So, recently ... three random people have said that direct to this author's face!
"Ebooks aren't real books, you know!"
Which, as an author, just makes me roll my eyes and bite my tongue. BUT it did get me thinking. How many other readers / non-readers still feel the same, even after all this time? And why do they feel this way?
Electronic books (eBooks) have basically been around since the advent of the computer; they just weren't specifically called 'eBooks' at that time. But ... anytime you looked up your computer program manuals on your hard drive, skimmed those electronic game guides for help, hints and cheats that came on floppy disks along with those cool 90s games, or was made to use a CD-ROM Encyclopedia database disk at your school library for research projects ... well, they were all a form of an electronic book!
And this author was on the front foot with this trend, as one of my first writing credits was for an eBook in PDF format back in 2001, about writing and publishing for the education market.
So, with that in mind, here's a comprehensive comparison, a list of the pros and cons of each. EBooks versus paper books. Which format ultimately wins in the reading stakes?
Sidenote: when it comes to the word 'ebook', there's a bunch of ways to write it. Ebook. eBook. e-book. e-Book. ebook. All are acceptable, apparently.
THE UPSIDE OF EBOOKS
Immediate and Convenient
Want a book at 3 a.m. in the morning? Or after something to read while waiting at the doctor's surgery or kids' ball practice? Can't get to the bookshop while working today? Does the thought of getting in the car, driving to a mall, parking, fighting through crowds of shoppers, walking into a physical bricks and mortar store, browsing a bunch of paper books on shelves and still not finding what you are after, turn you off bigtime?
Ebooks are the solution. You can get a book anytime you want and anywhere you are ... instant gratification. 24/7. Open all hours. No waiting for postal delivery. No waiting for the bookshop to open. Just download something to your taste, any time, day or night, and start reading.
Portable and Mobile
Often on the go or travelling a lot? Leaving for a vacation and want to pack some beach read novels? Hey, don't bother! Don't drag a bunch of paperback books with you, weighing down your luggage and leaving you less room for holiday souvenirs! Don't stuff a book or two in your purse either, you've got enough things in there already, right?
One single device, whether an e-reader or your smartphone, now contains all the books you could ever possibly need!
And for students, having school and college books online and in eBook format lightens the load, literally. No more lugging around pounds of textbooks, no more damaging developing spines with overstuffed backpacks. Their laptops are their library and their locker.
You're not limited to reading on just a single device either. Ebooks can be accessed and read using pretty much any electronic item nowadays; just download a store, library or subscription App and off you go. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, computer desktops and e-readers can all be used to read electronically. And in most cases, if you start reading on your e-reader, you can pick up right where you left off on another device, just by synching.
Oh, and did you know, you can also read on your smartwatch? Perfect byte size delivery for microfiction, flash fiction and short stories.
Unlimited Books Yet Minimum Storage
Your e-reader is a space-saving device, housing an extensive library of books, right there in the palm of your hand. We're talking hundreds. Thousands! An unlimited buffet of books. Definitely enough reading for a lifetime or two, in any case.
You no longer need to use storage and have space in your environment for your books. No more physical bookshelves that need organizing and dusting. No more boxes and tubs of books piling up in your garage or basement. And moving house or apartment is a breeze when there's less books to shift!
Multiple Access Points / Stores
You aren't just confined to buying from one local brick and mortar superstore anymore. The whole globe is at your fingertips now. With a couple of clicks, you can access the bookshops and libraries of the world.
If you want to buy e-books, there are hundreds of e-bookshops online. Some cater for specific genres, such as sci-fi or fantasy (Baen Books), while others specialize in romance (Harlequin and Mills & Boon) or children's books (Scholastic and The Children's Bookstore).
If you want to borrow e-books, your local library system is there for you. Or why not try an all-you-can-read subscription service?
And for classic literature, check out Project Gutenberg, the place to go for out of copyright books and public domain works.
No Trees Were Harmed In The Making Of ...
No paper books mean no trees were cut down to make them.
The printing process, which takes a bunch of electricity, and includes using inks and dyes, paper, toner, glues, cardboard and binding has now been removed. And the big publishing house returns system — where books not sold or wanted at bookstores are stripped of their covers and returned for store credit; the actual paper novels and books themselves thrown out or pulped — has also fallen by the wayside.
A smaller carbon and environmental footprint is surely a necessity nowadays, right?
Oh, and no more nasty paper cuts either!
While paper books have fixed formats, fonts and interiors, eBook interiors are much more user-friendly, versatile and adjustable. Font sizes can be enlarged, which is great for the visual impaired or elderly. You can choose your own font face style and type. And those can be changed according to the genre you are reading, if that's your thing, as well!
You can read comfortably at night or in dim light, with devices that are back lit.
And if you have health issues with your hands or arms, such as arthritis, it's far more comfortable to hold a slimmed down tablet or e-reader and just press the next page button with your thumb, instead of trying to balance, juggle and keep open the latest 928 page Ken Follett hardcover tome!
Hyperlinks via clickable tables of contents (TOCs) and indexes make jumping around the book a breeze. Your last chapter and page read no longer needs a physical bookmark; instead it's electronically recorded, instantly starting there the second you fire up your device the next time.
You can immediately look up words or concepts that you may not know, right there in your device, with inbuilt dictionaries or click functions that take you straight to the Internet.
And, if you are after a quote that is gif meme-worthy, you can search the whole book text via keyword searching, to find it straight away. Super important!
Easy Care Exteriors
A lot of devices are waterproof, so easy to wipe clean of any spills or sticky fingers. This also means you can read at the beach or in the bath and not have to worry about paper and pages getting wet.
The same can't be said for paper books.
Water, soda, liquids and food spills spoil physical books. Mold, mildew, mice, insects, humidity, weather, dust and age damage books. Scents and smells, such as cigarettes, perfume, mothballs and cleaning solvents can be absorbed by paper books. Kids also seem to like coloring and 'writing' in books, when left unsupervised. And, unfortunately, when paper books are damaged, unless they are first editions, collectors volumes, historical artifacts or family heirlooms, then the only thing you can really do is toss them out. It's too costly to conserve and restore paper books.
But you don't need to worry about any of that if you have electronic books!
More Choice For Readers
Most paper books that you see in bookshops and other stores have been through a 'gatekeeping' process. Literary agents, publishers and employees who act as bookshop buyers have all determined what will be published, stocked, sold and read. That's why you see thirty copies of the newest James Patterson release on the shelves in a shop! But you may not be a fan of that author, so don't want to read any of this novels. Which leaves you in a bind, because there's not much physical shelf space for other authors, genres or books.
Not so with eBooks! The shelf space in online bookstores is pretty much unlimited. So not only will they stock James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Brandon Sanderson and Julia Quinn ('Bridgerton' Netflix series), they'll also have on hand smaller publishing house works, indie writers and new-to-you authors who may just be right up your reading alley, now that you have the chance to discover them.
Originally, when eBooks first became commonplace, and there was a mass market paperback or hardcover equivalent, they were usually priced lower than their paper counterparts. After all, you are paying for a digital product and item, not a physical one.
Lately, traditional publishers have been pricing their eBooks higher in general, and in some cases, even more expensive than the physical books and products. This may still be because the Big Five publishing houses wish to push readers into buying the physical copy of the book; a strategy they have employed from the outset, which also helps land their top authors on Best Seller Lists, such as The New York Times, USA Today or Nielsen BookScan lists.
However, there are a bunch of eBooks still out there, priced competitively and within any reader's cash comfort zone. And don't automatically dismiss the price range of free or 99c either. Granted, while some may be bargain bin books with nothing much to recommend them, you might just find your newest favorite author through giveaways, freebies and cheap books!
THE DOWNSIDE OF EBOOKS
DRM and Licenses
This is probably the largest and most misunderstood issue around eBooks ... and rightly so! The topic is confusing and there are a lot of assumptions out there in Internet Land about 'ownership' of a digital product.
DRM, which stands for Digital Rights Management, are the ways in which writers, publishers, content producers, intellectual property owners, digital sellers and vendors restrict or release rights, to the general public or to a specific audience. The medium can be digitally via the Internet, or in any other electronic format, such as physical CD-ROMs.
In a nutshell, an eBook is only licensed to a reader / user. The license is usually limited by terms and conditions set by the owners, though there are a growing number of instances where authors purposely publish their text, images, photographs, software, eBooks and other works straight into the public domain space, surrendering most or all rights to them — see Creative Commons (CC), GNU, Royalty Free, Open Source software and Copyleft, as examples.
With eBooks, they are currently not covered by the First Sale doctrine, like printed versions are. Instead, they are limited licensed to — not owned outright by — individuals. So, while you most likely own your reading device (Kindle, Kobo, NOOK, smartphone etc.), you don't actually own any of the eBooks or content on it!
Essentially, this means that readers cannot resell their individual electronic copy of a book. And when money changes hands during the buying process, only a license to access, read and use said eBook, in very limited ways, is really purchased. You aren't actually acquiring any electronic book or electronic item (streamed movie, online game, medical database etc.) at all.
Readers also cannot sub/relicense, copy and reproduce, re/distribute, or transfer the eBook, or its license, in any way, shape or form — unless specifically mentioned in the requirements and rights by the content producer / publisher.
Depending on the vendor you choose to 'buy' your eBooks from, you may be permitted to borrow, lend and gift an eBook (license) according to their specific terms and conditions though.
This is why there are no secondhand marketplaces for used eBooks. Because there will never be any used eBooks. With each download of a digital eBook, the copy is basically as shiny and new as a new print book, fresh off the printer. Electronic books don't degrade with age, wear with use, damage or spoil. Therefore, those items will never fall under 'The Exhaustion Doctrine' (aka - First Sale).
Because of the relative ease to copy digital products, done with just a couple of simple mouse clicks, the ramifications of allowing reselling of any digital item as used would be disastrous — no-one would purchase a new electronic book, movie, song or game title (license) ever again; they would just be able to re-copy the same file millions of times over!
And if you think that's unfair, because when you purchase a print book, you are able to resell it once you're done reading — or perhaps give it away to a thrift shop or donate it to a local library or shelter — well, technically ... all you own in that transaction is really a pile of paper, some cardboard comprising the cover and a bunch of glue and ink! And that's what you are reselling, lending to friends or passing on! You still don't actually own any of the book's content; not the words and text, nor the graphics, maps, images, databases, indexes or research contained therein. Those are again only licensed to you and remain in the hands of the author, publisher and intellectual property owners. And except for what is available to you to use in Fair Use (and that's pretty limited), you really can't do as much as you think, or you'd like, with your actual physical copy in the end!!
More reading and helpful summaries regarding this topic here : Pratt Institute LIS, as well the Copyright Alliance - Digital Works and First Sale.
Loss Of Access
Now, because you only purchase a license to access digital items, this does mean that licenses can be withheld, revoked or withdrawn, at any time.
The e-selling industry has greatly matured now, having come a long way since the early, Wild West Digital days; but there were a couple of instances when eBooks did disappear off electronic bookshelves and devices, removed completely and reading access lost.
Most of those were, in fact, copyright infringement cases or rights issues, for instance, where copyright is still in place in certain countries but not in others. The oft cited controversy surrounding Amazon removing George Orwell's '1984' eBook from Kindles, back in 2009, actually fell into this category.
But there were also instances when numerous early online eBook sellers went out of business, became bankrupt, closed up shop with no warning or merged / got bought out by other larger e-tailers in takeovers.
Before Amazon arrived in a big way on the eBook scene, there were plenty of smaller, Independent and emerging eBook sellers, where you could purchase various formats of eBooks. Sony Reader Store, Diesel eBooks, the Microsoft eBook store, Ellora's Cave — names that were super big back around the 2010 era — now no longer exist. Some early subscriptions services, such as Oyster have also disappeared, many when their Angel Investment funds dried up or they couldn't compete on larger scales with other all-you-can-read services, such as Scribd and Kindle Unlimited (KU).
So, what happens to your eBook library, books and digital licenses purchased from these places?
Well, that relies a lot on what it states in the purchasing contract between you and the digital retailer. You do read their TOS, right? Hmmm, thought as much! But depending on what actually happens to their Internet business overall, you might just wake up one day to find the vendor or store no longer exists ... and neither does your extensive eBook library!
Sony reached an agreement with Kobo to take over their existing customer base, thus transferring eBooks and readers' digital libraries into the Kobo ecosystem. But other readers weren't so lucky, losing all their eBooks when the early online store they bought from, or subscribed to, disappeared. The Microsoft eBook Store was a prime example of that!
And while this shouldn't put readers off nowadays from investing in eBooks, online games, music and other digital products — the industry having reached a point of maturity by now — it's still definitely a factor to consider when choosing what format to buy a product in. Are you happy with the satisfaction of immediately accessing a digital, but ethereal, item that can be withdrawn or lost to you at any time? Or would you prefer owning a physical item, such as a book, a CD or DVD, that you can keep forever and no-one will take from you?
Did you know your e-reader collects personal data about you and your reading habits, then sends it back to the mothership (aka vendor)?
How fast you finish a book. How many pages you read per hour. If you gave up halfway, marking the eBook as one big DNF. What page you stop on each night before bed. What hot scenes you reread. The paragraphs you highlight; the bookmarks and annotations you make. The keywords you search. The genres, topics and subjects that you buy, read and reside on your eBook library shelves.
Not to mention the usual tech specs such as country of residence, location, IP address, software, hardware and device versions, battery performance etc.
Does that creep you out, knowing your personal reading habits are electronically being spied upon? Well ... have you read the vendor's Privacy statements and TOS? At all? Hmmm, thought not again!
♫ ♫ ♫
Every tap you make.
Every DRM you break.
Every 'Fifty Shades of Grey' Like you fake.
Every step you take.
They'll be watching yoooooou.
♫ ♫ ♫
To the tune of : Every Breath You Take - The Police
Basically, your reading habits are laid bare. For the digital eBook seller and vendor, such as Amazon or Kobo. And for whoever they sell their data to, such as publishers or advertisers. A lot of this data is used inhouse to build better e-readers and devices, and deliver functionality plus new products. Or, if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kobo Plus; the pages read, Page Flip usage, where you stopped, how much you read, if you finished the whole book and further collected stats are used to work out how much money to apportion to authors from a pooled cash pot for monthly payments.
In the end, this one comes down to how much and what sort of privacy you are willing to sacrifice.
Is it better to read your Caveman erotica and Tentacle books — yes, those were actually 'things' back in 2013, if I recall — on an e-reader where no-one can see your book, cover, genre and judge you for your reading preferences?
Or would you prefer not to have every move you make be monitored and recorded by your digital device? If so, better ditch the smartphone, smartwatch, Fitbit and Internet of Things (IoT) products, while you're at it!
Currently, there's still no one standardized digital format for eBooks and e-readers.
Amazon used MOBI files previously but have now transitioned to other proprietary formats - AZW3 / KF8 and KPF. The most popular format is EPUB, however PDF, TXT and RTF are also commonly used in eBook creation. Plus other formats, for now defunct e-reader devices, can still be found - PDB / LIT / LRF / PRC.
Print books, on the other hand, are pretty much standardized (width and height), for publishing / printing industry requirements. While you've got a few types to choose from, depending on your reading needs and personal preference — mass market and trade paperback, hardcover, large print version, board books for the kiddos and so forth — those formats won't become defunct anytime soon.
Kids And Books
For early learners and young children, it's been proven by multiple studies that they learn to read much easier and comprehend words plus concepts much better if their books are physical and printed paper books rather than digital ones. The sensory and tactile experience plus hand-motor coordination skills of holding a book and turning actual pages; training the eye in word flow plus observation of images drawn on a double-spread page; using their fingers to point at and move along printed words as they mouth them or read aloud — all these skills help brain development and physiological functioning of kindergarteners and preschoolers.
There's nothing like an outing to your local library, browsing through the shelves, then borrowing a whole stack of picture or board books, chosen by your toddler. Or the thrill of finding a 'Little Free Library' and 'Street Library' located in your suburb or neighborhood. Take a book, leave a book. Can't do that with digital.
Reading aloud at bedtime from a picture book is also a family memory-making experience. Sure, you may have to read 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar', 'Peppa Pig' or one of tongue-twisting Dr. Seuss books a hundred times over because it's your kid's favorite book right now, but your kids will always remember it. Helping turn the pages and laughing at the silly voices you do is just the frosting on the cake.
Oh and older kids don't miss out either. Browsing through the 'Lucky Book Club' flyers from school is still a fun experience. Ordering a book. Waiting for it to come. Reading that print book cover to cover, as soon as you get it, is an experience all of its own.
Print Works Better For ...
Anything that involves doing an activity or drawing is better on a printed page. Anything that requires crayons, pencils, pens or a marker is better on paper.
Children's coloring books. Workbooks. Sketchbooks. Puzzles, mazes and word searches. Crosswords and Sudoku work well in either format.
Print is also better for board books, children's picture books and early readers. And for adults, glossy cookbooks just look so much better in print, as do pictorials, photography, art and other 'coffee table' books.
If you want to display your books in any way, shape or form in your home, on bookshelves or a book nook, for your guests to see, well, printed books are your go-to. No-one is going to look at your e-reader and be impressed by your digital bookshelf ... it just doesn't have the same sort of appeal!
And reading print books mean you can use bookmarks and other place holders, carry book bags and library totes, not to mention own some really stunning, decorative and creative bookends.
[Click images for details]
As you can see, there are pros and cons to both digital and print books.
Ultimately, it comes down to this ... it doesn't really matter what type of book readers choose. A book is a book is a book. And nowadays, with the popularity of Audio Books — listening in the car, on public transport, while travelling for vacation or even during your workout on the gym treadmill — well, Audio Books are books too!
It's not the format that matters.
It's the content!
And that content is the same, regardless of what format it comes packaged in.
It could be a printed novel, a digital file, skywriting, a monk's manuscript filled with careful calligraphy, a cuneiform tablet, words carved into stone or even a scene painted on a cave wall somewhere!
It's the message.
Not the medium.
That's what is truly important!
So, hey, don't be this guy ...
Rather, be this one ...
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