Well, I tried.
Two weeks ago I went out and bought myself a Sony eReader.
I’ve been eyeing them in the Borders for awhile. Covetously. I have to tell you the idea of being able to carry a hundred books in my purse is a most seductive idea. Especially as a lot of the reading I do is for research, so I need a lot of books for a single project, and after the project is completed, I don’t need them any more.
I won’t say turning to the ebook side of the force is easy. As a member of the Traditional Literary SF community, I am from Book People. Having too many books is a matter of pride. People sit in the bar and talk about running out of room in their homes to hold the books, and exchange book storage strategies. Among some of my people, the idea that you might want to reduce the number of physical books you have to buy borders on blasphemy.
And Sony’s eReader is a nifty piece of hardware. I’ve been around long enough to have seen multiple attempts at electronic book readers, and every one has been slow, clunky, limited and isolated. For all that time, while people said that e-books would never take off, I said e-books will never take off until the hardware gets better.
Oh, boy, did the hardware get better. I love the electronic ink that is at the heart of the eReader. But then, I admit I’m a geek. But in terms of usability, it’s great. There’s no glare. I read it in full, bright daylight. I read it in flourscent overhead light. With the easy-on-the-eyes backlight, I read it in a dim resteraunt, and I could tell it would be terrific for reading in bed.
On top of that, I find it sleeker looking and easier to hold and carry than the Kindle.
And as if that weren’t enough, Google has opened up its library to the eReader. When I heard that, I practically dropped my jaw. I know as an author I’m supposed to be cursing Google’s name, but I can’t quite do it. Personally, I think it’s marvellous that Google’s scanning the books that crumbling away in the University of Michigan library (seriously. U of M has so many books it is the average fate of a book in that library system to rot away unread), never mind the Bodlian. I’m over the moon about the idea of carrying around that temporary reserach library in my purse.
So, what happened?
Sony has made a really bad decision.
You see, I’m a Mac user, and the eReader software does not work on Macs, and as far as I have bee able to discover, there are no plans to make a Mac version. And I knew this going in.
At this point, the astute reader will ask what on earth made her lay out $350 for something she knew wouldn’t work.
Optomism. I had Googled and asked around, and I was told there was this terrific piece of software called Calibre that would make the eReader work just fine for a Mac reader. So, I went to the Calibre site, and I poked around a little, and it did indeed look good. It talked about converting the assorted formats, organizing the library and so on.
So, I bought the eReader, and I downloaded Calibre, and…
And I went to the Google library, and I downloaded some PDF scans of magnificent old books. Yippee! I am happy. Then, I tried to go to the Sony library so I could buy a book (specifically Sly Mongoose by Tobias Buckell, who is a great author, and just became the father of twins, so the guy needs all the sales he can get right now) and…
I couldn’t get in. Without the specific eReader software, which I couldn’t load because I own a Mac, I could not get into Sony’s library to buy books.
Ooooookay… Oh, well. There are lots of other ebook sources out there.
So, I went to Fictionwise.com. I found Sly Mongoose. I checked out the formats and there was one called “secure Mobipocket.” Well, I thinks, that’s good. Calibre converts Mobipocket. So, I bought it. And I tried to download it to my computer.
And I got a message that I couldn’t do that without a specific, proprietary Mobipockets reader.
So, there I was, the proud owner of a book I couldn’t read.
Now, I will confess to being a first order geek, and I’m not exactly a technophobe, I was a technical writer for quite a few years. But I will confess, when it comes to computers in my personal life, I’m very much in the “appliance” school. I want to turn it on and I want it to work. That’s why I own a Mac. There’s a world less fussing I have to do with a Mac than I did when I worked on a PC.
So, here I was, fussing, to get my books. I couldn’t get hold of them where I was supposed to be able to, or how I was supposed to be able to, and on top of that, I couldn’t use the nifty side features on the eReader, like music. There was no way, even with Calibre to download songs, or pictures. So it was not only cumbersome for me to use, even if I had gotten it working optimally, I still would have only had partial functionality.
At that point $350 started to seem not really worth it.
So, I took it back.
I am really sorry. It is a nifty piece of hardware, but I really think Sony’s making a mistake, first of all by cutting out Mac users. I know we’re a small slice of the market, but we tend to be creative and early-techno adapting sorts. But the other thing is making the library inaccessible without the proprietary software.
And this is really why Kindle is going to eat Sony’s lunch. Amazon is making it ridiculously easy to buy not only the reader, but the books to go with it. Sony is making it difficult. I clearly don’t have a handle on the complexity of file formats and I don’t want to have to have one. I want to find a book, and buy the book and have the book.
From the bookstore, I went to the a/p/p/l/i/a/n/c/e Apple store, and bought an iPhone.
Now, this looks nifty.