Friday, April 2, 2010

A few thoughts regarding eBooks

I consume a lot of books. I remember one year totaling $2000 in books that I was able to expense to my employer. That was less than half my total for the year. Further, the books don't stay on my shelf. I actively delete ones that are no good or of waning interest due to space considerations.

Needless to say, you might think I'd be in the market for an eReader, and I've definitely considered them all. But they've all fallen short. The issue has not been whether the format is open or DRMed, though I do find the notion that you could buy a book that one day you couldn't read due to technological obsolescence a bit remarkable. It's not that way with paper. As long as the sun shines and you can still see, reading is possible.

No, the issue has been usability.

And, it's not the kind of usability where I see the page moving with my finger.

Rather it boils down to the following:

  • The eBooks I want to read (from publishers like O'Reilly) are priced at a significant premium relative to their paper counterparts. Amazon typically discounts tech books by 40%. O'Reilly typically discounts its eBooks by 10% to 20%. In other words, O'Reilly is actually charging extra for the cheaper to produce format. That's not so galling in and of itself, except when you are painfully reminded that eBooks are the inferior product on a few dimensions.
  • eBooks are not three dimensional. A big part of how I navigate a book is by remembering about how far in certain topics were. Then, I begin scanning. If it's a new topic, this may be the only way to find things since I will not remember the exact technical terms used by the author for keyword search.
  • The artifacts produced by reading an eBook device don't sufficiently aid retrieval. A big part of the reading process for me is transforming the physical book into a memory cue for things I want to come back to later. That process involves writing lots of margin notes , turning down page corners, and drawing big arrows.