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TECH Q&A

Are e-books worth your time?

from Paul Watson , Southport, North Carolina

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Like many geeks, I love gadgets and I love to read. Since I've found that my rate of giving away old books is slower than the rate at which I get new ones and my bookshelf is always at eyesore-full capacity, I've wondered if e-books are everything they're cracked up to be?

Expert Bio Picture

Tech Expert Chris Pirillo President, Lockergnome.com

Expert Answer:

Dear Paul,

I wouldn't chop up your bookshelf for firewood or melt down your library card just yet, but e-books just might be worth your while.

Like music, most works of literature are copyrighted. In other words, people put their time into creating those works, and they're expecting to get paid. Unfortunately, many companies involved with protecting -- and collecting for -- authors, musicians, and other artists take an approach that's too heavy-handed to be truly effective against real scofflaws, but just heavy-handed enough to punish legitimate consumers.

Their weapon, DRM (Digital Rights Management), is imperfect and messy -- a bit like using a chainsaw to cut a cheesecake. I'm not going to go into the intricacies of DRM's overall failure as a copyright protection solution here (others have done a better job than I can in this space), but be warned that it's often used to limit access to content in the e-book world as marvelously (cough, cough) as it's utilized by the recording industry.

While I know people who swear by Sony's Reader and Amazon's Kindle, I have a hard time giving them what some would consider a fair shake for their part in perpetuating the misguided use of DRM. This isn't to say that you wouldn't find them to be the bee's knees, but I can't give you an unbiased answer for reasons aforementioned. Sorry!

Many classics in the public domain (meaning they're too old for copyright laws to apply, so they're free for the taking) have been converted into e-books and can be found at gutenburg.org. Similarly, there's a clever app for the iPhone called, fittingly enough, Classics, that makes those old, dusty tomes new again.

If you have an iPhone or iPod touch, you can also use the built-in Web browser and/or eBook reading apps in the App Store, and you can get software that will allow you to sync PDFs with them. I prefer my manuals in PDF format because of their convenience and searchability. They're non-proprietary, which means I can read them on a PC, a Mac, an iPhone... whatever.

My take? Don't buy dedicated hardware for reading eBooks just yet. There's currently Too much DRM to mess with, and better, cheaper screens and services are right around the corner. The free and cheap options mentioned above (for the hardware that you already have) is the way I'd go for the short haul.

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