Alexandra Alter wrote an article in the NY Times this week about technology and our reading habits. Alter’s piece does a good job of reviewing differences between print and electronic readers as well as some changes in recent years in the publishing industry. Like Alter, I prefer eBooks because of the convenience, searchability, and portability. But the base audience in her article is people who buy books not borrow them. She didn’t make one mention of the public library.
Generally speaking, I search my local library first when I want to read a book. I’ve used print, electronic, and audio versions of books in the past. I know library borrowing isn’t for everyone but here are a few reasons why I prefer it:
- I rarely go back and read books of fiction or non-fiction twice. So owning a copy on my bookshelf at home or in an eLibrary doesn’t provide meaningful value to me. If I borrow the book and want to take notes then I use a service like Evernote.com to keep thoughts and learnings.
- When I read for leisure, I don’t have to have the book right at the moment when I want to read it. I don’t mind waiting until I can either go to the library or when a copy becomes available in the eLibrary. It’s just not an urgent matter.
- The eBooks from local library are available through the Amazon Kindle reader or through another eReader app on my tablet. Checking-out an eBook or audio book is as simple as buying it.
- If the physical copy of the book is at another branch in the library system not close to me, then they will deliver it to my local branch for free.
- There’s no buyer’s remorse with library books. I’ve started a few books that I didn’t like because of the story-line, characters, or writing style. Since I didn’t pay for the book, it was very simple to stop reading and move-on to the next book.
To be fair, borrowing library books does have some frustrations. Availability is limited by the number of copies purchased by the system and number of borrowers ahead of me. This means popular books can have wait times for over a year. If this happens, I have to decide if I’m willing to wait, if I want to purchase it, or if I should search for another book. I usually just search for another book. There are lots of stories to be read.
So technology has altered my reading habits somewhat. I prefer an eBook but will read the paper version without issue if that is what is available. I should also mention that taking an eBook to the beach makes me nervous because of the sand and water around the electronic devices. This is one setting where I prefer a paper book.
Onward and Upward!
Text books are made for the education and instruction of students in our society right? Well, that’s the academic answer at least. Certainly the amount of money in the text book industry is benefiting a load of people in the value chain. Authors, publishers, distributors, retail stores, etc.
But really. Have you seen a student lately? They carry around backpacks busting at the seams. I weighed my son’s back pack tonight and it topped off at 20 pounds! Let’s be real, this can’t be healthy for the kids and certainly in this day and age we have other options for getting educational content to students other than over-sized printed text books.
Online textbooks or computer versions have been available for some time now and ocassionally offered in academic environment. These are good alternatives, but present a few problems:
1) They require reading the text book from a computer screen. Large amounts of reading from a back-lit screen is hard to do and eye-stresser. I haven’t found anyone yet that really likes this option for heavy reading.
2) They are not portable. What if you need the book in the classroom and at home? Laptops are not available to everyone and while they are close to portable aren’t always convenen
So now it’s 2010. The Kindle and iPad are making waves and I’m watching my kids break their backs trying to get to the bus. Let’s rethink to the obvious solution:
Get each student an eReader and have them load their textbooks onto this device.
Here’s why it works for everyone involved:
- The students – The most important people in this equation are the students. They create the demand for the entire value chain: schools, authors, publishers, etc. They benefit because they get a portable device for reading valuable content. It weighs next to nothing and can even take notes and create markup.
- The schools – Take the budget for buying the printed versions and use that amount to negotiate with the eReader providers and publishers for the eReader and eBooks. The student is assigned an eReader at the beginning of the year. If they lose it, then they have to purchase another one with their own dime (same policy today on text books). You could even require a deposit which is returned when the eReader comes back at the end of the year. Optionally offer the students the ability to purchase the eReader to keep and reuse. For colleges and universities, you can require the purchase of the reader and purchase of the books. Basic eReaders today sell for the price of a single textbook. It’s a one time purchase and in the long run text books should be less expensive for the student. Just imagine an article about a college/university that is decreasing a cost to its students instead of a double digit gain each year.
- The publishers – It’s best to get involved in this game now and be a player rather than ignoring it so that the others determine a way around them and make their service irrelevant. They should continue to work with authors to make distribution easier.
- The authors – Somebody still has to write the text!
- The retailers – In a college and university environment they now sell eReaders and find a way to distribute the texts electronically. Their physical space requirements for textbook inventory just fell off the charts. So they can either refill that space with other merchandise or reduce their footprint and costs.
- The trees – Yep, this is the environmentally responsible solution and the trees love it.
It’s really just a matter of time before this happens. Oh yeah, maybe, just maybe we’ll get the love of reading back into some of our students. These eReaders don’t have to be limited to text books. Students would be able to download and purchase any eBook they wanted to read. So what are we waiting for?