This is a love or hate circumstance. Either people love their digital reader (like how I am in love with my Amazon Kindle(s) and evangelized others to get on the Kindle bandwagon, thirteen people and counting!) or people just hate the idea of digital books and reference the ephemeral feelings of the joy one gets while reading a physical book. Just read this excerpt from a Guardian piece written by Nick Harkaway titled “Paper vs. Digital Reading is an Exhausted Debate” that very much speaks to that feeling:
Until a digital book is a magical object which physically transforms from 50 Shades into the new James Smythe novel according to your whim; until you can walk through a digital library and open books at random; until the technology becomes as satisfying to the physical senses as the text is to the cognitive self, there’s still a need for shiny, gorgeous, satisfying books. And when those things happen, if they do, we will have lost nothing in the transition.
For me this idea of the exhausted nature of the debate rings true. Considering that I have been an evangelist for the Amazon Kindle, it may seem surprising to state that I’ve somehow thrown in the towel. I, however, don’t fall into a love/hate dichotomy, but rather see the utility of a electronic reader as beneficial yet complicated by the current legal and financial uncertainties of the model. Say what? Let me explain.
When I got my Kindle it was an act of desperation because I was book deprived. My reading habits of multiple books at one time kept me from carrying around a physical book, and in essence I had gone a couple years without having read a single book. My Kindle was a gateway into the literary world after a long time in exile. It was a reprieve, it was amazing, and it was bliss for several years where reading once again became a integral part of my daily routine.
There are significant advantages to having digital books, for one, you can carry your library around, as long your device(s) are charged. This gives you access to these books, even your guilty pleasures without others really knowing what it is you’re reading. You can take notes and highlight and then reference back to those points. My reading habits would have me carry around three or four different books around with me because I am usually changing from one book to another depending on my motivation, mood and interest. But then the flip side is that when I have a physical book I always strike up interesting conversations with strangers.
Digital Books versus Physical Books
Then I made a goal to read 52 books in 52 weeks, one book for every week of the year. Originally, I read digital books like I had been reading for some time. But then I hit an impasse where I couldn’t get hold of books I wanted to read as digital copies. After many years of not entering a Barnes n’Nobles, I entered the local store. It brought back memories of when I was a broke, two job working, college student without cable tv. I would sneak to the local bookstore, find a spot on the floor and proceed to read the latest edition of Harry Potter or when that wasn’t available read RR Martin or books by Orson Scott Card. The physical bookstore, and book, provided me with something that an electronic reader won’t let me have- access.
There are significant issues with digital books, and in particular Amazon, that make me question my future investment in digital books. In 2009 Justin Gawronski filed suit against Amazon, arguing that Amazon had violated its terms of service by remotely deleting the copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four he had purchased, in the process preventing him from accessing annotations he had written. He was a high school student, and like I mentioned in one of my reading lists, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a required read for English. The case was settled by Amazon, however, not without Amazon guaranteeing in the future the rights of users to their owned copies. The statement read in part:
For copies of Works purchased pursuant to TOS granting “the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy” of each purchased Work and to “view, use and display [such Works] an unlimited number of times, solely on the [Devices]… and solely for [the purchasers’] personal, non-commercial use”, Amazon will not remotely delete or modify such Works from Devices purchased and being used in the United States unless (a) the user consents to such deletion or modification; (b) the user requests a refund for the Work or otherwise fails to pay for the Work (e.g., if a credit or debit card issuer declines to remit payment); (c) a judicial or regulatory order requires such deletion or modification; or (d) deletion or modification is reasonably necessary to protect the consumer or the operation of a Device or network through which the Device communicates (e.g., to remove harmful code embedded within a copy of a Work downloaded to a Device).
Part of the problem with Kindle, and digital books for that matter, is ownership. The fact that in 2012, Amazon deleted every book that Linn Nygaard, an IT consultant living in Norway, had purchased, and canceled her Amazon account because they claimed that she had violated their terms of service, but weren’t forthcoming as to what she had done wrong, gives to much power to one business.