Ebook readers: the verdict

Two interesting developments in the past several days: first, the news that Amazon is apparently intending to launch the Kindle in the UK later this year, and the developments at the American publisher Tor (owned by the same multinational that owns Pan Macmillan, who're behind the Tor UK imprint), where they're apparently heavily rejigging their website to carry a large amount of free content - including PDF giveaways of a few of their titles (if you go to the website you can sign up for these).

As you know, I got a bit obsessed with Ebook readers a while back and almost bought one. I did a lot of research, and a lot of online browsing. I was thinking seriously of putting down some cash. Then I did the one thing I hadn't done yet - which was to research what I could actually purchase to read on the thing. At which point I decided to save my money.

The ebook market is a mess of conflicting and proprietary formats. There's a lot of free material in the form of out-of-copyright material and a smattering of Creative Commons freebies, but I want more than that; I want easy access to new and current titles outside of the standard bestseller range - stuff you pay for. I want to be able to read current issues of magazines on E-ink. The only place where this seemed to have come together was in the Amazon Kindle model, where the company was apparently making a concerted attempt at getting as much stuff available for the Kindle as possible. Except, of course, you couldn't get hold of one of the damn things outside of the US.

But if it's coming out in the UK, it'd be much more of a winning proposition than anything else around. One of the reasons I'd thought of getting one was I knew I was going to be spending a fair bit of time in the Far East. Taipei has a lot - and I mean a lot - of bookshops, but unsurprisingly finding stuff in English is a difficult proposition. You can, however, order stuff at the bigger stores, and there's always Amazon and other e-tailers, except the postage costs are high. I figured finding stuff I wanted to read was going to be a difficult or expensive proposition.

Then I discovered Bongo's, a Western-style cafe and restaurant near the Shida Night Market, whose walls are lined with second-hand paperbacks - including a very large selection of sf, perhaps several hundred titles in all. Not only that, it's the kind of stuff I like to read; fairly recent titles, mainly, enough to keep me going for a good while. The collection is comprehensive and varied enough I suspect the vast majority of it comes from one person - either someone who doesn't like to keep books once he or she's read them, or someone who was leaving the country and didn't want to carry their collection with them and so sold it to the cafe. I've got a feeling I'm one of the few people who's buying those books - and that's fine, because it could keep me going for a long time.


Eeleen Lee said...

Great blog.

I so agree with you about the conflicting formats of e-books. Also, I can never remember the password that comes with the PDF editions of e-magazines.

I had an e-book edition of 'Neuromancer' several years ago, on my Palm Pilot. After a week of scrolling down to read the text, I snapped my stylus and the initial buzz of novelty wore off. It's not the same as good'ol tactile paper. I suppose with today's more advanced mobile devices, e-books may be more of a 'winning proposition'.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gary!

I bought one the Sony eReaders when I went over to the US for last year's WFC and I think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread! I absolutely love it! I tend to get sent lots of early submissions or pre-arc files from publishers and agents and so, with this thing handling rtf and pdf files, it saves me a lot of hours squinting at my monitor or lugging round great piles of paper.

True I'm not using it for stuff I might buy off the shelf as it were (I'm a bibliophile and book collector anyway, so this could never replace a "book" as a thing of beauty") but as tool for folks in the biz, it's completely fantastic invention! Long live the eReader!

Gary Gibson, science fiction writer said...

Hi John - I had a strong feeling the machines were most likely to be popular with people in the publishing and editing business. No more heavy paper to lug around. Hmm ... that gives me an idea ... And E, yes, I have quite a few creative commons free ebooks piled up to read, but I won't be reading them until I have something E-ink to read them on. I hate reading off a regular computer screen (I do it when I'm writing, but then the process is interactive, unlike the essentially passive experience of simply reading fiction).