An eBook Neophyte Takes the Plunge with Barnes & Noble’s New Application

Illustration of Jane Austen, by Gerald Scarfe (2008)I am a bookseller by profession. I sell books. You know, the paper things that have words printed in them. Paper is the operative word here. So having heard Mags at AustenBlog sing the praises of eBooks for years, and years, I was still skeptical about a hand held contraptions that one could read an electronic book from. Why? I like the format of traditional books. They are pretty. They feel good in your hand. They smell wonderful. They look impressive on my book shelves. So what if I could have my entire library at my finger tips to throw in my handbag and take with me. Who needs that much info with them all the time, right? And, the real clincher was who wants another high tech thingamabob to tell you that you are incapable of understanding new technology without your ten year old neighbor kid explaining it to you? Geesh, I just figured out my cell phone after two years. Now I should read my books on another gadget? No thanks. 

I was all set to be a book traditionalist the rest of my life and then my employer Barnes & Noble introduced a new eBook application that I could use on my computer – and it was free. In addition to this new spiffy electronic book reader, I get six classic novels downloaded for free, and wow, two of them are Jane Austen novels! Excellent choice B&N suits. Well done. Only Jane Austen could truly convert this curmudgeon over to a format so foreign to her sensibilities in one fell swoop. If I hated the blasted thing, I was not out one thin dime, and I already have numerous editions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility calling to me from my bookshelves. De règle! 

The download was fast and easy, and it worked. There it was, right on my computer. Not only is it simple to navigate, it is customizable. You can change the text size, font choices, background colors, and other settings. I love the search the text feature to find all those Austen quotes that I can not quite remember by heart, and the most exciting feature that you can not do with a Kindle or other hand held devices, copy and paste as much text as you want into another document such as Word. Huzzah! The B&N website says there are over 700,000 books to download. 500,000 of them are from Google Books which have many scanned classics and out of print books. The application works on IPhones, IPod Touch, Blackberry, Smartphone, Windows and Mac. 

The week after the announcement from B&N, many bloggers were chatting about it. The gals at Dear Author were disappointed saying it is not what they were hoping for and brings nothing new to the game. Mags at AustenBlog has big concerns about people being charged for books that they can download elsewhere for free. This may be true. Unfortunately I am not enlightened enough to debate the B&N App’s charms and foibles in comparison to other devices or applications. But for someone who has never used an eReader, and is not hooked into a Kindle or other proprietary hand held device, it is a start. Just taking the baby step and downloading it was a big move for me. I would love to save a few trees and publishers money on ARC’s and shipping, so I can see an immediate benefit if they get on board. I’ll let you all know in a few months if it has changed my reading habits at all. In the meantime, do head over to the B&N website and check it out.

Update: Forgot to mention free Wi-Fi at Barnes & Noble’s until January! So please come and visit me and camp out in the cafe and play on your putter!   

 Cheers, Laurel Ann

16 thoughts on “An eBook Neophyte Takes the Plunge with Barnes & Noble’s New Application

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  1. I’ve heard a lot about this on some of my writer sites! I have an old Sony e-reader, which I appreciate for the 100 books it can carry, but I admit to not using it often. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts after you’ve tried the new B&N app! BTW, I’ve always been a B&N fan, but the new free wireless there has been *wonderful* ;).


  2. This is such a great idea! Thanks for mentioning it, and thanks to B&N for offering a free program with free books! Though I’ve read all of them except Dracula and Last of the Mohicans, it’s nice to have the other ones too.


  3. Welcome to the revolution!

    I love my paper books, but now that I can get so many out of print books on my iPhone, I love ebooks too.

    Thanks for the details on the new B&N app. I’m off to download it now :)


  4. First, I re-read the e-mail from Barnes & Noble, and I can’t find anything about it only being until January. Can you please point me toward that source? It seems strange of them to offer it for a limited time only.

    Second, if you are using an iPhone, you might want to check out two eReaders called Classics ($0.99) and Stanza (free). Classics has a beautiful interface and comes with 23 books, including P&P. Stanza enables you to download tons of free books from places like Project Gutenberg or you can buy books, too. I read Persuasion on it, and they just keep improving it.


  5. Hi Dana, I re-read the B&N complimentary Wi-Fi e-mail too, and it does not state when it will end. I was informed that it would last until January by my store manager. This may change, and may be extended, so don’t despair yet. The company was offering free Wi-Fi to encourage readers to download the new eReader application and visit our stores. If it boost business they will most likely continue. It has certainly made many of our customers visit with us much longer. I have never seen so many laptops in the store at one time before!

    Thanks agin for your comments.

    Cheers, Laurel Ann


  6. Hello,
    I am like you I like the feel and smell of a book in my hand,,so I am still undecided if I will down load it or not…I am like you a bookseller at Barnes and Noble and love my job,,I mostly work customer service and have been with them for 5 years…I am in Arizona in the San Tan Gilbert store,,thanks for promoting the ebook…


  7. I’m sure NEW books smell very well (I don’t think I ever noticed) but I know nasty old used books are gross to read and touch. To me, the genius of ebook readers is not so much for new books (though it’s nice for those too, though the current paradigm needs some work IMO) but for older titles. Some of us (including, I’m sure, our charming hostess) remember the day when some of the more obscure and hard-to-get Austen paraliterature titles were going for hundreds of dollars on ABE. (Now, of course, Sourcebooks has reprinted them all. LOL) With ebooks, books need never go out of print! The publisher doesn’t have sunk costs on a print run that may end up being remaindered and/or pulped. Granted, it costs a few dollars to convert a text, but server space is cheap cheap cheap and bandwidth costs are miniscule and can be recouped with payment for the books. It will take a few years for everything to catch up and be digitally converted, of course.

    That being said, using a free app such as this B&N app (or the free apps available on various smartphones) is great to dip your toe into ebooks and try them out. I personally think portable devices work better for reading, because it’s the rare book anyone will want to sit in front of their computer screen and read. We want to read curled up in bed, in our favorite easy chair, on the bus, in the doctor’s office, etc. If you already have a smartphone, might as well give it a try! There are lots of places to download legal, free public domain titles. I like because their books are really nicely formatted; the other services just run everything through a filter, and sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. (My former job was QAing such texts. Trust me: they don’t always work.)

    For me, reading on my Palm PDA and then my Treo was like a gateway drug. I got addicted to the portability. Read Cecilia on my Treo, which I’m carrying anyway, or lug around a 900-page book? No-brainer. Once you start reading, the medium disappears, and you are lost in the story.

    However, the modern eInk devices are much nicer for reading; the screens aren’t backlit like a computer screen or even a smartphone, so for many of us (including me) it’s a much more comfortable reading experience. (Many people like and read quite a bit on backlit devices, but for me everything goes black and swimmy after a bit.) Kindle and Sony aren’t the only devices out there: I’ve had a Cybook Gen3 for about a year and a half and it’s great. I just preordered a new device, the Astak EZReader Pocket Pro, which is available for an introductory price of $199 through September (which is about half what I paid for my Cybook in January 2008, showing you how far the prices have dropped). If anybody has questions, I’m happy to answer them.

    P.S. I’ll have something about the B&N app on AustenBlog on Monday Ebooks next week, I think.

    P.P.S. I’ll have an article in the next JASNA News about ebooks. First of a series that right now is at three and who knows how many articles I’ll end up writing! As you can see I can’t shut up about it.

    P.P.P.S. In Japan, people read on ALL cell phones, even the phones with teeny-tiny screens. I wouldn’t recommend it myself. ;-)

    P.P.P.P.S. Before anyone asks about reading in the bathtub, two words: ziplock bag.


    1. Mags, old moldy books do smell. Mine don’t. Even the old ones. They only get smelly and musty if they are not taken care of properly. Mr. Darcy can instruct you on the care and feeding of an extensive library. I am looking at my 1004 page new copy of Cecilia and understand why an eBook reader is good. The downside, and here I am being prigish again, is that many eBook editions don’t come with the great introduction and notes that Oxford World’s Classics and other pubs offer. Please correct me if I am wrong. I would be so all over an eBook copy of Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye. I hear tell that it does exist, but have never found one to purchase Thanks for at least giving me credit for downloading and trying a new fangled contraption. I think that this application might plant the seeds of the future, even if it is not a groundbreaking improvement. You are so far ahead of me on the eReader technology, that I just nod my head in submission when you say to. *nod* *nod* I look forward to reading your post on Monday. Now you must sign off with eBooks are nice! ;-)


      1. Listen, I’m not even talking about antique books–I’m talking about 20-year-old (or more) paperbacks that weren’t printed on acid-free paper that are crumbling as I try to read them. Some of these books I purchased new. I was reading a Dorothy L. Sayers book the other week and it was literally coming apart in my hands. You can love a book to death. ;-)

        I’ve bought books at the book swap (and LA would say, now that’s half your problem right there–BUY NEW BOOKS AT B&N! ha ha) and found dead bugs squashed in them, boogers, blood, food, I don’t know what. Yuck yuck yuck yuck yuck. Give me e-books!

        I agree that there aren’t many ebooks yet with scholarly introductions. Penguin has an “enhanced” ebook of P&P that has that sort of thing. That’s how publishers will continue to make money on public domain classics, just as they do now. Why do people buy new ones rather than read the old ones on their shelf, or the cheapie Dover editions, or just print out the Project Gutenberg text for that matter? Because there is added value, from a scholarly edit, notes and supplemental materials. Ebooks won’t be any different. Some people will just want a reading copy, and they can find those for free. If they want extras, they will have to pay. Just like now. :-) For the record, I won’t be buying the Cambridge editions until they are available as electronic editions. I don’t have the shelf space for them. Also I’m not paying $200 per book, paper OR electronic.

        I still haven’t tried out the B&N app (have it downloaded and installed and I will try it this weekend) but I’m told the public domain books are “their” editions. I’ll have to see. B&N makes some nice paperback editions with scholarly introductions and notes. It would be way cool if these were the freebies they’re giving away.


        1. Ewww, dead bugs and unmentionable stuff in/on books is gross. Books on cheap paper do disintergrate. “This book will self destruct the day after reading.” Ebooks have a bright future. I love my computer, and twenty years ago I had never used one, so there you go. There is hope. The six classic books that come with the download are the B&N Classics editions with intros and notes, so you can get your feet wet. The B&N editions intros are geared for novice readers. I am at the Penguin and Oxford level, so I hope they are available soon. My dream eBook would be all intros and notes for P&P or other Jane by many authors. Won’t happen. But one can dream. Thanks for your insights Mags!


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