Chances are excellent that the remarkably decisive, crystal-clear stance taken this article’s title is what drew you in. “I like an article that pulls no punches and isn’t afraid to let you know where it stands,” you thought, and here you are. Lucky for you, if there’s one thing that this article and its author do better than the unabashed airing of unequivocal opinions on issues, it’s objective and impartial coverage of the “Traditional Book” vs. “eBook” debate.
So how did I come about this eminently impressive objectivity regarding this issue? Well, a number of contributing factors happened to converge for and around me like a perfect(ish) alignment of the stars. Those factors include:
• My hesitance to be an early adopter of any technology (a hesitance more financial than philosophical) which kept me from snapping up an eReader for quite a while.
• My not really having a strong opinion (very rare) on the eBook phenomenon.
• A number of friends and acquaintances who love their eBooks to death and won’t leave the house without their tablet.
• The other half of my social circle being proud paper book purists who hate eBooks and the Kindle Nooks they rode in on, and refuse to touch the things.
• My not having an eReader until very recently.
• My getting an eReader.
Being right in the eye of that Traditional (Trad) Books vs. eBooks maelstrom raging among my friends was actually a very instructive. One of the chief benefits was getting a decent, if angrily-conveyed, overview of each format’s pros and cons. At the risk of another bullet-pointed listing (and to get it out of the way), here are the broad strokes.
• Spilling liquid on them or submerging them (like in a bathtub) isn’t an automatic, generally expensive death sentence.
• Can be acquired and enjoyed without an internet connection or facilitating electronic device.
• No (or far less) need to worry about breakage or theft should you leave your trad book in a backpack, car, suitcase, sitting on a table while you hit up the bathroom, whatever.
• Maybe the crux of the issue: They are tangible, corporeal objects that can be held; they can satisfyingly stacked on a shelf with their cousins, organized, immediately leafed through whenever, signed by authors; earlier editions and/or other versions, editions and imprints in varying condition can be sought out by collectors, etc.
• Their presence on the shelf is both a satisfying reminder of a book you’ve read, or plan on reading, and impresses visitors by reminding them that you’re cultured, well-read and erudite. (This does not hold true the case if your bookshelf is occupied by a complete set of the The Baby-Sitter’s Club, Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey series.)
• They come in great and wondrous variety, with a huge diversity of size, age, shape, color, material, cover art and even font.
• That size can accommodate graphs, graphics, sidebars and any number of other features for reference books, like textbooks, and certainly lend themselves to a more effective reading experience in the case of graphic novels.
• By themselves, especially if used, books are much cheaper than an eReader.
• They are heavier and occupy significantly more space.
• Trad books wear, tear, fade, discolor, get stained, notes and highlighting (or a toddler scribbling on them with crayons) are permanent and they generally degrade, particularly with use and love.
• You need a light source to read them.
• Newly released books, especially those written by popular authors or as part of a popular series, can be expensive. That many of them are first released only in hardback makes them more expensive.
• Compact and therefore easily transportable. Trad books size variation can be fun, but it’s less so when you’d like to fit several of them into a bag or carrier.
• They come with their own light source and the level of the light is often adjustable. You can read them in bed next to someone without disturbing them.
• Maybe the crux of the issue: Storage. You can carry hundreds and hundreds of books in a single tablet device that can be conveniently carried around with you. It’s a marvel of information and entertainment innovation.
• Saves space. This was actually one of the primary draws for me- I was simply running out of space for more books. And it’s a huge bonus for moving.
• It’s arguably a far greener option. Trees aren’t being chopped down in incredible numbers for the books and seas of ink aren’t being produced for that tree-pulp.
• Many of the tablets give you the option to highlight a word to be instantly looked up on the net; gives you the opportunity to highlight, underline and add notation without permanently marking up your books; and as more books incorporate digital, net-friendly features, eReaders can accommodate them.
• Cost. While the initial investment is obviously going to be greater than the cost of a book, if you read a lot, from then on you’ll be paying anywhere from half the cost of a new hardback to a tenth for books that aren’t new and in huge demand, or even getting them for free.
• Like every other electronic device, your reading tablet requires the electricity your trad books never will, or they’ll die on you. Temporarily at least.
• If you drop your old school book in a canal, put it through the washing machine (somehow) or spill a drink on it, you’re not immediately out a good deal of money.
• I can’t be convinced that graphic novels and otherwise illustrated volumes will ever be as fun on eReaders, even color-capable ones.
• Compatibility issues between tablet brands can be a problem- nothing you have to worry about with Trad books.
• There are also some pretty huge prices discrepancies between brands, age of model and their condition status- new, used, refurbished, etc. Looking over an online retailer’s stock will give you some idea how wide this gap can be.
So my revolutionary argument here is: there isn’t some decisive winner of the Trad vs. eBook battle. All of this depends on someone’s style, taste, reading habits, daily routine, access to storage space and predilections. I love having books and even nurture some vague romantic notions regarding books that are hard to shake. I can’t imagine a future when no one noses around through musty used book stores for some diamond in the rough or just a good read they’d never heard of.
One ridiculous fear of mine is losing scenes from supernatural (or just natural) thrillers where characters in exotic shops, gothic mansion libraries or hidden repositories scan through rows and rows of ancient, leather-bound tomes, all brimming with secret knowledge. An occult detective or archaeologist (in way over his head) sitting on their couch, clicking through hyperlinked titles on Amazon and then poking at a touch screen to bring forth the forbidden is somehow just not as sexy.
More practically, it depends on your habits and tastes. If you read like two or three books a year and at least some of those books are graphic novels- there’s probably not much cause for you to pick up an eBook tablet. However, if you’re an avid reader (maybe one without loads of space for a book collection) and aren’t addicted to illustrated content (though that’s gotten pretty good on the new color models)- combing through the cheap and free content for eReaders online is like word-nerd heaven.
Plus, there’s a strange either/or dichotomy suggested by the debate. As mentioned- I recently acquired an eBook tablet, love it for what it does, and have no plans to now turn my back on print absolutely and forevermore. I’m perfectly content to have both in my life and enjoy them each in turn. There’s no reason you can’t do that same.
Author of this article: John Jones