A Year in eBooks

In September last year I began the slow journey towards a personal holy grail: to do away forever with the problem of finding homes for read-once-and-not-likely-to ever-be-read-again books. I’ve chosen to tackle the problem primarily by using eBooks and this is a wrap up of my first year of being an eBook reader that isn’t a Kindle who lives in Australia (and there’s a bit of a rant at the end).

How do I eRead, let me count the ways?

Initially I bought a Sony touch-screen reader which can read ePub and PDF formats. I have since read 29 books on that device and really like it. It is light, sturdy (has survived being dropped several times), has a long battery life and the touch screen makes the reading experience very close to reading a traditional book.

About 3 months ago I also bought an iPad primarily for mobile computing instead of lugging a laptop around but with a deliberate secondary aim of expanding my eReading options. I can now read Kindle books, Apple books and cloud-based books such as those offered by booki.sh (an experience I described in some detail a couple of months ago).

I also use an iPod nano for audio books so now essentially have enough devices to accommodate every available format between them. After a lot of trial and error (and some shake-ups in the market) I now have a pretty strict hierarchy of options for acquiring a book:

  • Audible – only a small percentage of books that I’m interested in are available in this format so I check this source first
  • Booku – an Australian eBook store selling ePubs (which I can read on my Sony or the Overdrive app on my iPad)
  • Kobo – a Canadian eBook store selling ePubs but which stocks the widest range of Australian publications including books by Australian authors (which I can read on my Sony or the Kobo app on my iPad)
  • Catalogues of the two local libraries I belong to
  • Amazon’s Kindle store (to read via the Kindle app on my iPad)
  • Booki.sh (for a cloud-based book to read on my iPad)
  • My favourite purveyors of dead tree tomes (there are still some books that are not available in any e format so if I really want to read them I’ll buy a physical version)

What’s different between now and then?

It’s only been a year (or one fifth of the time I allowed myself) and in some ways my behaviour is slow to change but I have started to notice some trends. The most obvious one is that I’m acquiring less physical books

Format of books acquired 2009-10 and 2010-11

Sadly the number of books acquired in each year was about the same but over the past 3 or 4 months the trend has moved downwards. Having so many options available now seems to have reduced the impulse to buy more than I can read (now if only I could get through my backlog TBR mountain instead of being attracted by shiny new stories).

A couple of other trends are less directly related to my new preference for eBooks though they are a side-effect:

Virtually all of the few print books I still buy are now bought in an Australian store. It costs me double (or triple) the price of ordering via Book Depository (as I have detailed before) but is a deliberate choice. If I want bookstores to still be available for my browsing pleasure (and I do) then I need to support them. The component of this that is related to eBooks is that only 6 of the 30 books I bought in the last 3 months were print books so buying books in Australian book stores is not as damaging to my bank balance as it once was. Buying all 150+ books that I read each year at the $33 a pop they mostly sell for is simply out of reach, but a couple of books a month is do-able. I doubt it’ll save the local book industry but it’s the best I can do.

I’m borrowing more from the library. To be honest I could move the library up my hierarchy of options a little and borrow even more but I generally like to choose when I read a book which is not always possible with library queues. But making a conscious choice to not acquire huge piles of print books anymore did make me start be more systematic about at least checking the catalogues. Belonging to two (one near work, one near home) gives me a fairly wide selection and they do have a good track record of stocking Australian crime fiction.

What do I like about eReading?

I love reading on either of my devices and can’t wait for the day when I don’t have to worry about physical books much at all. I love being able to take notes or highlight things I want to mention in my reviews without having to carry anything extra, I love being able to carry several books at a time in case I don’t feel like reading one of them. I love not having to worry about what I’ll do with a book once I’ve finished with it…no more boxes of books in my garage.

The Sony is my device of choice being small, light and having a long battery life. The iPad is too heavy to hold for long periods (but fits nicely on one’s lap and/or book seat) and I wouldn’t want to read it while standing up on the bus (as I do my Sony) but surprisingly the backlit screen doesn’t bother me at all (most of the reading apps I’ve tried have settings allowing control of brightness).

Sadly, a month after I bought the Sony all UK stores stopped selling eBooks to people outside the UK (though they still ship print books to us by the container load which, in my humble opinion, makes a mockery of publishers’ expressed outrage at consumers’ wanton disregard for geographical restrictions) and the Australian Borders chain collapsed into bankruptcy. These events significantly reduced my options for obtaining books for my Sony. The Kobo store is based in Canada but has the widest range of Australian publications I’ve found. I don’t have any firm numbers but estimate that only about half the books I want to buy are available to me for the Sony. Geographic restrictions still play a significant role in me not being able to buy what I want but I am ever hopeful this will improve.

The downside (or if you made it this far you deserve a full-on rant)

I have a new enemy. Well two of them really: Sony and Adobe. Two companies which I despise with a vehemence that probably isn’t healthy. The process of getting books onto my Sony device is managed via Adobe’s software and it is the most useless application of technology I have ever encountered. My day job involves configuring information management systems and teaching people how to use them. I am (to blow my own horn momentarily) pretty good at it and if I were to produce the kind of half-baked crap that these two companies have devised I would be sacked and spat at and I would deserve both.

When I bought a new computer earlier this year and had to get my eReader (and the many un-read books on it) re-authorised I considered throwing the device away. Manoeuvring my way through the labyrinthine mess that is Adobe’s Digital Rights Management was a headf*** matched only by having one’s tax returns audited by someone trained at the Spanish Inquisition. I was essentially treated like a criminal by both companies which is infuriating as the only time I have ever even considered pirating a book was when I lost access to all the ones I had already bought. Neither company (including Sony’s physical office here in town) was remotely interested in assisting with the problems I encountered.

The only bright spot of this entire exercise was the few happy moments I spent fantasizing about performing some of the cruel torture I’ve read about in crime fiction over the years to the people at the Sony store. The place is staffed by people I can only assume were selected for their ability to fit into uniforms found hanging in a closet somewhere because their idea of assistance was to mumble to each other (not even to me directly) about there being ‘something on the website’ and then staring at me blankly when I asked them to show me the exact page where re-issuing of authorisations was even mentioned let alone described in any useful detail. I managed to get my problem sorted out on my own (thanks for absolutely nothing you useless bastards at Sony, may you all rot in an eternal hell where the only way out is guarded by staff as utterly incompetent and brain dead as each and every one of you) (yes I do realise I need to get over this).

While I am now happily reading again I do not envisage retaining this device when I next upgrade my computer in a few years time. And hell will have to freeze over before I buy another Sony product. When I compare this experience with the simplicity of synchronising and authorising Apple devices (which I have done multiple times over the past few years) or Amazon’s kindles I am not surprised that Sony is not a major player in this market and that it is busy getting itself hacked by all and sundry. The company is clearly run by morons.

Aside from this unpleasantness I’m happy with my eReading progress so far and look forward to another year of being responsible for less dead trees.

What about you? Have you taken the eBook/eReader plunge yet? Do you plan to? If not, why not? Have you noticed any changes in your reading behaviour as a result of eReading?


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18 Responses to A Year in eBooks

  1. Bernadette – Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about e-reading. You’ve given me lots of useful information as I start to make some decisions about the same thing for myself. I’m not surprised about your feelings about Sony. One of the main points of the portable e-reader is supposed to be ease of use. And I would probably be at least as upset as you if I were treated with the same customer – er – service.
    Your comments on e-reading versus reading physical books are also really interesting. I think more and more people feel that way, and publishers and booksellers should take note. So should authors.


  2. Marg says:

    I bought my ereader not long after you and really that is still my only source of ereading. I think I am probably reading one in four books on my ereader with the vast majority still being library books. I am sure that this proportion will continue to change in the future though.

    My home computer is on it’s last legs so your rant there has me a little apprehensive! I do enjoy reading a good rant though!


    • I hope you don’t experience any problems Marg…I think mine was a combination of computer crash and change of ISP (therefore change of email address used for authorisation). Though Apple didn’t seem to find it necessary to accuse me of being a criminal.


  3. Barbara says:

    I just bought a Kindle under protest, only because two of my favorite writers are only publishing in e format. Now I’m well along in my first book on it, and I’m still not sold. I so much prefer the feel and smell and look and ease of use of real paper books. Call me old-fashioned, heck I am old-fashioned, but very little makes me happier than to be surrounded by shelves of books.

    Bravo to your rant! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated by electronic devices and the people who sell them. Your imagined punishment for them is brilliant!


    • OK “you’re old-fashioned”. Seriously though I think you should do what works for you. I’m just so sick of having all these books that no one wants (and yes I do try…charity shops mostly say no these days and there is a limit to how many books my friends will take). Plus I don’t have a great sense of smell most of the time (terrible sinus problems) so I don’t get the whole smell of books thing 🙂


  4. “Having so many options available now seems to have reduced the impulse to buy more than I can read…” Exactly what has happened to me. I don´t feel the need to hoard books as if I believed they would stop producing them tomorrow any more. And that is why I have reduced my TBR from c 130 books in May to c 75 books now. And I think you will also get there.

    Apart from that I must say that I am glad I bought a Kindle. Not that I am always happy with the giant Amazon.com, especially not since we could get ebooks a bit cheaper via Amazon.de until recently, but now they have stopped that traffic and we only have the US option. I can get most of what I want, though, and mostly at an affordable price.


  5. Belle Wong says:

    I’m glad ebooks started becoming so popular this year, which is officially my year of downsizing and decluttering. I’m happy to say that I have only bought one print book in the past three months (The Disappearing Spoon – it was at Costco and I couldn’t resist); I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t for the existence of both ebooks and audiobooks. After having to go through my books and giving away, to date, about 20 boxes, I have no wish to accumulate yet another collection! (Nor the space, now that we’re downsizing to a condo.)

    I read on both my iPad and my Kobo reader, although I prefer the iPad because I use a variety of ereading apps and ebook sources, and it’s nice to have everything all on one device (plus, I’m still a little annoyed that when I went to get my Kobo a few years back, no-one at the store told me the WiFi version was going to be released a mere week later …)

    I’m also finding I don’t purchase as many ebooks as I borrow, either – my library has impressive audiobook and ebook collections and they’re on Overdrive, so it’s really easy to get things onto my iPad.

    And I understand your rant completely, having had my own wrestling match with Adobe’s digital rights management pages.


    • I’m beginning to enjoy the iPad as a reader too Belle, thugh have never tried to travel with it so not sure how it would go having to recharge all the time. I wish our libraries would offer borrowing of ebooks…maybe one day 🙂


  6. I bought an e-reader about a year and a half ago, and I love it. (I have a Nook — I’m in the US) It has reached the point that I greatly prefer reading on my Nook to reading physical books, though I still read both. I have a friend who got a Nook shortly after I bought mine, and she has almost completely stopped reading on paper.

    I agree with you about Adobe digital rights management, it’s horrible. I once bought a story in that format because it wasn’t available from my usual sources, and I never was able to figure out how to load it onto my device and ended up printing the story out to read on paper. If I had to deal with that software every time I made a purchase, I think I wouldn’t like ebooks nearly so well as I do. I will certainly never, ever again buy anything in that format.


    • My American sister-in-law has the Nook Gail and she loves it too. I’d have liked to have it as an option but our only non-kindle option is still the Sony really (and some strange brands I’ve never heard of).


  7. Kathy D. says:

    Interesting developments. Glad you enjoy reading in a more portable format which you can take anywhere and always access a book. And your rant is understandable, given the runaround and hassles caused by SONY.
    However, I am an unapologetic paper book reader. I like everything about real books, including piling them up around me, seeing them on bookshelves and loaning them to friends — since I always feel like I’m buying a book for five people anyway.
    Since I’m home most of the time, this is fine for me. What is not fine is the increasingly small mysteyr supply at the library, especially of anything new and global, with a dead body in the mix. This means more book purchasing if I want to read global mysteries, and that means waiting until the books are available in the States and with some, until they’re used, so the price goes down.
    I may someday have to resort to ebooks of some sort to access books and because they’re less costly than (some) paper books.
    But I’ll wait and see what happens and meanwhile harass the library to buy more — and not dvd’s. My rant is that the library will buy 300 copies of a current dvd and barely buy any books. I’m still waiting for Sigurdadottir’s Ashes to Dust, Asa Larsson’s new book, Ann Holt’s last two books, Elly Griffiths’ last book, Denise Mina’s, etc. You get the drift.


    • It must be so hard for the libraries to meet all demands with their ever decreasing budgets Kathy but I know what you mean by being frustrated with their choices. I noticed our library had 20 copies of the latest Top Gear dvd but not a single copy of Nicole Watson’s The Boundary (debut crime fiction by Aussie woman). As for eBooks if you have no need to read them then don’t be pressured into it, mine was a very personal choice for reasons that I know don’t apply to everyone.


  8. Keishon says:

    Have you noticed any changes in your reading behaviour as a result of eReading…well yeah, I have. I buy more which I need to fix ASAP because you guys write such compelling reviews that I can’t help but buy them ASAP but then Bernadette, some of the books you enjoy, I can’t even get here in the states half the time. Geo restrictions FTW since that in itself helps curb spending. I own a Sony Reader too and have never experienced the re-authorization problem you have (ducking) but I have run into this problem with other devices so I understand your wrath.


    • I have a bigger wishlist than ever Keishon, I just don’t seem to feel quite so compelled to buy them all right now, which I tended to do more with paper books. I’m more likely to buy as I feel like reading with eBooks (in the same way as I do with audio books…I’ve never had more than 2 or 3 of those in my ‘to listen’ pile though I have a big wishlist). Perhaps it’s the fact that I can’t see them on a shelf…not sure what the psychology is behind it.

      As for the geographic restrictions well…yes it is a frustration and much worse with eBooks in my opinion. But I’m sure we’ll get there eventually 🙂


  9. Kathy D. says:

    Yes. I get frustrated when I read rave reviews and can’t get the books over here in the States. I do comb Book Depository and Alibris and even Amazon. And then I’m [im]patiently waiting for used copies to appear at either Abe Books or Amazon. A blogger recommends ordering from Amazon UK. I’ve never done this but will investigate it further.


  10. Maxine says:

    I have had a Kindle for just over a year now, and though I do read books on it regularly I don’t enjoy the experience as much as I do with a print book. I suppose this could be something to do with my age. My younger daughter began reading classics on her iphone; when we gave her an ipad for her birthday recently she started doing that too (because they are free maybe?). She really seems to enjoy reading on these devices though she does also read print books and of course (?!) her school reading is all print (educational textbook market being yet another rantable topic). I shall carry on reading e-books but I do find it is all too easy to buy one if one reads a good review and it is 99p or so, then forget it is there. Whereas print books sort of lurk and make you feel guilty if you obtain one and haven’t read it after a while.

    That was some rant, I am impressed! If I were you I’d also be ranting at Sony for you buying their expensive reader and then their massive downsizing of available books – how dreadful. I am not sure of the future of the Sony reader now, as in the UK they had an exclusive deal with Waterstones (our only remaining big chain of bookshops, I refuse to count WH Smith); now W’stones says it is going to produce its own reader, so this may kill the Sony dedicated device? As you know the Nook is not available in the UK though it is popular in the US. Other readers are less popular here – the Kindle does well because unlike Sony, who sell their devices through Waterstones where the display models don’t work and the staff don’t know/aren’t interested, Kindle sells theirs in physical shops such as John Lewis electrical dept, fully staffed with gadget freaks who love nothing better than spending their saturdays showing local matrons how these new devices work and all their cool features! In any event, I think that given all the apps now available whatever one’s device, that the Nook has missed the boat in the UK and if W’stones comes up with its reader the only way it will work is if it is tied in exclusively with Wstones book purchases – which will probably accelerate the chain’s inevitable decline.

    Your rant – honestly that sounds dreadful and just so typical of modern business – a salesforce marketing and targeting you, with no connection to the product itself or its support. How dreadful that once you had bought your books they had no record of this fact so could not restore them to you. What on earth is the point of e formats if this simple, basic kind of principle can’t be got right. How stupid.


  11. Sean the Bookonaut says:

    Funnily enough I got an ereader in the same year that I became a reviewer for one of the publishing houses. I am now reading more paperbooks than ever 🙂

    I tend to buy ebooks though, can’t afford to buy paper books at the volume consume them.


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