Barnes and Noble just released their sales figures for the year and e-books outsold paper ones on their website for the first time. Real books are still outselling the digital variety at the actual stores, I assume – though you can both buy and read books for free on your Nook e-reader at any Barnes and Noble ‘brick and mortar’ outlet. That’s convenient for me, because I got a Nook Color for Christmas … as well as an elegant leather cover (with attached reading light) for my Kindle.
I’d like to say “Game on!”, but for me at least, it’s game over.
The Nook color wins on almost every count, so let me get the problems and quibbles out of the way first. The primary liability is price. The thing costs two hundred and fifty dollars. It’s half of what an iPad will set you back, but more than a hundred dollars more than the Kindle. Around now you may be thinking to yourself – you, an internet junkie scanning Open Salon with your morning coffee, no Luddite, no “I-liked-rotary-dial-telephones-and-why-is-the-good-version-of-anything-called-‘analog’” crank …you're cool, you're hip, you're modern ... but you're still thinking … WTF?? Why should I pay 250 bucks to read a buck I can get for free at the library? Or for a dime at the yard sale? Well, in answer to that shrewd piece of economic skepticism … I got nothing. Except … maybe you’re reading the wrong blog post. There are some excellent recipes and family dramas on the home page, some insightful political coverage (Someone even explains Auld Lang Syne!). Enjoy.
This post is for reading geeks who like cool new toys. I mean, pause a second and look at it from our point of view. We don’t particularly like cars, or guns, or fancy clothes, or even high end cooking stuff like pasta makers and ‘mandolins’. We don’t play an instrument, either (most of us) so an actual mandolin wouldn’t be much better. Our hobby, our escape, our primary source of fun, has always been associated with the smell of oxidizing paper, dusty leather and the sickly, soiled-aquarium light from library fluorescents. Our idea of a new development was the trade paperback. Some of us were pleased about ‘big print’ editions. (Or so I’ve heard).
But those days are over.
Now we have something cool to call our own.
But I was listing the drawbacks, so let’s move quickly here. The touch screen is perhaps too sensitive. It reminds me of a dog, sitting net to the couch while you eat a left-over slice of pumpkin pie, alert to every movement, following your arm like the ball in a Wimbledon Final. At any stray brush of the screen and it wants to know if you’d like to change settings, bookmark something, create a note, change the font size, check the table of contents. It’s irritating, but you learn how to deal with the touch sensitive screen after a week or two. What else? It needs to be charged much more often than the Kindle. But there are good reasons for this. It does so much more, so lavishly; Adrian Peterson probably eats more than the average toll booth attendant, but he manages to burn those calories, somehow (See, Vikings Vs. Esgles, 12/28./10).
One actual complaint: the Nook offers a plastic sheet to cover the back-lit screen and prtect it from glare, as well as dust and scratching. Sounds good, but it feels half-baked in practice. They tell you to meticulously clean the screen with the provided, color-matched cloth, before applying the wonder plastic. If you fail at this first step, air bubbles will appear. Well, you could have OCD and spend the better part of a day cleaning your Nook in an hermetically sealed room, and there would still be air bubbles between the plastic and the screen. You barely notice them … but if you’re the obsessive type who really cleaned the Nook in the first place, that won’t be much comfort. I’m waiting for glare-proof plastic 2.0. I suggest you do the same. If I want to read in broad daylight (usually I’m doing other things when I’m outside on a frosty winter afternoon), I’ll bring along my Kindle. It has a gorgeous leather case! Seriously, it looks much more substantial now, somehow part of the library- pipe-smoke-and-brandy-snifters-stuffed-armchair world it’s so rapidly displacing.
Well, enough about the Kindle. We'll always have Paris (or was it Amazon.com?). I'm out complaints regarding the Nook Color, so on to the praise.
First of all, it looks amazingly cool: dark and sleek and powerful, somehow. It’s also heavier than the Kindle, which seems like a disadvantage, but turns out to be just the opposite: a tennis ball weighs more than a Badminton shuttlecock, too; but the game feels more substantial because of that. You don’t play tennis in flip-flops. You turn on the Nook Colotand it feels like a miniature iPad. Or rather, an iPad sized properly for reading. People say it’s hard to read on the back-lit screen, that they get headaches from it, etc. I have no idea what they’re talking about. Lying in bed in a dark room next to a sleeping loved one, with your pug curled up beside you, wolfing down a book on that glowing screen is one of the most pleasurable reading experiences I’ve ever had. It mysteriously evokes the whole sense of entering another, more engaging, more brightly lit world that I remember from my childhood. Maybe it even evokes that famous ‘birth memory’ people are supposed to experience as they die: sliding toward the bright light of a new world. Okay, that may be going too far. But the backlit screen makes you want to go on reading forever. I downloaded The Lord of the Rings for that exact purpose. It seemed fitting anyway, as I caressed my Nook and kept it away from everyone else and muttered “My precious.”
Technically, once you get used to it, that hyper-sensitive touch screen becomes a real pleasure to use. Lightly tap the edge of the page and a new one appears – much more quickly than it does on the kindle, whose irksome ‘tiny-dot’ keyboard seems almost steam punk compared to the virtual one that materializes at the bottom of the Nook Color whenever you need it. In general, the Kindle feels utilitarian, almost like some kind of military issue piece of equipment, after using the Nook Color. In civilian terms, it’s like driving a Dodge Caravan after zipping around in a Lexus. And much the same way, let’s face it -- you don’t really need the Lexus to get to the grocery store. But it’s a life-enhancing luxury, and the Nook Color gives you the same rush for just an extra hundred dollars: seems like a good deal to me. It’s all amortized so quickly anyway – just not buying all those hard-cover books you’ll never read again (saving anywhere from ten to twenty dollars on each one) adds up fast, not to mention eliminating some of the diabolical book-clutter that always threatens to overwhelm any true book-nerd’s house.
You can also play chess, listen to Pandora radio and play video games on your Nook. You can read magazines in full color and just scroll down whole articles without the pesky ‘continued on P. 47’ interruptions. This is true for newspapers, also. If you like, the New York Times can be delivered to your Nook every morning, available when you actually wake up, unlike the physical paper, which never seems to arrive on my doorstep before I have to leave for work. And the color photography – at least in the newspapers – seems to have a much higher resolution on the e-book reader.
So, the Nook Color seems almost perfect to me – smaller and lighter than the iPad, with all of its best reading-related features, sleeker, quicker, more advanced than the Kindle, and still allowing you the same e-book ease of reading – and buying! – books.
Let’s not forget buying. Barnes and Noble offers almost three times as many books as Amazon, so your chances of finding the book you want in digital form are much better. The other day I was roaming around on line and found an embedded trailer for a movie called The Other Woman on Nikki Finke’s web site. I played the preview. The movie, starring Natalie Portman, looked interesting, but wasn’t coming out for a while. I freeze-framed the credits, saw it was based on a book by Ayelet Waldman, clicked onto Barnes and Noble, bought the book for my Nook and was reading it happily, all in less than a minute.
No wonder e-books are outselling the “hinge-and-stitch” dead tree pulp variety. They can’t compete with that.