Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ebooks vs. print

On a discussion board recently I saw a question about whether ebooks would displace print entirely, with the implication being that print = commercial, old-style publishing and electronic = new wave.

The latter is another blog post in and of itself, but I enjoyed the rest of the discussion because it highlighted the fact that although ebooks and print are very different media, the one doesn’t cancel out the other.

Pros of ebooks :

1. More books, less space : Years ago, I was stuck in a small town in India for over a month with six paperback books, all that would fit into a tiny suitcase beside my clothes. By the end of my sojourn I’d read those so many times that I never wanted to see them again (though on the plus side there were no distractions at all, so I got some writing done as well).

A Kindle would have come in so handy at that time.

2. Availability : No need to drive to the store, no need to wait for the books to be shipped to you.

3. Affordability : Provided you have an ereader (or a computer), ebooks are nearly always cheaper than the print version.

If anyone knows of any others that I’ve left out, please let me know in the comments section.

Pros of print :

1. Traditional appeal : Some readers like the feel and smell of new books. I enjoy the visual display of colorful spines of books on my shelves, arranged by genre and author. To me, a library or study is a place filled with bookcases. Those give me a warm, cosy, surrounded-by-old-friends feeling that the Kindle can't duplicate.

2. Sentimental value : One of my favorite books is a collection of cartoons called What’s so funny about Microbiology? and it was autographed by the author, Joachim Czichos. You can’t autograph an ebook.

I also have a copy of The Good Earth which my now-deceased grandmother received as a Christmas present in 1949. She wrote her name and the date in it. Ebooks can't replace books which are prized for their sentimental or collectible value.

3. Books that don’t translate well to the electronic version : I love collections of fantasy art, and those books are typically large. Many details of the art might be lost if they were shrunk down to Kindle size.

4. Affordability : What if you can’t afford an ereader? People in underdeveloped countries might find paperback books more within their budget than Nooks or Kindles. Not to mention people in correctional institutions.

5. Libraries : I like going to libraries, checking out their new releases and being able to borrow hundreds of books. No matter how affordable ebooks get, they can’t beat free.

I’m clearly more familiar with print and prefer it – I’ve only read three ebooks in my life, with my own being one of them. But I think the discussion showed that ebooks aren’t going to take the place of print copies any more than televisions have replaced movie theaters. The two media serve different needs and functions.

What are your thoughts on this? And which do you prefer – ebook or print?


Diandra said...

I'd love to have an e-reader, however can't afford it at the moment. However, I think I might enjoy both. As you said, e-books (on e-readers) are way easier to transport and store. (Another pro is that they are environmentally friendlier: Less supplies used, no transport and storage etc.)

But I can't imagine living without books around me. Besides, there is still the problem of different formats. As far as I remember, people say that in 20 years we won't be able to use most of today's data since technology changes very fast and today's data will be like a dead language.

A. Shelton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Loren said...

I get around the ebook-hardware problem by running ebook software on my home computer, like software Kindle. You can also get ebook readers for various smartphones, so you can have plenty of portability without carrying something else with you.

I do hope to dispense with more of my collection of dead-tree books, since they are a big weight to carry around.

As to future generations being able to read our stuff, I wouldn't lose much sleep over it, at least if the info was in openly-published formats like plain text and HTML and GIF and JPEG and PDF and so forth. Some of those formats are now at least 20 years old. Proprietary formats are more of a problem, however, as is hardware.

A. Shelton said...

I have a Nook and print books. And I have found books that are pretty expensive (around $12.00 on the Nook).

I may have purchased a Kindle, except for two reasons: 1) I could not pick it up, play with it, get a demonstration on how to use it in person before ordering it (as I did before I got my Nook); and 2) I do most of my book shopping at Barnes & Noble, both locally and online. I'm still upset at Amazon about throwing their weight around with regards to ebooks (which I feel publishers should have the right to put the proice on).

A. Shelton said...

I can't spell today. The first paragraph should say "I have found Ebooks . . ." *sigh*

M. Louisa Locke said...

Three more pro's for ebooks. As I enter my 60's arthritis in my joints has made holding larger, longer books harder and harder. My Kindle is lighter, and easy to prop up so I do't have to hold it at all.

And, after more than half a century of voracious reading, my eyes really benefit from being able to increase the font size. I was trying to reread one of my favorite books the other day and the print was so small I gave up in frustration.

Third reason is the deterioration and dust of old books. I live in a house filled with books and bookcases-and I too love the look and feel of being surrounded by books. But once again my age seems to be the theme. I have started buying some of those books on my Kindle to reread because when I take the book off my shelves, those inexpensive paperbacks I bought 30-40 years ago are brown around the edges, make me sneeze, and fall apart in my hands!

No wonder that my age group tend to be eager early adapters of ebooks!

kim said...

I love books too, but my place was getting overrun by them. Now I am choosy about which ones I purchase hard copy and which I buy ebook. Another pro is that you don't have to leave your place. If it is nasty out or traffic is insane but I still want that new book now I can order and download it in a minute. Also, I know it is a faux pas to say but some of the romance covers are a bit embarrassing to me to purchase yet still good to read, those I buy on ebook as well. I read mine on my iphone.

Maria Zannini said...

I collect a LOT of art books, and you're right, they must be print. I also make exceptions for signed books.

But on the whole, I prefer ebooks. Most of my reads are one time only. And I simply don't have the room to store that many books.

I nearly killed myself hauling 40 boxes of books on my last move. Never again.

JH said...

Almost always prefer real books. They don't need their own power or an expensive doodad that could break or get lost/stolen. I wonder about the environmental aspect of producing physical books vs. the energy consumed by yet another electronic gizmo everyone's plugging in at night.

What you said about books that don't translate to e-format is true. I cannot imagine how House of Leaves would be as an ebook. The experience would be very different, and less appealing. There are books that are very complex and involved and basically require a lot of physical work on the reader's part to get the most out of, flipping back and forth and tying together references. The book I just mentioned is one, but there's also Pale Fire and The Fifth Head of Cerberus, which are both excellent and would be massively annoying to read in ebook format. Pale Fire is a novel disguised as a long poem with voluminous commentary and notes, and it's practically a hypertext document in terms of cross-referentiality... maybe an ebook of it with hyperlinks from the poem to the comments and vice-versa would work.

gypsyscarlett said...

Paperbooks for me! Not only to read, but I love browsing in bookshops and libraries. Plus, they make wonderful gifts to give and receive.

But I'm not sure why there has to be a vs. I think both will co-exist just fine.

Marian Perera said...

Diandra - I certainly wouldn't say no to an e-reader if I got one for free. :)

And it would be useful in many ways. But I agree with you, a house devoid of actual physical copies of books would not be a home to me.

Loren - I have a friend who wants to read my novel on her iPhone. Or iPod. iSomething, anyway.

I didn't even know that was possible, so she explained a little about "apps". At that point I wanted to say, "Hi, my name's Forrest, Forrest Gump."

Marian Perera said...

A. Shelton - I wouldn't pay $12 for an ebook. Once the price gets into the double digits, I want a physical copy.

Louisa - Thanks very much for your perspective! Those are pros that didn't occur to me. I agree, weight is definitely an issue for books like my medical dictionary. And you have a point about paperbacks showing their age as well.

I tend to collect older or out-of-print books, so some of them do have such wear and tear. My grandmother's book has some holes where silverfish have been at it. Fortunately none of the books have made me sneeze. Yet. :)

Marian Perera said...

Kim - You're right about covers. When I was back in the Middle East, I gave one of my students a copy of Gone with the Wind. Now the cover was that famous poster which shows Rhett bending over Scarlett as he was carrying her up the stairs... and since my student's family was very conservative, she put a brown paper cover on the book.

(Personally, I'd take the brown paper cover off any book any kid of mine was reading, to see what was underneath, but it must have fooled her folks)

So yes, that's an excellent point for e-books.

Maria - 40 boxes? Wow. And I thought I had a lot of books. Yes, you need either a forklift or an e-reader. :)

Kami said...

I plan on enjoying both types. Art books, pop-up books and books that have sentimental value as well as children's books that have different textures on them (fuzz on the animals, slick or mirror surfaces for water, etc.) can't really be duplicated on an e-format very well. On the other hand I look forward to more multi-media books with embedded movies and/or sound that I can enjoy. I also look forward to lavish use of color in the future--in print, interior color is very expensive.
I think libraries will start loaning out ebooks soon. In Portland, OR they're organizing a pilot program to do just that. But for all the same reasons as above, I think libraries will continue to stock physical books, especially rare ones where the fact that a particular press printed a particular edition is as important as the actual words on the page.

Marian Perera said...

Tasha - Good point about gift-giving. All the books on my wish list are those I've wanted for years and will be reading many times (or using as references), so I'd definitely look for physical copies of those.

JH - I wonder how role-playing gamebooks would translate to e-format, especially the ones with, say, 400 references where you need to flip back and forth.

I collect one such series in paperback, but was never able to get into new releases in the same series, but which were available online only. Perhaps technology will improve to the point where they mimic the book more closely in that regard.

Kami - When you mentioned books with different textures on the pages, I thought of Dragonology, one of those books which would be difficult if not impossible to duplicate in e-format. But you're quite right about enjoying both types.

JH said...

Lemme fly my nerd flag here now that you've brought it up: RPGs are a struggling niche market that caters to nerdy people, so lots of them come out on PDFs. But the PDF releases have very good chapter and section links, making finding your way around almost easier than the physical book. But they're basically reference books... not sure how many novels could be "treated" that way, even if they are deeply self-referential.