Saturday, July 27, 2013

Love Reading: Printed Books vs Electronic Books

     A lot of people feel strongly about the whole electronic-devices-for-kids thing. Maybe it's just my age but I have a lot of appreciation and believe there is a lot more value in these devices than people readily give credit. At the same time, I'm a sentimental being. I have the piece of paper on which my now-husband first wrote his home address and phone number for me. The smell of an old, well-loved hardback is one of my favorite things. I just love books: old and new. Turning crisp pages in a stiff, new paperback book is a close second to that old, musty smell of an antique.
      Again, though, maybe my age is a factor in my opinion. I was a 90s kid. Sitting in front of my parent's off-white CRT PC monitor I played pinball, Reader Rabbit, and solitaire. When we'd go to my Grandma's house we'd have the pleasure of either playing Super Mario World on the super nintendo or something like Power Pete (aka Mighty Mike) on her . . . I think it was the Bondi Blue iMac G3. Good times. I have sentimentality tied in with electronics. I grew up with them. They've been an integral part of my youth from tamagotchis to chemistry courses on the computer in high school.
     Some people simply see the advances of things like the iPad and the flip-screen tablet PCs as a sci-fi-comes-to-life phase of our gadget-obsessed generation. Others stick with their good ole trusty printed products and maintain an indifference. Some just use the bare minimum digital devices to make life convenient or keep up with friends and family but refrain from diving in head-first or being consumed by them. It wasn't that long ago after all that we used a yellow phonebook instead of our phone's google maps search; our contacts were written either in a small book or on the cards of a rolodex.

     Anyway, enough babbling I've shared my general thoughts on this stuff before.

     Right now, I really want to focus in on the printed books vs. electronic books thing. These are just my experiences and opinions. Here goes nothin':

#1. How and when do you personally use ebooks? 

     I've used the  Kindle app on my iPad. One of the primary reasons I chose to fork out the dough for my iPad 2 in the first place was for the benefit of cheaper textbooks for school. I did a stupid amount of research before making that decision. It wasn't done on a whim. I compared the iPad, Nook, and Kindle. I looked up the various applications available for "etextbook" purchase or rental. This proved to be a very good decision. Renting etextbooks for my iPad through Kno and CourseSmart has actually saved us more than the cost of the iPad in just 3 semesters even if we had been able to buy the regular textbooks pre-owned or via rental.  I also have several classic novels (ie Moby Dick) that I simply didn't have on my shelf yet and some newer fiction (ie The Hunger Games) that I got for the heck of it. It was cheaper (if not totally free) than going to the store to buy it (even used) and it was simpler than searching for them (and/or waiting for a return, and/or having to return it before I'm done, and/or potentially losing it) at the library. The kids also have a few "interactive" books like this gem from Sesame Street and a couple of typical ebooks like this. It's a lot easier to carry the iPad in my bag than 2 textbooks, a novel, a notebook, a calculator, a calendar, a contact list, and so on. I can't say I use it for reading a lot outside of the college thing because I sadly don't have time to enjoy a novel for the heck of it all that often anymore. If there is something I'm researching or writing a paper for I do check the ebook stores for free or cheap material first then I go to the library. A lot of my choices for this come down to convenience, price, and simplicity.

#2. What's on your not-so-virtual shelves?

     We have more "real" books than we know what to do with. As I said in the first part of this three-part blog series, we don't even have enough [safe] shelf space for all of them. My husband collects these big, heavy hardback encyclopedias and nonfiction historical collections of everything from military history to weapons to martial arts styles. I have lots of those delicious, old, musty antiques: several classics, some I liked just because of the cover, and some old hymnals because . . . I don't know why really (but that old church smell is infused in them). The kids have more books than I would attempt to count. I started buying children's board books and all I could find of Dr. Seuss before my oldest was even born. We have most of the Dr. Seuss books now, lots of good old classics like Corduroy or Goodnight Moon, plus plenty of the Disney stories and little golden books too. That's only the gist. N (three year old) has started to notice the kid's National Geographic and the beginning readers at Target on top of all this so we're adding a whole new layer. I can't leave out the fact that I've all ready been keeping my eyes wide open for any American Girl, Nancy Drew, Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary books I can get my hands on. Did I mention all the Tolkien novels and volumes of Star Wars??

#3. Do you actually have a preference?
     I like to think we're taking advantage of the best of both worlds. I also like to think we keep things balanced around here. First of all, I'm of the opinion that there's no such thing as too many books. Nope. Can't be. Doesn't matter if it's paperback, hardback, or ebook. I just don't think you can have too many either way. I like that we have several of both and that we are able to choose from two very different formats. We regularly bring home 5 or 10 books from the library. I regularly browse amazon for free kindle ebooks. Some things I'd just prefer to go for cheap/convenient and others I value the physical ability to turn pages, feel paper between my fingers, or display it on my shelf. (I won't lie that I usually sniff pages too. I'm a booksniffer.)

#4. Would you give up or give away all of your printed books if you could have them in an ebook form?

     Um, no. Absolutely not. Sentiment, mystery, and the inherent beauty of a printed copy are overwhelming this consideration. First of all, some of my books were printed over 100 years ago. Imagine all of the different people who've read these pages that I hold in my hands now! Unless you're a germaphobe that's a fantastical thought. (And don't talk to me about where people read their books potty mouth. You'd probably clutch a $100 bill to your heart if someone handed it to you and that hypothetical green thing has probably been in much scarier places.) Ahem. I can go on an all-day trip to lalaland just trying to imagine where that carefully constructed hardback was first set on a shelf for sale, who decided to buy it and why, and so on. It's a genuine piece of history. On the other hand, some books can easily become clutter. Some books (like my husband's beloved Star Wars volumes) aren't all that pretty with their dated, over-edited cover pictures. I've given away plenty of books before when I realized I just didn't read them or didn't have any connection to them anymore. There's still something traditional and comforting about a shelf full of literature in your living room. Even a minimalist can appreciate at least a small collection. (I will have it known, I'm no minimalist and one day I swear I will have a library like the one in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Do not doubt this.)

#5. Why would you choose an electronic book over a printed book?
  I think this boils down to the same things for everyone: convenience, price, and instance access. If I need something quick, cheap, and available to me in an easy-to-carry, simple-to-store format then I'm going to go with ebooks if I have the means to use them. Most people have a data phone, tablet, or laptop these days. It's a whole lot easier to tote around 4 or 5 college textbooks in the 1.33 pounds of my iPad 2 than individual 2-4 pound (and that's being generous) books in a large backpack. Throw in the benefit of a built-in search tool, highlighter, and reference links and there's no comparison there. When it comes to pleasure reading the decision may be driven more by personal preference but the lower price is almost always a convincing factor.

#6. Let's be economical: which is better for the economy?
     I guess it depends on how you look at it. There are a lot of variables. There's a reason hardbacks are more expensive then paperbacks and they more expensive than electronic books. There's a lot more industry involved  in the production of a "real" book which is normally an economical bonus on the macroeconomic side but when it comes to your wallet economical might mean an investment in some sort of ereader. Here's a fancy infographic I found that lays it all out (click to enlarge):

#7. What do you think of the idea that ereaders and/or ebooks are on the darkside of literature? 
     One word: audiobooks. Two words: printing press. Get used to the world of books evolving along with the rest of everything. It started happening way before our time. If you were a REAL book connoisseur you'd say that mass production itself is an abomination. Not to mention, audiobooks were available long before ebooks were a serious thought. Get a grip, friends. Join the darkside if that's what you want to call it. We have books in every format and also cookies, possibly. In the end the real value of a book, in my humblest of opinions, is NOT the format through which it is delivered but the actual content within its paper or digital pages.

First Email 1971

     Think of it like this: having a preference of hardback, paperback, ebook, or audiobook is no different than having a preference for how your mail is transported. Do you reaaaaally want to go back to the days of horsemen with saddle bags riding for weeks to deliver you a 10 word telegram? Do you even want to step back just a smidgen to the time of dial-up internet and Hotmail? I'm betting you use emails, snail mail, and cell phones without decrying any of these methods of communication as "fake" or "not as good". We have our sentimental connections with a hand-written note, sure. Let's not let our sentimentality tie us down with a curly phone cord or a library only the most privileged societal elites are allowed to enter. Just sayin'. In the end, supply and demand will determine what is or isn't available to us in the form of electronic or printed book. Be glad our society has such easy access to literature in the first place and next time you see a 3 year old poking at an iPad remember that she might be soaking in a heavy dose of phonics and not necessarily rotting her brain.

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