Sunday, October 11, 2015

EBooks and Traditional Books

The controversy around traditional books verses eBooks is one that raises emotions akin to differences surrounding such hot button issues as religion and politics. Having jumped into the world of digital books approximately three years ago, I have formed definite opinions on the issue. As it involves new technology bumping into an ancient human activity, namely reading, the topic is tied to the profound changes that the digital age is having on humanity.

I think that in regards to this subject, a few points relevant to the history of books are important to keep in mind. When the printing press first became popular in the fifteenth century, folks, mostly scholars, protested that the new machines produced books of much lower quality than handwritten tomes.

In the twentieth century, when paperbacks first became popular, there was protest over their low quality as opposed to hardcovers. First, of course, this history illustrates that changes in the way that we read books are commonly resisted as folks defend the old ways. I am not completely dismissing the above arguments. After all, I think that it could be argued that aesthetically, handwritten tomes were far superior to printed books or, more importantly, that mass-produced paperbacks lack many of the merits of hardcovers.

I would contend that we place too much value on cheap paperbacks and lower quality hardcovers. I do not see all that much tactile or aesthetic appeal to these lower grade books.

Much has been said and written about sensory satisfaction gained with physical books. People often comment upon the perceptible sensations associated with them. Some even remark about their aroma. But when it comes to paperbacks, I question the value of the experience imparted. I am so much more appreciative of the positive sensations garnered with higher quality, more substantive books.

If one wants to fight for traditional books, I say make it about quality books that are worth it. Of course, for a personal collector, the issue of cost comes into play. I fantasize about a library of high quality hardcovers. A perusal of such books online indicates that price escalates with quality.

For someone such as myself who likes to delve deeply into books, the benefits of eBooks are immense. I can, and do, take numerous notes and make comments, as well as highlight passages. This would destroy a conventional book. I recently did read an old-fashioned book, and I filled it with post-it notes in lieu of the electronic notes that I am now used to.

Likewise, the copy and paste function is invaluable for bloggers and others who need to use quotations from a book.  As I do look up unfamiliar words, the dictionary function is very convenient and useful. I even use the word search, which is better than an index. Of course, particularly with history books, my ability to search the web for additional information, maps, charts, etc., greatly enhances my reading experience.

I have also shifted to a system of just in time buying of books. Instead of hoarding tomes, some of which I will likely never get to in my entire lifetime, I now download the instance at which I am ready to begin a new read.

With all of that, I do not discount the value of traditional books. I have made several references to quality hardcovers. I believe that these may represent the future of conventional books much like vinyl records have made a comeback among folks who enjoy collecting music.  I think that it is a good bet that eBooks will eventually replace soft covers. I am aware that sales of old-fashioned books have stabilized, but as digital book technology continues to get better and more economical, I would surmise the erosion in paperback sales will commence again.

I do have a vision of my fantasy library. It would be filled with the high quality hard cover tomes. Though I already own a very few of them, cost has sadly prevented me from embarking upon any real collecting. I wonder, however, if I did possess such an impressive library, if the great books would still sit on a shelf while I read digital versions of them. There are just too many advantages to eBooks!

I recently read a traditional book. I have become so dependent on note taking this was the shocking result.

If one considers the history of positive human progress, such progress is often aided by advances in communication. EBooks are part of the larger digital evolution that allows folks to instantly communicate with one another and to access vast reservoirs of human knowledge. Digital books give us access to millions of books, relatively cheaply, at the press of a few points on a keyboard or screen. They add to our ability to cross reference information and utilize words much more easily than ever before. These advantages cannot be overstated.  In my opinion, this will only enhance the spread of knowledge and ideas, which has traditionally led to great benefits for humanity.

I do know that many of my readers will disagree with many of my points here. Folks are understandably attached to old-fashioned books. For me, the real virtue of a tome is its contents, not its package. However, I do place great value in the kind of traditional book that I think deserves to be valued. Nevertheless, I would argue that anything that makes the contents of books more accessible, understandable and interactive is a really good thing.


Felicity Grace Terry said...

Thank you for such a considered post. Whilst I appreciate all of the arguments for digital readers as you know I'm 100 for paper copies.

Slightly off-topic I know but given today's topic I thought you might find this article interesting.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tracy - I do seem to be in the minority among bookish folks.

Thank you for the link. I think that it is very relevant. As I noted above, it seems that traditional books are making a little bit of a resurgence. Despite my above predictions, only time will tell what will happen.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

What a well written post Brian. At one time I had close to 1,000 physical books but then came the Kindle and iPad mini which allowed me to cull my physical collection. I tried to donate all the books I read and knew I'd never read again, all paperbacks (print too tiny for my aged eyes) and also classics, many I was able to get free for my Kindle. I'm down to around 500 physical books.

I honestly love both - eBooks and physical books, but nothing beats reading in bed like a Kindle with backlight, so light and easy on my eyes.

Lory said...

I use and appreciate both -- I do have some lovely classic editions but I confess that it's often easier to read them as e-books rather than lugging around the hardbacks. Fantastic for traveling, and for instant gratification from the library. (I don't spend money on e-books.)

What I prefer about the physical copy is having the whole entity in front of me rather than only one page at a time. And I feel that I have better comprehension and retention of the text when I read it on paper. I believe that research backs this up, though I can't put my finger on a reference right now.

Guy Savage said...

People just get plain nasty about e-books as if you're committing a sin. I can understand that attitude if you are a bookseller.

IMO there's room for both.

But apart from that.. well life is all about change. I never leave home w/o a kindle just in case...

Gently Mad said...

Obviously you're a man after my own heart, Brian. I have no problem with a Kindle. There are many advantages to it, especially when traveling.

It also is helpful if you impulse-buy a free download or borrow from a digital library and you find you don't like the book, no big loss.

Having said that, I am currently culling out all the inferior paperbacks and hardcovers from my own library and donating them to others, especially homeschoolers who need to read the classics but can't necessarily afford them. I then replace them with quality hardcovers. I am enjoying Library of America and Everyman's Library.
Have a good week.

JoAnn said...

I have embraced ebooks in a big way over the past few years - for many of the reasons you list here, but also for their portability and adjustable fonts. I love the few high quality collector'e editions I own, but would never read them while sipping a cup of coffee or glass of wine. By the same token, I wouldn't read on my kindle while floating around in the pool and will always choose trade paperbacks for the beach or pool. There is room in my life for both e-book and print books... and for audiobooks, too.

Great post, Brian!

Jonathan said...

I also like ebooks as well as physical books. ebooks allow me to save space, I can change text size, it's easier to carry around than a huge book and I can download books instantly.

On the other hand physical books are just nicer generally. I sometimes find non-fiction ebooks a bit awkward when I want to look at photos, look/search for things within in an ebook. One thing about physical books that I would really miss is being able to lend and borrow books with friends or family. Also rummaging through secondhand bookshops.

Rachel said...

I agree with you on most points. I like the instant gratification of eBooks as well as the space-saving qualities. And, as I said on your last post, it makes large tomes more manageable. My ideal library would be just my favorite books in "collectable editions." However, due to the lateness if eBook popularity compared to the start of my collection, I have about a thousand books sitting around, many of which I haven't read.

Suko said...

Terrific post, Brian. Thanks for sharing your view, and asking others to do the same.

I suppose I'm "old-school" in that I prefer my reading to be low-tech. I spend a lot of time on the computer, and on my iPhone, so when I read I want a paper book. But, I know there are many wonderful things about eBooks, as you describe in your post.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Diane.

The saving of physical space is indeed another benefit of Ebooks.

With that, I wish that I still owned all the physical books that I have lost in moves during my younger years.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lory - i had heard that about better comprehension of paper books. I wonder why this is. While this may be true for some, I do not know it is true for me.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Guy - I was a little apprehensive about this post. I have posted about politics and religion, but this may be more serious :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - I think that it is great that you are donating your old books.

It is also neat that you are replacing the classics with hardcovers.

The Library of America and the Everyman's Library are great ways to collect.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks JoAnn - It is interesting that you use the different formats in different settings. It makes sense. I have found that I cannot use a Kindle at the beach unless I cover my head with a towel die to the glare. My only problem with the different formats is switching between them if I am going to different settings and I am in the middle of a book.

A for audiobooks, I think that I need to do another post on them.

Violet said...

You make a good argument, but I'm not buying it. :) I thought I'd love eBooks, LOVE THEM, but I didn't and I don't. I was so excited to have access to all those out-of-print books and to be able to instantly download books I wanted to read right now, but the realities of reading a digital file shot that enthusiasm right out of the water. This academic article pretty much covers the reasons I don't get along with eBooks: eye comfort, and lower comprehension and retention rates. Also not being able to easily flip back and forth in a book drives me nuts, and I can't 'picture' where in the book I read a certain passage when I'm reading an eBook because every page is the same. I keep hoping that eReader technology will improve so that I can have more of an iPad reading experience on an eye-friendly device, but it seems to be taking a while for someone to do that cheaply and effectively.

Besides that, I like books as objects and I don't care if they're cheap editions or not. Everything that goes into making a book - the cover, paper, typeface, layout, size, etc. - are absent with an eBook. It's just a digital file. Cheap editions still have a 'presence', whereas an eBook is just... a digital file. Recently, I bought a book that's 85 years old and has its previous owners' names in it and a couple of improvised bookmarks, and I love that I'm connected to those people through this old book.

I'm glad you find eBooks satisfying to read and that you like them. A lot of people do like them for all the reasons you mention, but I'll stick with my dusty, foxed, note-riddled, broken-spined, much-travelled paper books. :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jonathan -You raise some good points that I should have mentioned.

Several folks have mentioned font size, that and background color are big advantageous of Ebooks.

I actually do find it easier to search an book as opposed to the traditional kind.

I also love used bookstore, I still go to them to search for books that are not available as Ebooks.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Rachel - You raise a good point. I do find it a bit troubling that my book collection is divided into two very different types.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko. I also spend a lot of time on the computer. Yet the Kindle just seems different :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for the great comments Violet.

The greater comprehension that folks have with traditional books is so interesting and, at least for me, unexpected.

I very much appreciate books like your 85 year old one. The connection that you mention is a valuable thing.

In the end, some of us love e books and some of us just do not :)


James said...

Interesting observations. I have been using the kindle app on my tablet for a few years and find it works well for some books. But for the books that I want to study I still rely on the tried and true hardcovers or paperbacks. I doubt that I will ever completely abandon "real" books.

thecuecard said...

I read both e-books and traditional books. I guess if I really like a book I like to keep it on my shelf as a print book. You make some valid points about the convenience of e-books and what they can do. What kind of e-reader do you have? Some old ones aren't as good at highlighting or taking notes etc. as perhaps newer models but I think I need to upgrade my Kindle. There seems to be some evidence that the price of e-books was rising and many were no longer cheap like they once were. Also I'm not sure if one can loan e-books out to friends like traditional books, but perhaps I just dont know how to do this yet. Either way, I think both platforms are still viable. cheers.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - That is interesting about using traditional books for deeper study. My above photo with all the stickies is the end result of my own efforts with a traditional book.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan. I have a first generation Kindle Fire. It is beginning to feel very ancient and will need to be replaced soon. With that, it is fine for note taking and highlighting. I have the Kindle app on my computer and that helps me a lot when writing blogs.

Though I know that there has been a lot of talk about the rising cost of Ebooks, so much of what I read is free, I do not really mind that much about small price rises in the percentage of books that I pay for.

joyce said...

Hi Brian,
I am a Ebook addict! I have been since I discovered the's my constant companion, my immediate access to a new book, my suitcase for all the books I take on trips, and so much more. Love the dictionary, the highlighting and all the digital features..
I'm convinced it will take over!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Joyce - Your list of benefits to Ebooks is the reason that I love them.

As I described it, I hope that there will always be a place for high quality traditional books in everyone's library,

Heidi’sbooks said...

I love your article. I do the same thing now when trying to highlight in a paper book--sticky notes. It drives me crazy. :) I found I had a transition period with ebooks. The more I use them, the more I like them. At first it drove me crazy that I couldn't flip the pages as much as I would like. But, I got used to that on the ebooks after a while. Now I love the highlight feature in ebooks, and when I go to a paper book, I get frustrated that I can't highlight. I love having my highlighted materials all on one page that I can jump right back immediately to the original material.

I find I read half and half now.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Heidi - It seems that those of us who appreciate EBooks, absolutely love them.

efhs@63 said...

Please note that I have had to move and rename my blog:

HKatz said...

I've found that the two can complement each other. I'm still more attached to non-digital books (and I love the atmosphere of smaller bookstores and are sad at their increased disappearance), but it's convenient to have a Kindle in many situations, including traveling. So I use both.

One commenter brought up attention span and retention with e-readers… this is interesting. I have problems reading longer pieces on a laptop, because I get distracted too easily. But I can usually concentrate pretty well on Kindle.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Vickie - You appreciate the aesthetics of traditional books in ways that many others do. Personally I do not quite appreciate it so much.

The utility of E - readers for me, ends up winning in the end.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hila - The E - readers and distraction issue can be big negative.

I also love non chain bookstores, These are few and far between these days. I also miss them a lot.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi RT - Thanks for letting me know. I will update your new site in my blog reader.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Vicki - Thank you for stopping by,

You appreciate the aesthetics of traditional books in ways that many others do. Personally I do not quite appreciate it so much.

The utility of E - readers for me, ends up winning in the end.

Maria Behar said...

Excellent, very interesting post, Brian!

You make some great points regarding e-books. As you know, I'm a passionate, die-hard bibliophile, and love printed books so much, I have sometimes been known to actually hug a particularly beloved book, just as if it were a person. I guess I think that I'm somehow hugging the author

Until very recently, the very mention of e-books made me see red. I literally could NOT stand the very idea of having a book reduced to just being a digital file, as Violet puts it. In fact, I very much agree with her statements. I felt so strongly about this issue, I would even avoid book blogs that featured e-books in any way whatsoever.

I still don't like e-books. In fact, I barely tolerate them. There's just something SO special about printed books.... To me, a book is, indeed, a total package. It's not just the information inside, but the outside packaging, as well. I guess I wouldn't mind too much if mass-market paperbacks disappeared altogether. Trade paperbacks, which are of higher quality, are another matter entirely. They even feel better in my hands. I can open them more easily, too.

Of course hardcovers are the very best! I ADORE hardcovers!!

But anyway....since I no longer have as much space for books now, and am also a bit short on cash, I have been forced -- FORCED, mind you -- to resort to e-books in order to feed my book habit. I have acquired many of these either free or very cheap, on Amazon. And I can access them through my Android phone. And I would honestly prefer to be able to acquire them all as physical books!
One strike against e-books is that they're not always inexpensive or free. I've seen e-books that cost just as much, or nearly as much, as the hardcover version of the same book. I'm sorry, but I totally REFUSE to pay $11.99 to simply download a digital file. For that amount of money, I had BETTER get something substantial to hold in my hands!

BTW, there's one type of printed book that can NEVER be turned into an e-book, and that's the good ol' coloring book. NOTHING beats the pleasure of coloring by hand!

You know, I'm the same way with music and DVDs. I don't like downloading MP3's, or movies. I want the whole enchilada, especially if a CD or DVD is a collector's item.

Oh, and before I forget -- I LOVE your printed history book with all the post-it notes!! YAY for that!! I, too, hate to damage any book by writing in it. And I would, of course, prefer to use post-it notes to making notes in a Kindle.

I'm glad you feel comfortable and happy with either e-books or printed books. To each their own, as the saying goes! But for me, e-books are no more than an uncomfortably necessary "evil", if you will. I will NEVER, EVER love them as much as I do printed books!

With that said, I am stepping off my little soapbox. Lol.

Hope you and your wife are having a GREAT weekend!! : )

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Maria - I was thinking of you when I wrote this post :)

I really appreciate your enthusiasm for the printed book. If we all just had the money and the space to collect all that we wanted to.

You raise a really good point about coloring books. In general I also think that EReaders do not done a good job rendering books with a lot of illustrations.

Hopefully the future will find some kind of happy balance where both types of books can coexist.

Maria Behar said...

Yes, I guess we do need a happy balance between the two formats. Some time ago, I read somewhere on the Internet that, when movies were invented, the theater did not become obsolete. It was just an alternative form of entertainment. There are pluses to live theater performances, as well as limitations. As for movies, special effects make it possible for film goers to see things you can't see in a live theater performance. The limitation here is the loss of that live ambience. But, of course, each of these art forms can be enjoyed in its own right. I think it can be that way with printed books and e-books. And, as you say, some people will naturally prefer one or the other.

BTW, I own several printed editions of The Twilight Saga. As for the first book, "Twilight", I also have the digital edition on my cell phone. Why? I feel comforted by having it with me at all times, to dip into if I should happen to feel down, and don't have access to any of my printed editions.....go figure! Lol.

Anonymous said...

Great topic for discussion Brian! If the market is all about demand, I think the next generation of readers will influence to what degree paper books are available. My kids currently read print books, but I noticed the school and other parents are encouraging children to read and listen to books using technology. It's possible children will grow-up without the nostalgia we all feel for printed books and prefer as adults to continue using technology to read, and the market will respond accordingly.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi CJ - Since I posted this I have been talking to a lot of people about Ebooks. Ironically it seems that young folks may be the most resistant to them or are at last reading a lot of printed books. Time will tell.

Brian Joseph said...

By the way Maria, I love the idea of hugging books. Some of them are worth a hug :)

The Bookworm said...

Interesting post Brian. When e-books began to surface, I refused to get an e-reader. I did not want e-books to replace printed copies.

I held out for years until hubby bought me a Nook for Christmas. I have to tell you, I have my own little library at home, to the point where there is literally no more room on my shelves, so my Nook is a gem. I am a converted e-book reader, especially for really long books. Like you mention, e-books are great too because you can highlight and look up passages easily. The technology is awesome that way.

However, a good quality hardcover is a wonderful thing to have and collect. I don't like to buy small paperbacks anymore, but I do still buy trade paperbacks.

On kind of a different note, when Stephen King published his crime novel Joyland, he released it as a printed copy only at first because he wanted readers to have the experience of going to the store/library and picking up a real book to read.

Thanks for the thought provoking post and enjoy your Sunday!

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Brian, although I own a Kindle plus various apps on my phone & tablet there is something special about the smell of a book whether it's new & fresh or old & a bit musty. Despite that if the contents well written & engaging you don't notice the format.
Ps the just in time system is that some kind of app I can use to limit my book buying ; -)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - I was hesitant to switch over to Ebooks myself. Obviously I also am converted.

I had heard about Joyland. I know that i am sending a mixed message, but I think what King did was great.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Gary - Indeed Ebooks can never replace the aesthetics of traditional books.

When I refereed to just in Time I was just talking about my book buying, In stead of purchasing book that sit around for months, years or forever before I read them, I download a book just before I am ready to read it.

Richard said...

There are definitely pros and cons to both formats, but I still prefer print to e-books in most cases as well as paperbacks to hardbacks (I actually prefer the tennis shoe-like texture and flexibility of the paperback to the fuddy duddy dress shoe feel of rigid hard cover bindings). I do buy e-books if the saving is significant--as it often is in foreign language editions--or if I want to start reading a book instantly (usually not a compelling reason given all my reading choices).

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Richard - Now that i am thinking about it, paperbacks are more comfortable to read then hardcovers. However, when it comes to collecting, hard covers win hands down for me.

Delia (Postcards from Asia) said...

I guess I'm still adjusting to life with a Kindle. I admit it's very handy, especially when publishers and authors send me books for review, but I don't deny I'd rather have the paper version. The only thing that puts me off from reading a paperback is a tiny font - how I hate those books, it's torture for my eyes, even with glasses - and even an ugly cover can sometimes hide an interesting book.
My friends with Kindles still prefer their books the old-fashioned way.

You do have a point that content is the important thing here and I understand that but for me reading is the whole package - I remember being fascinated by a book with uneven cut pages, it was a copy of Neil Gaiman's "The Ocean at the End of the Lane". I love that book completely.
That being said, it's nice to have as many options for reading books as possible.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Delia- It seems that while not alone, I ma in the minority when it comes to my partiality to Ebooks.

That book that I pictured above had unusually small font. I generally have two pairs of glasses floating around the house. My newest pair and my 2nd to newest pair which I use as backup. The older glasses, are usually fine for everything else, were just not strong enough.

Harvee said...

I had no trouble reading a long literary novel on my ereader, but so-so books don't give me the incentive to read on the Kindle. I'm old fashioned in that I like having a physical book in my hands, especially light novels, but I appreciate having an ereader too for convenience.

Overall, I agree - the content is more important than the cover or lack of one.

Stefanie said...

A very nicely reasoned argument! I like both print and digital books. While I love a high quality print book, I am not attached to the physical form per se. I do, however find that there are some books that I read better in print than in digital form, namely complexly structured books that I want to flip back and forth in. E-readers do not easily facilitate this flipping. Your "just in time" book purchasing though is really fantastic. No more huge TBR piles!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Harvee - Though by no means Universal, you seem to be in the majority. That is, you read both Ebooks and traditional books but you seem to prefer traditional books.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Stephanie.

There is something about being able to flip back and forth with a traditional book. With that said, I find the ability to search for particular words that one can do in an Ebook more valuable.

Caroline said...

I will tell you a funny story. There's a blogger out there - lets not name the person- who's very hostile when it comes to ebooks, Almost saying how he/she is a better person for it. The person also said that an ereader would NEVER enter the appartment. A while back that person reviewed a book and because I liked the sound of it I went to look for it and funny enough -it's only available as an ebook. I tehn realized that it wasn't the first ebook reviewed. It's a story that says a lot.
I still prefer literature in paper. Not sure why. But I love nonfiction ebooks for the same reasosn you mention. Highlighting etc.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - I know a few folks who have been very negative about Ebooks who felt that they were forced to read a few.

I do understand that as sometimes the connivance wins out.

Considering what sounds like arrogance in the person whom you describe, that is a funny story.