Monday, March 11, 2013

Electronic or Print?

Although it pains bookseller Luddites like myself to say it, it would seem that ebooks and ereaders are here to stay.  This is a reality most of us accepted years ago, and as such we have two lovely Kobo ereaders for sale at the store and and presently sell ebooks at our own store branded site.

Ebooks seem to be different from buying downloads of music online though, and people seem to be switching in part and not entirely.  I have also met some people who get really excited about their ereaders at first and then return to exclusively reading print books.  Then there are those who use their ereaders on vacation but typically prefer a print book for everyday reading.

I can honestly say that I use both an ereader and read print books.  I don't notice much of a difference until I switch back to a print book from the ereader.  You don't miss the bulk of the physical book, but you do miss the sensory experience.  The sensory experience of a physical book is just more full and rich than reading on an ereader.  I miss the way books smell.  The sterility of the ereader leaves me wanting more.

I have also recently realized that there are certain books that just work better as physical copies.  If I am using a book to work on a project for work, be it updating my business plan or writing a marketing plan, I just prefer a physical book.  It is much easier to flip back and forth, or highlight or underline, or put a post it note in a place I would like to refer back to.  I understand that these are all functionalities that ereaders have desperately tried to adopt, but something about them just falls short.  

There are also certain books, that having read them as physical copies, I cannot fathom trying to read as ebooks.  Books like David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.  That book literally has footnotes with footnotes.  All that flipping back and forth in the text on an ereader would probably make me nauseous. 

Admittedly there are still some people who refuse to change to ereaders at all.  These are people who see the book more than just something to read.  It is something to be displayed proudly after completion.  I encounter these book objectifiers every day, and they run the gamut of ages and social classes.  And for those who want a library, I can't argue with you there.  Books are more than just stories, they are artwork, and I have seen some stunning examples of this.

What do you think?  How do you decide whether to read the physical or e-version of a book?  And do you prefer a tablet or ereader for your ebooks?  Or would you rather die than read an ebook?


  1. There are other aspects of reading physical books that I cherish. One is reading them and then lending them out and exchanging them with a circle of close friends. By doing this, I enhance my reading pleasure by sharing and by discussing with people to whose tastes I have become familiar. I get excited when I read something that I can pass along to someone who I know will love it as much, or even more than I do. I have three or four friends who I might not see as frequency if it were not for the need to return or lend books.

    The second reason is that I really enjoy the thrill of the hunt through used bookstores. If you can buy anything you wish online instantly, you miss the experience of having a list in your head and visiting the used bookstore in hopes that something on your list turns up at last. Hooray! Sometimes you even see things that aren't quite on your list, but since it is there, you vaguely remember hearing about it, and it looks good, what the heck. And you end up trying something that you might not have bought, and enjoying it by surprise.

    In short, for me reading physical books is more than reading or collecting. It is a social activity as well as an active pursuit. I would miss those aspects way too much to switch to ebooks.

    1. Books as a social event. I like it. Very well though out comment.

    2. Well, re-reading, I am horrified at the poor grammar in my comment above. But people do frequently ask me, "why not an ebook reader?," so I have thought about it alot.

  2. Without a bookstore, we may never have seen a copy of Ulysses.

    Times have changed; but some things like the wheel, fire, and hardcopy continue to engage our daily lives in ways technology never can.