Books and the Sony Reader

I love reading. I read a lot. I’ve been reading about the new Sony Reader

The device I want has to have paper-like readability in any light I can read a paper book in now.  I don’t want to worry about battery life. Cell phones have reached this milestone — I rarely think about my cell phone’s battery status.  Laptops have not.

Sony Reader looks promising technically. It’s more expensive than I’d like but not so much that I would rule out purchasing one if it can fill the uses I have in mind. Battery life sounds good and readability sounds very good — from what I have read the screen is quite paper-like.

I have a few uses in mind for a good e-book device:

  • Technical manuals and books —  It’d be nice to have a nice reference library available on a handy device independent of my computer.  Plenty of technical books need to be available on the device. The device has to have a good way to search for an answer.
  • Travel reading — I like to have lots of books with me when I travel. The novels and other books I read for fun and enlightenment need to be available on the device.
  • Online reading — I try to keep up with a number of news sites and blogs. I’ve thought about writing or using something that would take select feeds and format them into a PDF to read on paper or offline. An e-book device would be ideal for this. I need to be able to load my own content onto the device.

Sadly, I don’t think the Sony Reader will work for me:

Availability of books — The “10,000 books” number I’ve seen in press about the Reader sounds like a lot until you think about how many books have been published. I couldn’t find a way to compare the books that will be available on the “CONNECT(tm) Store” to the list of books I’ve used in the past few months. In the past few months I’ve read 20 fiction novels, read ten non-fiction books, and referred to six or seven technical books. The publish date on these books varies from very recent (last month) to fairly recent (1997).

Searching — You can’t. This probably rules it out for the technical book use, though I suppose with sufficently nice indexing and bookmarking it could be worked around.

DRM — Digital Rights Management on electronic content, particularly DRM from Sony, makes me nervous. I know it’s hopeless to expect any commercial electronic books ever to be available without DRM, but I wish I really believed the people making it cared about user experience. I don’t care about being able to copy books as much as I want or even about reading e-books on my PC. I need to be absolutely sure that as long as I own an e-book I will always be able to read it. I want the same “license” that I have for paper books without worries that broken software or “upgrades” will block use of my books. I want to be able to sell or lend an e-book to someone.

Book price —  The e-books have to be much less expensive compared to their paper counterparts — not just 25% less expensive than the hardcovers. The current DRM-encumbered e-books have no used market and are thus inherently less valuable than paper books to me. For some books an acceptable comprimise would be to purchase time-limited use of the e-book — e.g. pay a couple bucks to be able to read a novel for a month or two.

This is frustrating because aside from the searching all of these problems are not with the device or technology at all. The content problems are caused by middle-men.

At least it looks like you’ll be able to load your own text onto the Reader.