the book.

  3. endlessendres says:

    maybe they should just aim this towards textbooks for college students.

  4. casualweaponry says:

    Ugh, Amazon’s e-book reader is one of the ugliest, bulkiest pieces of technology ever. Its like the anti-Steve Jobs designed it.

    And what’s with the proprietary e-book formats?

    Remember people, libraries are free. And not just for books; some are free for DVD’s also. I don’t think these e-book readers will EVER be worth it.

  5. thepounder says:

    I don’t think it’s ever going to replace real books… at least until paper is outlawed or something strange like that happens.

    I’d never do the e-book thing… why would I fire up some sort of computer system just to read a book, when I can grab a real book out of my backpack and just flip to the page where I left off at anyway? As they’d say in corporate Amercia, there’s “no value added” when talking e-book vs. real book.

    The e-textbook for college kids, on the other hand, could be a great idea to keep those ridiculously high book prices down.

  6. benlukoff says:

    Why did they call it the Kindle?

  7. vonskippy says:

    Never!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. EvilSquirrel says:

    The e-textbook for college kids, on the other hand, could be a great idea to keep those ridiculously high book prices down.

    @thepounder: No, it will just be an excuse to charge kids more for the “convenience” of having the book in digital format. Basically it is like all those added CDs and online tools that book companies tack onto textbooks so they can further inflate the price. You also cannot resell the overpriced digital doorstop once the course is over.

  9. Lin-Z [linguist on duty] says:

    The majority of people who really appreciate books will probably not go for e-books. I can’t even think of any real benefit to this … except spending more time at the computer?

    long live paper books!

  10. thepounder says:

    @EvilSquirrel: Good point… any old reason to soak the poor kids for more money is apparently a good one… What the hell was I thinking, right? ;)

  11. not_seth_brundle says:

    I’ve seen the Reader in person and I understand the appeal for anyone who uses public transportation or travels frequently. Even one book is bigger and heavier than the Reader, and with the Reader you can store something like 80 books so if you finish one while traveling, you can go on to another with no added bulk/weight. Personally, I like having books on my shelves and being able to flip through them easily and loan them to friends–and they’re cheaper that way, and no DRM.

  12. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I checked out the Sony Reader and it’s a nice first step. But I find the interface a little quirky and a little slow. It has great potential if they can improve the technology and market it aggressively to the right demographics.


    I think most people miss the point on e-books and e-book readers. These things are NOT supposed to replace traditional paper books. They are supposed to compliment them. I like paper books too, but I don’t like carrying them around especially if I’m traveling.. they take up space, pages can get torn, and so on. And some books are just too big and heavy to carry around, like technical or reference books.


    Another bonus for e-books would be for people with vision impairment. Most e-book readers have a zoom feature that allows you to increase the font size. Now people don’t have to go out of their way to find large text versions of books.

  13. AlexDitto says:

    Fantastic, more content for companies to slap Digital Rights Management on. How many people want to bet that companies will manage to introduce nine hundred new proprietary formats, so you have to buy THEIR NEW reader to read that copy of The Shining you bought through their download service a month ago?

    And there’s no real point. You can’t claim that a small paperback is more inconvenient than one of these readers, there’s more strain on the eyes, I’m sure, no satisfying page-turning, and what I’m sure will be an artificially inflated cost.

    Yeah, no thanks. I’ll take my books nice and old and musty and tangible.

  14. SimonSwegles says:

    I am excited for the potential e-book market. It may seem now that e-books will never supplant traditional paper books, but they present intriguing possibilities: as “green” manufacturing technology matures e-book readers will have far less impact on the environment than traditional printing methods, and as electronic editions become more popular, those harmful traditional printing methods can be phased out. Sure, DRM issues will rear their ugly heads and cause many a traditionalist “harumph”, but we should be looking to the future of the information market.

    I have already begun the reduction of my traditional print library (donating to my local Public Library), replacing those books I can with their digital counterparts. I do try to avoid any with attached DRM (I tend to jump from PC to PC … at my local Public Library). Hopefully content producers of all sorts will soon learn to embrace the new markets which information technology has created for them and find a reasonable DRM solution.

  15. hoo_foot says:

    I have enough problems with eye strain to ever seriously consider reading an entire novel on a computer screen.

  16. eys says:

    I have to defend e-books. I have mobipocket on my nokia, and I use it to read books I download for free online (through sites such as manybooks.net and my local public library). It took a while to get used to, but after a while, I found it very convenient. It’s much more portable, and I like having the option of not carrying around a large book. It might not be for everybody, but I read a lot of ebooks and I like them.

  17. bnosach says:

    I actually believe that this can replace books, however they have to work really hard on UI and overall design to make my reading experience as easy or even easier than reading regular book.

    1)Browsing through and jumping to different pages should be a snap or the whole concept will be a failure.
    2)PDF support should be improved. Even though I haven’t seen this Amazon reader, from my experience with Sony Ebook Reader I can tell you that loading and browsing through PDFs is not fun and usuallly takes a lot of patience and time.

    From what I know, Amazon will charge $500 for this thing, and that pricetag kills it for me. I would rather buy a Windows Mobile-based smartphone that does a lot more in addition to ability of reading books, text files, PDFs.

  18. factotum says:

    At the very least, the Amazon service would be worth it to avoid the waste of receiving a little book in a box that is about 3 times bigger than needed and filled with nitrogen-filled plastic packing materials, and 5 pieces of printed junk spam.

    I swear, Amazon, you need to revamp your shipping methods.

  19. Sonnymooks says:

    Quick question, will there actually be a large enough selection of e-books for readers?

    I think one of the biggest gripes, is that there isn’t a large enough digital library in any format.

    Whats the point of buying a reader if the books you want don’t have digital versions?

  20. GBanville says:

    I’ve read many e-books from both Palm and desktop computers and find it to be convenient and worthwhile. Though, for most readers the correct screen resolution for book-length text has only recently been reached.

    The convenience of it seems to largely be the same kind of convenience you get with any kind of digital format, portability and the ease of displaying it on the most convenient hardware. From that viewpoint e-books drm’ed to a particular device have a negative added value in that they force you to load down your bag with an essentially useless piece of hardware.

    People who would go in for this kind of tech thing probably already have a computer and may have a laptop or palm or even cell-phone that they could happily read 400 pages of text from. Non-technical people would probably stick with books.

  21. etinterrapax says:

    I’ve used e-books on a PDA before, and I did find it convenient for public transit when I had to commute a few years ago. Now that I drive myself, I naturally prefer (unabridged) audiobooks, so I pretty much stopped using the reader, and am disinclined to go back to it or make a bigger commitment to it. I don’t think it’s wise to become overly dependent upon electronic gadgets for this purpose. Aside from the energy considerations, it’s just too easy to manipulate the medium, to insert advertising or DRM software, or to limit access or invade people’s privacy. Paper books are far more democratic. Something besides the consumer experience needs to be.

  22. alteredcarbon says:

    eBooks are nice if you’re tethered to a computer and have no other choice, but I’ll pass on the proprietary formats and DRM. If I wanted those kind of complications whenever I wanted to read a book, I’d buy tickets for a seat on center ice and attempt to read Ivanhoe during a Wings/Oilers game.

  23. Keter says:

    My concern is that e-books, if they become the preferred method of purchase, will have the following unintended consequences:

    1. Reading is a skill that requires practice to maintain. If electronic versions are read aloud to the “reader,” the individual’s skill of reading is not exercised and may deteriorate.

    2. Information received via listening is routed and processed in the brain differently than information received visually. This may affect the quality of learning and retention for some people.

    3. The brain reacts differently to information read from a book (reflected light) than it does when read from a screen (transmitted light). This also may affect the quality of learning and retention. Dyslexics in particular often have greater difficulty reading on-screen information because the slight flicker makes the words seem to move around even more.

    4. Electronic books are vastly cheaper to produce and distribute, and publishers would love to drop print format entirely because of the impact on their profit margin.

    5. If printed books are no longer produced, entire categories of readers will be marginalized, including a great number of intellectuals (higher IQs are disproportionately associated the visual learning style).

    6. If the power fails or the batteries go dead, so does the e-book. Consider the consequence if large-scale disruptions were to occur, and the knowledge necessary to recover from those disruptions was locked up in an inaccessible format.

    7. Reading a book by candlelight is an experience everyone should have, but one I suspect almost no one under the age of 30 has had. If everyone made a practice of doing this for just an hour a week, the pace of the world would calm, and some balance would come back into people’s lives. Using electronic devices only serves the mad gods of uber-productivity, driving a cycle of faster-more-compete-even-with-yourself…while sacrificing quality of life.

    8. I frequently carry a book with me anywhere I think I will have time to read, such as while eating lunch or waiting for an appointment. I put just a rubber band around it to keep it closed, so people can see the book and read its cover. I have had innumerable wonderful conversations as a consequence. Contrast this with the utter isolation of the person with a walkman or iPod. No one is going to ask them anything other than “would you turn that down?” — a negative interaction. The book is socially connecting, the iPod socially isolating. Now imagine a whole world plugged into iPods as they go through the day…ugh.

  24. thepounder says:

    @Keter: I especially am troubled by #8 because it rings so true. How often has anyone asked another person what they’re listening to in the headphones? Personally I assume those people are listening because they’d rather not be disturbed or just enjoy listening to their old Stryper or Winger “classics” while waiting on their plane to board… no chance for friendly conversation there really.

    I will say, however, that digital instruction manuals are much easier to use than their paper counterparts due to their searchability. I just look up what I need to know about my convoluted remote control or whatever electronic item and I’m done with it.

  25. Allura says:

    Three words: Baen Free Library. ([www.baen.com])

    And two more: Webscription E-books. ([www.webscription.net])

    I read plenty of books on my pda. I don’t read DRM’d books. DRM just makes it difficult, and I won’t spend money on it. OTOH, we have bought a lot of e-books from Baen. The difference? They come free of DRM and with several format options to choose from.

  26. synergy says:

    My paper books can’t suddenly be unreadable because of technology breakage or advancement. Nor does it allow someone to try to prevent me from sharing it with someone who didn’t pay for it.

    Sure, they can tear or get something spilled on them, but not usually with the way I treat mine. Plus there’s always tape and hair dryers. :)

  27. magic8ball says:

    @synergy: Word.

    Also, as an English major, I tend to mark up my paper books quite a bit. I don’t know what kind of capabilities the e-readers will have for writing in the margins of texts, but until it’s easy to make and read notes on the electronic copies, I’ll stick to my codex versions.

  28. AbstractConcept says:

    The problem is that people like paper books because they are mobile and interactive, but not not electronic…..

    How about an IBook?

    Books that are electronic, but still in our hands.. We need a device for reading where we can at least feel like we have a book in our hands.

  29. sam says:

    in theory, since I’m such a digitally oriented person, I should be jumping on the e-book bandwagon, but there’s something tactile about reading a paper book that is just missing from reading a screen. The sense of accomplishment as you reach the end of the book and can feel how many pages you’ve read could be lost.

    I remember reading once about how Stephen King had problems moving from a typewriter to a word processor, because he could no longer get a visual representation (i.e., the pile of paper) of how much he had written, or where the pages ended. I feel the same way about reading.

    Plus, I’m one of those crazy people who takes a lot of the books I like and ships them off to my brother (in the peace corps). i’d obviously be unable to do that with something electronic.

  30. Chicago7 says:

    Why would you want interaction with people on the street? Geez, talk about loser-ville.

    I listen to audio books on my iPod all the time. When the rare occasion happens that I don’t have it, I am generally accosted by all kinds of drunks, crazies and bums.

    This Nirvana where you people come up to you and say “OOOHHHH! You READ!” is mostly in your imagination, unless you live in Podunk, Idaho.

  31. Chicago7 says:

    @synergy:

    Drop one in the toilet! Then it becomes unreadable, I’ll tell you whut!

  32. pearlandopal says:

    I commute by subway to work every day and read books from Project Gutenberg on my PDA. Wonderful stuff. Keeps me from having to lug heavy books around (although I do that occasionally too) and keeps my book costs down.

  33. Ola says:

    Bah e-books. Can be useful, but I don’t want to read a book on a screen. I also don’t want some window popping up one day to tell me that it’s copyrighted material and that I’ve copied it too many times or something. Give me an ordinary book.

    Also, someone tell the textbook companies that offer “supplemental” material online with an EXTRA fee to knock it off. It’s usually one-time-use only, so buying a used book doesn’t get you the right code.

  34. GuruSteve says:

    I will never buy an e-book. I can read a book that was printed 1000 years ago. Who honestly believes that you will be able to read an e-book you bought today even 10 years from now?

    These aren’t songs, where carying around 1 Mp3 player is alot better than carrying around 10 CDs. One paper back is easier to carry than an e-book reader; a paperback is slightly heavier and larger, but you can literally throw it as hard as you want against a wall and it will be fine. And unless you are traveling for a while, you don’t need to lug around that many books.