Reading in the cloud: pros and cons

Last weekend I decided I really wanted to read Adrian Hyland’s book about Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires and my local bookstore didn’t have copies yet. In checking out eBook options the only one available to me right then was to buy a web-based book from (via Readings, a Melbourne-based independent chain).

Essentially what you’re buying with one of these is a URL which renders a book in your (limited) choice of font size and style on any device with a modern web browser. I had heard of the service before but apart from lamenting the stupid placement of the . in the company name (yes I get why but I still find it annoying) hadn’t given it much thought. However as I recently acquired an iPad I thought I’d give it a go.

Having read the book here are my initial reactions to cloud-based reading.

The pros

Device independence: this is a truly wonderful thing. I’ve changed computers since buying my Sony eReader last year and it was ridiculously difficult to bring my library to my new computer (and if I had been using Sony’s recommended settings for the device I would have lost the lot) (and count yourselves lucky I was too tired and grumpy to relay my rant about the morons in my local Sony store who were supposed to specialist reatailers and couldn’t have been less helpful if they’d been dead). But my book is available to me wherever I have an internet connection and I could change devices every day if I were so inclined (you never know, I might be being pursued by shady government types and need to hide my identity behind a series of random IP addresses) (and yes I probably would still want to read in such circumstances).

Price: Australians will think $15 is a pretty reasonable price to pay for a book and the rest of you will be smirking. It’s OK, we’re used to it. At $15 the book is expensive for an eBook but here it is slightly less than half the price of its paperback counterpart and even $3.50 cheaper than the Kindle version which was due for release a couple of days later. Australian books and editions are often not available at the $9.99 or lower that US readers enjoy.

The cons

No notes: unlike ePub books or Kindle editions you can’t take notes as you read or highlight text. There’s a bookmark feature but it seemed to me to only mark the beginning of a chapter. As I was reading on an iPad I could use one of the gazillions of free sticky note apps I have installed but that was a clunkier process than I’m used to with my Sony and there’s no substitute for being able to highlight some text for later reference which probably limits the format’s use for non-fiction and text books (0r reviewers).

No page numbers (or even locations:) because the book is only ever served up to you a little bit at a time it never knows how many pages there are. You do get told how many pages in the current chapter (which I found more useless than nothing at all). You also get a percentage completed marker if you look at the menu (I didn’t work this out until I’d finished reading the book as it was not particularly intuitive) but there’s nothing obvious as you read or even when you look at the book in the catalogue. I may be old fashioned but I do want to know if a book is a short read or the virtual equivalent of a 600+ page doorstop before I embark on it.

The in-betweens

You never own it: I don’t know which category to put this in. On one hand I figure I should get to own something I pay $15 for but then again it costs about that to go to the movies here in Oz and they don’t give you a disc as you leave the cinema. And is there really any difference between having permanent access to a unique URL than having some bytes on a device? I guess could go out of business and I’d lose access to the URL but then I could lose a device too and the book-selling market is nothing if not volatile. Do we really own any eBooks? We generally can’t loan them, sell them on or donate them to charity shops like we can with the old faithful paper books. I don’t think I care that much about owning them as I’m really unlikely to read that many of my books again and I’m slowly changing my buying habits so that I buy the books as I want to read them rather than months (or years) in advance.

The interface: buying the book was easy straight-forward (much simpler than many other stores I’ve used including the Borders and Kobo stores) but I didn’t find the interface of the book itself terribly intuitive. Perhaps I have been spoiled but I didn’t need instructions to navigate through my first ePub book on my Sony or my first Kindle edition on the iPad’s Kindle app. Once I’d read the instructions I was ok though.

You need internet access to read as well as buy: For me this is not that big a deal. I have computers at work and home and an iPad and phone with both wi-fi and 3G access so it’s rare for me to be out of contact with the web. I realise this might not be the case for some readers though. It’s worth nothing that most devices (including the iPad I read on) can cache the average size book so it is available offline if internet access is going to be unavailable (or you want to turn off your wireless to conserve battery life).

Would I do it again?

Assuming the price is right and I can find out elsewhere how big the book is I’d be happy to read another book this way as the cons are niggles more than show-stoppers. I do think though that my preference will remain with downloadable books that I can highlight and take notes on and that this will be a backup option for situations like the one I encountered last weekend.

And for the record you should all read Kinglake-350 in whatever format you can get it.

Has anyone else tried the service or other cloud-based eBook reading? If so, did you like the experience? If not, would you consider it?

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15 Responses to Reading in the cloud: pros and cons

  1. Marg says:

    I haven’t tried any or cloud based ebook reading because I really hate reading on my computer screen and given that I bought a dedicated e-reader and so I darn well want to be use it!


    • Bernadette says:

      I read it on my iPad not a computer screen, it’s much easier to adjust the brightness on an iPad and I found it fine. I still prefer my dedicated eReader but that wasn’t an option for this book


  2. Kerrie says:

    Could you have read it on your iPad Bernadette? via Safari?


  3. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – Thanks for sharing your experience. I admit I haven’t tried the cloud reading experience, so I don’t know from having done it, but as I’ve read about I’ve imagined I’d feel much as you do. And I would have liked to read your rant. Oh, and I promise to read Kinglake-350.


  4. I’d actually never heard of this way of reading until I read your post, but like Marg I can’t stand reading on my computer. I’ve done it once and had a headache threatening the whole time! I did check out the Kindle version of Kinglake-350 but at $19.22 I passed… and requested it from the local library who have it on order. It sounds like a great read – I have a good deal of guilt about Black Friday! It was my birthday and although it was 49 degrees where I was, we were all out celebrating and had zero idea anything had even happened until much, much later that night.


    • Bernadette says:

      I rarely have that ‘must read it now’ feel but with this one I really did and I was curious to use the service. I would not have read on my computer but the iPad was fine and I know a lot of people read on their phones too which you could use this service for


  5. Kathy D. says:

    I, too, don’t like reading for too long on my computer, and being a Luddite at heart, I don’t have those other gadgets. However, I always have Internet access if I want it.
    I’m too attached to real books and the whole thing of reading them, bookmarking them, stacking them up and looking at them on my bookshelves, etc.
    But a major reason I do like having real books is that I like to loan them to friends. I feel like a librarian here, figuring out everyone’s book tastes — which are different. However, the enjoyment and satisfaction one gets when a friend really enjoys a book one loans is good.
    About 5-7 readers per book is the usual scenario.


  6. Maxine says:

    Brilliant post, Bernadette. Although I have a Kindle and quite like it, I too prefer to read in print. The cues it leaves in my mind are much stronger than the “same-y” e-reader experience. However e-reading has its strengths, in particular if a book you were going to read anyway is 1/10 of the price or as here if it is only available in that format for economic reasons. I have not read a book in the cloud but I have read articles. I prefer not to read for pleasure on a screen, but this post is exceptionally useful for if I do decide (or need) to read a book in this format. (Yes, this particular book is one I definitely want to read.)


  7. (you never know, I might be being pursued by shady government types and need to hide my identity behind a series of random IP addresses) YES
    (and yes I probably would still want to read in such circumstances). Definitely.

    Oh, that wasn´t what you wanted to know? Well, I don´t think the price is high, but at that price I´d want to own the book.


  8. Amanda Mac says:

    I too was interested in this book. Thanks for sharing this valuable information. Good point about ownership of e – books


  9. shelleyrae@ Book'd Out says:

    Hmm I was excited at the launch of Book.ish but then annoyed when it became obvious that not only would we continue to be charged ridiculous amounts for ebooks but we would have little to no control over how we use it.
    I am happy to read in e-format, in fact now I probably read only 1 in 10 in print so it’s not about ownership so much but it is about flexibility, and permanence of ownership provides that. A glitch with their software could potentially wipe the record of my purchases from their records, a server crash could mean I couldn’t access a book when I wanted to read it, problems with my ISP could also affect my ability to access a book. There are too many opportunities for me to lose access to the books I have purchased (including that fine print that says they have the right to change their terms of service at anytime)
    I read primarily on my iPod touch so constant internet access is not an option for me, basically I’d be unable to access my books from Book.ish unless I was at home where I have WIFI access. Not to mention I live in a regional area where internet access even at home is slow, not always reliable and other than the local McDonalds, there are no sources of free WIFI anywhere near me.
    So I won’t be making a purchase from Book.ish any time soon – probably not at all in fact but thanks for sharing what you learnt about the service because may have been tempted to try it – just to see and been very disappointed.

    Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out


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