When e-readers first came out, I was a skeptic. I love the feeling of an actual book, turning the pages, arranging the colorful spines on my bookshelves. But living in an 850 square foot house has its downsides, and shelf space is one of them. For years I had milk crates full of books in my basement, the pages becoming mustier by the day. I invested in shelves on which to stack these crates and a dehumidifier to protect the paper. To slow the tide of accumulating books and to save money, I began using the library more frequently and kept a reading journal with a few comments about each book I read so that I could still feel like I owned them somehow.
When I got a Kindle for my birthday in summer 2010, I was excited about the space-saving potential. After downloading dozens of free public domain titles I was able to clear my bookshelves of everything that is available for free on Kindle. I rarely buy paper books anymore unless it is something the author will sign for me. I have pared down my collection so that all of my books now fit on a 6-shelf Ikea Billy bookcase and a cabinet in my kitchen (for cookbooks). I admit the books are piled two-deep on most shelves, but my collection now fits the space I have available, and there aren’t any more crates in my basement. A bit more culling will happen over time, but I’m happy with the size of my library now. It’s manageable.
The reading experience is quite good, too. I like to read lying in bed or on the couch with one arm curled under my head. I can turn pages with a click instead of having to shift to a position in which both arms are free. I can read a Kindle book while blow-drying my hair or while eating without having to stop what I’m doing to turn a page and rearrange the book in my hand. At the gym, I can increase the size of the text so I can continue to read while on the elliptical machine. I rarely have to charge it, as long as I keep the wireless off.
There are a few annoyances. Sometimes the paperback is actually less expensive than the digital copy. I worry about what will happen to my books if Amazon goes out of business someday. I can’t lend a book to a friend unless they also have a Kindle, and the publisher of that particular title has consented to a one-time two-week loan. But overall, I love it. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should.
What of the implications for the future of publishing? I don’t think there’s anything we can do about that. It happened to the music industry ten years ago with the heyday of Napster and other music sharing sites. The way music is distributed has been irrevocably changed, and the same process is occurring for movies and now books. I think authors actually have great potential to make more money with e-books. There are no distribution or manufacturing costs, so I imagine the profit margin is larger on an e-book. In some respects I am a skeptic in regards to technology, particularly when it comes to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, neither of which I have an account with. But I do love my Kindle.