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 I’ve got a 1920s Underwood typewriter sitting within spitting distance of me, even as I type on this already-outdated Gateway.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.