Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Great Debate: Electronic vs. Dead Tree Books



Which are better - eBooks or print ones?


In today's digital world people are increasingly looking online for their entertainment. But is there anything that will get people to read books again? While eBooks and audio books are helping, is that enough?


Is anybody reading anymore?


I may be wrong but it seems to me that the younger generations today aren't reading much in the way of books these days. These youngsters have long had other things to distract them. They've grown up in a digital age, and most are so used to being connected, they wouldn't even know what dial-up modem is, let alone recognize it by its distinctive sound. It's as if they've been online since the doctors cut their umbilical cords (and maybe even before).

It could be that their parents tried to encourage them to read. They might still have the Seuss, Silverstein, Dahl, Milne or Potter that they would slip off the shelf before bedtime. But despite Rowling's Harry Potter books and the occasional blips like the Twilight rage, as they reach adulthood, how many of these kids are actually making a habit reading as adults?  If they aren't reading themselves, how will they ever encourage their children to read? Sure, it is possible that when they have children, they'll read to them like their parents did. But it is far more likely that future bedtime rituals will include watching a DVD or downloaded video on a smart phone, and not the cracking open of a book.

We all know that physical bookstores have been on a steady decline since the advent of Amazon. But even these online shops found out they had to diversify to keep sales up, and sales of eBooks and audio books are gaining in popularity. So although it doesn't feel like it, the advent of various electronic reading devices and apps for tablets and smart phones are actually helping the publishing world hold its own. Still, one wonders how this will translate to the next generation.


The case for modernity


On the one hand, I do get it. Remember, I live in a country whose primary language isn't my mother tongue, and my dyslexia prevents me from reading large texts in Hebrew. Although we're called "the people of the book," I can assure you this doesn't have a positive impact on every case. The terribly limited number of titles that bookshops here sell is disconcerting. Even more disheartening has been the slow but sure demise of any good English language lending libraries here. Although we get to the UK fairly often, you should include the travel costs in the price of the books you buy there. Furthermore, shipping charges from almost any internet site can be prohibitive (the sole exception being Book Depository, whose prices aren't always cheap).  That one can download an eBook at less than the cost of a printed one is a huge advantage for someone in my situation.

Also, I actually can imagine parents finding that pulling out their tablet to find a book to read to their kids at bedtime is more convenient for them. And you must admit that eReaders are more space efficient than your typical print books. Students are certainly a market that will find eBooks more attractive. And with airlines cracking down on free luggage space, having bunches of books for your vacation reading on one device and not weighing down your suitcase is a big plus.


On the other hand …


The thing is there is something special about holding a printed book. The rustle of the paper as you turn the page, the feel of its weight between your fingers, have an appeal that pressing a button or swiping a screen just don't have. Sure, they're not completely environmentally friendly, but how dull would your home look with a bookshelf that has nothing but your Nook, Kindle or iPad on the shelves? There is also something to seeing a beloved book sitting there that makes you remember why it's on display. Plus, when friends come by, letting them peruse your collection is a way to keep them occupied while you get the coffee ready. With people you don't know as well, they can become a topic of conversation. That's just not going to happen with an eBook collection. Well, not in real-life meetings. And finally, until they let you keep your reader on during take-offs and landings, you're still going to need something on paper to read for those parts of your trips (and don't tell me to read the in-flight magazine. Even I'm through with those before the seatbelt lights go out).

So I'm sorry, but you'll have to call me old fashioned. I'm glad I have my Nook. It helps me get reasonably priced eBooks, and it is great for getting advance readers' copies of books. But I'm afraid I don't think I'll ever be able to give up reading off dead trees. 

Go on - try to convince me otherwise!