’10 Reasons Why eBooks Suck’

Rob NevilleAll right, gang; have at it! Here are 10 Reasons Why eBooks Suck---from Rob Neville, a self-made software geek with an MBA and an interest in "the human aspect of technology." "Books are incredibly portable, especially smaller paperbacks. "Books do not require batteries or any electricity to use. "Books are not fragile (at least relatively speaking in comparison to electronic gadgets). "Books are easier on your eyes for long periods of reading (again, in comparison to LCD displays for example). "Books are shareable and re-saleable---the only "compatibility" issue is the language it's written in.

“Books are cheaper. A device that costs $400??? Are you kidding me? My entire Amazon wish-list isn’t $400.

“Books have a faster operating system—I can flip pages without an hourglass or having to wait for my eyes to render the new page
Books have better browse-ability—I can thumb through pages very quickly and can easily eyeball 1/3 of the way through a book or the last 25% of the book because the information I want was somewhere in that section.

“Books have low-tech, cheap built-in DRM—it’s a pain in the arse to copy them….doable but a pain.

“I could think of more, but I’m too lazy.”

The TeleRead take: Actually I find Neville’s comments useful, as a summary of the actual and imagined problems of books. Notice the interest in compatibility—a very real problem?

Related: Ten reasons why paper books suck, from MobileRead.

23 Comments on ’10 Reasons Why eBooks Suck’

  1. Branko Collin // September 8, 2007 at 6:05 pm //

    Well, here’s why Rob “crazy MBA” Neville is wrong:

    Books are incredibly portable, especially smaller paperbacks.

    So are e-books: they fit in a single e-mail, but can also be downloaded from thousands of servers. From dozens to thousands of them fit on a single thumb drive.

    Books are not fragile

    Neither are e-books. Remember LOCKSS? Just make sure you have a generous supply of copies for each e-book you wish to read or preserve, and a single hard disk failure won’t matter much. See also point 1.

    Books are shareable and re-saleable—the only “compatibility” issue is the language it’s written in.

    E-books are far more shareable than p-books. I can share a single e-book with thousands of friends.

    Books have low-tech, cheap built-in DRM—it’s a pain in the arse to copy them….doable but a pain.

    And this is supposed to be an advantage of p-books, how?

    And then I woke up and realised he is absolutely right. What can I say?

  2. Adam B over at the MobileRead forums had a good reply to this. I don’t think they’ll mind if I quote it:

    * While a single paper book is portable, when you start collecting them, the size adds up quickly.

    * Paper is difficult to search through, and hard to reference. Want to quote a snippet of a book? You have to rewrite it.

    * Paper degrades over time. It starts to yellow, and will eventually fall apart.

    * Distribution: Looking for a specific book? Go search through your local book stores, when you don’t find it there, buy it online. Then wait for it to show up. Loose interest and/or excitement by the time it arrives.

    * Environment: Books are dead trees. Trees make oxygen. We breathe oxygen. The more paper books you read, the more you’re killing the rest of us.

    * Portability. I’m pretty sure I have mild ADD. You might as well. When I get bored with one thing, I move on to another for a while. If I carried around all the newspapers and books I could *possibly* want to read, I’d have a bad back too.

    * You look like an old person when you read paper books. Look at all the kids running around with their ipods and cell phones. Do you think you look cool reading that old fashioned stack of papers? I don’t think so…
    * Paper Burns. You’ve probably read the article about the guy who’s house was declared a fire hazard because of his paper book collection. If he collected ebooks, his house would be clean and tidy, and he’d still be living there.

    * Personal Injury. The edge of a sheet of paper can be as dangerous as a razor blade. When I was in grade school, I would use a sheet of paper to cut my unsuspecting friends. I bet they wished that I had an iLiad back then. You can’t get a paper cut from an ebook device. Also, ever hear the phrase “throw the book at him”? You wouldn’t do that if it was an ebook reader. You wouldn’t want to risk breaking it by throwing it at someone.

    * Data integrity. If I spill something on a book, drop a match on it, or if it gets caught in a paper shredder, I’m stuck with a clump of useless wood pulp. I can’t get another copy of it without buying it again, and there’s no way to recover it. With an ebook, I can go back to where I bought it from, and simply download it again. No hassle, no fee, just a few clicks, and my collection is back.

    The MobileRead link is: http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=13574

  3. Marcus Sundman // September 8, 2007 at 8:24 pm //

    > I can thumb through pages very quickly

    Not as fast as I can search through an e-book.

  4. ““Books are cheaper. A device that costs $400??? Are you kidding me? My entire Amazon wish-list isn’t $400.”

    This I think really summarizes the list. His entire Amazon wishlist is only $400? If I had the money, I could easily walk into Borders and drop $4,000. I have spent more than $1,000 in a single visit to a bookstore.

    At the moment e-books are a bit like Linux — great for enthusiasts, though YMMV for non-enthusiasts. The sort of person who reads only one or two books a months is definitely not going to find much of an advantage to e-books.

    Question — do the book reading habits of people doom e-books in general? Are there enough of us who read lots of books to ever justify the higher production costs for the hardware?

  5. For what it’s worth (probably not much) I read my last ebook 6 months ago. In my opinion Neville is right on all counts. My biggest complaint was always the availability of titles – I often want a good read from another era or something other than the most recent “best seller” list. Once in a while I could find what I wanted but more often than not, not. Over the past several years I did find and wound up reading 70 or so books and have many more on a storage card. I liked the Cybook, which I sold on eBay, but used my eBookwise much more. I still have it, btw. I’m rooting for ebook success and think it will eventually arrive but not anytime soon.

  6. In my opinion, he is absolutely wrong.

    1. Portable?
    You can only carry 1 p-book at a time. I can carry hundreds. I read very fast, so I finish a book on a trip, I have another right at my fingertips. In a unit the same size or smaller than a paperback book.

    2. p-books are not fragile
    Uhhh.. I don’t get this. I’ve got an astounding p-book library that my dad starting collecting and I’ve been adding to for 29 years. Many of these books are yellowed and falling apart. Last time I checked, none of my ebooks had pages falling out.

    3. Books are sharable
    eBooks are infinately more sharable than a p-book. Especially if you know where to buy them and the right format.

    4. Built-in DRM?
    This one is really reaching. Other than totally contridicting his point about books being sharable, all he did here was lose the whole point altogether.

    About the ONLY point he has is the fact that not all titles are available. That will change in time. Just like music has. Now you can buy just about any song you want online and for a good price. The same thing will happen with ebooks. I myself do not believe that it is a niche market like Linux like some people have said. I think it is a market full of customers that do not know what they are missing and would jump in once they saw what it had to offer. For example – I’ve had my eBookwise for many years, and yet no matter how many times I take it to work or to a movie and read before the movie starts there is ALWAYS and I mean every single time, a point at which a person asks me where I got the device and what it was. Once I explained it, they were eager to get one for themselves.

    The biggest problem with ebooks is availability and the price of worthwhile devices. The e-Ink devices are far too expensive when you can buy a cell phone or PDA that does much more – and folks think that way. Unfortunately, those devices are not optimal for reading books on. Companies need to get smarter and offer deals on their devices. Also, I feel the LCD market has a lot more life if only the right device was developed. A color LCD ebook reader that has an excellent backlight and longer battery life would not be too hard to make at this point.

    In my case, being an ebook reader for 5-6 years now, I always look for an ebook version first. If I can’t get it then I buy a hardcover book or paperback. If people were more educated about the devices, and more cheaper and a higher variety of devices was available (or a device that really offered everything – backlight, battery life, good quality contrast, etc), I think many more readers would adopt them.

    I still believe e-reading devices, even if the function is included in a more feature-rich device like a small UMPC, will be the way of the future and paper books will eventually disappear.

    Last but not least, reading an ebook saves a tree.

  7. One down side of books Rob Neville failed to mention: they take up a lot of space and, in any quantity, they weigh a lot (ask the average university student!). It’s not the paperback novel carried to be read on the bus that is a problem, it’s the great piles of textbooks, reference books and other reading material cluttering up schools and universities. Not to mention the time taken filing and sorting out the whole mess.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love my P books, but I could gladly get rid of about half the collection onto a tiny storage device.

  8. I agree with a lot of the comments already made here. I’d like to add one more–something that’s an issue for my 50-something eyes. Books may be compatible for him, but as you get older, you value the ability to change font sizes.

    This was an interesting exercise in how people view eBooks, but not, I think, that closely related to reality.

    And on the issue of re-selling books, is there really such a huge charge out of going into Half Price Books with a stack of books that cost you three hundred dollars and walking out with a nice crisp ten dollar bill? Yeah, you can resell them but the markdown sucks.

    Rob Preece
    Publisher, http://www.BooksForABuck.com

  9. Marcus Sundman // September 9, 2007 at 12:52 pm //

    > Environment: Books are dead trees. Trees make oxygen. We breathe
    > oxygen. The more paper books you read, the more you’re killing the
    > rest of us.

    Not really true. When a tree decomposes it uses as much oxygen as it has produced. Besides, almost all our oxygen is produced by algae (not trees in the rainforest or somesuch).

  10. “> I can thumb through pages very quickly

    Not as fast as I can search through an e-book.”

    Yeah, and good luck finding that specific passage you’re looking for in a 600+page p-book (plus, from my experiences, the art of indexing has been completely lost and most publishers would be better off simply skipping the index than appending the faux index that most end up being).

    “2. p-books are not fragile
    Uhhh.. I don’t get this. I’ve got an astounding p-book library that my dad starting collecting and I’ve been adding to for 29 years. Many of these books are yellowed and falling apart. Last time I checked, none of my ebooks had pages falling out.”

    One of the few p-books I have in my collection is noticeably yellowed, even though it was published in 1998.

  11. Bogus Pro ebook Arguments:

    “fragile p-books” – new books last for decades. Some books have lasted centuries. Yellow books are readable. Check the readability of your various e-mediums. Oh, and squeeze an Iliad too hard and you just blew ~$800 and can’t read your collection anymore.

    “quantity of books” – they are few who must have their entire library with them at all times. Even on a trip, purchasing a new p-book at every stop does not onerously add to the burden no matter how fast you read. Students are different but really, who the heck carries all their books to class? Few students even bother to bring downloads of the lectures when those are available.

    “saving trees” – are you aware of the environmental cost of producing the plastics and semiconductors for e-devices? Remember: not just production of the device but mining and refining the base materials.

    “referencing/indexing” – if you’re in university/research you can find passages in any of your books far faster than any e-device. You _know_ it. And to scan the content of a book or paper, nothing yet compares to nimble fingers and quick eyes. As for fiction: look at all the fuss in the Iliad forum over getting the software to index or open at “last page read”. It wouldn’t be an issue if it were not so damn painful to scroll through a book on an e-device.

    “look old reading a p-book” – well this is obviously a bit of humor. Good one.

    Bogus Argument by Mr. Neville:

    “$400” – Wrong. That’s just for the reader. You still have to pay for the books whose prices are often the same as the p-book. Of course, the unmentioned caveat is that, yeah, you can get almost any book for free esp. text books … and $400 doesn’t get many text books, electronic or otherwise.

    Conclusion: Sorry, but Mr. Neville has got it right. E-books are just not a viable item at the moment … and not just because of price or distribution. There just isn’t a big enough problem with p-books to justify a change.

  12. Bogus Anti-ebook Arguments:

    “fragile p-books – new books last for decades. Some books have lasted centuries. Yellow books are readable. Check the readability of your various e-mediums. Oh, and squeeze an Iliad too hard and you just blew ~$800 and can’t read your collection anymore.”

    I’ve dropped my eBookwise at least 5 times. I can squeeze it pretty hard too. Doesn’t break. Yet I have p-books with pages falling out and yellow after only a few years. Nevermind the ones that are over a decade old. So because you can read an old book that means that the quality is better? My old e-books never lose quality.. Period. There is no way you can argue that point – its a waste of time.

    “quantity of books – they are few who must have their entire library with them at all times. Even on a trip, purchasing a new p-book at every stop does not onerously add to the burden no matter how fast you read. Students are different but really, who the heck carries all their books to class? Few students even bother to bring downloads of the lectures when those are available.”

    Correction. YOU don’t carry more than a few books at a time. I, however, carry far more and have access to them at my fingertips all from 1 item I am carrying instead of a heavy pile. I can read extremely fast, so I find it very nice to have another book waiting when I finish the first. Again, I don’t see how carrying more books with you proves your argument. It only proves mine. Who wants to carry more than one? You, I guess.

    “saving trees – are you aware of the environmental cost of producing the plastics and semiconductors for e-devices? Remember: not just production of the device but mining and refining the base materials.”

    I’m very aware that the environmental cost of making an ebook is FAR less than killing all the trees to keep making paper books that sit on shelves wasting away after they are read. Its a waste and a tool that has had its time.

    “referencing/indexing – if you’re in university/research you can find passages in any of your books far faster than any e-device. You _know_ it. And to scan the content of a book or paper, nothing yet compares to nimble fingers and quick eyes. As for fiction: look at all the fuss in the Iliad forum over getting the software to index or open at “last page read”. It wouldn’t be an issue if it were not so damn painful to scroll through a book on an e-device.”

    I can get to the last page of a book in 1 tap. Faster than you can turn the pages. I can find EXACTLY the text I want in a second. I can find the next instance of it a second later. Your fingers are much slower and wasting time.

    “$400 – Wrong. That’s just for the reader. You still have to pay for the books whose prices are often the same as the p-book. Of course, the unmentioned caveat is that, yeah, you can get almost any book for free esp. text books … and $400 doesn’t get many text books, electronic or otherwise.”

    $400 for a reader? Only if you buy one from a highway robber. A good reader will cost you anywhere from $50 to $300 dollars. I actually purchased a tablet PC for only $110 that is perfect for reading ebooks on. It also surfs the webs, can network to my LAN and much more. At least have the facts straight. Books cost money period, so what’s the point? Oh yeah, the point is that I have all my books on 1 item that is about as heavy or less than a paperback.

    “Conclusion: Sorry, but Mr. Neville has got it right. E-books are just not a viable item at the moment … and not just because of price or distribution. There just isn’t a big enough problem with p-books to justify a change.”

    Conclusion: We are sorry that you are not an early adapter. If ebooks weren’t viable I wouldn’t have been reading them for six years or so. You can’t just whisk away the truth here. Digital content is the way of the future. Life is about change – I think your parents should have sat you in front of the T.V. to watch more Star Trek when you were a kid.

  13. I would rather have a regular book anytime, as would most of my friends.Some ebooks are fairly priced, but others are ridiculous in price, and most importantly most if not all…are merely rehashed material from real books…

    [One store has] ebooks on SEO,Adwords,Weight Loss,Golf Swing….you name it!And all of these particular subjects and more…..are covered extremely well in paperback/hardcover.I think that most folk whom buy ebooks, think they are getting some little unknown secret on a given subject!The truth of the matter is that they are really getting nothing special, just rehash from real books.I will always buy real books…..ebooks are nothing but a fad, and only echo what real books have already said over and over!

  14. Books posses a history. They travel through time on shelves, in peoples hands, under beds, locked away in trunks. they are passed down from generation to generation. they find themselves in new hands at used book stores and tag sales. The romanticism is taken away when you take a book and place it in a new medium such as this. I can see the convenience of having multiple titles in one handy-dandy local. but I for one find the feel, smell and history of an old book a necessary part of the reading experience. If I want to smell ozone burning, I’ll watch TV or listen to my Ipod.

  15. Ereaders do suck! I got one as a gift 2 days ago and I have already put it back in the box and am planning to return it. They are not e text book compatible due to the high graphics content in most text books. This makes them useless for students or anyone looking to learn. I am too worried about breaking the stupid thing to take it anywhere(even with the heavy duty protective cover i also got). And honestly even if i did have time an appropriate place and time to use it i refuse to pay money for books i can get free from the library. Much like apple products these ereaders have such major compatibility issues that they just arent worth the effort. If i wanted to stare at a computer screen more then i already have to i would just take my laptop with me. This device is slow. I dont know about the rest of the world but i only read one book at a time. I just dont see the need to be able to carry 1000 books around with me. Stories are not like music. You cant just read the middle of a chapter and then skip to the next. Should i put my ereader on shuffle so i can read random pages one at a time? whats the point?
    These are luxury devices with out much practical application. If you have time and money to blow then have at it. As for me…mine is going back to the store. I dont even care how much its worth….just take the stupid thing away and give me an actual book with pages that i dont have to load before reading.

  16. “Books are incredibly portable, especially smaller paperbacks.”

    No they are not, a single book weighs more than my eReader. I can fit many books on a microSD card smaller than my finger nail.

    “Books do not require batteries or any electricity to use.”
    Unless you want to read them at night. My eReader lasts for weeks anyway.

    “Books are not fragile (at least relatively speaking in comparison to electronic gadgets).”
    They wear out. Paper can get torn, stained etc. With eBooks you can just replace your eReader every few years (they are now very cheap) and not have to worry about wear and tear.

    “Books are easier on your eyes for long periods of reading (again, in comparison to LCD displays for example).”
    Who reads eBooks on a backlit screen? Kindles, Kobos, Nooks etc are all very cheap now. What a bullshit argument this one is.

    “Books are shareable and re-saleable—the only “compatibility” issue is the language it’s written in.”
    You might have a point here, but lets not forget they are also more expensive to buy because of distribution and manufacture.

    “Books are cheaper. A device that costs $400??? Are you kidding me? My entire Amazon wish-list isn’t $400.”
    I realize this post is old, but they are $150 or less these days. That’s really cheap for the benefits of having many books instantly available on one light device.

    “Books have a faster operating system—I can flip pages without an hourglass or having to wait for my eyes to render the new page
    Books have better browse-ability—I can thumb through pages very quickly and can easily eyeball 1/3 of the way through a book or the last 25% of the book because the information I want was somewhere in that section.”
    Again, bullshit. If anything eReaders are more powerful. A lot of eBooks come with a table of contents which has links to the pages. There certainly isn’t an hour glass on my Kobo, it takes a half a second to change page. You can also change font sizes on eBooks, I would love to see how a paper book does this.

    “Books have low-tech, cheap built-in DRM—it’s a pain in the arse to copy them….doable but a pain.”
    DRM is a pain, but a lot of bookstores make your purchased books available on many devices (not just their own eReaders).

    So nearly all the points made here are just wrong. The one thing holding eBooks back now is the lack of availability, (e.g. you can’t get Harry Potter on ebook). But if one can find the book they want in eBook format it’s simply a better alternative (cheaper, more portable, easy to navigate).

  17. Captain Ludd // June 29, 2012 at 5:25 pm //

    Besides the technical arguments made here, I believe there’s a point to be made about the quality of the actual e-books — you know, content. Specifically I am referring to the anarchic point-click “self-published” B.S. flooding the e-book market. Nothing says crap and lack of QC more than the sick perversion of Fifty Shades to Beat Your Lover.

    I realize the original article was written in 2007, and in the five years since, a lot of things have changed — but is this necessarily a good thing? The problem with self-pub vs. trad. pub. is that the writer — whose writing skills, ironically, leave “nothing to write home about” — can no longer be solely a writer, but is forced to diversify his/her skills (or lack thereof) by becoming one-(wo)man PR, editor, social media guru, underwater basket weaver… The quality of the work suffers when one makes too much effort to be jack-of-all-trades and turns up a joker.

    Granted, the trad. pub. market is changing a lot too in that the writer must also do these same things simply because the agent’s role has changed and the major publishers are not willing/able to spend money on a gamble when they’ve got the years of security in their Grishams and Pattersons. But still, the availability of delegating these tasks to people for whom this is their field of expertise allows more time for the writer to spend on quality and less on creating hype or whorish PR.

    E-books suck because they’ve opened the floodgates and drowned any sense of quality. This is not to be confused with “democratization” but rather anarchy. Same thing goes for movies: you’ve got your Paramount, Columbia et. al., even some of the indie studios, and then you’ve got direct-to-video or cable access. It’s camp, it’s crap, and it will never be commercially viable, much less quality work. Publishers as well as readers are, by and large, going to prefer a Grisham to an Amanda Hocking in the same way they’ll spend $15 to watch Julia Roberts rather than her brother Eric, Dennis Quaid over Randy, Bruce Willis over Dolph Lundgren. The star power is there simply because the quality is. And that quality comes from a team of professionals — not just one singular Z-list pseudo-sensation.

    By the time Grisham and Patterson are dead they’ll still have a market just like Hemingway and Kerouac do. Hocking, Konrath, Fifty Sheets to the Wind and those stupid marketing books that sell for $97 will be in the digital dustbin along with “Heaven’s Gate.”

  18. Yawwwwwn …

  19. Some people can’t accept change. There are only two big advantages to print books: availability (which is rapidly becoming less of an issue) and that new-book smell.

    The rest is bunk.

  20. Whomever said eReaders are better for the environment is an idiot. Where do you think those eReaders go when they’re out of date in the next six months? Paper is biodegradable, and most books are printed on recycled paper as well. Also, my books don’t need to be plugged in and charged (wasting electricity). My nook has to be charged ALL. THE. TIME! I frickin’ hate that damn. I hate going to pick up “my book” and getting a “low battery” message. Also, often the pages take a while to load or the book is glitched and skips several at a time. I’ve got a few books left to read on that POS and then I’m done with it!

    I don’t believe for one minute that serious readers are the driving force behind eBooks. This kind of technology, I feel, really only appeals to people who are too ADD to finish a book without a game of Angry Birds in the middle or a quick facebook status update.

  21. How many books can you carry in your suitcase when on vacation two three i carry my whole collection of 100+ books not to mention magazines as for 400 dollars for the device it depends i have a nook tablet was only 180 with the tons of free books and by the way ebooks tend to be 2-5 dollars cheaper than paper back it pays for itself and its a mini computer aswell, booksbare cool but they do end up taking to much space they also fade break and get damaged easy and yes my device can get damage but my books will always be around if i had to i can get a cheap ereader for 70bucks and keep on reading

  22. I agree wholly with you. ebooks and ereaders just have so many kinks that need to be worked out. Books have been around for a long time and have been perfected. Do we really need a hunk of electronics? Plus, what about special edition copies of Lord of the Rings. You can’t get special edition books on an ereader and make it your own. Books are WAY better than ebooks.

  23. And if a robber steals your ereader, you have to spend another $400 bucks to get another one. Books are harder to steal and it only costs about 3=$20 bucks to replace.

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