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What's missing from the Kindle and Nook? Support for printed books

The future of e-reading is great...unless you want it to seamlessly marry with your nondigital books. That has to change, and fast.


Having just come from the unveiling of the latest Nook e-readers, I'm feeling more than ever that the future of reading will come in tablet form. I'm already "that guy": I read all my latest books on my iPad via iBooks or the Kindle app. And yet, there's something big--something obvious--that e-readers are missing. It's something that magazines, newspapers, DVDs, and Blu-rays have already figured out.

A way to marry print books and digital ones.

I see bookstores around me closing every day. I'm part of the problem. Here's the vile thing I do: I browse through a bookstore like a vulture. I finger through books. When I find one I like, I buy it, right there, on my iPhone--on the Kindle. The bookstore loses the purchase. I'm a horrible person. And yet, I'll keep doing it. Because those big, bulky physical books don't come with download codes to get e-versions, and right now, I'd rather choose digital. There has to be another way.

Of course, I also have hundreds of physical books on my bookshelf, but they collect dust. My massive book collection isn't that portable. The books are heavy. I treasure the rare volumes, but I don't want to repurchase these books on a Kindle--if they're even available. For future reads, I pick the e-version because I know I'll always have it, I can always redownload the file, and the book I have with me is better than the book I don't.

What I want is what Hollywood is already giving us for Blu-rays: discs packaged with DVDs and digital download codes. One purchase, many licenses. Why can't I buy a book and get the e-version as well? How much can that digital version cost? I'm never going to buy a second copy of that book. And, if I don't get that digital version, I'm not buying the physical copy. I just won't.

Converting our existing book libraries into digital copies is an unlikely dream, because there's no way to easily "rip" these books as we do our CDs. But we could start with books from this point on. Magazines already offer digital subscriptions to those who get the print version. Newspapers do it. Now books need to as well, or face being on the verge of extinction. A company like Barnes & Noble could, in its physical bookstore, give a Nook code for every physical book purchased there. Would publishers willingly agree to this? Would Barnes & Noble ever do this? Probably not. Still, Amazon.com did subsidize its initial prices on Kindle books to get them to $9.99.

Maybe, as a fellow editor imagines, books are destined to become beauty objects, specially printed and always expensive. Print books could become the CD box sets of reading. Buying one of these books would get you the e-reader download of your choice, along with other assorted extras. The digital download, on the other hand, could be bare-bones and, as a result, less expensive. Digital versions of albums are doing the reverse of this all the time with added bonus tracks, music videos, and other assorted gimmicks. Maybe it's time to think of new book pricing tiers: lower prices for a plain digital e-book, and more for editions with video interviews, extra chapters, and other special collector's elements for the true fan. If e-books were $5 a pop, maybe I'd consider buying two versions. At $16.99, I may not even buy one.

For now, though, I'm stuck with the same problem and solution: buying digital books while my dusty real ones go untouched...and never the two shall meet. And while this all happens, I'm abandoning real bookstores completely. It doesn't make me happy. So, publishers, authors, anybody: give me some assistance.

I don't need another e-reader. I need a way to fuse my physical books and my digital ones.

Somebody please help me.