There are about three reasons I haven’t bought an e-reader yet (actually, let’s remove the hyphen and call it an ereader – remember ‘e-mail’?). The first reason is that they’re expensive, but at $229 this little guy is one of the most affordable yet. The second is that I dog-ear my books and take notes while reading. How can an ereader live up to that? Well, this one does to a point, as I’ll explain. The third reason is that in Australia there isn’t yet a wealth of ebooks available and there are issues with territorial copyright often in attaining them from overseas suppliers. But it’s beginning to change, as epub is emerging as the dominant ebook publishing format and Australian publishers and booksellers are establishing standards and getting on board.
Let’s just clear up a few things, too. An ereader as a device is nothing like a computer or an iPhone/iPad because it uses e-ink and is not backlit. I’ve found myself explaining this to almost every person I’ve talked to when discussing ebooks and ereaders. Thus, the screen looks like a page, and does not hurt your peepers. If the light dims while reading, you’ll have to switch on a lamp, just like a book.
Since the Australian arm of the Apple iBook store went live this week, some people will be reading books on a backlit iPad. This would be a different experience to what I’ll be describing here.
The other thing to clear up is that not all ereaders are Kindles! Since in the general press we mainly hear about Amazon’s Kindle device, many assume that it is the ereader, but what you have to remember about the Kindle is that you are locked in to purchasing your ebooks from Amazon.com. This might be fine for some folks, but many books, including many Australian and indie press titles, are not available on Amazon. So a non-dedicated ereader in the end may provide more options.
The other thing I’ll mention is that an ereader is a dedicated device intended mainly to simulate the experience of reading a book (or in some cases, a magazine). I used to think I’d hold out for a device that had further functionality, but I’ve decided now that it’s awesome that the ereader is dedicated to reading long-form content and narrative. There are enough distractions out there, and if you want to listen to music, look something up, or tell someone about what you’re reading, I’m sure your other device/s aren’t far from reach. The fact that I couldn’t just click through to something else meant I was immersed in the book I was reading, just as I would be with a print book.
Now, to Sony’s Pocket Reader. At first I thought I was going to be reviewing the Touch ($299), but I’m glad now I was sent the Pocket Edition. It’s so light and it fit in my smallest handbag so I could read it on the tram. (Covers and other accessories are also available from Sony.) It has a touch screen so you can just glide your finger across the screen to turn the page. You may also choose to use the buttons. If you don’t know the meaning of a word, double-click and the inbuilt dictionary will pop up at the bottom of the page.
I didn’t have to use the dictionary much for George Orwell’s wonderful Animal Farm, which I have now finally read! Orwell writes with such clarity and I found this book so compelling I barely noticed what I was reading it on. Generally when I am reading something, as mentioned, I’ll dog-ear the pages and take notes, especially if I’m reviewing it. Well, luckily the Sony has note-taking capabilities. You can scribble notes on the page itself, highlight lines, or save a memo to that page. The notes are then listed in a menu (by page order). You can use your trotters, or the Stylus (a kind of pen) included with the Reader.
One small qualm on that note: the Stylus is very inconspicuous. It’s mentioned briefly in the Quick Start Guide that comes with the Reader but it took me a minute to figure out how to access it. If a consumer does not know the word ‘Stylus’, they may never know it’s there at all!
I haven’t had the experience of uploading books but Sony told me to pick something from a RedGroup retailer website (Borders or A&R) and they’d preload it. So I can’t really report on the ease of this, though the retailer websites say it is one quick and easy download. The books all seemed to be very valuably priced, too, compared to print books.
There are a couple of issues here. What if I want to support my local indie bookseller? I guess if I start reading more on a Reader I would encourage them to get on board, and I believe the process will become easier with the bookseller system TitlePage getting set to (one day) integrate the ebook supply chain into their system (source). This is over-the-counter as files but possibly also through their websites, I’m not sure how it works exactly. And of course, I could continue to support my indie bookstore by buying print books from them, as I will. In fact, I think if I really like a book I’ve read digitally, I’ll probably want a print copy still – to have in my collection or to give to someone lovely.
The other issue that is still being worked out, I believe, is payment for writers and sustaining the industry. Lucky in Australia we get to watch the battles happening in the big book markets of the US and the UK before we set our own models. But hopefully ebooks, after an initial period of costly development and transition, will be able to be sold fairly cheaply and the authors, publishers and booksellers will still get a fair share and be able to continue to provide wonderful content for us booklovers.
But I can honestly say, after trialling the Sony Pocket Edition I can see it in my near future: on my bedside table, loaded up with new gems and classics, and definitely in my luggage. I always travel with books and this device would certainly lighten the load. The Sony Pocket is the only ereader I’ve trialled so I don’t have much to compare it to, but it’s a perfectly adequate substitution for a print book in terms of the reading experience. The screen is the size of a paperback book and you can increase the font size to however large you need it. It tells you what page you’re up to and keeps your place. The battery was still on full bars after finishing Animal Farm and playing around with it.
Of course it doesn’t project your literary identity as a bookshelf or book cover would; and it doesn’t have that lovely stink of pages. But in my life I think the rough and smelly, and the sleek and silver, can coexist. This guy’s on my Christmas list.