Printed Books vs iPad or Kindle eBooks and the Future of Books

I love having this conversation with my paper book loving friends, maybe because I am always in the minority when it comes to eBooks over paper books with the IRL friends. Even if you don’t read my post below, go read this comical view of the debate from TheNextWeb called Product Review: Will ‘Paper’ Replace E-Readers?. This is a great look at the debate, which is sure to rage on for years, but digital is gaining ground every day. Amazon even announced last year that Kindle eBooks started outselling paper books, but that’s old news now (see also What Amazon Didn’t Say About eBooks by CNET). I even wrote this: Amazon Kindle 2 iPhone App and the Future of Books? almost two years ago now when the Kindle 2 came out, it’s interesting to see how eBooks have changed since that post.

I do think that the physical paper printing of books will always be with us as long as we have trees left to use. There is value in each platform, but it is hard to deny the future of books is in a digital form, just like analog LP’s made way for MP3’s. There are many today who still swear by vinyl records, saying the sound quality surpasses a Compact Disc (which from what I understand, it does), but LP’s are now a niche in the digital world of music.

The history of an LP is far far less in time than the historical life span of the printed book by some two thousand years or so, so it may take a long long time before we see paper books reduced to the level of vinyl records. Good or bad though, it seems inevitable at some future date that eBooks will far outsell and be the preferred platform to read a book. This two lists below is an extremely small snapshot, it could easily have been a list of 20 plus, but for sake of being long-winded, here are a few.

The Pros About eBook and eReaders

  1. Price :: It’s almost always cheaper
  2. It is almost always the case that eBooks are cheaper than paper copies, sometimes drastically cheaper. This is just the realities of the manufacturing process. Paper is expensive, uses natural resources, and you are taking a digital original (I am guessing no author writes by hand, but all use a computer to write) making it into paper. An eBook you don’t have that conversion.

    There are still publishers that just don’t get it, or are overly greedy. I would love to see one give a side by side comparison of profit margins for an eBook over a paper copy that has to make its way into the distribution network. An eBook is overwhelmingly cheaper to produce and distribute than a paper copy, so “most” publishers pass that savings along to their customers. If the eBook is close to the same price, it shouldn’t be. DRM is always trying to rear its ugly head as well.

  3. Weight :: No matter how many books, they all weigh the same
  4. I can carry 10 books, or 100 books on my iPad 2 and their combined weight is still going to be 1.33 pounds (601 g). This is a bigger deal, at least to me, than it sounds. If I am going on a trip, especially on a plane, I can literally take as many books as I can possibly read, that just isn’t physically possible with paper.

  5. Features :: instant searching, highlights, bookmarks, notes, and more
  6. This in an incredible feature of owning an eBook. You have instant access to search all aspects of the book, your notes, highlights, and you even have instant access to a dictionary, Wikipedia search, or even a google search on a selected area (try searching the bible for one single word or phrase by paper). Amazon takes this one step farther and offers all highlights, notes, and bookmarks for each book on your Amazon account at http://kindle.amazon.com/. From there you can access everything associated with each kindle book.

The Pros About Paper Books

  1. The Physical Smell and Feel of Paper?
  2. This seems to be the biggest hang up with those who love paper books, you can’t get that musty smell of the paper and ink with an iPad. I know this smell well. Deb and I owned our own book business for several years (see We are No Longer Selling Books as Amazon Marketplace Sellers) and we had a house filled to the brim with tens of thousands of books. It is a smell that lingers with you for a long time. Personally, I love the smell of solder and computer boards in the morning, but it’s true, you don’t get that connection with nature without the paper.

  3. Paper is Art :: it is created only when reading is complete
  4. I understand this one too, but I would think a hand written copy by a scribe would be more art than a bulk made printing press, but yes, you the reader make the book into art as you read the book. If you highlight, underline, scribble, you are free range on the book and when the book is finished, you have a new “work of art” unlike anyone else. Of course if you are one who never highlights or makes notes (and if you are, I don’t get that either), then the book is not art, but just the same book that still sits on a Barnes & Noble shelf.

  5. Comfort Factor
  6. For some it’s just the comfort, like that of an old slipper. A book, by definition, is paper. If it’s digital, call it an eBook, not a book. Some say it just isn’t the same to curl up with your iPad eBook in front of a warm fire and drift off into the greater beyond of reading. I will say on this point that there is a distraction factor with a digital device that is totally removed by a paper book. Your paper book won’t pop up with a Tweet  or news alert while you are in the middle of a deep chapter, and this adds to the comfort level.

5 thoughts

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