As much as I love the idea of a digital book and the implementation of the Kindle, I can’t quite convince myself to go all ebook for future purchases. There is the DRM question, but that’s not the main issue. I suppose in the future Amazon could go the way of the dinosaur leaving all my precious Kindle books to bitrot. But I’m pretty confident that someone will find a way to break the DRM before that happens.
No, my current dilemma is far less technical. There are two books I really want to buy right now: Seth Godin’s Poke the Box and the just-released Anything You
Want by Derek Sivers. Both of them are available on Amazon in Kindle and hardcover, dead-tree form. The problem is that for both of them the ebook version is just about a dollar less than the hardcover version. For the Poke the Box, it’s just 30c.
From an author’s or publisher’s perspective I can understand why you’d want that kind of pricing. Perhaps you don’t want readers to feel like either version is a
second-class citizen. Perhaps you don’t want readers without a Kindle to be put off buying. Perhaps you want to tell your readers that either choice is fine and you, as publisher, are ambivalent on the subject of print versus digital. I think all of them are perfectly valid decisions. But as someone who isn’t pre-decided one way or the other, it makes the decision harder, not easier.
Here’s a (probably incomplete list) of all the things that I’ve been thinking about over the past few days regarding my choices, not in strict order: Oooh.. look Kindle versions! Now I can take them with wherever I go. But wait, the hardcover is less than a dollar more. If I get the hardcover I’ll have something nice and physical and DRM-free to keep on my bookshelf. And I don’t randomly start reading on my Kindle so I could probably just plan ahead and carry the book when I think I’ll read it. But the hardcover is probably going to be heavy and I have to move on a fairly regular basis. I don’t want to move too much heavy stuff, but then again I move once a year at most. The rest of the time it’ll sit on my bookshelf and I do like the look of a well-filled bookshelf. And if it’s in plain view instead of tucked inside the Kindle I’ll
probably reread it again at some point. But paper books are so last century and the Kindle is just gorgeous.
So on and so forth. You get the point.
In general I agree with Craig Mod: the future of books is digital and paper books will move closer and closer towards Collectors Item status. Instead of being cheap, mass produced blocks of paper, they’ll become careful, hand-crafted works of art. And I for one am quite happy with that. The problem is that there is this awkward growing-up phase as digital book technology matures. That phase is now. One of the results of that awkwardness is the indecision I’m currently facing. If these were mass market paperbacks that I’m going to read on a plane flight and never again I would get the Kindle versions in a heartback. But they’re not. They’re both books I think I’ll like, would want to keep and can see myself rereading. If the reading experience on the Kindle wasn’t as top-notch as it is, I would get the hardcovers. But the argument in favor of ebooks and ereaders has gotten good enough that the choice between the two is not an easy one by any measure.
For me the idea of books is intimately connected with the idea of libraries. I don’t just want to read the books and absorb them, I want to have a growing library of my reading as well. And though I could make some kind of digital “have read” list, there is something about a physical library that tugs at my heartstrings. It’s the idea of having a set of books that in some way is a reflection of myself. They contain words and ideas that are now a part of me. Not all books I read would go into this library (most textbooks would not make the cut), but hopefully anything that I willimingly buy would. In an ideal world I’d be able to “rent” the ebook version for an absurdly low price (say 50c a day). Then I could read it and if I decided it was a “keeper” I would buy the dead-tree version for my library.
At this point I officially hand this question to the wisdom of the Internets. For a $1 difference, which version would you buy and why?
(And no, I am not going to scrounge around for a “free” PDF copy. That defeats the point of everything I just said. I want to give the authors my money, but I want to make a good investment myself as well. The two purposes can be aligned, I’m just not sure how.)