Digital vs. Print: The Book Battle Rages On 21 November 2014 – Posted in: Essays
As the holiday shopping season swings into full force, it’s interesting to watch people buying books. Many a wish list has everything from the latest by Stephen King to an Amazon Gift Card (an actual card or via email) to a new e-reader device. Yet the battle for which is more popular is truly running neck and neck.
No matter who you ask, the answer is always different, and usually very passionate. Christine Donovan, from Deerfield Beach, FL, says, “I love my Kindle! I can have anything I want at my fingertips! The store is always open, no matter what my mood.” Essentially, she’s right. The internet is always open, and you can go to any site that sells digital books, pick what you want, pay and within seconds it’s downloaded onto whatever device you use.
Yet others will say, “But I love the feel/look/smell of a book in my hands, on the shelf and in a book store.”
Personally, I’ve been collecting books for years. When we bought our current home, it had both a family room and “formal” living room. I was excited because I knew immediately that my formal living room would be the library and it would house the hundreds of books that I own, in addition to almost 1,000 music CD’s. However, those shelves filled up so fast, they started to spread. There are books behind the books on the shelves, on top of books and in piles on surfaces everywhere. It takes forever to dust them and sometimes I can’t even find what I’m looking for because aside from keeping Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Series in order, and all of Stephen King’s books together, everything has to fit by shelf height. I tried making a master list, but things get moved so often to make room for more, I gave up.
The Love of Digital
I got a Kindle for my birthday a few years ago. I hated it. It wasn’t a “book.” I had issues with the charger so I blamed it all on the fact it was a device. Then we got it worked out and someone sent me to this site where you could get FREE e-books. Gee, free is free and sometimes it’s awesome to have a couple of mindless romances while I’m at the pool with the kids without lugging a bunch of books. Except one or two free books turned into dozens of free books.
A book lover in Atlanta recently told me that she prefers print books, but free e-books are a great way to try out a new author, and she was completely right. I’ve discovered dozens of new authors that I never would have paid $7.99 for at Barnes & Noble. Which leads to the discussion of price. Although it may not apply to top authors like Janet Evanovich or James Patterson, for the most part, e-books are cheaper. There are no printing or shipping costs, and I’ve never paid sales tax either. It’s rare to pay more than $6.99 for a typical e-book and once you’ve been sucked in to a series by reading a free copy of Book One, there is no way you’re not going to pay $3.99 for Book Two if you liked it.
My physical library is stuffed to the gills. I will continue to buy a hard cover copy of all the Sue Grafton books until she’s done because it would look ridiculous if I stopped at “W,” plus I like my collection. I own the entire Mrs. Pollifax series, by Dorothy Gilman, and I read them from start to finish once a year or so. The same goes for Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum Series and every Stephen King book ever made. We’ve got the Harry Potter collection, a handful of books signed by their authors and lots of classics, but the mindless romances and the “read it once and never thought about it again” books are all gone now. The shelves are still overflowing but they are just my favorites and will now only be filled with special books and collector’s items.
Everything else (and now I have over 500) will live in digital utopia. My shelves are prettier, though they are still full and hard to dust, and since I continue to buy (just more slowly), I’m going to need more room eventually. But now I can take 500+ books on a two week vacation, instead of lugging two or three and praying I don’t finish them before the flight is over.
The Love of Print
For those who refuse to go digital, I get it. I really do. There is something about holding that book in your hands and smelling the print, wandering around book stores randomly taking things off the shelves to look at, and then leaving the store with a bag full of something tangible. E-books are, in some ways, not real. You push a button or two, and then it’s on your device. Easy? Yes. Fun? Not as much.
There’s something kind of depressing about giving someone a book they want in the form of a piece of paper with a code on it. Yes, it’s still the book, but it’s such a let-down from the excitement of ripping open the wrapping paper and having an item in your hands. There’s also something comforting about wandering into a book store and looking lovingly at every book on the shelf, even if you haven’t read it. Plus you can just grab one and flip through the pages.
There are so many books on my Kindle I have to scroll forever to see what’s there if I don’t remember the name, and I don’t always remember if I liked it or not. It’s not as easy to flip through pages on an e-reader as it is to flip through a regular book if I’m looking for a specific passage or scene. It’s just not the same, no matter how awesome it is to carry a thousand books in something that weighs 8 ounces.
And The Winner Is…
At the end of the day, what it boils down to is preference. There are no “winners” or “losers” in this debate. Although trends are leaning towards the digital age, print books are still out there for sale in stores, online and in libraries. However, the reality of how practical they are, as well as how economic, is becoming a bigger draw for e-books.
On the other hand, authors are finding that people often want both. An autographed copy of a printed book is something that will always be special, and cannot truly be replicated on an e-reader. No matter how you slice it, there is always a place for printed books, but it really depends on you. At the rate some people read, homes could quickly become an episode of “Hoarders” and, frankly, not everyone has the money or the space. So the options are simple: Read print books, read e-books, or read both. At some point, you’ll find yourself drawn more one way than the other and the answer will present itself. Or you’ll remain firmly in the middle. Either way, if you’re reading, it’s never a bad thing.
First published in The Bookshop Blog by Kathy Mizera on November 29, 2014.