I followed with interest the announcement of Apple's benevolent contribution to consumerism, the iPad. My initial (as in immediate) reaction was expected. Lust! I wanted it and for a brief second even bought Apple's argument that I needed it. That "third" category had to be met for me to be fulfilled. I have an admitted weakness for all things gadgetry.
However, I also have an uneasy tension with Apple. I am an iPhone user, and don't regret it for one second, but I have resisted being sucked down the Apple vortex. I don't fall prey to cults easily and while I have always acknowledged that Apple makes great products, I have not embraced the salvific characterizations of Steve Jobs and his company. I use a PC for my work and it does me just fine, thank you very much. In fact, I could not perform many of the tasks without a PC, so complete baptism into the Apple religion has never been a serious consideration for me anyhow. There are few things that annoy me as much as the Apple hipsters pontificating about their fashionable techy geekness. You can shoot me the day I put an Apple logo on my vehicle.
So the temptation of the iPad is not so much Apple as it is my yearnings for an eReader, a yearning that I also have much conflict about. You see, I love books, newspapers and magazines. I love the written word on a page I can read, write, tear and spill coffee on. The idea of sitting on the pot flipping through the Bass Pro Catalog online, just loses some luster. But, with shelf space at a premium in my house and the idea of accessing any number of books or periodicals in one device, is well, very, very attractive. I don't travel much, but it would be so much easier to have an eReader with hundreds of volumes available than toting around two or three books everywhere I go. I recently lost an library book on a trip and it only exasperated the yearning.
One of the occupational hazards of being a financial planner is that I constantly evaluate (though not always follow) purchases through the prism of financial responsibility. It can be haunting for sure, but typically keeps me from impulsive purchases. So without going into my other dilemmas regarding the role of the iPad in my life, I need to write to work out some of my financial considerations regarding the iPad in general and eReaders in particular.
- Gadgetry vs. Shelving- Obviously, any financial consideration about jumping into eBooks involves factoring in the price of the reader and they are not cheap. The Nook and Kindle run $259 for the standard gadget. iPad starts at $499! A new eReader seemingly comes out every day, but the $250 mark seems a plausible starting spot. If you are like me, out of shelf space, I have to buy another bookcase (assuming you have a place to put it). Shelving can run be as much or as little as you want, but I have a shelf falling apart because I skimped on price before. So for a real wood shelf that is halfway pleasing as furniture will cost as well. I am going to say it is a toss up from a costs standpoint.
- Sustainability vs. Aesthetic- This is probably a factor of age. If you are my age or older then the appeal of a physical paper in your hand while drinking your morning coffee is very powerful. But I acknowledge that this aesthetic is probably not shared by those who are coming of age getting their information from a screen. But for me, it is real. A real book is comforting but eReaders are generally considered a greener and more sustainable way to go. Because I am interested in sustainability, I am willing to pay a premium here. Ebooks win here.
- eBooks price vs. real book price- If you agree that the eReader costs can be comparable to shelving and space costs, then this is not close. iPad eBooks are going to cost more, which Publishers are sure to like, but Amazon and Nook are selling most books at a 9.99 price point and of course, there are a gillion eBooks available for free. Many authors will offer their books at the great price of free for a time, so if you are quick, you can build a nice library for much less money with the eBook. Real books can be pricey, particularly if you are one that likes to get a book around release time. Their is always the library and I am a big proponent and user of the library and there is the issue of availability. Not all books, particularly many of the kind that I read that are not yet available in eBook form. But I suspect this will gradually change over time. Verdict? Ebooks going forward, but the library is your friend.
- Virtuality vs. Permanence-This is an interesting one to me. The conversion to eBook format, means that your library will only be as good as your ability to retrieve the book. Should formats become obsolete and eReader either wear down or require upgrade, which is a given, then the price point rises. A hard copy of a book can last your lifetime with proper care. The other "hidden" costs will be the storage options for your virtual library. Backing up and maintaining an ongoing library of books will require systems and data space. Hard copy of books seem to win here.
- Free vs Subscription- Will I be more tempted to subscribe to convenient content via eFormats. I retrieve the New York Times via my iPhone and I love it but they are moving gradually toward charging for that content and already, thought I am a subscriber to the Wall Street Journal online, I have to have an additional subscription if I wish access to a mobile version. Publisher are ecstatic about the technology if the iPad offering visually appealing content for which, I am sure they plan on charging. Nothing wrong with subscribing to those things that bring value to you but if the temptation to subscribe to more than you can use or if more superfluous to you, it just another temptation to spend money that could be better used elsewhere. The ease of which you could "buy" or subscribe is a real temptation. You don't usually buy what you don't see, so I see this as a real money leak for many people. Hard copies win here.
Finally, it would seem to me that the issue largely comes down to how I perceive the inevitability of the eBook as the future and where on the curve I want to be. If I think, that the future of reading is electronic, then I have to decide if I want to jump in now and evolve with the technology or if I would rather wait and let things play out and be a late comer to the party, but at the party nonetheless. My guess is that I will have an eReader sooner rather than later. <sigh>
So am I willing to pay a premium for all the other features the iPad offers which I can already do on my iPhone, just on a smaller screen. I don't know. That cost analysis will have to wait a bit. Like I said, it is an occupational hazard. Perhaps, I will read about how to deal with such hazards and the format in which I read it will answer my question.