/ Technology

Why I’ve turned the page on ebooks

Reading an ibook in iPad

With the arrival of the iPad, Kindle and other e-readers, could we be waving goodbye to the traditional paperback? I previously dismissed ebooks, but now you can officially call me an e-reader convert.

How times change. Back in July, I came out squarely against ebooks. I predicted that the humble printed word would show up ebook readers as expensive, awkward devices.

Ebooks were, I concluded, merely novel – but no replacement for the novel itself.

But now I’m on a different page, with my last 10 book purchases being digital renditions of their now outmoded print ancestors. And while some arguments still favour the printed book (cheap, sharable, lightweight and without batteries) I’m now a convert to the ebook cause.

Browsing ebooks by day and night

So why have I turned over a new electronic leaf? I’ve bought several novels for my iPad using Apple’s iBook store – Stephen King’s Under The Dome, and Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity (excuse my literary taste).

I browsed and downloaded both from the comfort of my bed at midnight – a boon, as bookstores aren’t typically open at that time of night, and there’s certainly none that can be browsed wearing pyjamas. Downloads were instant, and the pricing reasonable.

The reading experience was also sublime, but it was the added technological advantages that swung it. After reading until the early hours, I opened the same book on my iPhone for my commute to work and was amazed to find that it automatically remembered where I was on my iPad, opening the book to the same page.

Seamless reading across devices means I can pick up either my iPhone or iPad and continue without flicking through to find my place – the equivalent of digitally folding down the corner of a page.

Ebooks are inspiring kids to read

But the bulk of ebooks purchased have been for my kids. The astonishing Dr Seuss books (think Green Eggs And Ham) and the wonderful Alice In Wonderland are brought to life in a breath-taking way.

Stories can be read, words touched, pictures interacted with – all adding a richness to the story that simply can’t be achieved with paper and glue alone. My six-year-old was captivated reading along, playing games, and doing something amazing – falling in love with reading.

There’s also a growing section of free books. From fledgling authors to out-of-copyright masterpieces that retain the same magic as the printed version. Access to thousands of free books is a tremendous democratisation of the printed word.

On a tour around Which? I’ve found a bunch of people using e-readers – from Amazon Kindles to iPads, Sony Readers to laptops. And I’m sure the trees are thanking ebook buyers as well.

Much like Last.fm broadened my exposure to new music, I’m now stalking the virtual aisles of Apple’s iBook store at all times of the day. My conversion may be a small footnote in the history of ebooks, but the future of e-readers could well prove to be a blockbuster over the coming years.

If Matt has convinced you that ebooks are the way forward and you’re ready to dive straight into e-readers, we’re giving away a 3G Amazon Kindle in our first Which? Conversation competition. Make sure to enter by Monday 8 November 2010 – and good luck!

Comments
Profile photo of danny
Member

As an avid bookworm, I have been toying with the idea of an e-reader for the last few months and keep going backwards and forwards to the idea. I even checked the price of some ebooks to see if I could convince myself of it being more economical. I AM convinced on the environmental side but can’t presently balance cost of e-reader with little apparent reduction in cost of book purchase.
If only I understood Twitter I could perhaps at least attempt to win one in the Which competition!

Profile photo of Chris Christoforou
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I tried a couple of office e-readers for the first time last year, for a few weeks, and really enjoyed them. I enjoyed downloading and reading the newspaper on it in the morning on the train.

I too consider the environmental impact of paper books – at the moment I mostly buy second hand, then give them away to charity/sell them on.

I expect that if ebook readers come down a little more in price, I’d be seriously considering buying one. Especially if the digital edition of my favourite daily newspaper comes down a bit in price also and quality is improved (at the moment I believe it is a significantly cut-down version).

Member
Simon says:
2 November 2010

I’m currently planning to buy a Kindle – mostly for all those books I want to read but don’t want to find a place for in my house. And with lots of classics available for free, there are lots of things out there to read that won’t actually cost me any money.

I am disappointed to find however that the only periodical I read regularly, the Economist, actually costs slightly more to subscribe to on Kindle than it does for the paper version. I think many consumers would find that hard to comprehend.

(Also, please correct the text of the article from ‘bought to life’ to ‘brought to life’, please please please, I’m a stickler, thank you)

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
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Thanks for spotting that Simon – that one slipped by, though we hope such errors are rare!

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Colin says:
2 November 2010

Like many, I have followed the evolution of e-book readers and am tempted by the technology. However, I still need more convincing of the advantages over the traditional book.

Books are not format dependant unlike ebooks. In your article you transfer from one Apple product to another. I can read a book, pass it to my partner or friends and not worry about DRM or if they have the correct reader.

Cost of books is still too high. Like all new technology, early adopters will always pay a premium and then as the market expands the prices will fall. I will wait a while.

One of my other gripes is for all book-worms. If you like to read a lot, then I guess many would either buy and circulate used books which is good your pocket, charities, small businesses and the environment.
I like to support the local library (after all I pay taxes to keep them going) and if the publishers would come up with a framework for e-books that can be loaned out, this would make me seriously consider these devices.

Profile photo of terfar
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We have just invested in a new Kindle. Our initial impressions are positive. The readability of the screen is outstanding. There’s a plethora of free books available – though eBooks need to be converted for the Kindle, the software utility for doing this has a simple interface and works really fast.

We’ve not had it long enough to be really subjective, but the only downside we have found at the moment is the click when turning pages – really no louder than turning the page of a book, but somehow it seems a little intrusive to the peace and quiet preceding sleep! Perhaps we will get used to it.

Profile photo of leila.prowting
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I love reading and this definitely on my Christmas list for myself and my son. I am using kindle on my pc at the moment. This will encourage children to read more also.

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George Allen says:
2 November 2010

I moved to reading on a Palm to a Sony Reader to an iPad – and can’t praise the iPad highly enough!

While I’ve bought from the iBook store, I’ve also converted my Sony books and downloaded free from sites like Gutenburg (you can add cover images in iTunes!) so now there are, um, several dozen books available on my iPad…which is great. I also enjoy reading more than one book at a time, and switching takes seconds – with no chance of mislaying a book!

From my experience, as an ebook reader, the iPad rocks – and, of course, it does other things too!

Member
Mike Swift says:
2 November 2010

Me too. My experience too – from sceptic to devotee. BUT there is so much more, such as instant checking back on characters etc, instant dictionary for recondite words, and a quick tap away from maps to relate to locations. Also reading in bed without the need for lighting.

A truly amazing experience that has re-ignited my love for books

Member
Sophie Gilbert says:
3 November 2010

Are ebooks and downloads VAT-free? If not they should be.

Member
Chris yates says:
5 November 2010

I have been using a Sony PRS 505 since 2008. It is particularly useful for holidays when the need to transport lots of reading material – books are heavy – has gone. Easy to use, easy to download and easy to read. It is amazing that I can hold 185 + books in one hand, and there are increasing sources of free downloads. I only buy digital books now.

Member

I bought a Kindle some weeks ago and I can honestly say it has revolutionised my reading. The interface is superb, it’s possible to ‘sample’ books prior to purchase, free of charge, and of course there are all those ‘added benefits’ of digital systems, not least the ability to download at 3.00am if that’s what takes your fancy.

I like the fact that I can dictate text size too. Amazon says it is currently working on the question of allowing borrowing. I hope it will also look at gifting – at present, it isn’t possible to buy Kindle downloads for friends, which I think is a major drawback. I don’t see e-books replacing paper books, but I can no reason why they can’t co-exist. For me, it’s about space as much as anything. I have a (tiny) house which groans under the weight of my books, so being able to create a ‘supplementary’ library as it were is a major bonus.

Ebooks are not VAT free and I’m sure not where that distinction comes from, but no doubt someone with the necessary expertise will provide the answer.

Member
Wendy says:
5 November 2010

I was against a Kindle on the grounds that I wouldn’t be able to lie in a hot bath relaxing while reading – but now wonder if there isn’t room for both formats in everyones life a book that can happily fall into the water (and I mean paperbacks) and left to dry draped over the radiator and the Kindle to pop into a bag loaded up with all the ‘expensive’ books for those journeys on the bus/train/plane/boat while commuting to work…can I have one please???!!!!!!

Member
Charles says:
5 November 2010

I’ve had a Kindle for six months now and wouldn’t be without it. I travel a lot for work – short and long hauls and read on flights to pass the time. The lack of bulk and the ready supply of books is a real boon. Want the next installment in a series in Bratislava at midnight? No problem, turn on the wireless and download it in an instant.

However, the Kindle will not replace my work “reference” books – those practical text books you want to annotate and refer to again and again. There are notes and bookmarks in the Kindle, but they do not replace the practical feel of working with a book.

So – for consuming mass fiction, or first reads of business books – Excellent. For reference books – not so good – I’ll stick to paper.

Member
JohnT says:
5 November 2010

What concerns me are the huge numbers of books which have been optically scanned badly and not proofed or corrected – and usually the layout goes completely to pot as well. This mostly applies to the very cheap editions, often less than £1. For classic poetry texts, the lack of proper formatting for stanzas, paragraph breaks, and line numbering can make the edition unreadable.

Electronic versions of books coming from major publishers ought not to suffer from these problems, hoewever some do. Penguin, Cambridge UP. and Oxford UP have ebooks in their own format which are ok, but whose Kindle versions are badlyy convereted and uncorrected, and often have graphics or tables missing. Amazon needs to tackle the quality problem of its Kindle editions, using software that can automate the removal of some of the worst problems of misaligned optical scans. The second major improvement would be to get the original electronic text direct from the publishers, and then convert electronically to the Kindle format. After all, all publishing is now typeset from word processing and page layout software, so there should be no excuse for mangled text!

One other problem with Amazon currently, is the attachment of a Kindle edition to the description of a proper print edition to which it is not related – i.e. the Kindle edition text does not come from the specific print edition that the Kindle edition is described as represednting on the web pages.

Member
Not Important says:
5 November 2010

I recently bought a kindle and love it. I have Irlen Syndrome (causes reading problems) and find reading things that are high contrast or brightly lit difficult (e.g. black text on white paper or computer screens). I used to read books using coloured overlays to reduce the contrast, but this made page turning a pain.

With the kindle the screen is already kinder on the eyes, and with a cut down overlay slotted infront of the screen, for me it is much more discreet. This means I can tolerate reading alot more text in one go than I could before making following the meaning of what is written much easier. In the past I rarely read novels because I couldn’t keep track of characters and stories easily. I am now on my 4th novel this month, a record for me.

The kindle also allows me to e-mail documents to the device so now when I get lengthy documents e-mailed to me for work, rather than print them on coloured paper as I did before, I can just send them to the kindle and read them there. I can highlight text or make notes right on the kindle and then access these as ‘clippings’. So if I have to summerise something, I don’t have to re-scan through the text to collate the key points.

Where I am not sure it will work as well is with text books where you want to dip in and out rather than read chronologically.

Member
martin george says:
5 November 2010

e books are OK I guess, but there seems a dearth of PLAYS available from this resource, am I correct on this?

Member
Peter Colebrook says:
5 November 2010

I’m a recent convert to the Kindle and, whilst I love paper, I can manage without the weight. I recently trvelled from Heathrow T5 to Cockfosters – about as far as you can go on the Underground – and at one point a young lady beside me was reading the same book. However, her paperback was 4 times the size of my Kindle aand I still had all the other books, papers and documents which would have filled a small trunk on paper.

I’ve just, yesterday, given my mother-in-law her own Kindle. She’s in a residential home following a stroke and cannot manage a book. The Kindle has re-kindled her love of reading – I’m not sorry about the pun!

Member
RachelT says:
5 November 2010

I was an early adopter – I had one of the first Sony readers sold in this country. I would have had an ereader before then if I could have got hold of one. I have since taken to using Stanza and Kindle on my i-phone and have also recently purchased a kindle with wifi/3G – although I still prefer my old Sony.

What works well?

The ability to take all of my books on holiday with me without surpassing my luggage limit was the initial major attraction.

I now don’t have the storage problems my books gave me at one time.

I find it very useful to be able to increase the fontsize of my reading material.

Instant gratification is wonderful – I finish a book and can download its sequel immediately

Some of you may identify with me when I say that I used to be embarrassed by the covers of some of my books – they didn’t necessarily depict the tone of the reading material, but would have definitely given people nearby the wrong impression – they can’t see them now.

What hasn’t worked so well?

DRM – but there are ways around that, both technical and the many publishers that sell books with no DRM – eg Baen books (Sci Fi) and Samhain (Romance) to name but two

Geographic Restrictions – can be a real pain if you follow what is published in America, but as with DRM, there are publishers for whom this is not an issue

The cost of books in the UK I find fairly expensive, but read a lot of American published books at less than £4. The number of libraries which will lend e books is increasing and I have included the overdrive address so you can see if there is one near you. But there are also a lot of places to download free books (quite legitimately).

http://search.overdrive.com

Two other really useful addresses are for the Mobile Read fora – where there is no end to the helpful information (and free downloads) available:

http://mobileread.com

The other piece of (free) software of which I cannot speak highly enough is the Calibre ebook management system. Not only will this catalogue your books, it will convert them to a format your reader can use, and you can download newspapers etc. I think I still only scratch the surface of what this will do.
http://calibre-ebook.com/

Hope this is useful and persuasive!

Member
Ann E says:
5 November 2010

I too have been toying with the idea of buying an ebook reader. My local Library does e-downloads for Library members so I would not have to fork out loads of money for books to download. However the Library downloads are not in the same format as the Amazon Kindle. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a common format for such a revolutionary device?

Member
Peter Colebrook says:
5 November 2010

yes – a common format would be great but, as we saw with various other technologies – VHS versus what ever it was for video recorders and Blueray versus another I’ve forgotten – the market will ultimately decide.

Member
toms says:
5 November 2010

It is pointless to argue about e-books in absolute terms; they are useful in many ways, but are unlikely to replace books soon.

There is a number of rasons why one would want to use e-books.
1 They provide access to books (particularly out of copyright ones) that are otherwise difficult, expensive and bulky. This is particularly true of foreign language texts.
2 They are portable; when I travel or ride on a bus or sit on a park bench I can have a library with me.
3 They allow searching in a text. That compensates for leafing through a paper book, though I sometimes still miss doing that.
4 (a recent discovery) They are easy to use one-handed. My wife broke her wrist recently and has taken to reading on my Sony reader, though she had always been doubtful about non-paper books.
There are few disadvantages I can see – the fragility of the readers is one, the poor reproduction of illustrations another. Perhaps a tablet like the I-Pad might deal with that, but I find back-lit screens annoying after a while.
I have been reading electronic texts for some twenty years now, partly by necessity, partly by preference, and the new generation of e-book readers has very much improved the experience. When I started to read on a computer screen I found that I had eye-strain after a couple of hours. My next device was a Psion (two different models, actually). There the problem was the darkness of the background and resulting poor contrast, but I over a couple of years I did read the whole of the edition Furnes of Balzac, kindly provided by the French National Library. I would not have bought that as books, nor could I have borrowed it in London. That is true of many other foreign language books. Project Gutenberg has provided me with many out of copyright titles over the years and continues to do so.
I now have two e-readers – a Sony PRS-600 and an Irex Iliad. The latter has a larger screen and, although it is slower and has poorer battery life, I prefer it.
Calibre, the free management software mentioned by another contributor, does everything one needs neatly and efficiently, much better than the Sony’s library software. It takes care of any format conversions automatically. That is not a minor point: some readers cannot use MOBI or Epub and PDFs can be a nuisance unless converted.

Member
toms says:
5 November 2010

It is pointless to argue about e-books in absolute terms; they are useful in many ways, but are unlikely to replace books soon.

There is a number of rasons why one would want to use e-books.
1 They provide access to books (particularly out of copyright ones) that are otherwise difficult, expensive and bulky. This is particularly true of foreign language texts.
2 They are portable; when I travel or ride on a bus or sit on a park bench I can have a library with me.
3 They allow searching in a text. That compensates for leafing through a paper book, though I sometimes still miss doing that.
4 (a recent discovery) They are easy to use one-handed. My wife broke her wrist recently and has taken to reading on my Sony reader, though she had always been doubtful about non-paper books.
There are few disadvantages I can see – the fragility of the readers is one, the poor reproduction of illustrations another. Perhaps a tablet like the I-Pad might deal with that, but I find back-lit screens annoying after a while.
I have been reading electronic texts for some twenty years now, partly by necessity, partly by preference, and the new generation of e-book readers has very much improved the experience. When I started to read on a computer screen I found that I had eye-strain after a couple of hours. My next device was a Psion (two different models, actually). There the problem was the darkness of the background and resulting poor contrast, but I over a couple of years I did read the whole of the edition Furnes of Balzac, kindly provided by the French National Library. I would not have bought that as books, nor could I have borrowed it in London. That is true of many other foreign language books. Project Gutenberg has provided me with many out of copyright titles over the years and continues to do so.
I now have two e-readers – a Sony PRS-600 and an Irex Iliad. The latter has a larger screen and, although it is slower and has poorer battery life, I prefer it.
Calibre, the free management software mentioned by another contributor, does everything one needs neatly and efficiently, much better than the Sony’s library software. It takes care of any format conversions automatically. That is not a minor point: some readers cannot use MOBI or Epub and PDFs can be a nuisance unless converted.

Member
toms says:
5 November 2010

@ AnneE and Peter Colebrook

The format problem is easy to solve; I use the excellent Calibre
http://calibre-ebook.com/
to convert file formats. If you try to load an incompatible file to your reader it will even ask you whether you want it converted to a suitable format.

Member
michael Hedley says:
5 November 2010

Just bought my Kindle and agree with everything Matt said. It has completely changed my reading habits, I find I can read a lot more as the Kindle is so portable. It slips into most of my pockets easily so is becoming as indispensible as my mobile.

A quick aside. You can download a vast miscellany of free books in many different formats when you browse the web. There is a freeware program called Calibre which can convert these downloads into most of the current reader formats and apparently does a lot more which I’ve yet to try!

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I bought one for Sylvia and she lent it to a friend compelled to lie on his back or side in hospital. Unfortunately he couldn’t get on with it.

I have a large library and buy a lot of books. Most of those I buy aren’t available on Kindle. I’m also a keen supporter of the Gutenburg project and download books from them onto my PC kindle.

I’d be happier with the kindle it there were fewer difficulties on reading text or on reading books with illustrations. [I downloaded the Fox-Talbot book about his discovery of photography and I saved it and read it with the illustrations – some of the earliest photographs ever – and then I tried to show someone else and the illustrations had gone. I’d prefer it if the site allowed easy searches by author or title or subject among the ‘free’ books. As it is they are in an order that makes it very hard to find something for the second time. I’m very reluctant to pay for the kindle version of a book since I don’t get the book for other people to read in my library.
Anthony

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Viv T says:
5 November 2010

I never thought I’d find a replacement for the book but I’m totally in love with my Kindle. It is small enough to fit in any handbag, doesn’t need me to hold it open when I’m not exactly in the middle and is much easier on my ageing eyes than the smallprint on most books. Tha charity shops willl lose out on my recycling but there is no way back for me now
The Amazon customer service is also excellent.If you have a problem they ring you back almost before you’ve finished typing in your number.

Member
Barry says:
5 November 2010

I will stick to my printed books. If I drop one I can pick it up it is not broken. Can you do that with this new money making fad?
Can you take this new e-book reader and sit on the sand and and read without sand, dust and water getting in to it? You can with a book ,and if water gets on your book you can buy another one for a few £’s. How much will a new e-book reader cost you?

Member
KenH says:
6 November 2010

Bought my Kindle about 2 months ago. I used to buy 4/5 paperbacks a week and the house was being overrun by books so it was space issues that first persuaded me to buy the Kindle. Now, I wouldn’t be without it. I have Kindle apps on my PC and Android phone as well so, wherever I am and whatever reader I am using, I can seamlessly pick up my ebook and put it down and always be at the right page.
The only frustration is that ebooks attract VAT, whereas paper books dont, so any cost savings from the electronic format are swallowed up by the additional tax. However there is the wonderful Project Gutenberg which makes out of copyright books freely available in many formats, including Kindle. So I am happily re-aquainting myself with all those classic books I intended to read but never quite got round to.

Member
Roger. Thorpe says:
6 November 2010

I bought an e-reader about 2 years ago and use it regularly for holiday reading. I prefer to use books whilst reading at home; this approach strikes the right balance for me. From experience I have concluded that there is a place for both the written and the electronic word.

Member
Ponte says:
6 November 2010

Got a Kindle some 4 weeks ago and I am delighted with the quality of the display and the choice of classics for free or very little. The only disappointment has been the text to voice conversion. It features a ghastly american male accent which totally ignores punctuation. Could Amazon please find an “English” voice synthetiser that respects punctuation? I fear for blindness in my old age and was counting on the voice option to continue to “read”…

Member
John Pedley says:
7 November 2010

….and, although I can’t speak for Apple, the Kindle bookstore will supply you with a free sample of the book you are interested in, which you can read at liesure and if you want to buy the full version you simply click on the button on the end and you can carry on reading in moments.

…..but, oh for the day (if it will ever come) when you can swap e-books.

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E-readers have previously been held back by black & white, but now a Chinese company is set to release the first e-reader with a colour E ink display. So it’ll have the battery life advantages of other e-readers (weeks not hours) and be in colour! Sounds good to me.

http://www.which.co.uk/news/2010/11/first-colour-e-ink-ebook-reader-revealed-235565/

Member

I’m afraid I wouldn’t have the courage to admit that I once thought that eBook readers were a replacement for the novel itself, instead of paper. Least of all if I was a Technology Editor. However welcome to the club, Matt Bath. Which reminds me of the many warnings of the dangers of reading eBooks near water.
Apart from the advantage of carrying around a huge library with you, almost instantly expandable, I have found the ability to look up the definition of a word quickly, invaluable. Also the search facility with the ability of underling and saving clippings, and making annotations are seldom mentioned as advantages of the eBook reader.
The initial cost of hardware is high, but the Kindle is now only just over £100, and it will surely come down further. The books themselves are now often cheaper than even the paperback version, as anyone can see on Amazon. I still read printed books if I can’t find an eBook version of it, as the main attraction is still the book itself, and the authors who write them.
Many of the negative comments are from people who don’t read much anyway – which of course suggests a different motivation for their comments.

Member

EBook readers and eBooks are not Vat-free, because HMRC will always interpret existing legislation in their favour. Very often that means taking a literal interpretation, no matter how absurd the circumtances. You have to petition your MP if you want that changed, which is unlikely to happen when a government feels it needs to raise or save money.Which is nearly always.
As for government of whatever complexion ever actually trying to reform an inefficient organisation such as HMRC – Ha Ha Ha Ha.

Member
Paul McGowan says:
9 November 2010

EBook stuff…… I am afraid. What happens when some one writes a book and does a lecture on same. To provide a finance for a good cause etc. Do electronic signatures on a chip at the end of a lecture count? I have a good collection of great books with outstanding pictures from the likes of Doug Scott and Chris Bonnington. Where are we going? I would say that they have there place in the training environment, to reduce paper waste. Lets have a slogan ” REAL PEOPLE READ BOOKS.” Surely that should cover the others that are generally plumbed into the 12V DC up to high optic levels.

Member

Paul
Of course you are afraid – it is always fear which motivates comments such as yours. The author’s signature is more important than the book itself? They have “… there (sic) place in the training environment.” “Plumbed” into electricity “.. to high optic levels.”? You can certainly mix a metaphor.
Does a person who has read a paper book have a better understanding of it than a person who has read the eBook version? If you really think that, then let’s have a reasoned argument for it, rather than bluster of all your fears and trepidations. “Real people …” for goodness sake! Is a child or even an adult who cannot read not a real person?
But let me up your fears a little more – the market will decide. Not PR campaigns with slogans on what you reckon are real people.

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You can now give ebooks as a gift for Christmas, at least for people with an Amazon Kindle. Like our competition winner missyhiggy! http://www.which.co.uk/news/2010/11/kindle-books-as-a-gift–237075/ Could this make ebooks a better gift than real paperbacks?