September 7, 2010

My Last Paperback?

A cou­ple of years ago, my brother bought me a first gen­er­a­tion Kin­dle for my birth­day. At first I used it quite a bit, but then in 2009 I started read­ing a series of books I knew I’d want to high­light the heck out of and phys­i­cally share with oth­ers (Here Comes Every­body, Com­mu­nity, Groundswell, What Would Google Do, You Are Not a Gad­get, Switch, etc.), so I switched to print reading.

It wasn’t as con­scious a deci­sion as that sum­mary makes it sound. Both of us in the house wanted to read them, so buy­ing for the Kin­dle just wasn’t prac­ti­cal. All of a sud­den, months had gone by and I real­ized I hadn’t used the device in quite a while, so I pulled it back out. I was also feel­ing a pull to go back to using it because of Will Richardson’s post about, explain­ing how I’d finally be able to get my high­lighted text out of an ebook.

One thing that post made me real­ize is how print has become a bar­rier to my blog­ging about books I’m read­ing because I don’t have time to tran­scribe the pas­sages I’d want to refer to in my writ­ing. And like oth­ers, I was wor­ried that buy­ing a book in Kin­dle for­mat meant I’d lose it if I ever stopped using that par­tic­u­lar device. Luck­ily, though, Ama­zon finally fig­ured out it needed to make its books software-based instead of hardware-dependent, so I feel like this is less of an issue now that Kin­dle books live on mul­ti­ple platforms.

my highlighted text from "Hamlet's Blackberry"
I have 347 high­lights from “Hamlet’s Black­berry” that have auto­mat­i­cally been tran­scribed for me!


(Side note to pub­lish­ers and book­stores: you still need to move to a uni­ver­sal for­mat. This doesn’t let you off the hook for work­ing this out.)

This left one major bar­rier to a com­plete con­ver­sion to ebooks, one I thought I was still strug­gling with — the shar­ing. But when I read Clay Shirky’s book Cog­ni­tive Sur­plus and real­ized I’d have to man­u­ally type all of those inter­est­ing quotes… well, that’s when my per­sonal prac­ti­cal­ity started to tip the scale away from print towards elec­tronic. In fact, my desire to share those pas­sages widely has actu­ally trumped my tra­di­tional love of shar­ing phys­i­cal books locally.

This rev­e­la­tion astounded me. I knew my desire to share con­tent was the prime dri­ver of the for­mat I was choos­ing, but I didn’t real­ize how quickly it was shift­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion. I now want to share one-to-many, not one-to-one, and I just don’t have the time or resources to tran­scribe every­thing I want to share. It makes me sad to look at that long list of print books I’ve read over the past year that I likely won’t share here because I can’t copy and paste.

Around this same time, I real­ized I wanted to take a fic­tion break, and I knew exactly what I wanted to read — Ver­nor Vinge’s Rain­bows End — a book Eli Neiburger had rec­om­mended to me as the most real­is­tic pic­ture of libraries and infor­ma­tion in the future (boy was he right, but that’s a dis­cus­sion for another post). I’ve wanted to read it for quite a while, but I’ve been try­ing to move my fic­tion read­ing to ebooks, and this par­tic­u­lar title isn’t avail­able electronically.

I really needed that fic­tion break, though, so I broke down and bought the paper­back. I get in most of my read­ing on the train to and from work, and while hard­cov­ers aren’t exactly a con­ve­nient for­mat, this paper­back was even less so. It’s obvi­ously been a while since I’ve read a paper­back, because I found myself think­ing the for­mat was awk­ward and annoy­ing. If it had been a dif­fer­ent story, I might have even given up on it, but it made me real­ize this was likely my last such pur­chase. I might still buy a print book here and there for the pic­tures or for the tro­phy shelf, but I’m not sure what would make me buy a mass mar­ket paper­back again. (Appar­ently I’m not alone in this opin­ion.)

So I’m back to using my Kin­dle, remem­ber­ing what I loved so much about it at the begin­ning, to the point where I’ve even ordered a new third gen­er­a­tion ver­sion because I love the focused nature of a ded­i­cated ebook reader. That may change in the future, but for now I’m def­i­nitely a spe­cial­ist, enjoy­ing how the device lets me focus on read­ing with­out dis­trac­tions. (That first gen­er­a­tion Kin­dle can’t ever leave the fam­ily, because Cory Doc­torow was kind enough to sign it two years ago, so I’ll be keep­ing it for pretty much ever.)

How­ever, I’m also rec­og­niz­ing new ben­e­fits I hadn’t picked up on before. I’ve had a cou­ple of seri­ous bouts of insom­nia in my life, which I finally cured by read­ing like crazy until I fell asleep. The unfor­tu­nate side effect of this solu­tion was that I trained myself to fall asleep when read­ing books. The rhythm of the train doesn’t help either, and by the end of the week I’m so tired that I usu­ally drift off on the train ride home, regard­less of how much I enjoy the book itself.

Inter­est­ingly, though, I don’t fall asleep on the train quite as often with the Kin­dle, although it does still hap­pen. Appar­ently a book is a print book is an ebook to my brain, but elec­tronic ink seems to keep me awake a tiny bit bet­ter (but not too awake to be a prob­lem at night). I just fin­ished read­ing Hamlet’s Black­berry, and I found that I read more of it at a time because I stayed awake. I’m also read­ing faster on the Kin­dle than I was in print, which I don’t remem­ber notic­ing before. Finally, I tend to high­light more, know­ing that it will all be search­able in the end.

Of course, your mileage may vary, but I think I’ve finally crossed over to the ebook side. I’ll have to go to book­stores and the library just to touch new books for old time’s sake. Only time will tell if there’s a “fea­ture” of print books that can draw me back. My rea­sons for con­vert­ing are def­i­nitely an edge case, and I haven’t been a heavy user of print resources in libraries in quite some time, but I can’t help but won­der how this type of shift will affect libraries. I see more and more eread­ers on my com­mute every day.

Be Socia­ble, Share!


  1. Nice brother! We should be pre­pared for a mass switchover and soon. I was reluc­tant to switch to the ereader since I thought: Hello? I work in a library. I am sur­round by print. A few months later, I am a con­vert. I also checked out a paper­back recently and was frus­trated at the tiny (nor­mal!) print and, hor­rors, I needed a book­mark! The print ver­sion wouldn’t remem­ber where I stopped!

    IMHO, eRead­ers will rev­o­lu­tion­ize social read­ing — as you indi­cate with the “share to many” abil­ity of the your device. Good Reads new api (which I haven’t yet exper­i­mented with) sounds like it has some pos­si­bil­i­ties. As for pub­lic libraries, today we can help inform peo­ple about the devices and how they work. But, tomor­row — what will they need from us in terms of ebooks? I don’t need to rehash the prob­lems libraries expe­ri­ence with pro­vid­ing ebooks. At this point, I’m won­der­ing if we should just look beyond ebooks and be ready for what’s next or what’s left­over and what ser­vices we will be pro­vid­ing then.

    Comment by Ryann Uden — September 8, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  2. […] resort, well, you could even show up at a book party or other event with a Kin­dle or iPad and have the writer write on the case. That’s what Jenny Levine, a librar­ian in Chicago, had nov­el­ist Cory Doc­torow do her […]

    Pingback by Don’t just worry about ‘books,’ Jack—worry about public libraries, indie bookstores, e-formats and the dark side of DRM | The Solomon Scandals — September 10, 2010 @ 9:01 am

  3. I love my kin­dle, but I always thought of it as bet­ter for fic­tion read­ing than non­fic­tion. Your descrip­tion of the high­light­ing fea­ture is mak­ing me rethink that posi­tion. I guess I didn’t real­ize you could access your high­lighted pas­sages off the device (or I did, but I thought that was only for the 2nd gen­er­a­tion kin­dle or higher). Maybe I’ll read more non­fic­tion on my kin­dle now. I agree with you that eread­ers are becom­ing way more main­stream — I recently real­ized that no one stops me to ask about the kin­dle when I’m read­ing it in pub­lic any­more. This used to hap­pen all the time when it was new. I hope we can get a uni­ver­sal for­mat for ebooks soon and pub­lish­ers work out a way to make it work for libraries.

    Comment by Amanda G — September 10, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

  4. […] the Shifted Librar­ian weighs in by com­par­ing her Kin­dle expe­ri­ence with a print book in a Sep­tem­ber 7, 2010 post­ing, I knew my desire to share con­tent was the prime dri­ver of the for­mat I was choos­ing, but I […]

    Pingback by E-readers: musings on publishing and the word (part 3 of 3) « FrogHeart — September 13, 2010 @ 11:53 am

  5. I’ll have to go to book­stores and the library just to touch new books for old time’s sake”

    How long do you think you’ll bill able to do that for?

    Comment by bob — September 15, 2010 @ 11:28 am

  6. …please don’t think I don’t love books and print, because I do. No amount of tech­nol­ogy will ever replace them…”

    Comment by bob — September 15, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

  7. …don’t think I don’t love books and print, because I do. No amount of tech­nol­ogy will ever replace them, and libraries will always be a haven for books…”

    Sure they will :(

    Comment by bob — September 15, 2010 @ 8:32 pm

  8. I hope we can get a uni­ver­sal for­mat for ebooks soon and pub­lish­ers work out a way to make it work for libraries.”

    Pub­lish­ers hate libraries. Do you really think once they finally cut out dis­trib­u­tors and book stores they are going to bend over back­wards to help libraries?

    Comment by bob — September 16, 2010 @ 8:02 am

  9. Bob, I think I’ll be able to touch new print books at the library for at least another decade. And the trend of phys­i­cal book­stores going out of busi­ness didn’t start with ebooks, but with online stores that could under­cut prices.

    I think for the sake of the con­sumer, pub­lish­ers need to stan­dard­ize on a for­mat, and ulti­mately that will help libraries as a byprod­uct. iPods never would have taken off if mp3s hadn’t become the standard.

    Comment by jenny — September 16, 2010 @ 8:13 pm

  10. Ryann, there is noth­ing for libraries after ebooks.

    Jenny, I agree, the uni­ver­sal for­mat of the mp3 was great for online music sell­ers and for con­sumers (who can afford mp3s and ipods). The rea­son I harp on pub­lish­ers is because I’m not really con­cerned about things like the kin­dle. Just more dis­pos­able con­sumer tech­nol­ogy. But when the much sought after uni­ver­sal for­mat comes around and pub­lish­ers real­ize how easy it is to run their own stores on the web, even ama­zon is going to be in trouble.

    Comment by bob — September 17, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

  11. This is a real con­cern. Will libraries and book­stores become strictly vir­tual enti­ties? Yes, I’d like to see higher qual­ity books in print, real tro­phies for the case, but where will we be buy­ing them? I’d like a print on demand option for all books as well, but where will our com­mu­nity gather? With­out the neces­sity of phys­i­cal space, how will we achieve tem­ples to knowl­edge? With so much of our exis­tence inside the vir­tual, what will become of the physical?

    Comment by Shannon — January 16, 2011 @ 11:40 am

  12. To Amanda, yeah I could not use a Kin­dle for read­ing non-fiction, I take way too many notes and high­light way too many things! I feel kind of guilty about this (because I use ink– ack!), even though they are my books…

    Comment by Lea — March 16, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

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