Print Books vs Ebooks

Amazon Kindle 2 There’s a fight afoot. Paper-based print books vs digital ebooks. Tradition vs innovation. Aw damn.

I’ll be the first to admit that I love books. I’m a total book geek. This year, I was going to try to complete a book a week, though sadly, that goal was too ambitious for my schedule. (I’m still going for it though!)

However, I love the ebook concept. It’s one I wholly support as a reader and a customer. I’m not sure how authors feel about them though. There’s at least one I know doesn’t seem to be a fan. As a hopeful author myself, I don’t really mind. I dig the environmental impact (assuming building the ebook readers doesn’t hurt worse than cutting down trees for books) and relatively low production & distribution costs.

In Argument of Print Books

There’s something cozy about a print book. The tactical feeling of the pages between your fingers. The musky smell of old ink and paper. The plump sound of the book when you “plop” it on the table.

In between readings, you can slide out your bookmark and scan the page until you find the last paragraph you read. If you want to reference something pages earlier, simply flip backwards in time. When you finish an especially good book, you can close it, sit back, feel the heft in your hands, and become awash with satisfaction. And then there’s the cover art and author’s bio on the book jacket. Delightful extras.

So with all that, how can a print book compete with an ebook?

In Argument of Ebooks

  • Portability – You can potentially carry your entire library around with you in one ebook reader. With hundreds of books in my library, that would be cool. And yes, I do enjoy re-reading or referencing old books on occasion.
  • Cost – One year, I spent nearly a grand on books. At that scale, I think I would be saving money with ebooks. Students could potentially save a lot on textbooks as well. This assumes the cost of the ebook reader itself can be made up from the cost savings of purchasing ebooks, of course. If you don’t purchase a lot of books, this may not be a true benefit.
  • Internet Access – This is more of a benefit of ebook readers than ebooks themselves. Most readers have Internet access and can offer enhanced features, such as integration with online dictionaries and encyclopedias. They can also supply readers with subscriptions to magazines and blogs, making them a one-stop shop for reading bliss.
  • Search – Even the best book indexes can’t match the utility of a well-made search. Exact text matches are good enough, but imagine a time the searches can also match synonyms & related phrases. That would be truly useful.
  • Notes – If you like to jot notes in the columns of your books, ebooks give you that ability as well. Couple that with the ability to search through your notes too and you’ve got a great research tool.
  • Interactivity – I like how Penguin is experimenting with interactive books on the Apple iPad (AAPL). That is a wonderful idea, especially for children. This could be an exciting new direction for ebooks and education.
  • Permanence – Conceivably, an ebook could last forever while a print book could decay over time. However, this argument depends on the permanence of an ebook reader and the company creating those readers.
  • Distribution – Another idealistic possibility is the ability to distribute ebooks to locations that might logistically prohibit large numbers of print books. Imagine a One Laptop Per Child program with ebook readers instead. Now imagine those children being able to access countless free ebooks. There are other logistics to worry about (power, Internet access, etc), but some third-world countries are already trying to solve that.

The Next Generation

The strongest argument for either format will be the preferences of the next generation, our children. Already, our children are growing up in an age of instant messenging, social media, and MP3s. Some even see emails as antiquated.

If they take to ebooks and ebook readers, then I suspect print books will go the way of newspapers, radio, and records. They will still exist because there will always be a benefit they provide that ebooks can’t, but the industry will shrink.

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

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