Does the Sony Reader taste as good as a physical book and other e-book thoughts

I have brought my blog back from the dead! Did you miss me?

I’m just going to jump back into it with a random list of thoughts about a Sony Reader 505 that I won in a contest about a month ago (thanks, Unbridled Books, Firebrand Technologies, and Emily St. John Mandel!). In no particular order:

It is super irritating that the Reader doesn’t work with my MacBook unless I download software someone had to write in order to basically trick it into working with a Mac. (Calibre is, though, a good program.) No wonder nobody in Brooklyn has one.

E-reading is not a strain on the eyes. I had no problem reading for hours on the Reader. I also did not really feel as though I was comprehending the books any differently, though I guess an MRI scan would be a better judge of that.

If you are a fast reader, which I am, you will probably also be annoyed by the weird blinky thing it does between pages. Do other e-readers do that? What the hell is that?

DRM sucks and, though I have on more than one occasion set out EXPRESSLY to spend money on an e-book, I have yet to do it. This is mostly because of DRM and the fact that, because I have a Mac and the Reader won’t make nice with it, I can’t do whatever magic wand waving nonsense I need to do in order to put DRM-encrypted files on the Reader. I probably would have bought a few e-books by now if not for that. The other thing holding me back has been the umpteen formats in which one can buy an e-book. It’s confusing and stupid and I find it impossible to believe that whoever it is who needs to make the decision to release all e-books in the same format hasn’t done it yet. In the case of both DRM and formats, it’s got to be either the publishers or the tech people who are making these mistakes, which I find funny because they’re the same people who send out press releases about how e-books are the future. Not if you make them complicated and annoying, they’re not.

And for that matter, if I had spent money on e-books, I damn sure would have claimed them as a business expense, because frankly right now e-books are so ugly that I’d feel silly spending money on them if I couldn’t even get a break on my taxes. I like what Emily said in this post—I think the industry does, to some extent, need to start thinking about e-reading as a medium, not just a format. Nobody knows better than me how much it costs to put a book together, but frankly, an e-book just does not seem worth the same amount of money as a physical one.

I am glad I didn’t buy the Reader, it’s absurdly over-priced for what it does. If I made twice as much money as I do now, I’d still feel that way.

Partially this is because it’s really poorly-designed. I try not to be too negative on this site, but I think Sony can take it. As a Mac user I know I’m predisposed to expect my hardware to be elegant, but this thing is just blegh. I have no idea why it has to have so many buttons. Sony, for a minimal consulting fee I’d be glad to show you how you could have easily gained an inch of reading space on this thing. My only consolation is that the Kindle is just as ugly, and also white, so over time it will be ugly AND covered in fingerprints.

I love using it to read ARCs. I love getting them in my inbox and plopping them on the Reader and not adding to the stacks all over my bedroom.

I downloaded some free public domain books from the Gutenberg Project, and finally read Mark Twain for the first time in my life. I am sure you will all be shocked to hear that the man was very funny and a great writer! It’s all about timeliness here at

The thing the Reader is best for, in my life, is my commute. It takes me 20-25 minutes to walk to work. I like to read for much of that walk so the time isn’t wasted. And, though everybody mocked Jeff Bezos for pointing out that an advantage of the Kindle is reading one-handed, the fact is that reading one-handed is pretty useful for a number of non-perverted reasons. One of them is walking. I love walking and reading on this thing at the same time.

If the Reader worked like a Kindle and downloaded my blog reader and newspaper and magazine subscriptions, it would probably be one of the first things I picked up every day. But it doesn’t, so I can go days without using it.

So those are some random thoughts on the Sony Reader. As I mentioned in a forthcoming Shelf Awareness column (link TK), I wouldn’t recommend spending your money on an e-reader—yet. I’m holding out for something that has way more uses. But in terms of plain old reading experience, it is pretty useful, and I think booksellers need to become more familiar with the technology. Mostly because it is probably going to become part of our jobs, but also, I think many booksellers might actually enjoy the damn things a little bit.

There’s so much information out there on e-reading, I don’t know if there are any questions people have about it. Are there? Do you have any questions or thoughts? I have a question, and it’s probably the most important one there is when I think about my relationship to the Reader.

Do I look more or less fetching with an e-reader in my mouth as compared to a physical book?

Nom nom nom nom

Nom nom nom nom


8 comments so far

  1. ericrosenfield on

    I live in Brooklyn, and I have a Sony 505, therefore you are wrong.

    Read Twain’s The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras. That’s some good stuff there.

  2. kate reynolds on

    Hey Stephanie, if you didn’t see this from the SBs – Sony is getting its Mac act together:
    An e-reader sure sounds great for ARCs – my piles always runneth over. Maybe it could be digital catalog compatable, too?

  3. Mike Cane on

    >>>Do other e-readers do that? What the hell is that?

    It’s the eInk refreshing. The technology works by arranging the black particles in a certain array and then *shutting off*. Which is why while you read, there is no power draw.

    • bookavore on

      Thank you! Good to know.

  4. Heather Elia on

    This is probably the least helpful of the comments, but I think that although *you* look equally fetching (whether consuming e-book or traditional book), the e-reader itself is less charming than a physical book, so I prefer your standard bookavore picture.

  5. sarahwinters on

    Incase you have not heard, the new Sony Reader is… well here is a quote for an article I just read, “For the first time, they will be compatible with PCs and Mac computers, though. Sony will offer current Reader owners a software update to make theirs compatible with both.” I hope that will help you, I know it will help my husband… he uses his Kindle, because the Reader hates his Mac and he refuses to us my hp. I hope it is more then just a rumor… but I surfed the web and it looks like Sony announced it.

  6. Jonathan on

    Hiya, I just found your blog from reading Lauren Cerand’s twitter feed. I used to live in Greenpoint, many years ago, perhaps even before they turned the Astral into a veterans’ hospital. Since then, I’ve been given the Sony Reader as a gift, and I would like to recommend to you the NYPL’s e-book lending program. I used it a lot when I was deployed to Iraq, but it works in the city as well. You download the book file (in PDF format), and you have three weeks to read it before the DRM runs out. The best feature is that the books are free.

    Verifying the hyperlink, I see that Kristin Lavransdatter by 1928 Nobelist Sigrid Undset is now available! Yay!

    • bookavore on

      Thank you! That is awesome!

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