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Guide to electronic reading devices for Christmas. Bah humbug.

December 4, 2009

Faithful readers of this blog already know I’m agin those newfangled gadgets known as e-readers, and why. But I’d be remiss in my duties, as I discuss Christmas ideas, if I didn’t draw your attention to a an article in The New York Times offering buying tips for those who can’t resist the shiniest new gadget.

In the piece Danielle Belopotopsky notes that Amazon’s Kindle doesn’t have the field to itself anymore.

“The Kindle wasn’t the first e-reader on the market, but it came with a built-in advantage: a wireless connection to Amazon’s vast online bookstore,” Belopotopsky writes. “Today, when we think of e-readers, the Kindle comes readily to mind.”

Belopotopsky compares and contrast s the advantages and disadvantages — function, software, interface and all that wacky digital stuff gadget geeks find so irresistible. In addition to the Kindle ($259), she considers Barnes & Noble’s Nook ($259), the Sony Reader Touch ($300) and Daily Reader ($400), due to go on sale this month with a slightly larger display and wireless capability.

Also discussed: Que (price TBA), from Plastic Logic, which will be introduced in January, though Belopotosky got an early test drive. Irex, a Dutch company, introduces the DR800SG ($399) this month, with an 8.1-inch touch screen display. Cool-er ($249), from Interead, has limitations, Belopotopsky but it’s lighter than its competitors.

Finally, Belopotopsky examines Disney Digital Books, though it’s a subscription service for Macs and PCs, not an e-reader. For $8.95 a month (or $75.95 yearly), you get accounts for up to three children and access to 500 Disney books.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone would want to pony up $259 or more for a personal reading device — you still have to buy the downloaded book, usually at $9.99. But according to Geoffrey A. Fowler, writing in the Wall Street Journal, something like 900,000 e-readers will arrive under Christmas trees this holiday season.

Fowler calls it the e-reader’s “iPod moment” –but he warns it could turn out to be the device’s “eight-track moment,” too. In other words, are e-readers already obsolete?

Fowler notes that e-readers “restrict the book-reading experience in ways that trusty paperbacks haven’t.” You can’t lend books bought through some e-readers, for example. But makers are trying to address such drawbacks as fast as possible.

“If you have the disposable income and love technology—not books—you should get a dedicated e-reader,” Bob LiVolsi, the founder of BooksOnBoard, the largest independent e-book store, tells Fowler. He advises everyone else to repurpose an old laptop, or buy a cheap netbook for digital reading.

“It will give you a lot more functionality, and better leverages the family income,” LiVolsi says.

No thanks, I’ll stick with the trusty paperback. But for those interested in reading books digitally, Fowler’s article is long and thorough. Combine it with Belopotosky’s buyer’s guide, and you can be an informed consumer.

Are you buying an e-reader for someone this Christmas? Which brand?

15 Comments leave one →
  1. DeeBishoff permalink
    December 4, 2009 9:11 am

    No kindle for me! I have loved books for my entire life and although I do love technology, this is too much for me. I like my paperbacks that I can stick in my beach bag, read on the treadmill, read while I have lunch etc, kindle would not be compatible with how and where I read. Also a bit pricey for me.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 4, 2009 12:45 pm

      That’s pretty much the way I feel, too. As I always say, the book is a perfect technology, unimprovable. It’s portable, durable, simple, beautiful, and it functions exactly the way it’s meant to. Can new and different ways of delivering text be developed? Of course. Are they needed? Not that I can say.

  2. Connie permalink
    December 4, 2009 10:04 am

    I am not buying any e-readers. Books yes. Gadgets no. Still too pricey. And not in color! Which doesn’t make much difference when it comes to books, but for newspapers and magazines it does.

    I think, however, the gadget nuts – you know, the ones who buy every new iPhone or iPod while I stumble along with my first generation shuffle and my nano that is still cute and purple but does not record video – will be all over them because it’s the new hot thing.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 4, 2009 12:46 pm

      Yeah, and you’ll be able to get this year’s Kindle on ebay for a few dollars by the end of next Spring. I work and read with an electronic screen all day long. Turning away and toward a printed book is such a relief.

  3. rachel permalink
    December 4, 2009 11:38 am

    I was appalled when I first started to read this blog, I thought you a traitor Chauncey Mabe. And then I realized that you were just being tricky. I will not be buying an e-reader now or ever. (Doesn’t the term e-reader annoy anyone besides me?) In fact, I got an email this morning from Amazon about giving the kindle as a gift for the holidays, it gave me the motivation to do what I should have done long ago, unsubscribe to their stupid mass emails.

    I love books. Real in the flesh books.

  4. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    December 4, 2009 12:47 pm

    Moi? Tricksy? You must be joking.

  5. DeeBishoff permalink
    December 4, 2009 2:07 pm

    I thought this quite interesting, my daughter just called from Barnes and Noble and said my grandsons school is holding a fundraiser there with their school sharing in the profits. She plans to buy some books as Christmas gifts and wanted my advice on books to buy and also any books I might want. Of course, I could give her a huge list but because I read so much I have been using the public library and only gave her the name of one book for me. Also, in the past a much loved relative was able to send me many books but he is no longer able to do this. Oh well, it was great while it lasted.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 4, 2009 4:31 pm

      All good things come to an end, I have learned. But the joy of reading is forever. And much loved relatives are a treasure that never stops giving.

  6. Tommy permalink
    December 4, 2009 3:12 pm

    No, I am not buying anyone any newfangled electronic book perusal devices this year.

    The woman who declared “I am not a book person.” as if charges had been brought up against her and I was Chris Hansen and had just asked her to “Take a seat” may be the real target audience for these devices. Then she could be a “book person” and still maintain her cool. If anyone of her contemporaries asked her “You’re not reading are you?” she could always reply “Noooo, just texting Summer about what Kim Kardasian was wearing last night on Bravo” while rolling her eyes, of course.

    See, all the joy of reading books (well sort of) and none of the stigma.

  7. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    December 4, 2009 4:34 pm

    Who is Kim Kardashian? Unfortunately, I’m just kidding. What an awful world that I actually know, along with everyone else. But how many know the name of the president of Afghanistan?

  8. Tommy permalink
    December 4, 2009 4:51 pm

    Coming this Summer to E! “Keeping Up With The Karzai’s”. Watch Hamid “Hammy” Karzai and his bro Ahmed Wali “Wacky” Karzai struggle with the pressures of keeping a country running while looking for true love.

    Now there is a sex tape I really DO NOT want to see.

  9. evan james roskos permalink
    December 6, 2009 9:03 pm

    I may eventually buy an e-reader. I’m too much of a gadget whore not to.

    but the technology is pretty bad right now and seems to be fueled by an industry desire to fetishize reading before the gadgets can really please the masses. i know that the iPod was a somewhat limited device when it was first released, but when it came to playing the actual music, it was perfect. can you imagine if an iPod took more than a second to move from one song to the next on an album? until e-readers don’t take “forever” to move from one page to the next, I’m out and I think those thousands of people who are going to get an e-reader this xmas will harm the reputation of the devices.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 7, 2009 11:49 am

      I can only hope so, Evan, I can only hope so. Of course, I’m not a gadget geek, for better or worse, and stand by the assertion that the codex is a perfect and unimprovable technology. Kind of like the wheel, or the ladder, or the hammer.

  10. evan james roskos permalink
    December 7, 2009 9:49 am

    as an added twist, this is the technology that can make e-readers obsolete before they even get off the ground while making digital books/documents a thousand times more readable on laptops/computer screens:

    it’s a screen that operates as an LCD monitor but can turn into an e-reader display (ie, it becomes non-backlit, thus making things easy on the eyes).

    I suspect once this technology is perfected (it’s set to enter production this month) we’ll see people reading books on laptops and netbooks without complaining about eye strain.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 7, 2009 11:53 am

      Thanks for the update. I did a story about this technology about 1997, and it seemed just around the corner then. Maybe it will turn out to be like Mark Twain’s typesetting machine, an invention that ate up his fortune and never came to market.

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