Thursday, May 31, 2018

eBooks for Baby Boomers


A friend of mine - a sister Baby Boomer and an author - recently wrote:

I feel like a dinosaur, reading paper books and resisting reading e-books! 
Here's my response:

eBook User Demographics

Hey, don't feel bad. You're not a dinosaur! From what I've seen, the demographic of ebook users is greatly skewed toward the younger generations. I think relatively few of us Baby Boomers are reading ebooks. 

For example, for a couple of years now I've been attending a reading group which focuses on books authored by Nevil Shute, who died in 1960. From what I can tell, everyone in the group is a senior, close to my age or older. I've only seen one or two other people bring in electronic devices with ebook versions of Shute's books on them; everyone else brings in a hard copy, usually hardcover. And those few electronic devices have only shown up recently.

I've worked with computers since college, starting with punch cards and teletype-style interfaces, through floppy disk data entry devices to early personal computers. I now have five homebuilt PC's (which I built myself), two laptops, and a half dozen handheld devices. Computers were my career as a software engineer, and in the mid-1990's, after I got sick and became largely housebound, the early Internet became my connection to the world.

So I'm an exception in my demographic. I'm comfortable with computers because I've been working with them all of my adult life. And I know that not everyone is going to reach that level of comfort. If you like reading hard copy books, that's fine. They've been working great for hundreds of years, and they aren't going away any time soon.

But ebooks do have some significant advantages, and I think it's important for us to be aware of these and the fact that the market is moving slowly but inexorably in that direction.

eBook Advantages

Here are some of the things I like about ebooks:

  • Flipping pages is much easier. Paper pages tend to stick together, and when I'm reading a hard copy book, I often find myself fumbling to separate two of them to get to the next one. Maybe I'm spoiled, but this quickly gets annoying. When I'm reading an ebook, I just tap on the screen (or swipe) and it flips one page. No fumbling.
  • An ebook reader can be much lighter than a book. The various devices I read on range between a few ounces and just under two pounds: Moto X smartphone, 5 oz; Kindle E-reader, 5 oz; Amazon Fire 7, 11 oz;  iPad Air 2, 1 lb; Chromebook (with keyboard), 1 lb 15 oz. By contrast, the Murder Ink paperback weighs one pound, and two hardcover books I have on hand weigh 1 lb 5 oz and 2 lb 1 oz, respectively.
  • An ebook reader can contain dozens or hundreds of ebooks. As long as I have my phone (or any other device) with me, I can read any ebook I own or have borrowed from a library. I can have an entire personal library in my pocket.
  • I can borrow ebooks from the my state library or other sources like openlibrary.orggutenberg.ca, or gutenberg.org, and I can do this instantly. If a book is available, it will download to my device in seconds. No driving to and from the library to pick up and drop off my borrows. If a book isn't available from the state library right now, I can have the library send me an email and automatically borrow it when it does become available.
  • I can buy ebooks from Amazon and download them instantly as well. eBooks are generally cheaper than hard copy, and some are as little as 99 cents. And for $15 a month, Amazon has a monthly subscription service that makes over a million books available instantly. If you're an Amazon Prime subscriber, there are also many ebooks included for free with the Prime subscription. And there are sites such as BookBub, which sends me an email every day containing a list of books in my favorite genres, almost all of which are either free or on sale for a dollar or two.
  • The Kindle software syncs between devices. I can be reading on my Chromebook, put it down, go for a drive, stop at an appointment or a restaurant, and take out my phone and pick up right from where I left off on the Chromebook. When I get home, I can go upstairs and lie down with my iPad and continue from where I left off on my phone.
  • I can save bookmarks, highlight passages, and enter notes on a given passage on any ebook I'm reading. All these markups get synced across all my devices, automatically. I can view a list of them and zip to any one of them instantly, with a couple of taps on my screen.
  • I can copy a passage from an ebook and paste it into an email or a document.
  • I can change the font, the size of the font, the color of the background, the brightness of the backlight, the size of the margins, the spacing between lines, and even whether the text is left-aligned or fully justified. So I can make the book's text look exactly like I want it to, as easy as possible on my eyes. (See next item for an exception.)
  • I can read ebooks outdoors in bright sunlight.  My Kindle E-reader has no backlighting and relies on ambient light, just like a hard copy book. This means the text is readable outdoors in bright sunlight. If you find backlighting tiring, you might like a Kindle Reader. Note: because my Kindle E-reader has no backlight, there's no backlight adjustment. Other Kindle E-reader models do have a backlight and also work in ambient light, giving the best of both worlds.
  • With a few taps, I can post my rating of a book (one to five stars) to both Goodreads and Amazon, along with a review if I feel like writing one.
  • I can stash my ebooks into collections, where I can quickly reference them later. Fiction, Bios, Humor, etc. I also have created a collection for each rating I give, so I can quickly look up my Faves (5 stars), books I've rated Good (4 stars) or Average (3), and avoid the ones I've labeled Rejects (1 or 2 stars).

eBook Disadvantages

I'll admit eBooks aren't perfect, though. Compared to hard copy books, there are drawbacks:

  • In my experience, the biggest drawback is the learning curve involved in using an e-reader or app. You have to learn your way around the app or device, and you also have to learn how to access and download books from your retailer (such as Amazon) and/or libraries or other sources. But this learning curve, while it can be daunting at first, is actually not too difficult to climb. The devices and apps are fairly intuitive, and there are various sources for help, including the Web, and friends (like me).
  • I've had to get into the habit of keeping the batteries in my various devices charged.
  • A device has to be connected to the Internet in order to download ebooks or to sync bookmarks, highlights, comments, last page read, etc.
  • If I accidentally touch the screen of a device while an ebook is open on it, I can inadvertently page forward or backward.
  • I'm dependent on Amazon for access to any books I bought from them which are not currently on my devices, so if Amazon ever goes belly up, my books will be lost. Given the monster success that Amazon is currently experiencing (CEO Jeff Bezos is the richest person on the planet), this seems unlikely to happen any time soon.
  • The Android app differs slightly in its functionality from the iOS apps, and the Kindle devices are each different yet again. So there is a (relatively small) learning curve when getting a new device.
There are probably other disadvantages I can't think of at the moment, but whatever they are, for me they are far outweighed by the advantages.

eBook Formats

Note that I am using eBooks that are distributed in Amazon's Kindle format (.mobi files) and my devices are either sold by Amazon (Fire 7, Kindle E-reader) or run Amazon's Kindle app (all the other devices). It's also possible to read Kindle-format ebooks in a browser on a PC or Mac, and there is an app for Windows, but the browser and Windows versions lack the Collections function included in the apps for Android and iOS devices and the Amazon devices. I haven't used the app for Macs, so I can't rate that.

There is another ebook format (.epub) that is used by other ebook publishers (Barnes & Noble's Nook, for example, and Google Play Books). I have apps on most of my devices that will allow me to read those as well, but I'm very much into Amazon's Kindle ecosystem, and from what I've seen, Amazon has the largest selection of books by far, of all online retailers. Also, my state online library lends books in Kindle format. Oh, and the Kindle app is free and runs on pretty much any device.

Conclusion

Once I got past the learning curve on how to use ebooks, including learning my way around the apps as well as how to find ebooks from various sources online, I have found the experience of reading books in ebook format to be vastly superior to reading books printed on paper. To me, now that I'm familiar with using ebooks, it is totally obvious why the trend is away from hard copy books and toward ebooks. 

At first, the learning curve may seem steep, especially for people who aren't that much into computers. But ebook reading apps and devices are designed to be as intuitive as possible, and the necessary knowledge is readily available online. 

As long as you have a Kindle-capable device (iOS, Android, Windows, Mac) you could download the appropriate Kindle app, grab an ebook from one of the free online libraries, and give reading it try to see how you like it. This wouldn't cost anything but a little time.

I hope you find this post informative. And maybe it will help you better understand my enthusiasm for ebooks - and why the market is moving so inexorably away from hard copy and to ebooks.

2 comments:

Virginia Ramus said...

Thank you for this comprehensive analysis, Alison. Paper books have been beloved objects for me for as long as I can remember, but I can see from reading this that I might thank myself if I at least give ebooks a try--especially for traveling. I usually pack at least 2 books in my suitcase when I travel, and this add weight!

Alisonnic said...

Thank you for your feedback and encouragement, Ginny! And you're right; ebooks are great for travel. I hope you do give them a try!