A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to receive a Sony Reader and thought, “Why not?” After all, as the head of marketing and sales for NetGalley, a service that advocates digital galleys….well, that’s a train I should be on. But so far, I’ve not been converted.
The headline here is a little misleading—the truth of the matter is, the Sony Reader device is pretty okay. The setup was easy. It’s easy to use (though my 4-yr old fully expected a touch screen). It took a little getting used to the timing of moving to the next screen without interrupting the flow, and the screen size is too small for my liking. But overall, as a device, I’ll give it a B.
It’s the CONTENT that’s horrible.
Let me explain. Mainly, it’s difficult to find the content I want in the Sony eBook Store. For better or worse, I’m accustomed to the thorough and intuitive search you find on Amazon. It’s not perfect, but it’s good more times than bad. But because of the limited content in the Sony Library, and the (to me) preponderance of public domain titles popping up as search results, the feeling there is more bargain-basement than cutting edge.
Now, I admit, browsing for titles in an online bookstore or even a real bookstore is not so easy. Most readers go online or into a store looking for a title they want to purchase, even if only as a jumping off point for browsing. But here’s the rub with the Sony Reader store: the top five titles on my list? Not in the store. The top children’s book on Amazon, which my 8-yr old thought he would try? Not in the store. His next three choices? Not in the store. The 1000-page book on Pearl Harbor my husband thought would be perfect in digital form? Not in the store either.
Now I’m frustrated, though not ready to give up. I did finally find a book I’d try. (Note to publishers: I wasn’t willing to pay $15 for it, though—I opted for an under $5 book.) But Sony, why not give me my first 5 titles for $5? Even book clubs do this. Not treating the reading device owners as a club, who will eventually share, annotate and recommend content to other owners, seems shortsighted, especially as newer devices will have wireless connectivity built in. (Imagine your device telling you that there are 5 other people within walking distance reading the same book–or GPS on your reader that recommends books based on your physical location. You’re in Iowa? Try…).
But I digress. I started reading, finally, and again the content fell short. I’m just not satisfied with the ebook being an exact replica of the printed book. Don’t book publishers watch TV? I’m no expert, but haven’t you noticed that as DVR has become more popular, the content and makeup of shows has started to change? The front matter has gotten shorter, they’ve inserted content between commercials, product placement has crept in to nearly every aspect of the show itself. I’m not suggesting these tactics for publishers, but why not find ways to enhance the reading experience?
You know what I’d like to see? Something that calculates how much longer I have before finishing the book at my current pace. Or, at the end, suggestions for how I can share my thoughts with other folks who have read the book, or other books I might download next.
I believe that the Kindle’s connectivity (and others to follow) may eventually overcome some of these hurdles, and if you haven’t read Felix Torres’ recent post on Teleread about Amazon’s Kindle strategy, stop reading this and click on it. The one bright shining spot I can see for publishers in all this is that they cultivate and harvest quality content; and despite Amazon’s many talents, content creation is not high on the list.
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of tweeting from publishing folks noticing Kindle users in the subway and other city places. These tweets have an air of wistful excitement—“it’s happening, someone’s really coming to our party!” And I agree, change seems to be in the air. But I live in suburbia. There are no Kindles on the school playground or in the supermarket, none that I’ve seen.
Until publishers think “outside the book” to deliver reading experiences, I believe there’s a real danger that their curated and edited content won’t be as widely consumed as it could be—and that is a far bigger danger.