Venturing into eBooks can be fraught with all types of confusion. Firstly, there are a range of services and readers available - depending upon which country you live in (Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Sony) - from which it can be quite hard to discern which to use. (Note that eReader refers to the device, whilst eBookrefers to the electronic version of the text.) In my opinion however, the Amazon Kindle Store (i.e., as a source of eBooks, not necessarily the device) is really the only option at the moment for a few key reasons:
- You can read the books purchased on so many devices using their software (i.e., iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Mac, PC, Kindle Reader, Android Phone etc.) whereas the other options (e.g., Apple eBooks) are very limited.
- It provides you with the choice to read on either an eInk screen (a technology that is very energy efficient, has crisp text, is similar to your eyes as reading from paper, but is limited for other purposes) or a typical LCD (like a laptop).
- Amazon has by far the largest library available.
- Amazon has a device that has international coverage and availability.
Most eReaders offer similar features that are very helpful in the reading experience, including:
- Highlighting (although Amazon allows you to easily access these online);
- Built-in dictionary for word-lookup; and
- Searchable text.
I think the real question however does not relate to which service or device might be suitable, but how eBooks rate (for you) across several important reading 'criteria'. Personally, I went through this process before embarking upon buying eBooks, so thought I would share my comparison below. To keep things simple, I've restricted most comparisons to the kindle service (although most points will be typical of other services as well). Where I've indicated the 'winner' for each criteria, this is for my needs - the outcome might be different for you.
A big concern for me - and an obvious, but intentional, omission - is an environmental criteria. At first thought eReaders seem like a great option, however, I think it is far more complex than this. For example, books may use paper from renewable forests that actually are helping the environment, paper books may have a longer life-cycle and be read by multiple people, you need to know how much power is needed to read one book on an eReader, and the life-cycle of an eReading device must be assessed, etc. Because of this, I'll leave that more complex analysis to others with more appropriate expertise.
That all said, with the few caveats discussed above, eBooks seem like a good option to me. Whilst these electronic variants lack the tactility and transferability of their paper counterparts, the advantages of accessibility (i.e., having my library wherever I go) and mark-up (especially being able to batch export highlights and notes) win me over. If these aren't important features to you, and you prefer buying second-hand books and/or touching the physical paper, then eBooks might not be the best choice. If however you normally travel with a lot of books and/or would benefit from being able to increase the size of the text, then eBooks might be worth considering.
Bottom line: eBooks aren't going to be for everyone. There are plenty of advantages, but it all depends which of the criteria are more important to you.
Personally, whilst I will not choose eBooks every time (partly because of the availability of some titles), I will choose them regularly. For books that I will re-use and refer to often (or are just beautiful and can't be fully replicated electronically), then nothing will be beat the hard copy. Long-term, I'm hoping that over time (just like MP3s and the music industry) eBooks open up and become more compatible with different readers (i.e., not locked into one platform). In the meantime, it's also not a bad mechanism to help resist the temptation of gloriously lining bookshelves incessantly.