Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ebooks Abroad

I have a lot of strong feelings about ebooks and ereaders. However, as I'm finishing up my studies in the Netherlands, I've come to realize how valuable and practical owning an ereader can be.

There are a lot of people who claim that ereaders are going to kill paper books, and that that's terrible, because there's no beating the feeling of having a book in your hands, and it's also terrible for used bookshops. There are lots of issues with ebook price fixing and the horrors of DRM. A lot of the issues surrounding ebooks are confusing and do not have clear answers because it's all new technology.

However, there is one thing that ebooks do remarkably well -- they give reading material to people who are not in the physical proximity to purchase it.

I do not speak Dutch. After over six months in the Netherlands, I can understand some things, and maybe read food labels. My understanding is not up to par to a native speaker or even a second language speaker. I had to keep stopping myself from going into bookstores because I knew that there would not be much for me there. While most bookstores had an English and other foreign language section (I do read French, so that was an option), these sections are typically small and have a very limited selection.

If I didn't have an ereader, my choice of books here would be between A Game of Thrones or Fifty Shades of Grey. With an ereader and an internet connection, I could browse and purchase from a bookstore or borrow from the library the same selection of books I had at home. This was a pretty amazing revelation, and something that I, and probably many people in opposition to ereaders, take for granted. For an immigrant or second-language learner, ebooks can be an incredible resource. With ebooks, people around you not being interested in the language you want to read do not limit your selection of reading material.

While some ereaders only support Latin characters, the new editions of Kindle also support Cyrillic, Korean, Japanese, and both traditional and simplified Chinese characters, with the number of ereaders supporting different scripts and the number of different scripts likely only to increase in the future.

While the current market for ebooks and ereaders has many flaws and virtues, this is a facet of it that every article I've seen on them overlooks. For anyone going abroad for extended periods, I would definitely recommend an ereader.