Print books vs. Ebooks (again)

July 3, 2014 Uncategorized 21

(Ray Bradbury, in response to the question: what do you think of e-books and Amazon’s Kindle?) Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hands and pray to it. You put it in your pocket and you walk with it. And it stays with you forever. But the computer doesn’t do that for you. I’m sorry.
(via feellng, on Tumblr)

I hate to disagree with someone of Bradbury’s stature, but I think he’s confusing the content with the media. Don’t get me wrong — I love print books. I love new ones and old ones. I love the way they look, they way they smell, their weight and the way they feel in the hand. But those are the physical attributes of the medium, not the content. I could get get all of that from a blank journal — the feel, the smell, the lovely cover, the thing I can hold in my hand. But it is not a book, because there’s no content.

The book is the content, the ideas, the story, the characters. . . the words. The book is a book whether it’s hand-copied on parchment and bound in ancient leather, or printed on acidic paper with a cheap, ugly cover, or delivered wirelessly to your e-reader or smart-phone. And hopefully, it’s the book — the content — that stays with you forever, no matter what format you read it in.

Print books have their advantages. They don’t require batteries, so they don’t disappear when your device runs out of power. They can be extraordinarily durable and long-lived, as long as they’re printed with acid-free inks on high-quality, acid-free paper. They look great on bookshelves.

Print books also have disadvantages. Water damages them; so does fire. They can be stained, warped, nibbled by bugs or mice, turned into art (OK, that one might be an advantage.) They take up space that many people don’t have. Taking a pile of books on vacation means leaving out half your clothes.

Ebooks have their advantages, too. You can hold a whole library in the palm of your hand. You can look up the definition of a word without leaving the book. You can highlight and make notes without guilt, and erase them without leaving a mark. You can read in the dark and not disturb your sleeping partner. You can read without announcing to the world what you’re reading. And the pages stay open while your hands are doing something else.

And of course ebooks have their disadvantages. You have to keep your e-reader device charged, and stop reading when you run out of power. Because they’re merely data, the ebook file can become corrupted (not unlike bugs eating the physical pages of a print book – except that with an ebook, you can have a backup file.) You can’t display them on shelves, or smell them, or revel in the soft sound of turning pages.

But let’s all stop kidding ourselves that print books are books and ebooks just — aren’t. Or that ebooks are somehow less, and print books are morally superior. That those who read ebooks read fluff or trash, while those who read print books read real literature. None of those things is true.

Take away the words — take away the content — and whether print book or ebook, all you’re left with is blank pages. And that’s not a book.

So does the medium really matter all that much? Isn’t the whole point of either medium to present the content?

Shouldn’t we just be happy that there are so many ways to read a good book?

(published first on my Tumblr, without the photos)

21 Responses to “Print books vs. Ebooks (again)”

  1. abibliophilesstyle

    Great post, Lark! My preference is for print books, because they’re familiar, but I appreciate ebooks too. I like that there are older books available, for free, that are out of print or hard to find in print.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Yes to the public-domain books, though the formatting and proofreading quality varies greatly. Sometimes no-one bothered to proofread, and the OCR scanning can come up with some very awkward, even humorous errors!

  2. kimbacaffeinate

    I agree with you, and while I understand his passion for printed books as I adore them, my e-reader is invaluable to me, and to say the novels I have read from them aren’t books well that is ludicrous.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      I love print books, too, and I literally have thousands. But I also love my ereader, and not only for the e-ARCs! It’s great for travel, for reading at night, and for slipping into my purse when I go out.

  3. Katherine P

    Yes! I see so much that looks like you have to decide which medium you’re loyal to and you must never waiver. They’re both great! They both have their advantages and disadvantages. I don’t see either going away any time soon.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      I happily live with both. Many of my older print books aren’t available as ebooks, or I can’t afford them, and anyway, I don’t want to give up my beloved hardcovers. Mass market paperbacks are another matter. I’ve switched to ebooks over MM paperbacks for anything I don’t think I’ll read more than once, and for some of my romance and mystery authors as well. I’m running out of shelf space for physical books, for one thing!

  4. Szever (The Dork Portal)

    I go back and forth on this. I do have a nook, but it’s so inconsistent that I keep telling myself I’m going to switch back to paper. I was contemplating switching to kindle, but Amazon… Anyway, agree.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      I debated a long time before replacing my aging Sony with a Kindle. I’m wary of Amazon’s dominance, but the convenience, the sheer number of titles, the frequent discounts, and the fact that everyone on my mom’s side of the family had Kindles all contributed to my decision to go with it. The bad part is that I’ve still got a lot of ePub titles, but I can still read them on the computer or on the older Sony Reader.

  5. samantha.1020

    Nicely said! The majority of the books I read are print books still but that doesn’t take away from my love of ebooks. I especially love that with ebooks I can access older, harder to get my hands on titles that are out of print but I can buy with ease for my ipad. Such a delight! If it is a good book, it will suck me in regardless if it is print or electronic. Great post!

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      “If it is a good book, it will suck me in regardless if it is print or electronic.”

      Exactly! And yes, I like the fact that I can download free public-domain titles (many literary classics) as well as buy the latest Mary Balogh romance, and a whole lot of books in between.

  6. M @ My Closet Catalogue

    Huh. You bring up excellent points for both sides and have given me a new perspective on ebooks. Now I’d love to hear your thoughts regarding professionally published vs. self-published. 😀

  7. Stephanie Shepherd

    Don’t have much of substance to add because I agree with you whole-heartedly! I read both and probably always will. I like browsing bookshelves better than browsing an on-line catalogs but I also like that e-books with few exceptions are available at the click of a button. Beyond those physical things, I don’t find my actual reading experience to be that different!

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Oh, I forgot to include that instant-availability thing as an advantage of ebooks, but of course you’re right! And yes, I can get just as wrapped up in an ebook as in a print book.

  8. Bea

    AMEN! I agree with you completely, well except for your display comment. You could, if you chose, keep your ereaders on a shelf. 🙂

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      True… but you wouldn’t see all the pretty covers. My Kindle Paperwhite just has a plain black cover. Of course, you can buy them lovely covers like the one in the picture halfway up. 😉

    • Bea

      Yep. Mine have pretty covers 🙂 bu e-readers are definitely not as pretty as print covers.

  9. Jan @ Notes from a Readerholic

    Good post, Lark! I read ebooks almost exclusively these days. For some reason I just like ebooks, but I still have my favorite print books. However, it’s very freeing to only keep the favorites. And as you point out ebooks are great when traveling!

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      I like ebooks because I can change the font, and because NetGalley, and because of all those great freebies and bargains, and because *they don’t take up any physical space!!!* (The latter is really starting to matter to me.) But I do love my physical books, especially the ones I’ve owned for a while. They feel like friends when I walk into a room.

    • Jan @ Notes from a Readerholic

      I agree with you, Lark! I have some of my mother’s books she bought when she was single. She bought some wonderful hardcover books–Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens and other classics. I also have many of the children’s books she read to my brother and I. Those books are my treasured books. Also I keep some of my favorite authors. They do feel like friends. Great memories with them!