In my revitalized blog I’m going to attempt more “light” posts so this post was triggered by a post in HuffPo (originally The National Book Review) titled, Drop That Kindle! 10 Reasons Print Books Are Better Than E-Books. I love print, but I’ll (mostly keep my Kindle so here’s my response:
First, I’ll start with rebutting a couple of points of the original post:
- E-Books are for life and don’t get thrown out in spring cleaning when your bookshelves are overflowing. The original article claimed:
3. Print books are yours for life. The books you bought in college will still be readable in 50 years. Do you really think that in 10 years your e-reader – or book-reading watch, or virtual reality goggles – will work with today’s e-books?
Unless I lose them or can’t find them in my piles of stuff. While it’s true that my current Kindle will be obsolete (and unavailable) in my lifetime and its current format will also be obsolete, we now know that nothing digital ever disappears (my former employee makes a lot of revenue providing all the storage to save everything). Converting today’s format for today’s device to tomorrow’s format for some great new future device is, as we say in the software business, “small matter of programming”. The bits that form my ebook today will live forever and if anyone wants those bits there will be a way to view them.
Conversely physical books take up space. How many people (or at least book lovers) have overflowing shelves and eventually boxes in storage of books they can’t bear to throw out (i.e. recycle these days, either for readers or for the paper). A dusty book in storage is not available, ALL my Kindle books are.
2. It’s easier to find material from previously read books when it’s electronic. The original claimed:
6. You can write in the margins of a print book, dog-ear the important pages, and underline the key sentences with a pencil. E-books often allow the digital equivalents of these acts – but they just aren’t the same. There is a link between physical gestures and cognition: the things we do to print books seem to help us to understand and remember better.
Now I agree that current markup capability in Kindle leaves a lot to be desired (although I never have to search for my highlighter or learn it’s dried out with my Kindle). But we’re just beginning. One of these days Amazon will elevate search on the Kindle to the level it is on Google, and then hopefully beyond (i.e. when I can only remember a few bits of some book still be able to find it through inspecific clues). My highlight notes are locked in the physical book, some future Kindle will have builtin tools to store and index all my notes (as Kindle now does for words I have to lookup, although current tool is crude).
I love cookbooks. They’re attractive (those food photos are all so yummy) and the diagrams for cooking techniques don’t work well (now) in e-books (although, imagine that dynamic displays, like tablets can put in an animation of how to cut up a duck, Julia Childs cookbook was only a rough approximation). I go cover to cover in a new cookbook (and we have an entire room just for cookbooks, so many we laugh – no more cookbooks for Christmas). But guess what – when I need a recipe I go to the Internet and can find the one I want in seconds, whereas it would take me hours to go through my library of cookbooks to find exactly the same thing. (In fact, I believe all publishers of cookbooks should go together with a Google-like online search and supply enough text to meet my search and then say go to book X, page Y for full details).
Sorry, as IT that exists for other types of content steadily gets implemented for ebooks accessibility for ebooks will vastly exceed print books.
3. E-books are better for writers. The original article made the opposite claim and I can’t directly rebut their point, but my feeling is their point is too narrow:
8. Print books are fairer to writers. The Author’s Guild has been beating the drum for years that publishers give writers a lower percentage of the royalties for e-books. That makes it harder for authors to earn a living – and to produce new books. If you want to support writers, who are struggling these days, more than publishing giants – buy a print book.
First, physical publishing is a serious barrier to many authors reaching me. I get what editors and marketers want me to see. Amazon lets anyone in the party. I’ll choose my books, not some gatekeeper worried about trying to get best sellers.
Second, I’m happy to pay authors, but I don’t want to pay their agent. I’m happy to pay the editor who helps the author improve their work, but I don’t want to pay the publishing company’s profits or ad budgets or their CEO or whatever. Whoever claims authors are getting squeezed, tell me simply how big a cut of the retail price I pay for a book goes to the author, 5%, 10%, 25% for the big name memoirs. Sorry, authors, to compensate you fairly I have to pay people who provide nothing of value to me.
Third, the purchase model of books is wrong. Most people read books once (I often re-read). I should pay per-view, not to own a hunk of paper I have to store. Books have the model (pay to own) because of history whereas (pay to view) is more feasible and fairer to readers (and guess what authors, you’ll have more readers with this model). Apple has done a fairly good job proving this with iTunes (buy songs I want, not stuff bundling on the CD by the publisher).
Fourth, authors can build a connection with me (as many do with their websites, but why have two technologies when one will do). While Kindle doesn’t do it now, that’s arbitrary Amazon feature choice, since inherently I could communicate back to the author (often I’ve found typos and have no way to report them). Come on, readers and authors should interact, much more than the passive process of reading print. And feel free, authors, just as Amazon does, to promote your next work to me, or perhaps to provide commentary about your book, not just the content itself (again, yes, that’s done on websites now, but why not connect them).
And fifth, authors, why let the publishers have all the fun – feel free to try to peddle merchandising, or additional chapters that didn’t make the final edit or whatever you want. I might be happy to pay you for stuff you’d never get your publisher to print.
4. Ebooks are always with me and something I guard closely. The original post made the point:
10. Print books are theft-resistant. If you leave a book in your car, you can be pretty sure it will be there when you return. That is probably not true of your iPad, Kindle or other e-book reader.
On the surface you’re right (although I’ve had plenty of my thick technical books disappear or books I loaned to someone never make it back). Sure thieves are more likely to grab a nice high-value and easy-to-hock shiny electronics than a dusty book. But guess what, I’m got a lot more than books in my phone and I’m equally careful with it as my wallet. Not too often do I leave my electronics, at least visible, in my car.
And that book sitting in the car that doesn’t get stolen, it’s also not in my hand while I’m standing in a line somewhere. I carry my phone everywhere. My Kindle is nice and light and I carry it in my backpack when I hike (not going to do that with your heavy print book)
OK, enough with rebuttals, now let’s make a few positive points for E-Books.
5. Like the trailer in movies, no trees were injured in making this book. Printing books create a large carbon footprint: cutting down the trees (not to mention the land use of ugly tree farms), hauling logs to paper plant and making paper (as well as the toxic and other waste), and hauling the paper to printer (and its waste, yeah, all that trimming and make-ready), and shipping to books to retailers (and my gasoline to go get them) or Amazon’s shipping to me from their warehouses. A Kindle takes relatively less energy (possibly than even a single book) and a download is a tiny bit of electricity to get it too me.
And let’s not forget landfills, even with some recycling today, filled with dead trees.
So, as to green, print books lose.
6. If I manage to lose my books, guess what, Amazon has it in the cloud and will send me a new one. Try to get your local bookshop to give you a replacement copy for free.
7. If I forget to pack my book, tough, can’t read it. I always pack my Kindle and every book I’ve ever bought (since having it) is at my fingertips. I used to take some book on an airflight, not feel like reading it, and end up reading the airplane’s in-flight magazine. Not any more.
8. My Kindle is light! Yep, maybe it would be good exercise for me to carry 20lbs of books around, but I’d rather fill my luggage or backpack with something more useful. And why have I focused this post on Kindle instead of tablet, why do I have a Kindle – good power management. My 28 hour flights to Xi’an China, all those connections, my Kindle was going strong long after my iPod had run out of juice.
9. I save more money which I mostly use to buy more books. Not only do print books create a large carbon footprint they’re inherently way more expensive than ebooks (ignoring current economics of the various vendors that have some artificial pricing). I want to read the words, not own a bunch of paper and cheaper books mean I can read more of them.
10. You can use a Kindle on exercise equipment. Ever try reading a paper book on a treadmill, not easy. And someday with some ethereal projection system of some future ebook technology I can read the ebook anywhere (even Kindle doesn’t work with elliptical).
And, since the original article only had 10 points, I have to add another.
11. I get to choose the appearance of my book. While my first Kindle had only one font and a few sizes, that’s steadily improving. I can read my book in the font I like (and on my tablets with the colors I want). As the digital publishing formats are enhanced (say at least to what PDF’s can already do) I get even more control over the visual appearance of that print. You may like touching pages, I like print that is easy on my aging eyes.
I actually can think of quite a few more but I’ll stop now, having one more than the original article. And I’m going to do a separate post on the various first point of the post, the aesthetics of a print book vs ebook since I think that’s a very interesting topic, plus the most common (first-mentioned) point the anti-ebook people make.