Reconsidering e-books despite Borders bankruptcy

Last semester, I wrote an article expressing my distaste for the up-and-coming eBook revolution, because of certain publishers’ plans to completely abolish their mass-market physical copy sales. If I remember correctly, I’m pretty sure I said something to the effect of, "the Amazon Kindle is ruining reading as we know it."

Five months later, I now own an Amazon Kindle. And I bought it myself, by choice, without a gun to my head. In other words, I’m a hypocrite.

Indeed, the Kindle is an amazing little piece of hardware and software. While the device’s operating system isn’t as powerful as the Nook’s easily-hackable Android OS, its accessibility and navigation are much better than Barnes and Noble’s touchscreen interface. More importantly, the lack of a hackable operating system is more of a blessing than a curse, as it forces users to actually read books on the device, rather than run multiple non-reading applications and games. Nevertheless, Amazon does indeed sell their own line of "active" content, which consists mostly of games such as Scrabble and The New York Times crossword.

On the hardware side of things, the Kindle is just as impressive. The e-Ink screen is an interesting piece of technology, and the fact that it’s the brightest of any e-Ink screen is an important bonus. Also, the slim form factor and lightweight design help to make the Kindle the most suitable choice among current eBook readers.

Having said all of that, the Kindle is not perfect, and likely won’t be a totally acceptable replacement for physical copies for a very long time. This is due in part to the logistics behind the Kindle Store. One of the problems that many publishers fail to realize is the notion of price. To put it simply, whenever a book is purchased from the Kindle Store, the user does not actually own the copy of the book; instead, they merely hold a license to use the book on their device. Also, creating a digital copy of a book is much less cost-consuming than printing paperbacks. With those points in mind, it’s a little disappointing that many publishers haven’t caught on to the idea that these digital copies should be cheaper than their physical counterparts. I’m sorry, but I absolutely refuse to pay $9.99 for a digital copy of a book I can easily buy at a brick-and-mortar bookstore for less. If I’m going to pay anything for these eBooks, it’ll be in the $5 to $6 range at the highest.

Fortunately, Amazon seems to understand this, as evidenced by the low prices associated with their own in-house publishing label, AmazonEncore. Many of the titles available from the label are priced at $2.99 to $3.99, which is much more affordable. Also, the selection of books is rather nice, too: I purchased "Catcher, Caught" by Sarah Collins Honenberger for $3.99 and found its story of a modern-day version of "The Catcher in the Rye" to be quite enjoyable. If more of the popular titles were at least a little cheaper than they currently are, it’s likely that sales would increase rather significantly, which isn’t bad for business at all.

So for the most part, I indeed admit that I was wrong to judge the Kindle, and e-books in general, before having tried them myself. That said, I still think digital books won’t overtake physical copies for quite a while.