Reading the Rails, Part 5: Digital Readers

By Heather Holditch

Only once have I seen someone read a Kobo — or any other digital reader— on the bus. Granted, that was a few months ago, and now that Chapters is selling digital readers in store they might become more popular, however, digital readers have always struck me as a little strange.

The benefits of the digital reader are obvious: they can store up to 1000 books in one little device. It is ideal for travelling if you plan on bringing more than one book with you on vacation and if you can justify the cost (anywhere from $149 for a Kobo to $500+ for an iPad).

But when it comes to commuting, unless you are a student whose textbooks are available as ebooks — which at this point is still rare — I don’t feel the digital reader really makes much of a difference. After all, if you have time to read 1000 books on your commute, you should seriously rethink your job. Also, if someone is going to own more than a 1000 books, it is safe to say they are book lovers in that they love to read books for more than the literary value. The aesthetic quality of books is as appealing to these people as the pleasure derived from the content, in which case, you have to ask whether or not book lovers would want to buy digital readers at all.

Marketing the digital reader to the book lover is strange. Book lovers may buy the digital reader for the convenience, but I don’t think they will ever outright replace their books with a digital reader. Magazines are already so disposable that a magazine on a digital reader seems absolutely unnecessary unless it is a free download. The difference would only be a couple of dollars at most.

As far as I am concerned, digital readers are a techie’s delight, but not a realistic substitute for the commuter.

This Week’s Commuter’s Choice: The Walrus

Canada’s general interest magazine, The Walrus, is a fantastic magazine choice with something for everyone from politics to the arts. The Walrus is one of Canada’s only magazines that is available as a download for either your computer or an iPad (http://store.apple.com/ca/browse/home/shop_ipad/family/ipad). This, however, comes down to a preference of digital over paper because the subscription price and single issue price for both formats are the same.

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4 thoughts on “Reading the Rails, Part 5: Digital Readers

  1. I have to agree with most of what you’re saying! I love looking at my bookshelf and seeing all the books I have read. At the same time, I think this is mostly true of books in my favourite genres and by a few select authors.

    There are certainly other books that I wouldn’t need to keep on my shelf for reasons of nostalgia and pride. For those titles I would happily read them on an ereader, if/when…
    (1) they are more reasonably priced
    (2) e-ink and the general reading experience are improved
    (3) when all the kinks and issues around kill-switches, and platforms and all that has been dealt with.

    As a regular business, and professional-development book reader, I would also consider switching to a digital reader for these categories when I can take notes, make highlights, and can search these tagged items across multiple books on one piece of hardware.

    As for magazines, the few magazines I do read are definitely ones I want to physically have. If I could buy 1 issue of a magazine when I’m waiting, say at the Dentist’s for an hour before my appointment and there are only 7-year old copies of a medical journal, I would happily do this on my digital reading device.

  2. I’ve recently acquired a digital reader and love it. I read in both modalities: books from the library in hard format (the library doesn’t have ebooks in my format), and books that I buy (and that are available in my format) I read digitally. I have completely run out of space for more books, have whittled down my book collection after a series of house moves, and want to purge more. Over the next few years, I plan to read most of my tree-based fiction and then give them away as my living space will likely continue to get smaller. So I don’t feel wedded in any way to my book collection. (That being said, I certainly didn’t feel that way 10 years ago.)

    I have found that the ereader completely disappears after a few pages and the content takes pride of place. I carry my reader with me everywhere in my bag…I can pull it out on the subway, while waiting in line, when I’m eating alone, or just lying on the sofa. I have no strong preference in format. My ereader lets me highlight and make notes to myself, as well as view highlights that others have made. I use my markings when I’m reviewing books, or to find items that I want to follow-up. I LOVE being able to get a chapter or two as a free sample before buying, similar to the ability to read a bit of a book in a bookstore before committing to purchase.

    At present, I am a little cheesed about the pricing models for “disposable” reading like magazines and newspapers. I would expect a discount for purchases on an ereader, particularly when you can read most newspapers and a good amount of magazine content online for free. But I suspect that will change in the near future.

    As an avid reader AND techie, I give my ereader two thumbs up!

  3. In this situation, you really do get what you pay for. While a lower end e-reader will not come close to replicating the experience of a real book, the iBooks program on the iPad goes to great lengths to simulate the experience on a real book, with the visual effect created of you turning the page. For me, the question is whether one is willing to pay that much for an iPad without having any other need for other features of the iPad. And anyone who says reading a book or magazine off a smartphone is the same as reading a printed version is lying.

  4. I own a Sony reader — I love it. Not only can I stick it in my purse and easily carry it around, but I can enlarge the font so I can read it easier. I wear trifocals, so that’s a huge bonus over paperbacks. While I still buy print copies on occasion, I primarily buy only digital copies these days. They’re generally cheaper and easier for me to read. And as Janet said, I have no more room in my house for more print copies, especially hard covers which I may read only once.

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