Betraying Physical Books: A Book Lover’s e-Dilemma

While I will never give up physical books, I have finally gotten past the feeling of betraying the world of physical books that have been such a big part of my life for 50 years

  • Share
  • Read Later
Amazon

I am a very big fan of books. Over the years I have collected a library of close to 2,500 books of all kinds, with 300-plus dedicated to cooking and 200-plus focused on travel. I even have some first editions of Hemingway and Steinbeck favorites. And for decades, books were my travel companions on my many trips to Europe and Asia.

In this regard, I am old school. I love the feel of the book and the tactile feel of turning a page. I can spend hours in an old used bookstore seeking out gems for my collection. I even enjoy the musty smell of these bookstores that house thousands of old books. And for many years, I would curl up by my fireplace in the living room and read for hours as I cradle a book in my hands. I pored over its text, and let my imagination run wild as I read the adventures of travel writer Paul Theroux. I read dozens of books on food literature and drooled as I tried to imagine the eating experiences being recorded by M.F.K. Fisher or, my favorite, Calvin Trillin in his Tummy Trilogy.

Yet, when electronic books first came out, I embraced them wholeheartedly. In fact, I was one of the first to buy Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader the second it was available. And since then I have owned at least six or seven dedicated e-book readers and use the book apps on my iPad or Kindle Fire HD tablets all the time. Now I admit that when I first started reading books on an e-reader, I felt very guilty about turning my back on my physical books. But once I realized that the words on the pages of my hardcovers were the exact, same words on my e-reader, it made my move to e-books very easy.

Interestingly, the main reason for my fast embracement of e-books was mostly related to travel. For 25 years, I would have to carry onto a plane a separate book bag along with my computer case and any other luggage I could sneak on the plane so I didn’t have to check them in. But with an e-reader, I can now carry up to 1,000 books in something the size of paperback book and have more books at my disposal than I could have ever imagined.

With the holiday season upon us, one of the questions I often get from my book-loving friends is which e-book reader or tablet they should buy if they want to get into electronic books.

I have counted at least 20 dedicated e-book readers on the market today, as well as well over 60 tablets of all types that can handle e-books in one form or another. And while I personally use the Kindle Paperwhite as my dedicated e-reader and the iPad Mini as my personal tablet e-reader, the real key to buying into an e-reader of either type lies in their ecosystems of downloadable e-books.

The leader in this arena is Amazon, whose e-books and first generation Kindle basically set the tone for electronic book readers and quick-and-easy book downloads. The company’s Whispersync technology was groundbreaking at the time, instantly downloading e-books to compatible readers and always keeping you current to the last page you read even if you pick up that book on another e-reader from Amazon.

Now Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and others deliver the same experience on their products, thus making it very easy to see reviews of books you might want to read, buy them on the spot and have them distributed to all your capable e-readers whether they be dedicated ones or tablets.

Although e-readers have been out for years, their prices this year are so low that for the first time I can honestly say everyone who wants an e-reader should be able to afford one. Some go for as low as $59, and the better ones, like the Kindle Paperwhite, are only $119. And color tablets with basic Android software capable of running e-book apps from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo can be had for as low as $79.

The other important part of the e-book equation is that while most publishers still publish physical books, almost all have the same versions in electronic form. And more and more of them are moving toward e-books as their main source of revenue. Also, thanks to many sites that allow writers to self-publish, like Amazon’s own CreateSpace publishing arm, it’s easy for budding authors to publish their own works and get them immediately into the Amazon e-book store.

This gives readers many more books to devour than would ever see the light of day in physical print. Apple has a similar self-publishing tool, as does Barnes and Noble and other dedicated sites like Xlibris. Here is a great resource from Develop for anyone wanting to self-publish.

As we head into the holiday buying season, tablets have become the No. 1 item people plan to buy this year. But we are still seeing strong interest in dedicated e-book readers as well. And with the prices of e-readers and basic tablets very low, this holiday most likely will be known as the year e-books exploded in consumer markets

I have also found a great site for readers of physical books or e-books that suggests 15 online resources for book lovers from the folks at Mission to Learn. All of these sites are great, and I highly recommend that you check them out.

While I will never give up physical books, especially the cooking ones with pictures of recipes in them, or travelogues that show off a location’s surroundings, I have finally gotten past the feeling of betraying the world of physical books that have been such a big part of my life for 50 years. And for the foreseeable future, I plan to have an e-reader of some type with me at all times, even if it is on my smart phone, so I can continue my lifelong love affair with books — no matter how they’re delivered.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every Monday on TIME Tech.

19 comments
venturer9
venturer9

Being 73 years old and having been an avid reader for at least 67 of those years, I have welcomed the ereaders for two reasons.... I can read them better than a real book due to ???? Font?/backlighting?/whatever.  I can sit and read for 2 or 3 hours on my Nook Color while about 15mins will do for a Paper book anymore.

One of the things I have read here is the COST of Ebooks compared to the COST of "Real" books... nonsense.. there are sites all over the internet where one can download Ebooks for very little if not for Free.  Unless you are talking about #1's currently on the NYT book list.

I do not understand what has been said here about not being able to pass your reader/Ebooks along to your heirs.   I have over 4000 ebooks on SD cards and when I am gone... Whoever wants them will  be able to read them long after I have gone...

Mike

DubsMachine
DubsMachine

I still can't get over the price of e-books and the same for digital music and games on Xbox live.In many cases you can buy a real item that you can keep forever for less than digital price so why would I want to? Speed of delivery is not enough.

I don't understand as the reason internet places such as Amazon are cheaper than shops on the street is because of the lack of rent etc, so digital should be even cheaper, sure they have lots of servers but they don't have warehouses all over the world and distribution to handle so where is all the money going? Not to the authors or artists that's for sure.!!

MikeBusby
MikeBusby

There's nothing quite like the feel of a real book in your hands! It's tactile, you are in control, and it just feels GREAT! :)

Greekgeek
Greekgeek

I used to buy paperbacks for everyday reading and hardbacks for archival copies of especially loved books.

Now, I've moved to buying ebooks for everyday reading (they're portable) and will probably stick to buying hardbacks of my most beloved books.

One caution about e-Books: they are very device-specific. Ten years down the road, you may have to buy new copies of all of them, depending on how e-readers evolve. Also, unlike conventional books, you can't give them away, pass them on, or sell them. 

When my Mom dies, I'll inherit her library of books, which are worth a small fortune.

When I pass on, all the money I spent on e-books is lost just like the money spent watching movies in theaters: no one can inherit them, according to the rules of Amazon and iTunes. 

I've already seen one case of children finding out their father's e-book library of several hundred volumes was in legal limbo: it belonged to him, and it was his purchases, yet they were not allowed to inherit them when he died. 

serinanth
serinanth

Once physical print is gone just think how easy it is going to be to sensor and or re-write history.

sambrit10
sambrit10

Sorry, but ... give me a break. People probably complained "But it's just not the same experience!" when books went from being hand lettered to produced by printing press, when they went from leather covers to cloth ones, when paperbacks came out, when they went from scrolls to the current style of book, or from clay tablets to papyrus. Books are human artifacts just like e-books are ... it's not like we were evolved to be compatible but with but not the other. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but for me, the ability to obtain a book instantly and carry 500 of them at once in my purse is compelling. And I LIKE the physical aspect of ebooks. When I read while eating something (common for me) I can lay it flat on the table and turn pages with the punch of a finger rather than struggling to hold it open and turn pages and eat at the same time. In bed at night I can lie on my side with it held easily in one hand. It keeps my place in every book I'm reading without having to keep track of where I set down my bookmark. 

For me, the main thing that counts is content, and e-books get me to that content quicker and easier in most cases.

breindrein
breindrein

I do like reading and a few months back bought a Kindle. I used to buy all my books, store them in my bookshelf after reading them, but after buying a Kindle I actually read about 5 times as much since I can quickly buy another one once finished with one and it is cheaper. I don't have enough time to leave the office to buy books so easy buying means I buy and read more. 

Having an actual book is cool, but I found the Kindle to read easily with one hand, very easy on the eyes, less trees, archiving, dictionary lookup, easy to access reviews etc. I think having an actual book in my hand is more a nostalgic thing for me nowadays. It does feel more personal and real. For me it feels like jumping onto an ancient Double Dragon arcade machine with a friend, purely because of the fond memories and that one day when the machine freaked out and gave me 99 credits for free.

Kim_MacKenzie
Kim_MacKenzie

@TIME @Techland Dang, then that must make me VERY OLD FASHIONED. I can only read scripts digitally. Books lose their character in a pad.

justmeblue5ft3
justmeblue5ft3

@TIME @Techland I love real books. Paper, print, illustrations and pictures, covers, old books, I just love real books I can hold and read

mbauer8286
mbauer8286

pros & cons to both.  E-books are great, I especially like that you can look up words in the dictionary at the click of a button, and also that you can search the book for other uses of a given word - really helps in long books in which you forget names of minor characters!

That being said, I eventually found that I wasn't using my Kindle enough, and sold it.  The problem is, for books that I'm going to want to reread or lend out, I would rather have a physical copy to display on my shelf.  For books that I probably won't reread, I don't want to spend $12 for an electronic copy - I'll take out from the library or buy a used copy online.  Ultimately I was only using my Kindle for the 'impulse buys' and for long trips, and these weren't enough to justify keeping it.

PaulMoorcroft
PaulMoorcroft

i use a kindle mostly..have a couple hundred books on it..cple of hundred actual books would have taken up so much room

DubsMachine
DubsMachine

My problem is that ebooks cost the same or more than a real book so why would I want to buy digital that could be lost forever if the company goes under or decides not to support it anymore.

I can keep real books forever no matter what, I doubt anyone will have a Kindle in 25 years so where will everyone's books be?

If ebooks were a lot cheaper than physical books I would be more inclined to buy.

ComplainerChua
ComplainerChua

problem with ebooks is that you have nothing to read when there is a storm & the power goes out & you have not charged your reader!

jorgebrunofp
jorgebrunofp

Physical, of course.

But an e-reader/tablet is much better because of its weight, capacity to store a lot of books in the same device and it's cheaper.

But there no such pleasure as opening a fresh book...

abosika
abosika

One of the benefits of digital has been the opportunity forknowledgeable individuals in niche topics to get themselvesself-published rather than deal with the walled garden of old publishingmodels.  That said, the printed book will never go away -- GOOD bookswill do very well in print form. "Throw-away" books in genres likeromance or time-centric topics (the dot-com boom and how to profit fromit or the 2008 financial debacle and why no one went to jail?) don'trequire the paper they're printed on.  In all honestly, there is a lotof printed garbage out there sitting on shelves with trees lost in theprocess.  The demand for quality in printed format will GO UP with more"coffee table" type creations taking over.  A good thing.  A flight toquality will occur in print form while a flight to quantity (andvirtually anything) will go digital form.  We'll see.   I love the focusthat a printed book brings to us but the digital side of me speaks toconvenience and portability - that said, a digital device can also be distracting if it does more than act as a reader device.

sambrit10
sambrit10

@ComplainerChua -- I tend to find that I can't read print books either when the power goes out, at least not at night! Seriously, a kindle battery charge lasts a month and is so easy to recharge, and now with backlighting it seems that the Kindle will generally win over the paper book during a power outage!