I’ve written on this topic before, as have many others, and it still frequently comes up in conversation. Whenever I tell people that I read a lot and review books, they will often bring up the question of print versus digital. They’ll ask me which I prefer and why.
What I love are words that contain good stories and meaningful information, whether it’s printed on paper or made up of e-ink capsules over a white background is irrelevant. It’s the words that I’m there for. However, it’s still an issue that many readers appear to battle over.
I dabble with both, but confess that I am reading mostly ebooks these days. The reasons for this are purely pragmatic, of which portability, convenience and ease of access are top of the list. I love being able to have that new novel from a favorite author on the spot, eliminating the need to visit some annoying shopping mall to pay a sizable chunk of money for the print version. Some of the bigger books that I read are quite hefty in print form and digital obviously eliminates this problem. My ebook reader is light and easy to hold whether I’m standing, sitting or reclining and takes up a fraction of the space in my bag.
I use ebook management software on my computer and keep my collection backed up. Because of this my physical book shelf is growing very slowly as of late.
These days my library is huge yet takes up hardly any space.
Sure, there are the tangible facets of a “real” book like the weight of it, the feel of the cover and the smell of the paper, etc. I admit to being rather fond of these things, and I even recently re-read my old hardcover copy of The War of the Worlds in an attempt to relive the experience from many years ago. I enjoyed it too. But it was the story that I mainly focused on, I didn’t really pay much attention to the medium at all.
As a thumbs down for modern devices, research has shown that reading a tablet before bed can actually lead to increased symptoms of insomnia (to clarify, that’s a device with a back-lit LCD screen, e-ink devices do not cause this problem). Reading a physical printed book is apparently the key. A recent study has shown that people who read on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering what they read compared to those who read printed text. It was concluded that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.” I’m assuming that this finding applies not only to Amazon’s iconic Kindle but also other proprietary e-readers as well.
I buy print books for my kids who like to read, the robustness of a chunky book being of obvious value here. But already my 9 year-old son is expressing interest in an ebook reader, so he’ll soon be discovering the pros and cons for himself. (It may also teach him the benefit of picking things up of the floor…)
As far as sales go, I’ve found that reliable figures are a bit elusive but most sources are showing ebooks to be consistently increasing in sales and forecast to overhaul print (which has seen a corresponding reduction in sales). But it hasn’t been a fast process, and I was one of those who predicted the rapid demise of print media once mobile devices became so widespread. I was a little off-target because paper has hung in there admirably. It’ll be interesting to see if the lines do actually cross over and how much they might diverge the other way.
This graph is for US sales, but from what I’ve seen (I’m in New Zealand) I’d wager that this trend is generally consistent worldwide.
Returning to the personal preferences of readers, the following points seem to sum up the feelings of most folk that I talk to:
Storage – hundreds, even thousands, of books within one device
Ease of purchase – buying an ebook is just a click away
Portability – light, on hand, easy to carry around
Price – usually less than a print book (although I’ve seen the gap close up alarmingly in recent years)
Purchasing options – many different online sources
Freedom – the ability to share titles with others easily and quickly (the legalities aside)
Prefer print books:
Tangibility – an actual physical item for the money
Accomplishment – the mass of the book moves from the right side to the left, visual progress
Libraries – people like the vibe of a library with books to browse and choose
Aroma – the smell of ink on paper (rather nice I admit)
Less restriction – no DRM (Digital Rights Management) and no battery issues
I can relate to some extent with every one of those points and this leads me to the obvious conclusion, that there is a solid place for both. In today’s world it’s a lot more about convenience and accessibility meaning ebooks fit with modern “must have it now” attitudes. But, print books are still moving off the shelves okay, even among younger readers, so it look as if the old-school perceptions still mean something within the same society.
To conclude, I’ll say that I hope that print and digital will continue to coexist and I don’t see any reasons why they shouldn’t. I can see many reasons why the demise of print would be undesirable, the possible disappearance of community libraries not least of these. But nor is the rise of electronic media unwelcome with less paper used, i.e. a smaller carbon footprint and that sort of thing.
In my mind the format is largely a moot point, what matters most to me is that there are books being written, published and read. After all, it’s about the words, wonderful words with which we feed our minds (for better or worse).
“In union there is strength.”