Tuesday, July 06, 2010

eBooks: Quicker to Download, Slower to Read

Written by: Conrade Yap

With the launch of the iPad, and many gutsy eReaders like Kindle, Kobo, Sony Reader, Barnes and Noble's Nook, or the iPad and the coming slew of iPad compatibles from the Android and Windows platforms, our reading patterns are set to change. The question is, will paper stay king or will digital triumph over conventional books?

A recent study by the Nielsen Norman consultancy group reveals that it is slower to read books on digital medium compared to conventional paper. This is made more stark considering that the study uses Ernest Hemingway's works as a comparative study, one that supposedly used 'simple language' and 'pleasant and engaging to read.'

For me, I do not need a survey to tell me my best choice for reading. Even without the consultancy findings, I am already sold on paper-back reading.

Firstly, I am a book lover, but prefers paper rather than the electronic pad. I like to scribble and write notes on my book, the way I want it, highlight it with the colour I choose.

Secondly, I like my notes and markings to remain there on paper, without the worry of my book getting erased due to some electronic malfunction.

Thirdly, I enjoy the simplicity of reading my book without worry of battery outage. If I were to be reading a book on Kindle or on the computer, I often worry about power plugs just in case my device powers down due to batteries getting weak.

Fourthly, I feel more secure, knowing that there is a much lower probability that people wants to steal my book at the cafe. Thieves know that resale values for digital devices are much higher than my measly book!

Fifthly, I enjoy holding and touching the book, its covers and its unique perforated edges. The smell of a newly minted book adds an additional experience that technology fails to do. Computers and technology can represent quite decently three out of 5 human senses, like making sounds (ear), drawing visuals (eye), adopting touchscreen technology (simulate touch), but fails to adequately emulate taste (tongue) and smell (nose). The smell of a nice new book is simply invigorating (at least for me!).

Sixthly, I like to feel the size of a book in terms of its weight and general feel. An anthology or an encyclopedia ought to be heavy. While it may be easier to search for terms on a computer media, or to carry around, I find the presence of a thick book quite authoritative and fulfilling. It makes me feel like I have done my research. Somehow, the feeling is different. Making notations on a book versus an electronic bookmark on a Kindle or iPad.

Seventhly, I like to stack my books on a bookshelves and peruse them at my leisure. Though they occupy space, and makes me cough out money for more furniture, I just enjoy the presence of books and casually lay them down side by side for reading and plain enjoyment. I simply cannot replicate this feeling on the Kindle. Maybe I can have an iPad or a Kindle side by side in order to enjoy having 2 books compared side by side. However, to do so for 50 books will be way too unaffordable. Imagine after setting the right book on the second device and my first device powers off due to its energy saving function!

Finally, there is cost. Even though books are available at under US$10 per digital download on Amazon, it still needs an expensive eReader. Prices may be coming down for the consoles, but with each download, the overall cost of losing all my books with a single theft is too damaging emotionally.

So, should book readers stick to conventional paper form? Definitely yes. Should they be open to digital books? I do not see why not? Should we abandon paper in favour of digital? Definitely not!

My sense is that the older generation among us will tend to prefer paper than digital. The younger ones may prefer the electronic versions. I think the future will be more a mixture of the two.


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