Why I vote for books

When I started in on e-readers, my girl friends were probably preparing themselves for a lecture about why print will always be better than digital. I’m famously a creature of habit, and already during the weekend we’d discussed how little each of us have changed since college. And there’s some truth to that suspicion; I love print. I love seeing my books gathered throughout my house, each shelf representing different interests and moments in my life. I collect letterpress art in part because I love the literal weight it gives to words. I’ve got a 1920s Underwood typewriter sitting within spitting distance of me, even as I type on this already-outdated Gateway. (I bought this sucker back in ’08, after all. Time moves even more quickly with regard to technology.)

But what my friends probably didn’t expect was a diatribe against Amazon. Yes, I prefer print because I love the heft and beauty of a physical book. There are arguments to be made for e-readers, and if I traveled more often I’d likely embrace them more quickly. But I don’t want a back-lit screen, and even though I like the Amazon Kindle’s e-ink, I’m not willing to support the company’s business practices.

Carrie Rollwagen, who co-owns Church Street Coffee and Books, has written extensively about how Amazon relates to publishing. The Kindle only works with books published through its store, and as I understand it, the company has enough buying power and a strong enough customer base to arm wrestle publishers into selling their product at prices lower than they otherwise would. Yes, it’s awesome to get a discount as a customer, and yes, e-books cost significantly less to produce. But it still takes a writer time to write, and an editor time to edit. These tasks deserve to be compensated, in my opinion, but when a single distributor aims to control the market, I’m not so sure that these people will benefit. (It’s obvious that I’m concerned as a writer, editor and book reviewer. But that also concerns me as a reader. I want great stories, and I want writers to have the time and resources to create those tales.)

So, I told my girl friends, I’m not anti-e-reader. I firmly believe in delivering content to readers in the medium of their choice. Mine happens to be print. And until I find an e-reader that is easy on my eyes without taking advantage of a business I care deeply about, I wouldn’t give e-reading a shot.

Hours later, I walked into Church Street Coffee and was confronted by a Kobo display.

It turns out that the shop has established a mutually beneficial (best as I can tell!) relationship with Kobo, which offers e-ink e-readers while embracing a free market. The Kobo Mini is tiny–it’ll even fit in a small purse–but still readable with easily adjusted font sizes. And it’s affordable; it retails at $79.99, but this Saturday, Church Street will offer the device for $50. It’s easy to buy books through Church Street for the Kobo, and it also has free apps available on other smart phone and tablet platforms.

After learning all of this, I must have looked a bit stunned as I sat down at coffee with one of the aforementioned girl friends. Saturday is American Express’ Small Business Saturday, which means if I spend $25 or more at a local shop, they’ll credit my card $25. “That means I could buy an e-reader for only $25,” I said. “Should I do that?”

My friend insisted that I should, and after I returned to the counter to fill out a pre-order form, I immediately began brainstorming uses for this device. A daily New York Times subscription costs little more than what I currently pay for the Sunday-only print edition. I would love to keep reference books on this device, where they’re both easily accessible and annotatable without taking up inches and inches of space on my shelves. I can think of several magazines, particularly my weekly subscriptions, that don’t necessarily need the glossy pages of print. I’ve got to explore how many of those I can transition to digital so I can cut down on how often I need to drag the recycling bin to the curb.

And as much as anything, I’m excited to use this device to vote with my dollar. I don’t know where the publishing industry is headed, but I believe the content matters, and so do the people selling it. I can’t spend the time researching how every cent I spend affects the local economy or issues I care about. I don’t shop local without fail, and I do keep an eye on how much I’m spending. But I like to put my money where my mouth is. And where my life is; in this case, that’s Birmingham, Ala., and in a book.

The topic for day six of #bloglikecrazy was “Why I vote.” I think many folks are a bit burned out on the 2012 campaign, so I decided to focus instead on why I vote with my dollar. And yes, I’m several days behind because of the aforementioned college roommates visiting. I’d rather spend time with them than adhere strictly to a blogging challenge.

5 Comments

Filed under #bloglikecrazy, Autobiography

5 Responses to Why I vote for books

  1. I hear this a lot about Kindle, but I don’t think that Amazon makes it much harder to leave their “garden” than any other e-reader with a dedicated store (Nook, iPad) does. They don’t use the epub format, but you can read mobi books through the Kindle app on iPads, Nook tablets or Kobo readers (and, ahem, hacked Nook Simple Touches). Mobi is also very easily converted to epub using tools like calibre. You’re right about their strong-arming tendencies, though. My other issue with Amazon, and one of the reasons I have a Nook, is that Kindle books are extremely difficult to locate on a device, and hence hard to get off the device and onto your hard drive. When you log into your Kindle account on the web, you don’t get an option to download your purchases like you do with B&N. I think Amazon does this on purpose because they see themselves as only selling licences to ebooks and not the actual file. This is another thing that publishers and retailers of digital books have to settle sometime soon. Anyway. All that said, I think it is awesome that independents have a way to capture a slice of the ebook market and would definitely shop in the Kobo store for some of my ebook titles if some of the money went to my LBS. FYI, if you buy a Nook from BAM (which I did) they get a share of any ebook sales…so I guess in a way I’m supporting your community too! πŸ™‚ Sorry for hijacking your comments, I probably just should have emailed you.

  2. (I just find this whole topic fascinating.)

    • Oh, I’ve actually got the kindle app on my phone because I wanted to read an ebook that was exclusively available through kindle. I really don’t like the experience of reading on a backlit screen, though (and the book itself wasn’t worth it, either!). And I personally wouldn’t choose a Kindle because I don’t want to have to buy through their store.

      Thanks for buying your Nook through BAM and supporting my local economy. πŸ™‚

      • You’re welcome! πŸ™‚

        And oh yeah, I got distracted from including this point earlier. You can buy books from other places and read them on a Kindle — on our work Kindle, probably only 4 out of 40 books came from Amazon — but it does take the extra step of converting them (and that’s if DRM permits). So, yeah, for the average person it is harder to read books that aren’t bought in the Kindle store. But I would venture to say that DRM is as much the reason for that as anything else. You’d have the same problem with a book bought through B&N that you wanted to read on your Kindle.

        Does Kobo use ADE authentication, or another type of DRM? I think I’ve only ever bought one book from them and I can’t remember.

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