A variety of eReaders are now available. Many classics are available for free or nearly free, some emerging authors offer their work for free or nearly free, and some established authors or series also offer select books for free in order to entice you into their lineup. Some libraries, including the public library where I live, have ebooks available for borrowing. Also, most popular books offer a chapter or so for free browsing.
(Ipad and just a few of the books and periodicals it has replaced. These French language materials were donated to a school.)
If you want to see if you like how an eReader works, you don't have to buy one. Instead, download something like Kindle for PC onto your desktop or laptop and take a free book for a test drive. It's also great for book browsing at home. If you have access to a reader, I encourage you to fill it up with free stuff and chapter samples! And whatever you do, go set up a free Goodreads account and friend me. In addition to being fun, Goodreads is good for keeping track of what you own when it could be on the shelf... or in this reader... or in that reader.
"They" say that once you read 22 books on your ereader, it has payed for itself environmentally. I think there is a lot more to be said about the environmental benefits of ereaders and tablets and will be posting about this later.
The debates over reading comprehension on electronic reading versus paper are exploding. One thing we do know is that the more practice a person has with electronic reading, the better their reading comprehension on electronic devices. Children who read ebooks are getting that practice; adults who aren't don't.
I think that part of the reading comprehension is the skill set of focusing when the entire universe is a click away. That is certainly a disciple that I have had to practice. Researchers find that hyperlinks reduce reading comprehension because they interrupt the flow of knowledge acquisition with the requirement to make a decision whether or not to click the hyperlink. Products such as Instapaper strip out the hyperlinks so that reading is easier. However I think that skilled readers are also better able to read through and then come back and make hyperlink decisions. Anyway, the point is that bells and whistles aren't necessarily the benefit they at first seem, and if you find reading difficult turn everything off (products such as Freedom even let you lock out the internet from your laptop) except the one thing you are trying to read.
Devices that only provide electronic books let that happen, so I think there is a place for basic reading devices even in a world of tablet computers. The only reader device I have a lot of experience is with the iPad, and I can see adding a purpose-only reader at some point. The iPad is great, but it is true that there is glare. There is also email, games, Facebook... a lot of distractions.
You can download a variety of readers onto an Ipad for free. The books available for each reader are not exactly the same, so you can look a few places to see if you can find what you want. Even if they are the same, they may be priced differently. You do have limitations on being able to move books from one reader to another (assume you can't unless you know you can, go here for more on that and, um, more), so say if you have a Kindle and then want to switch to a Nook you will have difficulties. Also, Kindle newspapers are not available on the iPad.
The readers I have installed (just search for them in the App store) are iBooks from Apple, Kindle from Amazon, Nook from Barnes and Noble, Kobo (associated with Borders), and Google Books. This is what I have experienced so far on the iPad device:
- I had a large gift card to Amazon, so the reader I have the most experience with is the Kindle, which I like very much. One of the things I particularily like about the Kindle is that after you are finished reading you can go to the website and get a page showing the text of all your highlights and your notes. Saving this page into Evernote allows you to have one place to find everything you have ever saved about that book (a clipper exists for Apple computers). They also now have lending- you can lend a book to a friend with a Kindle for two weeks. I think Kindle is also the only one with an in-app control for the screen brightness.
- I don't like the cartoonishness of iBooks, but it has features that people like that I haven't used yet. A favorite feature is multiple colors of highlighters.
- I haven't really used the Nook.
- I haven't used Kobo at all, but I have found a couple of books there that I wasn't able to find other places.
- Google Books is by far the most beautiful, with several choices of type as well as choice of line spacing. On at least some books you can click through to the original scanned page. The location finders are also far superior, with a drop down table of contents and location within the chapter. However, highlighting and notes are not supported. Independent Booksellers can sell Google Books through their webpage (though my local bookstore has not yet chosen to do so).
A benefit of the reader is that you can change how the same book looks. I find that in a quiet place where I can concentrate I like a small font that can give me big chunks of input with fewer page turns. In a coffee shop I tend to use a very large font that just gives me a paragraph at a time. A friend told me that her middle-aged eyes like a smaller font in the morning and move toward a larger font in the evening. One trick: on the Kindle at least, you cannot run a highlight across a page break. Changing the font size and flipping back in forth on pages can eventually move the text block you want onto one page; it just takes some fiddling.
I'll close with a little bit about what how eReaders and other iPad applications are working out as book replacements for me. One has to view free or nearly free editions of classics with suspicion. They may not be the best translation or they may be formatted badly. I think this market has some maturation in front of it; academics, students and others are going to need the same branded quality that is currently available in print. If a respected print publisher were to load up classics with their trademark of quality and charge a little more, I would pay. I've bought a few full price books and was very happy not to have to carry them around. In fact, I have a little library of books which I now wish to read electronically and I sort of resent their papery presence in my library. I'm finding that books of stories work well for when and where I want a little mental break.
- the readers listed above
- iAnnotate(for PDFs, they can also be opened and marked in iBooks)
- Evernote (web "save for later" reading)
- Shakespeare- a reader just for Shakespeare, associated with playshakespeare.com
- Audible (audio books)
- Collins Pro (electronic French-English dictionary, no more decision making about which size dictionary to lug around, and so much more than even the largest print Collins)
- Dictionnaire (electronic TLFi)
- Dictionary (one came with the iPad, one seems to come with each reader)
- iBirds Pro
- iBCP (an electronic Book of Common prayer, very (very!) ugly and basic but gets the job done)
- The Daily Office ("just" a website, but a nice alternative for daily prayer if one isn't up to flipping around between the Bible and the Prayer Book)
- BibleReader from OliveTree (fabulous functionality and cloud backup of all your highlights and notes, with Evernote integration as well)
- Scriptures (the full set of scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in several languages, can view another language side-by-side with English)
This doesn't include periodicals- another post, another day!
I do miss a few things about paper books. Mostly, how they are different sizes and shapes with different fonts. I had my ereader set to a sepia background with brown font when I first got it and that was great while I was reading classic stories. When I brought up a contemporary business book it was too incongruous. I miss the way to put away one type of book and change mindsets and thingsto move to another type of book. I hope that ereaders will develop to allow publishers to give books a little bit of individual style.
But having my book easily with me at all times and easily being able to search for any reference far outweighs those negatives. Being able to download my highlights and notes from the Kindle into Evernote for forever searchability is fabulous. My compliance with cycle of daily prayer has gone way up since I got the iPad. No hunting up a prayer book and a Bible. In fact, I don't even have to tie myself to one way of doing daily prayer: I have access to a couple of different versions and I do what suits my mood. The environmental implications of avoiding creating, shipping and storing paper books also cannot be ignored. When I moved across the country 16 years ago, 50% of the shipping weight was books. Books have factored into decisions about housing size and arrangement ever since. I've already mentioned how they factor into my luggage issues when I travel for business. I will write more about this later, but this aspect of moving from resource management into resource abundance is one of the most exciting things about the maturation of information technology.
A few blogs focused on ebooks:
All About eReading
Go To Hellman
No Shelf Required