I was reading an article today by author Hugh Howey about the shifts in the industry from printed books to e-books and how traditional publishers are generally fighting back against indie publishers, Amazon distribution, and anything else that’s threatening to cut out their stranglehold on book sales. It was an interesting and extensive article on a topic that should matter to anyone interested in publishing a book of their own, but the part that really catches my attention is the idea that some people actually prefer printed books over e-readers these days.
I don’t really understand this idea personally. I mean, books are awesome, I love reading, and I can’t deny that a bookshelf full of books is a really attractive feature in a house. But when it comes to actually reading books, I’d rather have the incredible convenience of an e-reader than the vanity of an impressive bookshelf. Maybe I’m weird, but in my mind an e-reader capable of holding hundreds even thousands of books, organizing them in a searchable database, adjusting their font sizes, margins, and spacing to my liking, and which is small enough to carry around in my purse anywhere I go is vastly superior to a paperback or hardback in every way. I read on a Kindle Paper White, and my wife prefers her Kindle Fire. The fact that I can read in bed without a light on and without having to fight with a book light to keep it in place as I turn pages was all the convincing I ever needed to make the swap from paperbacks to e-readers forever.
I often see people talking about how the reader can never live up to the awesome that is the feeling of a real book in your hands and how you’ll never get that new book smell from a device, and it really boggles me that virtually everyone seems to find one superior to the other. Personally, I think books are awesome but I also think science is awesome. That little e-reader isn’t just a soulless piece of plastic and glass, it’s just the progression of technology and it’s amazing. Just think: 50 years ago if you wanted to read a book by your favorite author your only option was to physically go to a bookstore and purchase the book, assuming that they even had it in stock. Now, just a few scant decades later, humanity has created a device that allows you to shop in a bookstore that has every option available at all times even moments after the book is released and even years after its no longer popular, and you can do this from your living room or on the bus or in the office or anywhere you happen to be when you decide you want to read a book. This device allows you to select that book, purchase it, and then begin reading in less than a minute. How can anyone not think that is amazing?
The answer that I find most commonly is that many of the people who to cling printed books have never tried an e-reader for themselves extensively.
And with the cost of an e-reader being separate from the cost of books it’s an expense that many people aren’t eager to accept when they feel that books are just fine the way they are. But “just fine” is not the same as “incredible”. I’ve known people who rarely found time to read, or who rarely bothered to get out to a bookstore, or who never really had the books they wanted to read on hand when they felt like reading, who finally got an e-reader and frankly, it changed everything about the way they interacted with books. These were friends who loved reading, but for whom traditional printed books were simply not convenient enough anymore. Upon receiving an e-reader, their reading increased exponentially. They read books they would never even have considered reading before because once they’d embraced the world of e-books they found many doors open to them that they’d never even know existed, such as self published indie authors whose books are only available in e-book format, books that would never have made it to the shelves in our small local bookstores or our tiny small town library, and even things like compiled fanfiction made much more attractive by the ability to take it to the couch and settle in with a nice cuppa.
Ultimately, I’m glad that paper books still exist, and that I can share them with my daughter, but as technology progresses I find that I need them less and less and that my devices replace them better and better. And frankly, to me, that’s a good thing. When I think of all the books I’ve read in the past few years, and all the paper that would’ve been required to print all of those books, the ink, plastics for coating the covers, energy for running the factories that far outweighs the tiny amount of energy my Kindle requires…
I’m really happy I made the switch when I did.
I used to read one maybe two books a year when paperbacks were my only option, even when loans from friends and thrift stores. Now I read 20 to 30 books per year. For me, the difference was convenience, availability, variety, and physical ease-of-use. I have a condition in my hands called DeQuervain’s Syndrome which causes increasingly excruciating pain when gripping anything for a long period of time. This used to mean that paperbacks were physically difficult for me to hold without severe pain, which as you might imagine did put a damper on the amount of reading I wished to do for leisure. My Kindle ways next to nothing, doesn’t have pages to hold open (which was always the most painful part for me), and can even be stood up in it’s case for hands-free reading when my hands are tired. For anyone with repetitive strain, a condition like mine, poor eyesight, even eyestrain I couldn’t recommend my E ink reader highly enough.
For everyone else, there’s still convenience, variety, availability, innovation, and the incredible, sexy lure of SCIENCE to give you plenty of reasons to give an e-reader a try. With Kindles now available in a variety of forms with offerings to suit anyone’s needs and desires, with prices lower than ever, and with Prime membership even offering a six-month no interest financing option, just about anyone has the option to give e-readers a try.
I highly recommend the Kindle Paperwhite, though I think the new version is called Kindle Voyage. It’s a dedicated reader, not a full-featured device, but it does what it was made for very, very well.
If a full-featured device is more your speed I’d recommend the Kindle Fire HD 7 based on my wife’s enjoyment of hers so far but there are a lot of tablets on the market and you should shop around if you’re interested in more than an e-reader.
In closing, I guess I’ll just say this: I can understand why some people would prefer printed books over e-books, and I can accept that some people actually do, but I still feel that e-books are “real books”, and that they are just as good, if not ultimately better, at least for the environment and possibly for us too. If you’ve never had an e-reader maybe consider giving one a try, at least before you decide that printed books are better than a new technology you’ve never really experienced.
As always, feel free to share your comments and experiences below, and thank you for reading.