BookNet Canada E-Reading Challenge

In the wake of the BNC Technology Forum 2007, one of the lingering frustrations for some attendees was that for all of the talk of digital reading and e-book devices, they are shockingly difficult to obtain in Canada. It’s tough to have an opinion on a device that you haven’t tried, so we decided to try them out and share the experience…

At BookNet, we are undaunted by trivial obstacles like unavailable technology. Highly trained BookNet operatives smuggled a Sony Reader across the 49th parallel like so much cheap American cheddar. (To be fair, we called up iRex and an iRex illiad arrived a week later, with no more than the usual PST/GST/shipping headaches.)

A Bit of Background

I love books as objects. The feel of pages, the dusty smell of used books, the glue-and-ink smell of new books, having them around the house on shelves and in piles. I buy a ton of them. They are probably my biggest discretionary spend in any given year. So part of me views this idea of device-based reading with ambivalence. It would take something pretty spectacular to dislodge me from my happy addiction.

At the same time, I have a problem. I travel a fair bit: trips to book fairs, association meetings, standards committees, customers and vendors. Each time I pack up to go, a stack of books come along with me. One book with some literary heft for when I’m feeling ambitious. One with high pulp content for when I stumble off the plane completely brain dead. Something non-fiction related to work. Something non-fiction that has nothing to do with work. Throw in a little poetry to catch up on my Brick Books subscription. Then the holy trinity of Atlantic, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker at the airport because I didn’t feel like reading anything I brought. The drill is pretty much the same when I go on vacation. Running out of reading material is a big problem that must be avoided at all costs. In moments of desperation, I have read a spy thriller found on the ground missing the first hundred pages. My carry-on always just sneaks under the weight limit. With this in mind, I should be the perfect eBook device customer. I read a lot, spend a fair bit on books, portability is important, not afraid of technology. Only one way to find out…

The Challenge

I’m off to the London (UK) Book Fair this weekend. Eight hour flight. Four days in the UK. Another eight hour flight back. Plus the usual airport and transit limbo. It’s a trip which would normally require a big stack of books and magazines. This year, I will leave them all at home. I will bring only a Sony Reader and whatever I can store on it. No cheating. No impulse buys. No side-trip to Foyles or the London Review Bookshop. Just the Reader.

The BookNet staff, bless their mutinous hearts, think I’ll last right up until the bookstore at Pearson Airport (“Scarlett Johansen’s on the cover of Vanity Fair this month!”). Regardless, I’ll provide regular updates of the experience, with the hope of giving people a sense of whether or not this e-book idea has some potential.

(next: Getting Ready to Go…)