Tuesday 3 June 2014

Books - Print or Electronic (or Both)?

Just under a month ago, I tweeted a link to an article entitled Data Point: People Still Like to Read a Good (Printed) Book, and asked my followers whether they preferred print books to ebooks. That tweet caused a little bit of consternation, with two people responding emphatically that, for them, print books are the way to go: In fact, it caused so much consternation that my friend Steve wrote a post on his blog, entitled Are printed books an endangered species? In it, he explains his own preference for printed books over electronic ones. This post, in itself, sparked a little bit of debate.

I know that this topic in particular is one that just keeps cropping up, with plenty of arguments for and against. It obviously boils down to personal preference, but in my personal opinion, people will be debating it for the next hundred years!

Before I ask you, my dear readers, where you stand on the issue, I thought I'd summarise my personal opinion:

Personally, I prefer ebooks for convenience, although I appreciate the feel and smell of a printed book. I don’t think I’ve actually read a printed book in about three years!

My eyesight is rather bad, so with an ebook, I can adjust the font size, background colour, and brightness of my tablet to my optimal reading style. For example, on my tablet, I read white text on a black background, with the backlight set very low so that the text feels more light grey than white. I find that that’s easiest on my eyes. My wife, on the other hand, prefers black text on a white background, with very loose margins and line spacing, but uses a slightly smaller font (my margins and line spacing are very tight, but the font I use is pretty large).

Then there’s the advantage of me being able to keep pretty much my entire library of books on one little tablet. They’re all backed up to the cloud, so should I ever lose my tablet, I can still get all my books back (contrast with someone breaking into your house and stealing all the books off your bookshelf). Of course, there’s also something really amazing to me about the fact that I can be reading a thousand page book, but it only weights a couple of grams, and is just over 10mm thick! I’ve almost always got my tablet (or at least my smartphone) with me, so I can whip it out and read a couple pages whenever I have a spare moment.

Having said that, if you’ve ever tried to read an ebook on a computer screen, then I can understand why you didn’t like it! I’ve tried that before as well. It just feels weird, is tiring to the eyes, and puts a strain on your back and arms. If you have a tablet or dedicated ebook reader, it feels much more natural, and you get used to it really quickly. Even a smartphone, as I said above, works better than a desktop or laptop screen; it's not ideal, but it works in a pinch.

The cost aspect is also a huge plus for me. Just by way of example, Heritage of Deceit costs just over R10 on Kobo (at the time of this writing) as an ebook. This is around $0.99 for my American readers, and approximately £0.77 for my British ones. In paperback, it costs no less than R60/$5.60/£3.65 (plus shipping) as a paperback. And you’ll have to wait for it to arrive! Plus you can read the ebook free if you're a Scribd subscriber. There’s just no comparison. Of course, you do have to get over the initial outlay of a device on which to read the books, and that can be expensive, but you only ever need pay it once.

Compare all this to the disadvantages, the only ones I can think of, anyway:

  • Can’t read in the bath: Well, for me, I never did like reading in the bath. I can’t see well enough without my glasses, and with my glasses, they get all foggy. Plus, generally when I’m in the bath, I’m pretty rushed. But if you want to, I hear you get nice water-tight bags for your Kindle, and probably other tablets as well, although I haven’t tried them.
  • Your battery could run flat: Well, yes, that is a concern. But if you have a tablet, and all you use it for is reading, then these days you’ll probably get about a week on a charge. If you have a dedicated e-reader (like an actual Kindle), your battery could last you up to a month!
  • Like the smell/feel of books: This is a biggy for me, I must admit. But you get used to it. My tablet is a little smaller than an A4 book, and when I read, I hold it like a book, so it’s very similar. The only difference really, is that I tap to turn pages, instead of actually turning them! I also have a nice leather cover for my tablet, which gives me a nice leather smell while I’m reading. Not exactly like paper, but it makes me feel good anyway.
  • You can’t sign an ebook and give it to someone: Okay, I have no answer for that one. When I wanted to sell signed copies of my latest book, I had to get paperbacks printed (But see below for a comment about just that).
I watched a video a while ago, where they asked Stephen King to weigh in on the paperback vs ebook issue. His comment was that paperbacks will continue to fall out of fashion, but not to worry because, in his opinion, books are not paper – paper is the delivery mechanism, and it’s similar to music being delivered on vinyl, vs Compact Discs, vs MP3 files.

To which someone else replied that, in his opinion, printed books will become very much like music on vinyl is today: serious collectors will still collect them, and if you want to give special, signed editions, etc, to someone, you might get them a vinyl. I tend to agree with that.

But this whole argument might be moot anyway, because guess what else is coming back? Audiobooks! They might just over-take both other methods of delivering books!

So, where do you personally stand on the whole "Print books vs Electronic books" debate? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Whatever your opinion, rest assured that I will continue to accomodate you - you will always be able to get my books in paperback, eBook, and sometimes even hardcover!

*Image used in this post

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