7 Reasons Why Digital Books are the Way to Go & 4 Ways They Still Need to Improve

Digital books are getting a lot of hype right now with the announcement of Barnes and Noble’s Nook. I really hope digital books take off. And for that to happen we are going to have to have lots of digital books, multiple readers and different business models. Here are just some of the top reasons I think digital books are the way to go.

  1. Convenience. You can read the book when you want it. Recently I decided I wanted to read Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child. Since I was leaving the next day on a business trip, I first checked to see if it was available on my Kindle. If it had been, I would have bought it immediately. It wasn’t, but Amazon would ship a paper copy to me for $10.98 + $3.99 for next day shipping. I checked all the libraries of my home town and the three closest cities. None of the libraries had it. I called Borders, no go in any stores within 30 miles of me. I called Barnes and Noble. They had a copy in a store 13.5 miles away for $14.99. I didn’t get it. Yet I would have bought it immediately in digital format.
  2. Anywhere, any time. You can carry lots of books with you at once. I always read at least two books at once, a fiction and at least one non-fiction one. When I leave the house, I don’t have to decide which one to carry now. On long trips, especially vacations, I no longer pack half a suitcase of books. (That’s good since airlines now charge for checked baggage!)
  3. Privacy. Nobody can see what you are reading. Usually I’m happy to share what I’m reading but my business books get strange looks at the kids’ events. The vampire books get strange looks from lots of people. The science fiction ones get “oh, you read that?” I don’t care what anyone thinks about what I read but sometimes it’s easier to just not deal with it. That said, having a Kindle, I’ve passed my book over to tons of people so they could check out the Kindle. I’ve often wondered what they’ve thought about my reading choice, but without the cover, people don’t seem to notice what you are reading. Even when they’re reading a page of it.
  4. You read more. At least that’s what Amazon and the New York Times say. They say you read more because you can carry your book with you all the time and get what you want quickly.
    Amazon for example, says that people with Kindles now buy 3.1 times as
    many books as they did before owning the device. […] So a reader who had previously bought eight books
    from Amazon would now purchase, on average, 24.8 books

    I think they are confusing buying with reading. Kindle readers are definitely buying more books but I’m not sure they are reading more. I’ve always carried my book with me. I think I read the same amount now but I definitely buy more books from Amazon as that’s the only way to get recent books onto my Kindle.

  5. Notes. I love being able to highlight sections of books or magazines for personal reference or to blog about later. It beats typing in quotes. I really wish I’d had an electronic reader with textbooks in college. It would have saved my back and made taking notes easier.
  6. Physically easier. I know a lot of people that complain they miss the feel of a paper book. I don’t. I don’t miss holding open a paper back with one hand, or holding a hardback book in two hands. (There was a book I really, really wanted to read and I was so excited that on maternity leave I was going to be able to read it. I went and checked out this 600 page hardback book from the library and discovered that holding a baby and reading a hardback book is really difficult. Three years later I still haven’t read that book …) That said, I still mostly read paper books and I’m not going to give them up until I can check digital books out of my local library.
  7. Access. With digital books we can give books, entire libraries, to people around the world. While there are still barriers like cost and language, it is a huge step forward. Schools that could only afford a few text books per student would easily be able to not only have more copies (assuming they are also getting technology) but up to date copies. Hopefully universities, text book publishers and electronic reader manufacturers keep developing countries in mind as they come up with new business models.

We still have to fix a few things with digital books. Here’s just a start:

  1. Cross platform. I want to be able to read my book on any device I own. I should be able to read my Kindle books on my Android phone. Or my computer. It shouldn’t depend on the seller to support my device.
  2. No vendor lock in. I can put lots of different format books onto my Kindle, but the books I buy from Amazon will only work on my Kindle. (Or an iPhone if I had one.) From a consumer point of view, it would be much better for vendors to agree on a format, or a couple of formats, but make them open so all readers could display them.
  3. Sharing. People are used to sharing their books. Either we’ll have to teach them that these books are so much cheaper that everyone buys their own (not yet!) or we have to let them share. Right now Amazon lets you share with your household members and Barnes and Noble will let you share with friends for a total of 14 days per book. Or perhaps we could move to a model more like Netflix and the O’Reilly Safari bookshelf where you are getting access to movies and books but not ownership. A subscription model as opposed to a purchase model.
  4. Libraries. Libraries provide information, including books, to citizens. There needs to be a legal and acceptable way for them to give books in digital format to their readers. I could see a model where they pay more for their edition and ensure that only one person can access it at a time. 
  5. Skimming. It’s really hard to flip through a digital book the way you would a paper book. You can search for something by word but you can’t search by flipping through and recognizing the page.

What do you think (or not think) that digital books are the way to go?