Contented Reader

just point me toward the nearest library

E-books are not the enemy

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Start a conversation anywhere on the internet about ebooks.  Wait a few days, then check back.  The comments section will be full of comments from people who hate ebooks.  Why?  Because ebooks are inferior to ‘real books.’  Because it is morally wrong to try to replace the tactile pleasure of paper and ink with a soulless hunk of plastic imported from China.

Who are these people?  And who are they arguing with?  I don’t think anyone has proposed that, now that we have ebook technology, we should stop printing books on paper.  If someone has proposed that, I’m pretty sure that she doesn’t work for a publishing company.  And isn’t a professional writer.  And probably isn’t a person who reads many books.

The average American reads fewer than two books a year, according to a survey that I just made up.  I don’t know how many books average British people read in a year, but I assume it’s between fifty and one hundred.  After all, with those accents, they must be well-educated, or so watching public television has led me to assume.  The threat to American book sales is not the ebook, it’s the aliterate American.

Every person I know who owns an electronic reader also owns far more print books than most people.  People who read ebooks aren’t a threat to the publishing industry; people who read ebooks are the same people who keep the publishing industry alive.  Only book lovers buy electronic readers; those people who are reading one or two books a year are reading them in print.  And there’s a hell of a lot more of them than there are of us.

An ebook is not fundamentally different than a printed book.  It’s the same words, telling the same story, through the same medium (printed text).  We aren’t talking about the different between a book and a movie, a fundamental change in the way the story is told.  We’re talking about the choice of platform, like whether I listen to They Might Be Giants on vinyl, cassette, CD, or iPod.  It’s still the same music.  It’s still the same story.

This week, I read on my Reader, from PDFs on my laptop, and from print.  One of the books I read electronically, I rushed to my friendly neighborhood comic book store (Up Up and Away – visit if you’re in Cincinnati) to order its predecessor in print.  (If you’re curious, it was Grandville.)  I see people younger than myself, and it’s clear that they switch formats like I do, for the sake of what’s convenient at the moment, and think even less about the switch than I do.  Books is books.

People who don’t own electronic readers, this is a special message to you:  it’s okay.  It really is okay.  You don’t have to buy a Kindle or a Nook or a Reader.  You can read exclusively books printed on paper until the day your eyes fail and you have to switch to audiobooks.  Your printed books are never, ever going to go away.  Please don’t be afraid of us.  We are not your enemies.  We are your friends.  We love printed books, too.  Just like you, we like the way they smell, the weight of them in our hands, the beautiful cover art.  Honestly.  We are no threat to you, it’s okay with us if you don’t join us, and we can all argue about this year’s Hugo ballot together regardless of the format we choose for reading any given book.  Relax.

And the next time you feel tempted to comment on the internet that ebooks are an abomination because printed books are wonderful… go ahead, I guess.  If you really need to.  If that’s what gives you pleasure, I wouldn’t dream of taking it from you.  Me. I’ll be over there, on the sofa, reading a book.  Somehow.


Written by Contented Reader

July 25, 2011 at 7:46 am

Posted in Opinions


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