Thursday, December 16, 2010

The E-Reader debate...what about illustrations?

I'll admit, flat out, that I don't yet own an Ereader.  And really, unless it is an Ipad, I'm not terribly interested in having one.  Convenience seems to be the biggest factor for purchasers, and there's no doubt the instant access is pretty cool.  And they look cool too! While some owners complain about glare, battery life, and the feel of the plastic, others find that the convenience and ecological interests makes up for these problems.

However, as an avid reader, especially of history books, I can't help but wonder if there's a factor missing in the debate:  illustrations and photography.  I've talked to a few owners of E-readers of various brands, and asked them if they feel a picture, diagram, or illustration looks the same on an E-reader as it does in a print book.  Several were taken back by the question, but most admitted that the impression is not the same as in print.  For example, right now I'm reading Angel Island, from Oxford UP, about the immigration of Chinese and other nationalities into San Francisco who were detained on Angel Island.  To me, the diagrams of the buildings, the photographs of the people, copies of receipts and intake papers make the story far more personal than had they been omitted.  Would that same feeling be possible if I were viewing them in an Ereader?  Or would I have just glanced over them?

This isn't about pretty little illustrations that simply beautify a page.  I'm more concerned with historical details, as well as the shock value of a photograph (see Susan Casey's The Wave for knockout photos!), that contribute substantially to the facts of the book.  They don't embellish, they clarify or expose.  In a print book, they can be studied to discover every nuance.

In addition, besides the publishers that are hurt by loss of print books, what about illustrators and format designers that are equally or more impacted by the switch to Ereaders?  Will the Ereading experience be all about the convenience so much that we don't appreciate stylistic details?   After all, there are those that spend a great deal of time designing the particular layout, font choice and size, and "look" of a print book.  Is that lost on an Ereader?

I'd love to hear opinions from those with Ereaders to weigh in with their impression of the way of illustrations or photographs are seen on an Ereader, and any differences they find.  Is it a significant consideration?


  1. It depends on the e-reader I believe. You can buy enhanced e-books with videos, images etc in them - eg Michael Connelly's latest, The Reversal, offers two e-versions, a cheap one with just text and a more expensive one with lots of visual enhancements.

    I do not think there is anything intrinsic about any e-reader that means you can't have illustrations and more. The iPad/iPhone app version is probably more advanced on this front than, say, the Kindle but I am sure all these services will develop fast as new models and versions come out.

  2. So, I'm currently reading a science book on my kindle. I love my kindle for fiction and so far, this science book isn't a big deal as most diagrams are black and white typically. But, I read a memoir of the summer. When the author found out I was reading it, they wanted to know what I thought. Did I feel like the pictures added to the book? Pictures? I was reading it on my kindle and had no clue there were images. So, in the case, images were a huge bonus. I now own the a physical copy of the book and the pictures do add to the story. They give a better impression of the man who the story is about. So I think it can go either way. I haven't seen it yet, but maybe checking out the color nook is the way to go for digrams/maps/photographs.

    I debated buying the huge kindle but when I saw that most of the textbooks I would need weren't offered that way anyway, I figure the little one would work. And I didn't want to know how diagrams and such for those textbooks would appear (since I'm a science major there are lot of diagrams).

  3. Hi Amy! I'm new to your blog and wanted to let you know you are doing a great job :)

    I just got a nook this week and I am reading my second history book on it. The first book I read did have some images and diagrams, which were very clear on the nook. The second one does not have any images, but the feeling of reading is still the same. However, there are some books that I want that are not available in e-book format, so I will still be investing in good old fashioned printed works :)

  4. This is an interesting point regarding eReaders. I haven't taken the leap yet either. I'm close, though, as so many e-galleys are now being offered.

    I recently read a book where each chapter was from a different character's POV, but the fonts for each character were different. I wonder if this is a style that is carried over into the eBook.

    I also saw that Sourcebooks was offering "enhanced" Jane Austen novels this past week. I wonder which eReaders could see the illustrations and which couldn't.