Sunday, August 21, 2011

E-BOOKS VS PRINT BOOKS. HOW DO YOU SWING?

Hi folks,

Just interested in your views and opinions on e-books vs printed books. Is it one or the other in your view or do you see a place where both have merit? Does your opinion stem from a reader’s mindset or as a writer?

I’ve experienced a reversal in the past year. A year ago, I saw nothing I liked about e-books. Of course, that was before I purchased a Kindle. My opinion was that I loved “real” books—I loved the way they looked, the way they smelled, the way they felt in my hand. I had the idea that reading a book on an e-reader was most likely to be the same experience as when I read anything on the computer screen. I did it because I had to for some material, but never enjoyed it.

In fact, when I had a new book coming out, I had an entire set routine. I smelled it--wonderful smell! Especially when it’s your book! Then, I reread it even though I’d pretty well memorized it already from all the rewrites and edits and galleys and all of that. And then… I slept with it. Truth.

I knew I wouldn’t ever be able to capture that feel with an e-reader.

But… like a lot of things… I was wrong.

My first experience with an e-reader was when I downloaded the free Kindle version for my desktop. The first book I read on it pretty well confirmed my suspicions. It wasn’t a cool experience at all. It was exactly what I thought it would be. Like reading something from Wikipedia on my ‘puter.

If I would have gone by my experience with the desktop, I might not ever have gotten my Kindle. But, the fact is, more and more books I wanted to read were only available as e-books. Not to mention that other books I wanted to read that were also in print were infinitely cheaper and quicker to obtain as e-books, rather than the print version. To get the print copy, I had to either physically travel to a bookstore or else order off the Internet. Ordering copies took time—when I bought a book on my Kindle, I received it in mere seconds. Not only did I save on the cover price, I saved on the gas I would have used in going to the bookstore, the time I saved as well as the ease—and, not to mention, the bookstore might not have any available copies. Ordering off the Internet took time and cost me postage. Convenience-wise and price-wise, e-books have enormous advantages.

But, the biggest factor of all was that with the very first book I read on my Kindle I found that it felt even better in my mitts than a physical book did! I was shocked to discover that. It didn’t smell like a new print book, sure, but the fact is that new books don’t really have all that much of a smell anyway. It’s more of a delusion we feed ourselves, to be honest. And, to be honest, although book-sniffing is more socially acceptable than say, bicycle-seat sniffing, neither would be in most folks Top Ten sensory experiences to be savored...

What’s happened is that I thought I read a lot of books in my pre-Kindle days—I’d average three novels per week. That has doubled these days with my Kindle. I’m averaging almost a novel a day now. I take my Kindle everywhere—it’s actually easier to carry around than a novel. It’s certainly easier to carry around than a number of novels and that’s what I carry these days. As of this morning, I have almost 200 novels on my Kindle and I’m nowhere near its capacity. I can be at the doctor’s office or anywhere and I’m not stuck with just the novel I brought with me. There's another advantage my Kindle has--I can upload the manuscript I'm working on to it and work on that wherever I am. I also review books for fellow writers and when I'm waiting in the dentist's office and I get tired of reading the novel I'm on, I can pull up my friend's mss and read it. To have the material that's on my Kindle and available within seconds, I'd have to tote around a wheelbarrow of print versions. And, I've got a bad back so Kindles are better for my health...

I also read it in the bathtub. I throw that in because I read a post on a blog where someone made a joke that they couldn’t read their e-reader in the bathtub. Fortunately, I’m blessed with at least average coordination and have never dropped mine. I suppose if one had some kind of debilitating disease that rendered them unable to hold onto something that weighs a few ounces they should probably stick to print books, but I’m blessed in that I can walk and chew gum at the same time and a Kindle in the tub isn’t that insurmountable obstacle to have to overcome that some would claim. And, if I did have an accident and dropped it into the tub and ruined it—well, the truth is I’ve saved enough from buying e-books rather than the print version that I’ve already saved enough to have paid for half a dozen Kindles. And, if it did “drown” and I had to buy a new one… well, all the books I’d already bought would appear on my new version. If I dropped a print book, I’d just have a swollen, unreadable book…

The more I think about and consider the arguments against e-books in favor of print books, the more I see the same kinds of arguments Luddites always make. Actually, I’m old enough to remember when we changed from chiseled stone tablets to papyrus and the arguments today seem similar. I remember well when that happened. No longer did I have the pleasure of relaxing in the cave with a novel where the pages weighed ten pounds each. Now, those were novels for he-men! You couldn’t be a sissy and heft those things to peruse! And then, I’d just gotten used to papyrus—talk about the smell! now there was a smell you couldn’t get with paper—imagine sheepskin and a rainy day—if you dropped one of those puppies in the bathtub you really had a smell experience (you’ve smelled wet wool, right?)—and then the printing press came along and I had to change all over again and give up all the pleasures of papyrus and animal skins. It never ends! They just keep throwing all these dang changes at us!

I think that many folks today who are resisting e-books for the “smell” the “feel” and all that are kind of in the same camp as people were at any change in books. For those who are of that mindset, I do have some barrels of whale oil. If you’re still resisting electricity I can give you a great price…

Another thing to consider--those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Check out the historical clamor when electricity came along, especially in the New England whaling burgs... 

Maybe I'm fibbing a little when I say I "remember" stone tablets and papyrus and sheepskins--but I do remember when paperbacks came on the scene and there were thousands of literary Chicken Littles running around screaming that the skies were falling and so was "literature." Turned out about the same way as I see e-books turning out. More people published, more books available at lower prices for readers...

I guess my own position is clear… I understand others have a different point-of-view and that’s fine. If everyone thought the same, we’d still be lighting our lanterns with whale oil. I’d be interested in hearing counter-arguments.

Blue skies,
Les

P.S. For those who've moved into e-books, here's a couple you might want to check out:















...and....

8 comments:

Brian Elsasser said...

Les,
Reading stuff on a cold, hard computer screen is not the same, never will be, as reading a book. What you forgot to mention in your excitement over being able to download e-books in seconds is context. Not just text but context. What I mean is the journey to the bookstore is fraught with experience and material to write about in and of itself. Unpredictability! In this day and age when collective consciousness is imploding like a punctured balloon, the writer who has actual experience to write about, will always have a leg up on the competition.
As for Luddites and saboteurs, they smashed the machines because the machines benefited a much smaller elite group all of a sudden. Ask yourself who the Kindle and other e-book readers is putting out of work? Just off the the top of my head: thousands of Borders workers. Ask yourself do you really need to download an e-book in seconds, when you could just go to your local library?
Remember the story of convenience technology is the story of people put out of work.

Anne Gallagher said...

I like your arguments. I was one of those Luddites you mentioned, although I haven't actually gotten around to buying a Kindle just yet. (Santa Claus, if you're listening...)

I'm resistant to the new technology on general principle, because as you know things change at a rapid pace -- cell phones take pictures now, did you know that? However, I like the idea of the Kindle very much. Although I know if I wait a little longer, they might be under $100- by Christmas...Santa, can you hear me?

I'll trade you some whale oil for a couple of papyrus skins.

Les Edgerton said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Brian! Let me address some of them, okay? First, I agree that readinhg on a "cold, hard computer screen" isn't the same. I mentioned that I didn't enjoy the experience on my desktop Kindle. But... reading on the actual Kindle is a whole different experience. Today, it's infinitely more enjoyable (to me) than an actual book. Actually feels much the same and I don't lose my place when my fingers slip...

As far as putting anyone out of work, each new development in technology actually ended up in more jobs, not less. Except those that were unionized and virtually useless...

Border's workers? You mean the manager and the twenty minimum wage workers? Most will just migrate to Starbucks...

And, I'm sorry but I don't see the journey to the bookstore as "fraught with experience" except in filling up my tank with near-four bucks per gallon gas and dodging those little useless electric cars. I don't recall any nooks written with material about journeying to bookstores, except perhaps some useless essay by one of those "contemplating my fascinating navel" "literary writers whose sole audience is other like scribblers... The ones Vonnegut talked about when he said, "Literatute is in danger of disappearing up its own asshole."

And, I do prefer downloading a book in seconds rather than going to a library. The library here spent millions and millions of dollars recently and you can't find anything other than James Patterson and Danielle Steel novels... Personally, I don't have that kind of leisure time to wander over the the library (paid for by taxpayers...). I respectfully disagree that convenience technology puts people out of work. What puts people out of work are politicians with thousands of regulations, taxing those who work hard and are smarter and take chances with their time, energy and money, and stifling free enterprise, i.e., small businesses. Kind of where we are presently...

I just read again where you said a positive to driving to the bookstore is... I quote... Unpredictability! What kind of experience does driving to a bookstore actually give one? I'm curious... I agree that a write4r who has actual experience to write about has a leg up on the competition, but do you honestly consider driving to or even visiting a bookstore that kind of valuable experience? If so, I guess going to the Laundromat qualifies...

Sorry, Brian... this was too easy...

mooderino said...

If you put the ereader in a plastic ziplock bag (like for sandwiches) you can prevent bathtub malfunctions.

mood
Moody Writing
@mooderino

Erin S. said...

I, for one, would love to have an e-reader like the one offered by Sony (like Anne, I'm hoping for Santa Claus...or a rich, successful, author uncle...). I do, however, agree with Brian in that one thing I love about bookstores and libraries is meandering the aisles finding books I never knew I wanted to read. I just cant replicate that experience with Amazon's search engine.
For my purposes, as well, there is a total lack of academic works in ereader format. I don't know why University presses don't jump on this bandwagon. If I could get a library of research material in a handy easy to carry device, I'd be in scholar heaven.

Les Edgerton said...

Anne, I think most of us are resistant to change. I fight that every day with students who've been taught by English and creative writing teachers who are still teaching techniques and rules and structures and forms long gone. None of us are exempt. I remember resisting forever giving up my typewriter for a 'puter and before that, I stayed with a pen and paper before learning to type!

I confess I resisted e-books mightily and if I had just relied on my desktop Kindle experience I daresay I'd still be resisting them. But, using the Kindle itself is a transformative experience and I soon found my objections to it weren't, in the words of a great movie actor, "Not worth a hill of beans." I hope I've learned not to dismiss things until I've experienced them fairly.

I'd heard that about sandwich bags, Mooderino. Worth a try. However, I said I've saved enough to buy half a dozen Kindles, but it's closer to saving enough to buy a couple of dozen Kindles!

Erin, as you of all people know, academia is perhaps the slowest institution of all to change! I agree--it would make a huge and significant improvement to education of many of the texts could be had as e-books. It'll come... about the time we go to something even more improved.

The thing as a writer that's cool is that e-books are impacting the writing and reading community much in the same way paperbacks did when they came on the scene. It's become infinitely cheaper and easier to obtain books and how can that be bad? Just means more writers will be able to be published. The flaw at present is that we have few qualified gatekeepers to keep the crap out, but that'll change. Legitimate and knowledgeable e-book publishers are steadily coming into the picture who weed out the chaff. And, authors are making much more with e-books than they did with print and that's in spite of the fact that their work is available at a lower price. Or, because of it.

Maegan said...

Les,

Like you, I was resistant to the idea of e-readers... mostly because I get a case of the vapors when I think about spending more than $20 at a time on myself. My husband bought me a Sony reader for X-mas a few years ago and I love it. I love that I can take it anywhere. I love that I can switch from book to book at the drop of a hat. I love that I can purchase and download a book in seconds. I love that my library offers timed downloads. The only thing I don't love is that readers like Kindle, Nook and Sony are proprietary. If I can't find the book I want on Sony's e-store then I'm screwed (which is why I still buy the occasional book). As the industry grows, I imagine that’ll change.
As a writer, I’m excited by the prospect that e-readers open up the field to those of us who remain unpublished. I like my chances a lot better knowing that the cost effectiveness of e-publishing makes it more viable for a publisher to actually take a chance on me.
p.s. I read my Sony in the tub too. I have the coordination of a toddler and I haven’t dropped it yet.

Brian Elsasser said...

You never know where a story will find you Les. Maybe if you moseyed along instead of driving to the bookstore. And who knows who you might run into there...writing as one who picked up many an interesting story and met unique characters from witches to politicians working my way through college at Curious Books in East Lansing, MI...should have provided that context. Plus, the selection of books at and actual bookstore is serendipitous, of course. You never know what book might fall into your hands off the shelf when someone in the next aisle puts one back a little too forcefully (maybe 'cause they didn't like it).
Curious Books was where I knew I'd become a writer. Not in college across Grand River Avenue. I'm sorry, but without the human context, staring into a piece of plastic just doesn't provide the same possibilities for stories finding me.
Sounds like you should put down the Kindle and get out and smell the roses once in a while, there Les...:)