Why Die-Hard Book Lovers Will Embrace E-Books

Posted: September 8, 2011 in Publishing Industry

A special message to you, if you feel like the lone hold-out against e-books: join usss!

Do you say, “I won’t use e-readers, because I love physical books too much”?  Here’s why your prediction about yourself is wrong.

By the way, I started there, too. It has taken me years to grow accustomed to reading and editing on a computer screen. The last thing I wanted was to get my recreational reading from some damned device. But getting a Kindle brought me several surprises.

For one, reading e-ink is not at all like reading on a computer screen. E-ink is not lit from behind. It requires light exactly the same way a physical book does. I found it restful on the eyes, even after a full day of using a computer.

But the bigger surprise for me was discovering how many things I hadn’t noticed about books that slightly bother me — and that an e-reader solves.

  • Books need bookmarks. As a “dead tree” book reader, I was forever searching for something to use as a bookmark. On hardbacks, the jacket flap would do — unless the book was too thick. Sometimes I used the receipt for the book as a bookmark. Over time I’ve used promotional publisher bookmarks, ribbons, envelopes, junk mail, and even a square of toilet paper as a bookmark. To my relief, an e-reader not only saves my place automatically — I can continue reading later on my phone, from the spot where I left off.
  • Books are heavy. I have been a book designer, and thus a huge fan of hardcover books, which typically boast more art and typographical elegance than mass market paperbacks. But I also struggle with wrist issues (tendonitis and symptoms similar to carpal tunnel). Reading a book for more than 30 minutes can actually get burdensome. My Kindle hardly weighs more than a greeting card, and makes for much more comfortable long-session reading. In addition, I travel a lot — and no longer have to fret about lugging multiple hardback books in my carry-on when I’m near the end of a book as a trip begins.
  • Books want to shut. Until you get an e-reader, you may not realize what lengths you go to simply to hold a book open. Hardbacks can strain your hand, if you try to read with one hand and eat with another. If you’re using a cookbook or music book (anything that requires reading while doing a task) you have to improvise ways to hold the pages open. Not a problem with an e-reader.
  • Books take up space. I own walls full of books. I’m constantly faced with the choice of whether a book justifies the physical space and weight it takes up. Do I keep it, or downsize? That’s easy when I have a book I didn’t love; I can donate it, swap it, or otherwise get rid of it. It’s also an easy decision for books I love. I keep them and hug them and hold them and call them George. But what about a book I loved years ago, but is obsolete? Or a reference work that has gone out of date but I haven’t replaced? Or books that earn a C+/B- in my heart? Do I indulge my inner collector, or the drive to simplify life? My little light e-reader is vast, and contains thousands.

Keep Bits, Not Atoms

“Past performance is the best indicator of future performance.” That maxim is the main reason I am confident you will embrace e-readers pretty soon: your past performance shows that you will.

A shadow looms over printed books... and maybe that's okay.

We have all upgraded formats over the years. Music lovers have traded vinyl LPs for 8-track tapes for cassette tapes for CDs for MP3 files. Movie lovers have traded BetaMax or VHS tapes for [possibly] laser discs for DVDs for Netflix streaming. Even video games are moving out of the “shiny disc” business. In such cases, consumers find they want the experience of the movie or the song or the game and mostly, they don’t need the tangible part. Now that we can  take Internet connectivity as a given in North America, the value of digitized information resides in the bits and bytes that comprise it, rather than in the physical atoms that formerly carried it. I realize that there are exceptions, but broadly speaking, today the bits are what we care about.

So if you see yourself as a book snob, I submit to you that e-reading leads to a “purer” reading experience: you are focused on what you’re reading, rather than the physical form that displays the words to your hungry eyes. My wife and I have both concluded that an e-reader provides a more immersive reading experience than a printed book. I predict that you will, too.

As the publishing industry continues its disruptive transition to the new digital reality, you’re going to find it more difficult and more expensive to obtain your desired reading as a physical book. And that’s okay. I predict you are going to enjoy digital books — and if you’re reading this in 2011, you’ll be a happy convert by the end of 2012. I, for one, welcome our new digital overlords.


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