If you're lucky, you might be getting a new e-reader as a holiday gift this year. 2010's "Year of the Tablet" might have fizzled but e-readers (led by the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook and supplemented by hardware that doubles as an e-reader, such as Apple's iPad and just about every smartphone sold this year) seem to have quietly gained a lot of traction. Back in November the NY Times ran an article that claimed e-readers were going to be a hot gift this holiday season.
But apparently there's a problem. Come Christmas morning there will be all these empty e-readers under the tree. People are going to need to fill them with e-books. And unlike good old dead tree tomes, e-books are confusing and slightly frightening. At least that's what Random House would have you believe. To help the dazed and confused gift recipients gain clarity, Random House has prepared (ta-da!) an e-book titled The eBook Insider. Yes, it's an e-book about e-books...very meta. Well, to be perfectly honest if you follow that link it's just a PDF, but starting sometime today it should also be available on your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc. The eBook Insider will help readers find the kinds of e-books they'll enjoy reading. A lot of these books are (surprise!) available from Random House. I'm sure The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will be featured prominently because you just can't avoid that book these days. In a blog post at the NY Times, Random House's Anne Messitte is quoted as saying:
"With so many people receiving an e-reader for the first time on Christmas, one of the things they’re going to want to do is go looking for the books they want to read, and we think it’s an ideal moment to really begin helping a reader curate the collection of e-books that they want."
Pardon my dismissive snort. This is just the kind of thing that e-books don't need: special treatment. If non-technical people actually are slightly confused by their new e-readers, a volume like The eBook Insider is just going to reinforce any misconceptions they have. Do these same readers need Random House helping them 'curate' their collection of books when they shop at Amazon or walk into a Barnes & Noble brick & mortar store? Of course not. Pretty much every e-reader comes with some kind of e-book store already associated with it, and all these stores have the same kind of book-finding tools that print bookstores have. This is just an example of a marketing team trying to spread disinformation. By offering a title that helps readers find e-books, they're implying that somehow e-books are hard to find, but not to worry, here are some Random House e-books to get you started. Most people (I hope) won't be taken in by this ploy, but some of them will. Personally I suggest you steer e-reader gift recipients away from this "helpful" volume and instead let them find e-books the same way they've always found good books to read: best seller lists, friend recommendations or just browsing the store. Shame on Random House for this stunt!