September 7, 2010

My Last Paperback?

Filed under: blog — Tags: , , , , , , — jenny @ 8:59 pm

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.


  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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