Are e-books good enough?

Are e-books good enough?

I found this a very interesting

TELEREAD post by Chris Meadows

In referencing a piece by Jason Illian of Bookshout! about the lack of technical innovation in e-books, Meadows says:

“There’s no consumer demand for better e-books.”

That’s an intriguing postulate, and I wanted to discuss it with you.

I love innovation: I think a lot of people do. My favorite thing in reading a book or watching a TV show or a movie is to be surprised…I like that with my tech, too.

Show me something I’ve never seen before, and I’ll smile.


Most people don’t want change in something which is already working and on which they depend.

I can relate to this with my work.

I’m a trainer (I train technology to medical people…I train other things to them, too, but that’s my main job). I also do “performance improvement”…workflow analysis and optimization, that sort of thing.

People present these formulae for how to improve performance, and I’m amused by one thing which I see taught as a standard technique.

They want you to observe the top performers; see what they are doing which is efficient. Then, you get the moderate and lower performing users to do things that way.

The theory, I assume, is that the top performers have found the best way to do it.

There usually is no best way for everybody.

Since people are different and have different approaches, there are different “best ways”. I’m not a visual person: make me make choices based on icons, and I’ll be slower than making choices based on words. There are other people (probably more people) who will do better with the icons.

The other thing is that top performers with tech are top performers in part because they like change.

If you observe them again three months later, they’ll be doing it a different way. Do you go back and retrain everybody else to do it the new way?

A top performer with tech says,  “What does that button do? What if I do this instead of that?”

The average doctor, nurse, medical assistant, and so on, doesn’t want to intellectually engage with the tech while providing patient care. They want to concentrate on the patient, and have the tech just support them unobtrusively. That includes when they are “charting” (documenting what happened).

Top performers (with tech) tend to have a multi-tasking temperament. They can effectively do one thing while effectively thinking about something else.

You can’t transfer that to someone else.

Many of us feel like we “depend” on books. If we want to read a book and can’t do it, it upsets us. That is, by the way, how I, as a layperson, conceptualize addiction. It’s an addiction if it feels bad if you don’t do it. 🙂

E-books, right now, work. I can pick up my device, start reading, and I’m good to go.

After all, that’s how print books worked for centuries. You picked them up and read them and the tech worked.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t really appreciate the innovations that e-books give me over p-books. Being able to carry a bunch of books in my pocket, having the book know where I finished my last reading session, and especially the increasable text size are all great.

If text sizes had been static, though, that wouldn’t have stopped me from reading e-books. I would have had to wear reading glasses, just as I would have with print books, or bought ones with larger text.

It’s true that I don’t buy books where the publisher has blocked text-to-speech access, but that’s an ethical stand, not a personal use one.

There are things that irritate people (the way that some models justify ((align the edges)) of the text, for example), but I doubt that most people feel like the e-books are below a standard acceptable level.

The question is this: why should Amazon (or other retailers, or the publishers) innovate on e-books?

Innovation costs money. It’s not just in the development; it’s in the customer service, which can be quite expensive. You risk people not liking it (ask Microsoft about Clippy the paper clip assistant for Microsoft Office)…if you even just change where a choice is in a menu, you get pushback.

There are strong reasons not to innovate.

Why, then, have we ever gotten innovation?


That’s not the only reason…companies also innovate because it is fun, because it supports departments (the engineers you need to deal with changing conditions, say, a new internet standard, also need something to do when those don’t occur…it’s good for their morale, too), and because it gets media attention.

The biggest reason, I believe, is competition. For Amazon, that included competition with Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Kobo. We’ve seen that with the Kindle and the NOOK…for example, Barnes & Noble had a frontlit device before Amazon had the Paperwhite. It also, significantly, included competition with p-books…e-books have tried to match p-books competitive advantages, by adding lending, for example (we still don’t have a “used” e-book market, though).

Does any competitor with Amazon on e-books have current features which are so much better that Amazon as to worry about people switching? The only one that comes to my mind is a water resistant EBR (E-Book Reader)…but I don’t think someone with a significant Kindle library would drop it for, say, a Kobo Aura H20. They might have both…

Given the costs associated with e-book format innovation, the question is this: should Amazon devote resources to it?

I thought I’d ask you:

If you have additional comments, feel free to leave them on this post.

Special note: I’d said yesterday I wanted to get another post out last night, but I’d had dental work done yesterday, and it affected me more than I expected. 🙂 It’s not bad, but I think it’s still affecting me this morning. My Significant Other is back from helping our now adult kid move, though, so that’s good.  🙂

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


11 Responses to “Are e-books good enough?”

  1. Zebras Says:

    Hi, my name is Zebras, and I’m a bookaholic. There is something to the addiction thing. I have inherited an addictive personality, I had an alcoholic parent. However, thankfully, I never imbibed in alcohol or drugs, but tend to apply it to books, TV, food, etc.

    I actually answered some of your poll in a contradictory fashion. I am happy the way my Kindles are. If all I had was my Mindle, as long as I could read I’d be happy. However, I love my Voyage and its innovations. I love the innovation of being able to listen to my books through Alexa, too. They should continue to innovate and fix problems, but if it doesn’t happen, I will still adore reading on the devices that I have.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Zebras!

      I don’t consider those contradictory. 🙂 I think they are good enough…and I love innovation. On every poll, I have the option to make it multiple choice or single select. I chose multiple choice on purpose here. 🙂

  2. Phink Says:

    You ask Does any competitor with Amazon on e-books have current features which are so much better that Amazon as to worry about people switching?

    I say yes for me. I have said this before; I have never actually touched a KOBO but I think they are probably the best out there. I would not switch for one reason. It’s not compatible with Amazon and I am deeply invested in their store. Oh how I wish I could access the Kindle store with a KOBO. For one they have over 20 font sizes on their device and I can’t phantom why on Earth Kindle has so few. That makes no sense to me but I am on the outside looking in. Sometimes people who don’t understand the industry can’t understand.

    I worked for a pizza delivery company from 18-26 years old a quarter century ago. I started as a driver and worked my way up to Store Manager and then Area Marketing Coordinator over 12 stores. I knew that business inside out and some customers could not understand why we did certain things. To them it made no sense but there was a reason. If they lived 100 feet outside the delivery area they could not understand why we would not deliver to them and why they had to get in their car, drive 100 feet, and meet the driver at the edge of our area. There were a few reasons why they had to do that and it had nothing to do with us being hateful or mean or not caring about their needs. So, maybe there is a reason why Amazon has one font size just a tad too small and the next just a tad too big when my eyes are tired.

    My experience in my jobs over the years has made me realize that if it’s ridiculous to me as to why a company does or does not do something might be a result of my ignorance in that industry….not their stupidity and not understanding how it should be done. Of course there may be no reason for fewer font sizes on the Kindle other than them thinking it’s not necessary but then again, it might be much more complicated than that. I cannot know for sure.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phink!

      Well, the point of already having your library at Amazon was part of what I expected to be the calculus in answering that “switching” question. So, it sounds to me like your answer is actually “no”…you might guess you would prefer the Kobo, but it’s not enough to make you switch.

      It’s also interesting to me that you are that confident in a Kobo without having used one. I’ve heard good thing about them, and my guess is that they could be incrementally better than the equivalent Kindle…but outside of the waterproof thing, I’m not sure how different it would feel for the actual reading part.

      I think it’s a great point about not knowing why a “rule” is in place…that, with the big picture, it is often legitimate. Sometimes it’s a legal or contractual obligation, sometimes it benefit someone whose use case is different. I’ve had doctors really question a feature…which I could then explain was necessary for nurses…

  3. Tuxy Says:

    For a few years, ive been jealous of the Kohl’s home screen design and some of the reading life features that they have. Honestly, if I had come to ereaders without already having a strong tie to Amazon, right now with the current options, my decision of which ereader to buy would be harder than it was back in 2007. The main/only advantage that I see to the kindle over the kobo right now is the overall strength and longevity of the company, and maybe the number of indies available. Both have large catalogs and library integration. Prices are pretty much the same between the stores in general. In some ways I think kobo has frequently had better hardware, and seems to push out new features ahead of Amazon. But looking out 10+ years, I can see Amazon still existing and providing support to their customers, because their company is diversified pretty heavily, and less likely to fail, even if one product line fails. Kobo is more single-focus, which means it would be easier for it go fold someday.

    If I could read kindle books on a kobo without breaking any laws, I would almost certainly have a kobo right now.

  4. D. Knight Says:

    I have to agree with Phink and Tuxy. I do think that the Kobo is probably a better eReader–at least from a hardware point of view. The Kobo Aura H2O sounds like a great eReader to me.

  5. Man in the Middle Says:

    The Kindle is not good enough until it can do text-to-speech again, as it did years ago. It’s unlikely I’ll buy another Kindle without it, as in other respects, reading on our iPad Mini and iPhone 6S+ is good enough.

  6. Phink Says:

    I was mistaken when I said KOBO had over 20 font sizes. Well, not exactly mistaken because 48 is more than 20 I guess hehe. I just looked and they have 48 instead of Kindle’s 8. I have considered buying one a few times and reading public domain books on them but it seems like a lot of money just to read free books when I already have a pretty darn good e-reader than can do that so I never seem to pull the trigger. The Voyage is an outstanding EBR but I just feel KOBO might be better.

  7. Phink Says:

    I hate to keep bombarding this post but I thought of something else. I had a sudden thought. Does KOBO have the feature where you can skip ahead to see how far to the end of the chapter or next paragraph break without losing your spot? I love that feature. Losing that would be huge to me. I use it all the time. I think sometimes it’s easy to forget the benefits we already have when thinking about the ones we wish we had.

    Another reason I like KOBO however is the stats. Most don’t care a lick about that I’m sure but I would love to know my reading stats. I tried this with Kindle’s kid thing. I forget the name but it gives kids stats. It’s been a few years and did not work out. I can’t remember why.

    For some reason I love stats. I create Excel files for all kinds of stuff. I can tell you have many miles per day my cars average and projected miles in 8 years and such. I can tell you my average cost of a kindle and average days of ownership for each one. At one time I knew my average cost per book and average cost per book excluding the free ones. One year I actually kept track of every reading session I did that year and could tell you what percent of the time I read 1-5 minutes, 6-30, 31-60 and so on. That was way too much trouble but I really, really, enjoyed the info. My wife is always teasing me about how organized I am and my love of keeping detailed records. I went the long way around the block to explain another reason I think the KOBO would be fantastic on that one. When I think of the stats KOBO keeps up with I get chills up my spine I get so excited.

  8. Boufa Dìs Says:

    I just want a talking dictionary with accurate word pronunciation. They give me that and I’ll be good to go until I die.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Boufa!

      Right now, that’s not going to happen on an Amazon EBR (E-Book Reader…non-tablet) since they don’t do sound at all.

      There are pronouncing dictionaries available for the Fire tablets…there is a Concise Oxford English Dictionary with audio, for example:

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