My First E-Book

January 17, 2009

Last night I finished reading my first complete e-book on my iPhone: Emma, by Jane Austen (free from Fictionwise for their eReader application).

Things I liked:

  • The adjustable font size. This came in handy when I wanted to read while jogging on the treadmill at the gym. I just set the font size to Gigantic and voila, entertainment while running. Although a slightly larger screen and font would have been even better. I found my eyes strained to adjust a bit due to the up and down motion of running.
  • It always remembered my page.
  • The sheer convenience of always having a book in my pocket. Like at the doctor's office. Or on the ferry. Or at the gym.
  • Finding books on Fictionwise that would have been too expensive for me to buy in print. Ie, sometimes someone recommends a book to me to read as research for my writing. But it's a rarer book, or out of print in hardcopy, or something I'm not sure I'd enjoy or want to keep forever in my personal library. Trawling Fictionwise I actually found a couple of these suggestions for less than $5. Which makes it a no-brainer to buy just for a look, while not having to deal with late fees at the library if I do happen to need it longer-term for research.

Things I didn't like:

  • The margins were much too close to the edge of the screen and not adjustable in eReader. I've since downloaded the Stanza application which allows you to set the margins. It's amazing how much more readable something becomes with a little space around the edges.
  • Reading on the bright screen did seem to tire my eyes a bit more than a regular book. I suspect the Kindle suffers less from this problem. But I can't afford both a Kindle and an iPhone, and the iPhone packs more bang for my buck due to all its other features.
  • The screen size on the iPhone is a bit small for reading. I'd prefer a larger screen, but all things being equal (and the size of my wallet not growing any larger), I can live with the one I've got for a few years.
  • The purchasing interface. Ie, having to go to the web browser to purchase, as opposed to just doing it within the application itself. Clunky. The web interface on Fictionwise is pretty disorganized too. And the fact that Stanza and Fictionwise now have agreements where you can buy a Fictionwise book from Stanza, but you need a separate Fictionwise account. Even clunkier. You want to make your product easy to buy. Don't make the customer jump through hoops.
  • The lack of a Table of Contents in the particular book I was reading. So I couldn't jump ahead or back very easily to a specific spot. Or maybe I just haven't explored the application enough yet.

I even used Stanza to copy some documents over to my phone to read. Where the Kindle beats out my phone is that I think you can take notes in documents. I would have liked to be able to do this to read and critique some of my writing group works in odd moments where I had some spare time, but that functionality isn't available yet. At least, I couldn't find it, even though Stanza claims to have "writing" capability.

Overall, despite some of the pitfalls, it's clear to me that e-books have come a long way and should definitely be considered as a distribution model for authors. My iPhone won't supplant my hardcopies yet. But I'll definitely be using it to read books.

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