Ebooks And What Matters

This essay, from Charles Tan, originally appeared on his Bibliophile Stalker site on 5/15/11.

Context is very important. Last week, I came across two seemingly-contradictory articles, at least if we only read the headlines and the first few paragraphs: E-Readers Fail At Education and iPad Study Released by Oklahoma State University. To sum up both articles: one showcases how ineffective eBook readers are, while the other praises the iPad.

Over the past few months, I’ve migrated from reading eBooks on a computer to an iPod Touch to a cheap eBook reader to an iPad. While my conclusions is based on personal experience, I think it gives me leeway to extrapolate on the subject.

The Reader Matters

Whenever there is a discussion, I think it’s important to nail down who the reader is. It’s not simply about the demographic, classified by age or profession or degree, but who they are as individuals. Are they open to reading on a computer screen? LCD or e-Paper? How tech-savvy are they? Any medical handicaps that may impede (or in some cases, benefit) from using an eBook reader? (I also want to point out how these questions are framed from the assumption that paper is the default and theoretically best method.)

That’s not to say these details are easy to consolidate and present in a report, especially as a statistic, but when it comes to individual choices of whether to use an eBook reader or not, I think these are essential questions which can’t be covered by a generic recommendation.

The Book Matters

I’ve been in a reading slump as of late but there have usually been two motivators for me when it comes to reading books on an electronic device–and this element isn’t stated often.

The first is how badly do I want to read this book? I’m a genre reader from the Philippines so book scarcity–whether it’s a supply problem (not available here) or a finances problem (it’s available but it’s not within my budget)–is a genuine problem. If eBooks can overcome those problems, my desire to read a particular book can possibly overcome any anti-eBook bias I might have. I don’t think this is constant rule, but just as we make exceptions to various standard responses, I think a book that’s compelling enough to the reader might make us "put up" with eBook readers, no matter how sub-optimal it might be.

Read the rest of the essay, which includes three more things that matter about ebooks, on Charles Tan‘s Bibliophile Stalker.