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Old 05-17-2010, 03:31 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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Editorial: Are Too Many E-books Stealing the Pleasure of Reading?

As an e-book reader, have you ever looked at the number of titles available for free on the web, or available conveniently for purchase, and felt lost? Maybe you have downloaded a huge collection, and feel lost in the mass of titles. (For some, huge might mean 50 e-books, but for others it might mean 100,000 e-books in this digital age of wider accessibility!) You might even feel like there are so many books out there for you, that reading has become almost a job as you try to get through your reading list faster and faster. Instead of just enjoying books, you feel like you are trying to become more and more efficient as you can't wait to get to that next book.

While I've been thinking about this dilemma/paradox a lot recently, I couldn't help but write out a thought or two today because of the intriguing article at TeleRead by Alejandro Sanchez, Starving in a bountiful harvest: how ebooks are making my life more stressful. Sure, individuals deal differently with information overload, so you may not feel this at all. But I bet you at least know someone else that does. As Alejandro puts it,
Quote:
Books in their dead-tree form, make me feel as if each one has created an intimate relationship with me, that I am beginning to lose with the works that makeup my ever expanding collection: at last count its well over a thousand e-books. Don’t get me wrong, I do have vivid memories of working a late shift and tearing through “War and Peace” or the sense of connection that I established with Hugo’s “Les Miserable”: both being free e-books from feedbooks.com. But, everything in between, I am beginning to view with a bid of dread. I know that I can form an emotional attachment to a writer’s thoughts but am beginning to realize that a writer’s work may need to be even more powerful than before to excite me.
My own feeling is that I usually approach my choice of the next book to read based on a type of book. I might have a series that I follow by a favorite author, and decide to read the latest book. Or I might choose a technical book, based on the subject I am trying to learn about. Or I might have a lot of energy and decide to tackle a classic that I've been wanting to read, such as War and Peace. Maybe I want a civil war book, or a top business title, or something significant from history, etc. In the old days, all I really had to choose was my book source. I'd wander into the library or bookstore and browse until I found the right book (or three or ten!) at the right price. I didn't worry very much about picking just the right book because I was just happy to find a few that I was excited about. I didn't really have to keep track of which books I was currently reading, because they were all there on my desk or table.

But now that's all changed. I had pretty much stopped reading for fun until MobileRead and PDAs and e-books came onto the scene, as well as the enthusiasm for reading I found from everyone at MobileRead. Now, I have files on various computers and phones as well as a dedicated e-book device. I actually have to make a list of the 5-10 books I'm reading, or trying to get to, or else I lose track. And yes, in the process, every book does indeed probably become less special.

In addition, there are so many source of e-books of every type and quality. Check out this list in the MobileRead Wiki with sites for free downloadable e-books. I'm pretty sure that this easily exceeds the available libraries of the richest men on earth throughout all of human history before the digital age. When I want a book now, I can randomly pick one of those sites, and maybe feel guilty about the 14 other types of books I'm trying to read, or feel like I'm missing out on the latest novel. As I don't usually read through books very fast, I have to admit feeling all the more jealous of all the people here at MobileRead that seem to finish a book a week or even a book a day.

So now I definitely feel a bit more stress about which books to read. The world's collective library is at my fingertips, so covering the most important books has become a lot more important to me. Life is short, and my interests are wide, so I know I can only sample what's out there.

How do I pick the right books, and manage my reading list? And it's also quite frustrating not getting to read the first part of the book for free before purchasing - I tend to shy away from buying e-books now unless I have a way of knowing for sure that I will like them, or unless the prices are too good to pass up. For SciFi reading, for example, Steve Jordan Books has became a favorite of mine. Others gravitate to Baen books for similar reasons. Both offer DRM-free books. Many other authors I follow have been because of a paperback novel that I bought first based on a recommendation, or was given as a gift. You get the idea. But what about new types of books? There are so many to choose from.

It must be a little bit how people feel when they suddenly come into large amounts of wealth - ecstatic until they realize the responsibility of properly handling the money. You have to have the right financial manager, and you have to make sure that he won't steal it all, or that it's somewhat protected from lawsuits and taxes and market fluctuations. You have to make sure you don't get caught short by ignoring the taxes owed. You have to take care of anything that you acquire, such as a home or a boat or a company or whatever. And maybe the most important of all, you probably want to invest in other people's lives and improving the world. So making the most of your money is not as easy as it sounds. I've heard that the burden of all this can make people wish they never received all that money. Personally, I'd really like to give it a try, but as for most of you, I'm much more likely to be a part of the daily grind to earn a living with an average job and living in modest circumstances.

With this sudden abundance of wealth in the form of e-books, are we really prepared to take advantage? True, one can just turn a blind eye and simply pick a book based on the mood of the moment and ignore everything else. But for some of us, reading is so important and valuable, we want to read the best stuff, and we almost anguish when we compare the number of books we can read with the number of books we'd like to read. For his honesty about longing for some of the innocence and simplicity of the old days with paper books, is accused of secretly being a paper book lover. But I appreciate his comments, and I think that there is commonly a definite sense of being overwhelmed with the choices. An e-book version of information overload.

Clearly, we have some work to do as a reading community and industry to figure out how to deal with the embarrassment of riches we have with e-books today. We're the trendsetters and the first generation of e-book enthusiasts, and in many ways this generation will set the paradigm for e-book readers that will last a long time.

So what are the ways people can simply and comfortably find the right books to read. How to best sort through their libraries or online libraries and maybe even keep a "to-read" list? How to keep track of what books they've read and what they liked or learned from them? How to know what books you might like based on the kinds of books you liked/disliked in the past? Or how much of these concerns should just be thrown out the window in order to bring back those carefree days of picking the next book to read like we used to do.... "Wow, that book looks interesting. I think I'll read it."

I'm pretty sure this will connect with someone here, unless the multitude of e-books is just pure joy and benefit for all, with no downsides? Let us know what you think with your comments and thoughts!
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Old 05-17-2010, 03:45 PM   #2
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Pure joy and benefit, with no downsides.

Saying there are "too many" ebooks is like saying there are "too many" kinds of cookies. I don't stress about having too many choices for dessert; why should I stress about having too many choices for reading? In both cases, I just pick one that looks good. I don't feel any compulsion to optimize my choice.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. I've never had access to "the best books" before; only those books that happened to be available within my price range at a physical bookstore. So there's no real reason I need "best" instead of "good" now. My method of picking a book is exactly that: "Wow, that book looks interesting. I think I'll read it."

I don't need to keep records of books I've read; I know which ones they are. Nor do I need to record what I've learned from them. Either I learned it or I didn't, and what point would be served by recording it? It might be nice to have some version of Amazon's recommendation engine (after years of training it, the thing is remarkably accurate in recommending books I already own) but I didn't have that for most of my life, and I managed to pick good books, so I'm not too worried about lacking it.

I don't have to read the best book. Just an interesting one. And I don't stress about it at all.
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Old 05-17-2010, 03:51 PM   #3
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More choice, woohoo. I don't feel any pressure to rush. It's not like I have a chance in hell to read everything I "should" anyway. Plus, I love rereading favorites.
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Old 05-17-2010, 03:54 PM   #4
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Firstly, great Editorial - thanks.

In my view, the sheer amount of free books available (out-of-copyright and creative commons), supplemented by buying the odd book can indeed be a little overwhelming. When I first got my e-reader I downloaded almost anything that looked even vaguely interesting. After a relatively short period I realised that I would never have the opportunity to read them all so I have deleted a lot of them and am now much more choosy when downloading books.

Having said that, I do love the fact that I have so much choice; I've just learned to be a little more discerning when applying that choice.
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Old 05-17-2010, 04:03 PM   #5
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Yes, the choices may be overwhelming, but forget about the forest and start looking at trees and pick something to read. If I don't like it, I move on.

I always need something to read. If a book, ebook, magazine, newspaper is not at hand I will actually read mail from my congressperson and the backs of cereal boxes. I don't feel any stress at all in the explosion of choices.
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Old 05-17-2010, 04:07 PM   #6
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I don't take leisure reading very seriously, so I don't have that issue.

I don't agonize over what to read next. I just pick something I'm in the mood for genre wise and go from there. So I love having the near limitless options personally.
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Old 05-17-2010, 04:08 PM   #7
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Not so much pressure as confusion since on my reader I just get the title and author. It would be real nice to be able to quickly view the synopsis (like you can include in Calibre). However I think I'll start a new folder of favorite authors. I keep books in folders by genre and then by author if I have more than one but that's still to spread out to quickly find a favorite author.

Some times even good books and authors aren't right for the moment. I have found one author who can get me through those moments but he doesn't write fast enough. I need a few more.

OpenInkpot crew, are you listening about the synopsis?
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Old 05-17-2010, 04:15 PM   #8
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For me ebooks are a god send. They're a little cheaper so I can try new authors (something I haven't been doing as much of lately due to the rising cost of paper books)

Add to that the convenance of bring my library with me where ever I go as well as the saved space I have on my book shelves.

And let's not forget that for people like me, who live in a small town with no book store (sacrilege!) I can get the books I want the day they're released.

Too many books? Ha! I can read two fairly short novels in one day and can (and have) read books like Gone with the Wind in a day or less. For me there is no such things as too many books.

I can't love ebooks and ebook readers more. I love my Kobo as much as I love my iPod.
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Old 05-17-2010, 04:36 PM   #9
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I'm still kinda disappointed at the relative lack of choices, to tell the truth. Having to dance between Amazon, B&N, Fictionwise and iBooks to try to find books that, it turns out, aren't on any of them, but are available at the nearest paper bookstore just makes me realize the eBook industry is still in its infancy.
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Old 05-17-2010, 04:40 PM   #10
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Always reading something

Great editorial and about six months after I got my Kindle 2, I did feel a little overwhelmed. In addition to all the wonderful classics out there, lo and behold, publishers were enticing me with a "free" first book in a series. This lead to purchasing the other books in the series (which was the publishers intent). After realizing that my TBR list was growing at an alarming rate, I thought, "There is no way in hell I am going to be able to read all these books!". That was then....

This is now... I don't feel the complusion (and believe me it was a complusion) to download every "free" title. If it sounds interesting, I jump on it. If not, I pass it by. While not as overwhelming as before, I still feel like a kid in a candy store. Like one of the previous posts, my Kindle has opened an entire world of independent authors I doubt I would have read, had it not been for their works being available electronically. Plus, the notion of having books at the push of a button means that I can read at anything, at anytime, anywhere.

At it stands right now, I have over 1000 books on my Kindle and there are days that I feel like I hit the lottery just knowing all those wonderful stories are out there waiting for me to lose myself in them. The excitement I felt when I first received my Kindle has not diminished, the methodology of searching for good reading material has changed, for the better.

IMHO, this is not a bad addiction to have.
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Old 05-17-2010, 04:40 PM   #11
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There is a term for this-- the paradox of choice.

(Myself, I'm far closer to the 100,000 ebooks downloaded end of the spectrum than to the 50.)
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Old 05-17-2010, 04:45 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kjk View Post
I'm still kinda disappointed at the relative lack of choices, to tell the truth. Having to dance between Amazon, B&N, Fictionwise and iBooks to try to find books that, it turns out, aren't on any of them, but are available at the nearest paper bookstore just makes me realize the eBook industry is still in its infancy.
Very true. My biggest headache (besides a certain whodunit contest that shall remain nameless) is finding books from that in-between era, not new, not classics, but from between 2 and 49 years back, that have not been digitized.

As far as existing e-books, given the wealth of brand-new and classic material, I narrow my focus to keep from getting overwhelmed by the variety. As Worldwalker suggested, in a world of many choices of cookies, decide on your favorite flavor, and ignore the rest if you must.

And don't be a glutton!
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Old 05-17-2010, 04:58 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Steve Jordan View Post
My biggest headache (besides a certain whodunit contest that shall remain nameless) is finding books from that in-between era, not new, not classics, but from between 2 and 49 years back, that have not been digitized.
Yes! We need a name for that period
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Old 05-17-2010, 05:34 PM   #14
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Yes! We need a name for that period
"The Twilight Zone" would work. That mysterious period between the froth of New Profit and the undying songs of History, are the tomes that drift about in the corners, barely visible in literature's periphery, lost souls awaiting their chance to escape limbo and reach either renown, or obscurity...


'scuze me. Was channeling Rod Serling for a minute, there.
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Old 05-17-2010, 06:01 PM   #15
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I think it is great to have the choice. No stress, since it doesn't disappear once you have it. Think of it as the best libraries during the paper era, available at your finger tips. In the paper era, I didn't feel the need to read everything in the Library (even the small one), but I was glad to have choice.

One thing that helps narrow the choices, I won't buy DRM encumbered books. I have an enTourage and a Sony, and haven't used their book stores because of this. I have discovered new authors, that I enjoy very much, and don't have to bend my morals to enjoy their writing (I can strip DRM, but choose not to support those who allow it). Maybe this could help you. It would narrow your choice so you don't feel so stressed.

--Carl
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