Reading Rage Tuesday: Ebooks vs. Paper Books
I have to admit that, when the Kindle first came out, I was one of those snooty assholes who did everything I could to antagonize the people I knew who owned them. (Me? Antagonize people? Surely not.) “I like books,” I sniffed, looking solidly down my nose. “I don’t want to read on a device. I want the feel of paper, blah blah blah.”
In my defense, the people I antagonized started scuffles just as often. “My Kindle is environmentally friendly. Look at those loads of paper you’re wasting! You’re helping deplete the ozone! And it’s so handy. I can take an entire library with me anywhere, blah blah blah.”
Several years passed, and I remained firmly in the treebook camp. Until I bought a Kindle. Stars help me, I love my Kindle. I love it so much. I even prefer to read on my Kindle; still, I do enjoy reading paper books, too. I got a really lovely copy of a book from Two Dollar Radio that’s deckle-edged and fairly swoon-worthy.
These days, I look at the book vs. ebook debate and I wonder, what the hell was I ever fighting about? What is anybody fighting about? Why is this debate even a thing?
So, I started looking into some of the points that people make for either camp. I think some of them are rubbish. Of course, I plan to tell you why I think so. This wouldn’t be a reading rage if I didn’t go off about my opinions, right? Right. That’s kind of what I do best.
“Real books” are just better. They provide a better reading experience. They smell nice. They’re pretty and have nice cover art.
No, e-readers are better. You can store your library in them. They’re convenient. You can change font size and take notes.
This shouldn’t even be an argument in the debate of treebooks vs. real books, and I have to confess that I have probably made this very argument–hell, both of them, I’m an ebook flip-flopper–myself. It’s incredibly subjective; one person’s “better experience” may be another person’s worse experience. If you still like to read paper books, I’m super glad for you. I don’t ever want you to stop reading paper books if you don’t want to.
Me? I want to use my Kindle until it dies, and then replace it with a new one. (I’m not one to upgrade my technology just because a new version comes out. I’ll use this Kindle until the battery craps out or until it refuses to display books to me. Then I might have a little ceremony, bury it, and put up a stone book as a marker.) I like all of the features. I like, now that I’ve gotten used to it, how it only displays one page at a time. I like how I can squish into the couch and get comfortable, and I don’t have to move my arm to turn pages. None of these things, though, is an objective argument for why the Kindle is the best way to read–it’s just the way that I like best. In this case, the papercut does slice both ways.
E-readers are more environmentally-friendly. They weigh less and use electronic media.
I can’t get behind this idea at all, as much as I love my e-reader. Individual e-readers may not cost as many resources to create and ship as the books you can store on it, but there are other downsides. E-readers have a much shorter lifespan than a book, especially in today’s electronic consumer culture, where we upgrade our electronics far more often than is technically necessary. Ebooks are made out of plastic, which isn’t biodegradable like paper; eventually, the technology that runs them will become obsolete, and customers will be forced to upgrade devices. Books will never be obsolete as long as people can read. There are other, more sustainable materials out of which we can make paper, like bamboo; we can even make ink that is environmentally-friendly. Soy ink does well in applications with porous materials, like non-glossy paper. Plus, pulping and recycling books, which does happen in the industry, cuts down on having to fell as many trees. Books can be passed on or sold to secondhand shops, which extends their lifespan considerably–or, by using the library, you can share a book with hundreds of other people.
I also wonder about things like: are the materials for the batteries mined using slave (or nearly slave) labor? How much power will an e-reader use over its lifespan, and is the battery as efficient as it could be? I think there are many concerns when it comes to touting an e-reader as more eco-friendly. I’m not ready to leap onto that train just yet.
Small bookstores and print books are going to be the salvation of the publishing industry.
I’ve heard this argument before, and every time, I have to think–really? I mean, I love small bookstores. I don’t want them to go away. If they do go away, though, it’s because people have decided not to spend their money there; I hate to say it, but it’s a perfectly legitimate choice for people to make. It’s not as though someone is saying, hey, you can’t exist. I personally think that small bookstores have a lot that they can offer without having to “save” them by arguing people out of buying ebooks when they’d rather read ebooks. If people prefer ebooks, or if they’re not shopping at small bookstores, then the onus isn’t on the customer to make sure these bookstores stay in business. The onus is on the bookstore to make us want to go in and madly fling our money at them.
As for print and small bookstores being the “salvation” of publishing, that just makes me laugh when it comes from publishers. Again, love me some small bookstores. (Especially ones that sell used books. If I owned a small bookstore, I’d definitely draw people in with used books.) Publishers, however, should be completely in love with ebooks, but they’re not! I don’t understand this! I’m not talking about as readers, or as preserving literary culture, but as businesses; if I were a publisher, I’d be pushing the almighty crap out of ebooks. It’s the same product that they’ve always produced (books), but now, with lower overhead and the ability to distribute infinite copies to meet demand. If anything is going to “save” the industry (and with it raking in billions of dollars, and with enough readership to go around to support dozens of small presses that are popping up, does it need “saving”? See also, The Oatmeal’s state of the music industry), it’ll be ebooks.
A computer file is not a “real book.”
Yes, it is. They have the exact same content. Being totally unable to enjoy that content unless it is printed on paper, glued together, and bound in more paper is called a “fetish.” It’s like being totally unable to enjoy sex unless you’re bound up in duct tape and ball-gagged. (Clarification: I’m not saying that all people who prefer paper have a paper fetish, just people who totally deny the validity of reading ebooks because they’re somehow not “real.”)
I don’t have any problem with people having fetishes, really, as long as they don’t hurt anybody else. Just don’t look down your nose at someone who pulls out their e-reader. I’ve been that person, and I’m still ashamed of myself.
People who read bound books are just unhip and need to quit holding back progress.
Some technology never becomes obsolete. Is a violin obsolete? Sure, you can synthesize different instruments, but that doesn’t render them useless, or even not-as-good. Book-making still exists as a craft, even if mass-produced books aren’t quite as lovely as hand-bound or artisan-bound books.
Ebooks are too expensive and they’re not worth it at all.
Now, I have to agree with this point. Right now, ebooks are too expensive, due to a lot of factors. I don’t buy very many; however, I fully expect that to change in the future. The ebook market is new and I think that supply and demand will even it out over time, as long as prices aren’t kept artificially high to deter them competing with bound books. I believe that ebooks can be profitable at a lower price point when they’re allowed to compete fairly (as I’ve discussed here and here); I don’t think it’s inherent in the technology itself that the books currently cost almost as much as print.
Conclusion: I don’t think this debate has a winner.
In the end, it really boils down to a matter of preference, and it’s impossible to win a debate about preference. I, personally, am perfectly happy to lay this debate down and go frolic in a meadow with my reading mode of choice. Or, you know, curl up on the couch. Either way.
What do you think? Did I miss any important points? Which do you personally prefer, and why? COMMENTS.