Created on: January 16, 2013
Printed books and ebooks are engaged in a bitter battle for the hearts and minds of readers. After decades of being faintly derided PDFs, sales of ebooks have exploded thanks to the development of dedicated ereader devices such as the Kindle, Nook and Kobo, and also to the proliferation of other mobile devices, particularly smartphones and tablets. Ebooks are big business, but how do they compare with traditional printed books?
The ebook revolution has split hipsterkind straight down the middle. You can either be an insufferable technophile hipster who struts around referring to the printed word (and by extension the entire collected knowledge of the human race) as "dead tree books." Or you can be an insufferable and pretentious retro hipster who cycles between vintage markets to pick up carefully distressed yellowing paperbacks. So much for ideology.
On a truly practical level, there is much to be said for the ebook. As a digital product, you can fit thousands of them on to one portable device, so next time you go on holiday, your reading matter will take up no more space in your luggage than a single electronic gizmo.
Not only this, but text in ebooks can be adjusted, magnified or reduced according to the reader's preference. This makes them ideal for the visually impaired and for people too lazy to move their heads nearer to the page.
And then there's the writers. Printed books cost a lot to produce. Printing, distribution, these costs add up, even for a modest book. There are costs associated with producing an ebook: editing, design and so forth, but they're mostly fixed at the production stage. You produce one book, and then you can keep selling copies of it forever. This low barrier to entry means that people previously excluded from the publishing world can now make their books available to the public, blurring the boundaries between self-publishing and the traditional gatekeepers.
In other words, yes, the rise of ebooks means that your digital browsing for reading matter has become a slalom course navigating toward rare books of quality bobbing up and down in a sea of bewilderingly tasteless novels of freely punctuated vampire love. Enough of this ebook evangelizing, what of printed books?
Printed books are not going to disappear any time soon, no matter what the technophile in your life might tell you. Futurebook recently reported on 2012 book sales in different formats, and the reality continues to be that printed books are still thriving. And why shouldn't they be?
For all the hype about ebooks, people like to own stuff, rather than just have a license to consume content. And a book is a well-designed, desirable item in a way that a copy-protected PDF just isn't. Books can be given as gifts, they can be inscribed by the giver. They can be signed by the author. They can be annotated and highlighted for study purposes. They can be browsed. All of these things can be approximated with ebooks, but they're just not as satisfying.
Printed books can be read in the bath without risking hundreds of dollars worth of technology if they fall from your soapy fingers. They can be read on the bus without fear of thieves targeting your expensive hardware. They can be given away, borrowed and lent out for decades, to be loved and discovered by countless new readers.
Ebooks have grown the books market, but not yet at the expense of traditional printed media. As the market settles down, it seems likely that although ebooks will not go away, they will occupy a lower price point than printed books, possibly with free downloads included in package deals with the printed versions for reader convenience.
Learn more about this author, Kenneth Andrews.
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