Romance readers are the ideal digital book readers. I’ve said this at conferences like Tools of Change and Digital Book World, and at writers’ conferences and online. Other smart people have said it, too. We are the readers that digital book producers are looking for. We read voraciously, consuming one title after another, wanting books at 3 a.m. when the baby is awake and won’t go back to sleep.

We’re also the ones who have “book emergencies,” which, if you’re a romance reader, you know is when you’ve finished a book and can’t get your hands on another, even though you still have some precious reading time left. Romance readers are particularly devoted to their books, so any technology that makes it easier to buy, access, carry and read books is a wonderful development for us.

That said, digital reading in its current state comes with its own set of pitfalls, including the dreaded DRM, error-filled text and e-books that cost more than the print versions. Here, with an eye skewed toward romance, is a breakdown of the e-book world, starting with Part 1: The Good.   

 

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Digital books: The Good…

Digital reading is the ideal match for an avid reader simply because of physical convenience. Digital books don’t take up room, nor do they require that you buy more bookshelves for your home. As Carina Press executive editor Angela James recently said on the daily Canadian talk show The Marilyn Denis Show, you can carry 3,500 books with you on vacation on your digital reader—imagine how many airline baggage fees it would be if you carried 3,500 paperbacks!

There’s also the comfort of reading on e-Ink. Those who suffer eyestrain from looking at an LCD computer screen all day are often surprised at how different and how appealing e-Ink displays are. I know I was. The e-Ink, particularly on latest generation devices that have a higher contrast between the ink and the background, is very friendly to the eyes.

I’ve not had any problems immersing myself in the experience of reading an e-Ink screen. In fact, I find it more comfortable than reading a book. Why? One reason: text size. I’ve joked that I’m an ideal test subject for digital reading device developers, because I’m an avid reader in her mid-30s with the eyesight of a 95-year-old. With the e-Ink display, I can crank the text up to “Great-Grandma Size” and read without my glasses. It’s marvelous to be able to customize the display, the text size and even the number of lines per page, depending on the book file, to suit your preferences.

There are also a growing number of sources to access digital books. Most people think of the big ones, Amazon and Barnes & Noble at bn.com, but there are also small independent online retailers like AllRomanceBooks.com and publisher bookstores like Harlequin’s at ebooks.eHarlequin.com.

Then there’s your local library—did you know that many libraries offer digital lending? Go to Search.Overdrive.com and click “Find a library” to see if your nearest branch offers digital lending. It’s wonderful, and since libraries pay a good amount of their not-for-profit dollars to have that access, if it’s available, use it! 

You don’t have to own a device to read e-books either. As a matter of fact, you don’t need to purchase anything at all, except maybe the book. Several different pieces of free software, from Amazon, B&N, Adobe and others, are available to read and download books on your home or work computer, and on portable devices like smartphones, iPods or iPads.

Ultimately, digital reading has enabled me to simply read more books. I carry upward of 200 books at any given time, and whenever I hear about a book I might like, with a wireless-enabled device, I can buy the book within seconds and start reading it.

I think everyone has heard what I call a “Kindle story” by now—the story of someone finding and buying a book in a place that is completely unexpected, a place where bookselling normally does not occur. Here’s mine: I read about a book in a short review in an airline magazine while the plane was taxiing to the runway. I reached into my bag, switched on my Kindle, found the book and downloaded it—all before the plane took off. Then I read it during the flight. Because of digital reading, bookstores have no boundaries. Bookselling and handselling can happen anywhere and everywhere at any given time.

There’s a lot to love in digital reading: books available whenever and wherever you need them, the ability to read in many unexpected places and the ability to customize how books appear when you read them—all told, adding up to a wonderful experience. 

 

Check back Feb. 16 when Sarah Wendell, co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, takes on digital reading, Part 2: The Bad.