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

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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.