Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why The Kindle, Nook, and Other E-Book Readers Suck

I like technology that makes sense and makes my life easier. Voicemail is a great idea because it lets people leave messages for me when I am busy. Cruise control on cars, that's another great invention. But I fail to see what's so awesome about electronic book readers like the Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader.

Why E-Book Readers SuckElectronic reading devices are very trendy right now, and I just cannot figure out why people like them so much! When compared with traditional bound and printed books, it seems to me that e-readers are a vastly inferior technology. Here's why:

An electronic book reader is an expensive investment. Amazon's Kindle reader costs $259 for the 6-inch version and $489 for the 9.7-inch DX version. Barnes and Noble's Nook reader is also $259, and Sony's line of e-readers (cleverly named Reader - nice one, Sony) ranges from $199 to $399. Wow! Reading a plain old paperback book does not require any special hardware other than your eyes and your hands.

When you think about it, an e-book reader costs about the same as a netbook computer yet has less functionality. Both devices can display electronic books and RSS feeds, play MP3s, and access the Internet via 3G and Wi-Fi. However, a netbook can also be used to run programs, access email, watch videos, and more. Netbooks also feature full color screens and keyboards which make them much more suitable for accessing the Internet than e-book readers.

Another problem with e-readers is battery life. Both the Nook and the Kindle feature internal rechargeable batteries which last 10 and 14 days, respectively. However, both of these pale in comparison to traditional bound-and-printed books which never need to be recharged.

When it comes to durability, traditional books beat electronic readers into the dust. A paperback or hardcover book can survive getting banged around in a backpack all semester and still be perfectly readable. Accidentally dropping an e-reader could result in a scratched or cracked screen, or in the worst-case scenario, a $259 paperweight. Don't believe me? Check the comments from Kindle users on Amazon's Kindle Drop Test video.

Borrowing a hardcover or paperback book from a friend is extremely easy. Borrowing an e-book from a friend is, well, not so easy. Currently, Barnes and Noble's Nook is the only platform that lets you lend your electronic book titles to a friend. There is a maximum time limit of 14 days your friend must also have a Nook reader, PC, Mac, or iPhone. I hope Grandma can speed-read through Harry Potter in less than two weeks!

One heavily advertised feature of e-book readers is their ability to store up to 1,500 books on the device's memory. Now I don't know about you, but I usually just read one book at a time. It's nice that they give you so much space, but is it really necessary? E-books are not MP3s, and I honestly don't plan to read through hundreds of volumes of literature the way I would listen to hundreds of songs on an MP3 player.

When it comes to purchasing books, retailers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble are quick to offer their electronic titles at discounted prices. Amazon has Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" as a hardcover book for $26.40 or paperback for $9.99. Kindle users pay a paltry $6.39 for the same title in electronic format. It would seem at first that owning an e-reader would allow Kindle users to save piles of money on their book purchases, but sadly this is not the case.

The truth is that serious readers already know where to get the best deals on books. Whether it is trading in merchandise at the used bookstore, patronizing the public library, or browsing websites like and eBay, true bookworms never pay the full cover price for their books. That same copy of The Da Vinci Code sells for just $0.75 cents on in Like New condition!

In many cases, perfectly good books can be purchased at thrift stores and yard sales for 50 cents or less. I picked up a mint copy of Herman Melville's classic Moby Dick (published by Bantam Books) for a mere 15 cents at my local Goodwill. The same book costs $4.95 for a digital copy at Barnes and Noble. Why pay the extra $4.80 to read about Captain Ahab on an electronic device if you don't need to? Electronic books are still not as good of a bargain as used books and probably never will be.

Additionally, I can think of several ways in which traditional bound-and-printed books will always be a better choice than electronic books. For example, my mother would absolutely love to unwrap the newest thriller from Jeffrey Deaver on her birthday. However, I cannot give her an e-book to unwrap, nor could I get it signed by the author at a book signing.

Non-electronic books are often gifted in other ways as well. Religious texts such as the Bible, the Torah, and the Qu'ran make excellent family heirlooms when they are handed down from generation to generation. Proprietary electronic devices do not. Honestly, do you really think your great-grandchildren will still be using Micro USB and 3G technologies decades from now? I sure hope not!

Regular books are also excellent for situations where I really would not feel comfortable using a $259 electronic device. Take the kitchen for example. A spiral-bound cookbook will always show your favorite recipes, even if it gets a little marinara sauce or water on it. E-readers are much more delicate and might not fare as well in a hot, messy kitchen environment.

Also, I can leave a regular book in my car on a hot summer's day in Phoenix without worrying about ruining it. That's something I cannot do with an e-reader.

Another great thing about dead tree books is that they can be used for the duration of a long flight, including take-offs and landings. People with electronic readers must adhere to the same strict rules as other personal electronic devices aboard an aircraft. Hope you don't have to land during a suspenseful part of the chapter!

Finally, there comes a time when every book lover must prune their shelves to make room for new books. It is easy for me to find a new home for books I did not enjoy or do not wish to keep any longer. They can be donated to charity, given away to friends, exchanged for credit at a local bookstore, or in the worst case, put in the recycle bin.

What do you do with the $4.95 copy of Moby Dick you purchased six months after you finished it? So far, there are no trade-in or buy-back options for e-books. You are stuck with them my friend, so choose your purchases wisely!

When you consider the high cost and limited functionality of today's electronic book readers, I just don't see why anybody would ever buy one! You don't need to read between the lines to see that traditional bound-and-printed books offer greater flexibility and freedom of ownership at lower prices than electronic books. So far as I can tell, e-books are a very innovative solution to a problem that never really existed in the first place.

I'm not the only one who feels this way: