Monday, July 16, 2012

Print vs. Electronic Books: My Take

You'd have to be living under the proverbial rock to not be aware of the brouhaha over e-books versus print ("real") books.

Two common arguments:
1) Get with the program. E-books are the wave of the future.

2) Nothing will ever, ever replace a good book. I love turning pages and the SMELL! Oh, I love the smell of paper!

Not surprisingly, I'm often asked where I stand on the issue, so I figured a blog post would be apt. Everything below is my opinion. The book industry is changing at warp speed, and no one has a crystal ball to know what it'll be like in the future. But here's my take:

E-books, for better or for worse, are here to stay. 
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. A few years ago, my mother (a bibliophile who at the time traveled by air a lot) asked why anyone would want a Kindle. I told her to imagine being on a long flight and having hundreds of books to choose from to read . . . but no extra weight in your carry-on.

Her eyes lit up at that.

This is a woman who has bookshelves in every room of the house. (Yes, the bathroom, too.) When I moved out, bookshelves moved into my room. My dad has joked that he needs a library card to get into his own room. If anyone loves a real book, it's Mom.

And yet. Even she could see an advantage to having e-books as an option in addition to print books. Slip that e-reader into your purse instead of a bulky hardback (or two) and read any time you have the chance.

Sales of e-readers and e-books continue to grow each year, at an amazing pace. There's no unringing this bell.

Perks to e-books:
I read a lot of books. Books take up a lot of room. Eventually, I have to weed through my collection and decide what to keep and what to give away.

And then there are books I want to read, but which probably won't end up on my all-time favorites list, to be read and re-read. Once is enough. I don't need a physical copy of those books. A digital one is just fine.

Five devices can access the same account on Kindle. So all four of my kids' Kindles can download any book that any of the others have bought and read--or are currently reading. It's like a family library with extra copies of the same book.

Another benefit that may impact me more than some other readers is that I read a lot of beta manuscripts from friends, as well as some Whitney Award books for judging purposes, and it's easier to do that on the fly with my Kindle. I can email it documents and read them that way. So easy.

I'm betting that schools will get more and more involved with e-books, especially with text books, which can be enormously expensive in print.

Why print books are here to stay.
All that said, I believe that there will always be a place for print books.

Think of hardback books versus paperbacks. A lot of people worried that that cheap paperback would eliminate the market for hardbacks. In reality, die-hard fans tend to buy both: the paperback to read fast and quick and maybe share with friends, and the hardback to keep on the shelf in their collection.

The way I see it, the e-book is the new paperback. In my case, I have a lot of books signed by the authors (who are usually friends). A "signed" e-book (done with a website) isn't the same. I'll always treasure my personalized signed books. I buy the physical book in those cases instead of downloading it, although I've been known to buy the book AND download the e-book version too, especially if the e-version is inexpensive.

For that matter, I wouldn't be at all surprised if some publishers start bundling the versions together: buy the hard copy and get a code to download the e-book for free.

Print books do have an advantage in some areas. If I want to highlight and take notes and easily flip back to find something, an e-book is a bit cumbersome. Yes, they have highlighting and note-taking features, but it's not the same. This is an issue, for me, at least, that's mostly a non-fiction book problem. (Not too often that I'm highlighting stuff in a novel.)

I have a lot of books that hold dear memories, like my dog-eared copy of Rilla of Ingleside, which I bought at my 8th grade book fair at school and remains one of my favorite books ever. I love reading the "real" book.

But when I want to eat up a book, something I'll be glad I read but don't necessarily need the physical reminder of the experience, an e-book will do the job just fine.

Another element to the whole issue is that children from poor areas, who already have a gap in reading because they don't have access to books at home, will fall even further behind if they need technology to access books. I can hope that schools will fill in the gap, whether with e-readers during class or by sending home actual books. But it's an issue that could widen the education and literacy gap.

The e-book generation
My kids each have a Kindle. They're avid readers of "real" books and e-books, both. From what I can tell, they're pretty even on how much they read of both, and they don't seem to prefer one method over another. If we go on a car ride that's longer than 20 minutes, it's common for them to bring along a Kindle to pass the time. Kindles go along to Grandma's house and other trips. They love having access to lots of books at the push of a button.

It's sort of like how kids today are "fluent" with computers. They were born into a world where computers were everywhere, and they picked them up almost like another language. So to them, they aren't hindered by the idea of whether reading on a screen is "real" or not. They just want a great story.

Call me crazy, but anything that gets kids reading more is a good thing. Paper smell or not.

I'm confident that e-books are not heralding the death of print books. I'm also confident that e-books are here, and they aren't going away. Readers (and writers and publishers) will gradually adapt, and each type of book will settle into its own niche.

Sort of like how television didn't destroy radio. VHS and DVD players didn't keep us from going to the movie theater. E-books won't keep us from reading on paper. They're simply one more form in which to enjoy a great book.

Oh, and if you've got an e-reader and just gotta have the smell of paper books, try THIS.


Susan Anderson said...

I LOVE my Kindle. And I love my books.

But I have to admit that I've gotten a bit spoiled by reading my Kindle. Reading books feels heavier and more cumbersome than it used to feel.

But I still want the printed version of my favorites.


Rebecca Irvine said...

"I can hope that schools will fill in the gap, whether with e-readers during class or by sending home actual books. But it's an issue that could widen the education and literacy gap."

By schools you mean taxpayers, right? Because ultimately that is where the funding comes from, whether it be state or federal dollars. And given the current economy this wish might not happen all that soon. Most schools already have computers either in a lab or in the classroom - why not just use the Kindle for PC app and have them read that way if there is a worry that literacy is lagging? Do they have to have an eReader (that could easily be broken by young students)?

Annette Lyon said...

There could be a lot of ways to incorporate e-books in schools, for sure.

But you'd also be hard-pressed to convince me that giving schools more tax money isn't in the best interest of the future of the country, if that's what it takes. Often, reallocation of district funds could be done just as effectively, but I'm also of the firm belief that the economy, work force, crime rates, health, and more of our future is intricately connected to the education and literacy of our children. Studies have proven as much. Even if it means higher taxes, it's the best investment we can make.

All that said, education and e-books weren't the main point of the post. :)

Anonymous said...

I have been saying that publishers need to include an e-version with the print version for forever! I love having pretty books to put on my shelf, but I also LOVE my kindle. I wasn't sure if I wanted one, but then my husband bought me one a year ago and I haven't looked back. It is so much easier to lug around in my diaper bag, so much easier to read while holding a sleeping baby, and so much more space efficient. Plus, I am this fear of being somewhere without a book, and with my kindle that will never happen. :) Even if I am without my kindle I can quickly get the book on my phone with the kindle app in a bind to read.

Shelley said...

I was "against" e-readers until my friend told me I could download the kindle app on my iphone for free. Can't resist free! I started reading the free classics that come with it and the mobility was so convenient that I am hooked. My brain loves having words shoved in so it is great to be able to read in line at the grocery store, at the kiss and ride, while waiting for a movie to start. I love it!

Jessica G. said...

Having just recently joined the ranks of Kindle owners, I can definitely see the benefits. But when it's rainy outside and the house is quiet, all I want is a real book in my hands.

Carina said...

I travel often and the idea of a Kindle replacing the 2-5 books I'd haul with me SOLD me. Not to mention traveling with babies and toddlers. Reading my ginormous hardcovers and holding a lap baby? It was getting to be impossible. Holding a Kindle and a baby? Totally doable.

I haven't stopped buying books, but I also anticipate buying my children Kindles once they start really reading.

Karlene said...

I love my Kindle. I take it everywhere. I read 90% of my fiction on the Kindle. Unless it's a book I want to keep forever, read multiple times, loan to my grandkids, etc.

With non-fiction, it's the opposite. I like to highlight and write in the margins. For me, that's just easier to do with paper.

Fun anecdote: I loaned my sister my print copy of OLIVIA. She read the first chapter, loved it, then bought the Kindle version because she prefers the digital. Two sales for the author. :)

Karlene said...

Oh, and I originally purchased the Twilight and the Harry Potter books in hard copy. Which I treasure. But those are some BIG (as in heavy) books, so now I also have them on my Kindle. That's two sales for the same reader. :)


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