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Is the World Finally Ready for eBooks?

CNN has a write-up about Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader today, which is celebrating its first birthday this month.

With more than a quarter million units sold and often being out of stock, it seems like the Kindle might be a success story on the eBook front, which has been looking to gain serious traction for a decade. CNN attributes the success to (1) the marketing savvy of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, (2) endorsements by Oprah Winfrey, author James Patterson and others, and (3) the world finally being ready for an electronic version of a book.

That last one is a great question: Is the world finally ready for eBooks?

I have to admit, despite some initial reservations reading eBooks, I have warmed up to the technology. (I’m not including PDF files as eBooks – don’t get me started on PDF files.) I don’t own a dedicated eBook reader, instead I read on my phone. I still prefer physical books, but being able to read on my phone is nice – but only for short stories. I would prefer the bigger screen of a dedicated device for novels. And to be clear, I really don’t do a whole lot of mobile reading, just here and there when I find myself with some free time away from a book. To me, eBook reading is a fallback plan when physical books are out of reach. That may not be an eBook endorsement, but it’s a different opinion than I had a few years ago.

As for the Kindle, the article cites some of my hesitations, namely missing the tangible quality of reading and the high price. A new Kindle costs around $360. (A next-generation Kindle is due in 2009 which fixes some design flaws like button placement that makes it easy to accidentally turn the page.)

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

22 Comments on Is the World Finally Ready for eBooks?

  1. I’m very interested by e-books, as both a reader and somebody who works in publishing, but I don’t have a lot of experience reading them. I hope to change that soon, with the purchase of an e-book reader. It won’t, however, be the Kindle, which I think fails in both price and design. I do enough reading (most of it standing on the train) and enough book buying, that I think it’s worth the purchase. I think, overall, e-books have a long way to go — especially before they replace the tactile pleasures of holding a paper book — but I think the market is definitely warming to them.

  2. I’ve heard the Sony ebook reader is appealing, but haven’t seen either that or a Kindle myself. I can tolerate reading on my computer, but ebooks haven’t really caught my fancy so much.  Although, I’ve sold enough of my own work in ebook format to realize, and appreciate, the fact that there IS a market for ebooks out there.  A large market.  So apparently loads of people DO enjoy them, and I’m more than happy to offer them up 🙂

    But for myself, personally, nothing compares with a nice, thick, physical paperback that I can carry around and fondle while I read.  Doesn’t require batteries, and doesn’t make me feel like I’m at “work” in front of a machine. 

    I see the appeal – buy a reader and download a massive number of books you can carry around with you and read on the flight, or the bus ride.  I’m just not “there” yet, myself, and perhaps I won’t ever get there – but I’ll continue to happily provide for those who are.

  3. Sony has DRM issues, as does the Kindle. And the Kindle…blech….look at the design. Looks like an early 1980’s Apple product (Apple //c springs to mind). The main reason it has gotten so much press is because it is from Amazon.


    If Apple ever gets a dedicated eReader out…you may see something that finally puts this thing out of its misery.


    As for whether the world is ready for eBooks? I think so, but some call me…mad.


    Let’s face it: with all the news, websites, Flickr collections, YouTube-ing we do…we spend the equivalent of several hours a day on the computer, reading text. You are already reading the equivalent of several books a year at that screen.


    The new technologies like the eInk screens are better than where I started (reading Project Gutenberg downloads on an Apple Newton). Yes, you don’t that that “book feeling”, you don’t have finely-tooled leather covers and the like…but you can stuff several thousand eBooks on one of these (I have nearly 3,000 on my Bookeen Cybook). And for something the size of a trade paperback, that fits relatively easily in a briefcase, backpack, and most jacket pockets, you can accumulate a bunch of books read per year taking advantage of standing in line, etc.

  4. Fred says: “You are already reading the equivalent of several books a year at that screen.”

    That’s partly a barrier for me.  I need to get away from screens after all that time in front of them.

  5. I’m with you John, I find I want to get away from the PC and read, not read in front of the PC.  I did borrow a Kindle for a little bit and found it far easier to read than a PC screen, but I didn’t think it was good enough to spend over 3 bills for the right to then pay for eBooks.  I’m surprised Amazon isn’t subsidizing the heck out of the unit in order to sell eBooks ala the 360.

  6. As an owner of a Kindle, I admit at first I was leery of whether I would like the experience.  I am an avid reader (usually go through a novel or business book every two weeks), so the “experience” of a book is something I love.  I bought one for my wife on our anniversary, and after having her “test drive” the unit for three months, finally gave in a bought one of my own when I had three solid weeks of travel coming up.

    So you will probably say my impetus was to avoid carrying six books in my carryon , which I admit was the driver for the purchase.  But now that I have used it for three months, I would never go back.  I have forty books waiting to be read in paper format and I find myself wrestling with reasons to not repurchase them in Kindle format because I find curling up with a Kindle so much more enjoyable.  To those of you who pooh pooh the idea, I think you need to give it a try for a good month before you pass judgement.  I was really certain I would find it a novelty, and in fact I find it similar to a DVR and a cell phone, a device that I wonder how I lived without.

    To those who talk about being in front of a screen, if you watch the Bezos marketing video on Amazon at one point he talks about the most important aspect of a book being that is “disapears”.  You do not think of the paper, the binding, the glue, etc.  Yu just get absorbed in the story and they tried to do that with the Kindle.  I thought, “Yeah right!”  Well after three months of this, I say “Yeah right!” in a positive way.  The Kindle does a great job vanishing.  Yes you have to slightly move your thumb to turn the page, but you have to move your hand to turn the page in a traditional book.  I have not been able to read books on a computer or other screen for more than an hour at a time.  I find myself reading my Kindle for six hour sessions and not even knowing where the time has gone.  If that does not tell you this product is just like a book, not sure what else would. 

    The low cost of the books at $9.99 or less makes the unit pay for itself in 20 books or so.  With both my wife and I having one, we do not each have to buy the same book.  If she finds something she likes, I can just download to my Kindle since we share the same Amazon account.  

    So borrow one for a long bit, or just splurge and get one.  I think you’ll find you are pleasantly suprised with the experience.

  7. I’m not much of a “Green” freak, but I do believe that ebooks will prevent waste, and I think they should increase profits for authors, which is good because I want them happy and writing. Also, they take up less space.

    I’m sure I’ll be getting one.

  8. I was an early adopter of Kindle because I travel a lot and thought it would be easier.  I assumed that I wouldn’t use it at home when I could read traditional books.  I still read a lot of traditional books, but I don’t find reading on the Kindle to be second choice at all.  I go back and forth between the two easily and often. 

    Another great benefit – I use it on the treadmill and don’t have to worry about pages flipping. 

  9. David Lomax // December 3, 2008 at 6:51 pm //

    I love my Sony Reader.  I’d rather own a Kindle because of the greater selection books and the greater ease of purchasing said books, but I live in Canada, and they don’t sell Kindles to us here.  That said, the Reader is easy to read, comfortable and convenient.  And since my seventeen double- and triple-stacked bookshelves were groaning as it was, I had to get a solution.  Now I’m done with physical books.  I just want Tor to start selling ebooks soon…  I’d buy about half their mid-list.

  10. Ebooks are catching on and will increasingly be accepted by people who like to read. I don’t really think of them as a replacement for books. I read both books and ebooks. I think of ebooks as another way to access reading material, like how a phone is another way of talking to someone.

    I have a Sony 505 ebook reader and love it. I even clutch it to my chest like a kitten. If I’m into a good ebook, I literally forget I’m even holding an ebook reader and my hand will move as if to turn a page.

    As a person who is always in the middle of reading 2 to 4 books, I like having a device with multiple works within it. I still read paper books too and like them fine, but with ebooks I NEVER lose my bookmark. It just turns on to the last spot I stopped reading.

    A dedicated ebook reader definitely makes ebook reading pleasurable. I think the ebook market share will grow. Just check out the vibrant forum at to see how many people like ebooks.

  11. I’m waiting for two things: a “good enough” reader, and a large selection of DRM-free books for sale.

    The Reader might be the former; looking at it in the store, it seems to beat a mass-market paperback, but fall well short of a well-designed hardback or trade paperback. For some types of book that would be fine.

    The latter doesn’t seem to even be on the horizon. I buy books to keep them; if I’m going to borrow them (which is what DRM amounts to), I’ll do it from the library.


  12. By the way, you don’t need to buy a Kindle or a Sony Reader in order to read and enjoy eBooks. Some have acquired the “One Laptop Per Child” unit and used that to read eBooks (there was a deal about a year ago where you got one and a child got one). Numerous cellphones handle eBooks. I’ve used the Apple Newton, the original Palm Pilot (and a couple of models after that), the original Handspring Visor (and a couple of models after that) and the Sony Clie.

    I was able to buy three Clies on Amazon for about $50.00 each, ranging in new to slightly used in condition. With a memory stick, I can carry a couple hundred novels in various formats. I still use them, on occasion.

    I prefer my Cybook. As one person pointed out, you eventually focus on the words and forget what format you are reading them in. Since the battery only is used when you “turn” a page, a charge lasts for a good long time (I got it down to 60% of a full charge during one weekend when I was reading a lot and going through the “library” a lot to sample books–so I was heavily “turning pages”).

  13. One beneift of eBooks I forgot to mention:  the backlit screen.  It’s difficult for me to find a reading place that is both quiet and well-lit.  An eBook reader solves that problem.  Now if I can only convince Amazon or Sony to fork over a “review” copy…

  14. Books are greener if you consider carbon sequestion.

  15. And right now the Kindle costs too much green.

  16. General X // December 4, 2008 at 2:11 am //

    Untill the price of e-books goes drastically down I can not see them taking hold. Honestly there is no justification asking for the same price for the electronic and the actual book.

  17. Backlit screen: Not all eReaders have a backlit screen. A lot (all?) of the eInk devices don’t have a backlit screen; either the technology does not allow it or that’s how they get the long battery life. However, I’ve gotten around that by getting a book light for a regular book and clipping it to one corner of the Cybook.

    Pricing: If you shop around at a place like Fictionwise, you can find eBooks comparably priced with paperbacks. If you shop at Baen’s Webscription service (which is picking up books from other publishers and morphing into a distributor), you can find very reasonably priced eBooks (especially if you buy the monthly bundles). And let’s not forget the hundreds upon hundreds of free eBooks from Project Gutenberg, Manybooks, Memoware, etc.

    DRM: Again, if you shop around, you can get DRM-free books. The free stuff from Gutenberg, etc., does not have DRM. The books from Baen and distributed by Baen are DRM-free. Even Fictionwise is has a number of “non-secure” titles.

  18. <i>Again, if you shop around, you can get DRM-free books.</i>

    Unfortunately, being DRM-free is necessary but not sufficient. It has to be something I want to read. That includes many of the classics, so that’s a start; but drawing my reading from a much smaller pool is not acceptable to me.


  19. e-books…. yes, I’m ready for more.

    e-readers…. no. Why can’t I just use my phone or laptop to read the e-book with? What is the need for a separate reader when I have perfectly useable devices I already carry with me? Maybe I’m just not the target demographic.

  20. I LOVE ebooks but agree with tditto, why the need for yet another device to carry around when I have a perfectly good phone?  Same reason I dont carry a separate mp3 player, I made sure my phone was capable of being a media player before buying it (Motorola Q).  Its great for music, audiobooks and even video.  It was an added bonus to find out after I bought it that it works fine for ebooks as well.

    Paper books work great for my wife as she tends to do most of her reading a half hour or so before going to sleep each night but I am more of a convenience reader (riding bus, waiting in car for someone, in line, killing a few minutes here and there).  Its just not convenient or likely for me to have a paperback in my pocket at all times.  But I ALWAYS have my phone.  I read about a book every 3 or 4 weeks and, for over a year now, about 90% of my reading is on my phone.  Its just so convenient. 

    I use ebook software called Mobipocket Reader (  When I first experimented with it, I was 100% confident that I would hate reading books on what I felt (at the time) was too small of a screen.  More than a year later, I love it.  I have set the colors to white text on black background and find there to be zero eye strain.  I guess its all what you get used to.  For me, any future phone I may buy MUST have ebook capabilities as I see myself reading this way for the foreseeable future.

  21. I got the Kindle on a dare from a friend, and ended up liking it.  Quite a bit.  Quite a lot, actually.  We tied the knot and all that. (My friend got his own Kindle.)

    The reasons I love my Kindle:

    • Damned easy to use, as it turned out. iPod-level easy, but no extra software to install.
    • I can read the eInk paper without screaming. Yes, my eyes are sensitive to brightness/contrast.  Stare into a big backlit screen for 14 hours straight with your eyes taped open.  That’s my job, every day.  No amount of contrast/brightness adjustment has really helped.
    • I can also forget the cellphone when I don’t want to be in contact with the world. I don’t have one yet, because getting one means that I’m in constant contact with my company 24/7.  Sometimes I really don’t want to be reminded.
    • Bigger reading surface than the inky dinky cell phone; the size of a paperback.  Yes, my eyes, again.
    • Buy stuff ON the Kindle.  Don’t even have to hook it up to the computer.  And that’s why I like the little keyboard.
    • Take notes and highlight and add multiple bookmarks.  (I’ve started writing reviews lately, so this is extremely handy.) Another reason I like the little keyboard.
    • Download stuff ON the Kindle.  The basic web browser is extremely basic, but it’s enough to grab books from Feedbooks and download them directly onto the Kindle.  (Just .PRC, .MOBI, .TXT, though).
    • Conversion on the fly: when you buy a kindle, you get two special Kindle email addresses.  Send HTML, Word, PDF, PRC, MOBI, or TXT through as attachments to either convert to a file you download (free) or just send to your Kindle directly (10 cents per attachment).
    • Kindle store really does kinda beat the other stores on price.
    • Audible audiobooks on this thing. There’s speakers or the headphone jack. Or stick plain MP3s in the Kindle.
    • I commute 4 hours a day at a minimum.  That’s where the whole “weight and feel of a book in your hand” starts to lose its, ah, chestnutness.
    • The back… it feels so right. Alas, Kindle 2.0 won’t have those curves or that skin….
    • Instapaper and news sites. 
    • Excuse to write scripts to convert stuff online and prepare eBooks myself. I like that sort of thing. A bit too geeky to be normal. Even among geeks.
    • Channel surfing. Sometimes I don’t want to read China Mievelle. I tend to circulate around three books at any one time: a fiction book, a non-fiction book, and something that can be read in small chunks (usually non-fiction).  And if for some reason I got a book I hated, there’s others on there.

    But you know.  It’s the commute thing that sealed the deal.

    And the pleasant weekends in quaint cafes.

    And the delightful nights in bed.

    Currently we’re still debating whether we’re going to get a Kindle 2.0 or not. It’s an important decision, expanding the family.


  22. is giving away a Kindle!

    Deadline: Monday, December 15th at 11:59pm

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