E-Readers vs. Printed Books? Let’s Argue. Or Not.

If you’re an avid book reader, you’ve probably been hearing this argument for a while in some form or other.

Person A : “I love my electronic book-reading device. So small, so easy to use. And the books I can buy here are so much cheaper than printed books.”

Person B: “I’ll never use a e-reader. I just love the look and feel of a book too much. I like collecting them, the way they look on my shelf, how easy they are on my eyes.”

Person A: “But e-readers are the future, man. Who knows if they’ll even be printing books down the road? And right now, there are all sorts of books you can’t get in print because they’re so expensive and inefficient to produce. What could be cooler than carrying thousands of books in something that weighs about as much as two-pack of Pop Tarts?”

Person B: “Oh, come on. They’ll never stop printing books. Too many people are going to want them and nothing else. Besides, you can’t take an e-reader into the bathtub with you. And I love my local bookstore. I don’t want to see it go out of business.”

And on and on and on. You may have even been in an argument like this. I know I’ve been in too many to count.

Here’s the thing, though: Why does it have to be an either-or argument? Why can’t both sides be right? (If only because both sides are right.)

I own a Kindle e-reader. (This blog is not an advertisement for it, however; it just happened to be what I bought. I’m sure I’d be just as happy with a Nook or an iPad or whatever). I also regularly buy printed books (and love our independent bookstores). Here’s how I’ve found the balance:

My Kindle is used to buy two kinds of works:

E-book-only releases. Thousands of writers these days are uploading their books directly to Amazon’s Kindle Store, Smashwords or other electronic-publishing outlets and selling their work for, generally, between 99 cents and $2.99. I’m a fan of crime fiction, and write it myself, so I regularly take the time to scout out cheap e-books that are up my thematic alley. Some are good, some are good but unpolished, and some are just plain awful. But that’s OK; I generally learn something valuable and relevant to my own efforts, and I’m not out much money.

E-book re-releases of out-of-print books. A lot of authors who originally saw their books published the traditional way have seen their books slip out of print (in other words, no longer on bookshelves or available to order). Many have clauses in their publication contracts that allow the rights to their books revert back to them after so many years. So what these authors sometimes do is e-publish those books themselves so they can a) reintroduce the work to a new audience; and b) create a potential stream of passive new revenue for themselves. I’ve discovered some fine, fun mysteries this way — and even better, often get to read new volumes in a once-published series. Many authors saw a series end because their sales went flat, but not before they had completed another volume or two in the series. Before e-books, those volumes would have probably stayed tucked away forever with their creators.

One example: An author named Ron Franscell published a mystery called The Deadline about a dozen years ago that I liked. However, he couldn’t get a deal for a second book, The Obituary, that featured the same lead character. As soon as he gave up on shopping it to traditional publishers, he put it up himself in the Kindle Store. I happily bought it for $5.99 and enjoyed it a great deal.

Everything else (i.e., books in print) I’ll buy in printed form from bookstores.

In this way, the argument is moot. For me, anyway. I’m all about the future. Except when I’m all about the past.

How about you? Does it have to e-readers only for you, or nothing but print books? Or can you find some middle ground? Discuss.

4 thoughts on “E-Readers vs. Printed Books? Let’s Argue. Or Not.

  1. It is not so much an either/or question as a matter of practicality. I have no room for more printed books! All my walls are lined with shelves. If I need to replace a carpet or paint I must spend days or weeks doing nothing but moving books around.

    I like Apple’s iBooks reader on the iPad and iPhone, but the selection of books is quite limited. Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Amazon’s Kindle apps on these devices offer a much larger selection, though they are not quite as well done.

    Eventually, I can see e-books blurring the lines separating books from other media. Imagine books with embedded video or sound, for example. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a moving picture might be worth 10,000 words. A Spanish language text that contained both sound and video, for example, could help the student master pronunciation. A book on archeology could take the student to a virtual site, demonstrating proper techniques for preservation of artifacts. Books might contain frames with their own mini-browsers with web site links.

    Applications like iBook retain much of the traditional feel of reading a book. “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg” is hysterically funny whether you read it on a printed page or not. And yes, I think that e-readers will eventually become water resistant.

  2. I don’t think books will ever go away. There will always be some people who want them or some books people want. Like watching old movies in a theatre. I will have a mix of both using whichever medium is convenient or desired at the time. I see e-books being very advantageous for schools and students the most.

  3. Like CJCampbell, I have way too many books, but I keep them because I love them. I’ve found great deals on books on eBay and in used book stores, because I can’t afford to buy books at the going rate. I wish I could – some of my books are paperbacks with their original price of 50 cents on them and they’re falling apart page by page. I will always have printed books because standing in front of the bookcase looking at a kindle and trying to decide what to read without being able to see all those titles just seems…I don’t know, sort of sad.

  4. CJCampbell: One of the frustrating myths about e-readers is that reading one is like staring into a computer screen. With the Kindle, as well as the iPad and the Nook, that’s just not true. The light gray backdrops and “e-ink” technology makes the experience very book-like.

    And I agree that the number of books that are exclusively e-books will grow. Probably not at a super-fast rate, though, is my guess.

    OfficeGirl: Excellent point. E-books for textbooks is a great way to deal with the insanely escalating expense of school materials. I myself am preparing to go back to school (22 years after I got my bachelor’s degree) and am staring at up to $400 in textbook costs. If e-books can knock at least 25% off that prohibitive cost, I’d sure embrace that idea.

    Kelly: I felt as you did until I tried it out in person. Now I read my Kindle in bed at night once or twice a week. After an initial sense of displacement, I found it easy to give myself over to what I was reading and not think at all about HOW I was reading it. But, yeah, it took me a few years to get to the point of even being willing to try. At my age (45), I’m just old-school and cranky enough to ignore what I don’t want to absorb. For a while, anyway. I will always have my heavy, ungainly, great-smelling stacks of books, however.

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