Digital books will directly impact the work we do here at LEE & LOW, so I took the plunge and purchased a Kindle so I could gain a hands-on understanding of what the reading experience was like compared to the paper books we know and love.
I have read my last five books on the Kindle and here are my thoughts:
Since the screen on the Kindle is smaller than the pages of most books, and there is a magnification feature that can enlarge the text shown, the reading experience is a fast one, because there are fewer words per “page.” On the Kindle I feel like I’m flying through chapters, and since I have always considered myself a slow reader, the momentum of plowing through a book is kind of exhilarating.
The tactile experience of feeling the paper between your fingertips, the physicality of turning the pages, and the smell of the paper stock has been replaced by cold brushed metal, white plastic keys, a dull gray screen, and utilitarian-looking type. If you are a fan of cover art and design like I am, you are out of luck. Cover art, which is the star player in getting the reader to pick up the book in the first place, is a second-class citizen in the digital realm. The Kindle can only display art in black and white, which does nothing for art or photography. In addition, when you purchase a new book and open it up on the Kindle, the book immediately opens with chapter one, skipping the cover entirely.
The search capability is not intuitive, so I do not even use it.
Despite these drawbacks, the Kindle is a reading machine and quite a good one. I’ve enjoyed the five books I have read on the Kindle just as much as any book I had read BK (Before Kindle), and I appreciate the portability of the device, compared to some of the doorstopper hardcovers I have had to lug on my daily commute. The Kindle’s battery life is excellent, as long as you keep WiFi disabled, only activating the wireless for purchases.
So what does this mean for book publishing? I believe there is room for both digital and paper editions. Most of us here at LEE & LOW are big fans of the local library. At this time, we cannot predict if digital books will serve any role in libraries, so our library cards will not be fed into the shredder any time soon. For now, only longer works benefit from digital books. The lack of color and the small format leave picture books out of the equation, but this may change with the introduction of Apple’s iPad this month. A LOT more to come on this subject, I can assure you.
A funny aside regarding the Kindle before I sign off: I loaned mine to a coworker, and the very next day she accidentally dropped the Kindle onto the subway tracks during her morning commute! After a dozen rush-hour trains passed over it, the Kindle was retrieved and survived with minor damage, but I would definitely count this as one of those truly New York stories you just can’t make up. Jeff Bezos would be proud.