eBook Gains and Losses

Gear Diary Bookstore

Welcome to another installment of “State of the eBook”. A few quick news-y items, and then onto the major heart of today’s discussion, where we’ll be tackling the greatest debate in the book world today. Interested? Read on…

First, in the “cut up your nose to spite your face” department, we have the news that both Sarah Palin’s book “Rogue” and Ted Kennedy’s book “True Compass” will not be released as eBooks until some time has passed after the hardcover release. Let’s consider that for a moment. At a time when people are looking for better deals, trying to find ways to save money, and publishers are trying to find ways to keep readers, they’re actively forcing people to wait longer to get a book in their preferred medium. (via MobileRead)

Losing track of the insane number of devices that do eBooks, eBooks plus web browsing, eBooks plus web browsing plus dog walking, etc? Businessweek is reporting that there are more devices on the horizon; suddenly being able to read an eBook on it has become almost as important a feature as GPS!

There are two (general) sides to the ebook debate: those who see the technology as an amazing leap forwards, who see words as words no matter the medium. Then there are those who believe the tactile sensation of holding a paper book, the turning of the pages, the smell of the glue and the paper and the binding, cannot be replicated with screens and that reading is for paper.

So let’s do a quick rundown of where both sides have their advantages…


  • Can carry multiple (hundreds of multiple!) ebooks in one device without using a truck.
  • Multi-device support means you can read a book anywhere; on your couch, in line at the grocery store, at work during a meeting…
  • Fonts are adjustable! No more doing the “large print walk of shame” at your local bookstore!
  • Downward price pressure (if you buy from Amazon or Sony)
  • No waiting by the mailbox them to arrive, or driving to the bookstore and encountering underpaid employees.

Paper books:

  • A unique tactile experience
  • Cover art
  • Shopping experience can be more spontaneous and social.
  • Powells, The Strand, insert your favorite local bookstore.
  • No digital rights management
  • Less publisher-imposed geographic limitations, books work in any country.
  • Very few books (outside of textbooks) cost as much as a dedicated ebook reader.
  • Worst outcome when you spill coffee on a regular book is a stained book (as opposed to the sound of your wallet screaming in horror).

I see both sides of this debate; I love my Kindle, I love ebooks. But I also spent three years managing bookstores, and there are some experiences that cannot be replicated by point and click. Personally, I have a handful of books that I will always want to have in paper form, and it will take more than the convenience of a Kindle to keep me from spending way too much money in every bookstore I see.

Where do you fall in this debate? Do you straddle both sides, clinging to the paper and the digital? Or have you sworn off all things paper and only buying books you can measure in megabytes instead of pages? And finally, even if you are all digital, are there some books you simply can’t bear to have in anything other than dusty old paper?

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About the Author

Zek has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to their first PDA (a Palm M100). They quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. They love writing about ebooks because they combine their two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?

5 Comments on "eBook Gains and Losses"

  1. It reminds me of Capt. Picard on ST:TNG. He had a fondness for printed books, as did Kirk. It also reminds me of those that listen to and prefer record albums over tape/CD. The pops and crackles add to the experience somehow.

    While the information is there in an eBook, there is something about a printed page that adds to the experience as well. And old books even more so. EBooks, to me, seem to be “sterile”, while an old book has it’s own character aside from the information contained within.

    I have an old copy of a ham radio magazine, “QST” from 1924, that belonged to my grandfather. He bought it when he was 14 years old. He was there in the early days of radio and TV, and in later years even worked on some early space projects for NASA. He died before I was old enough to really talk to him his life. I think that modern computers would really fascinate him. Somehow holding that magazine and reading through the old articles makes me feel connected to him. I don’t think an eBook could do that.

  2. I see the whole ‘delayed release’ as being similar to how many games are delayed on PC compared to console – it is a move to prevent piracy from eating into profits.

  3. I am sure it is in part to combat piracy…but it doesn’t make it any less annoying.

    Especially since publishers are desperate to hook and keep readers. I doubt Dan Brown is weeping that his book was sold in ebook and hardcover simultaneously…

  4. It also makes no sense – all you do is penalize legit customers and drive potential customers away. People who were going to pirate will do so anyway. And the Dan Brown example is perfect! But for many of these publishers, they see ebooks as one step from giving it away for free and losing all control. It is much like music was ~10 years ago … and no one has yet found a hole in the sand large enough to hide and ignore the problem until it goes away!

  5. Do you have any articles about e-textbooks? I'm not sure I feel too great about e-books right now, we'll see what happens. However, e-textbooks I could see as a great potential learning tool. Some people believe that would reduce the price of textbooks. I would agree in the short term. However, I think publishers, as the technologies grows, would add more content that is readily available for students. Such as interactive review questions at the end of chapters that could even upload results to the professors. Even, on non e-ink screens, some short videos. I'd be interested to hear what publishers might do with that technology.

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