Has all the talk about e-books superseding paper books died down now?

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Has all the talk about e-books superseding paper books died down now? I think it has.

I’m a big fan of e-books, I purchased my first e-reader in 1998. It was an inch and a half thick, and too heavy to hold. I’d drop it on my face every five minutes. I think I’ve permanently damaged my nose. I’ve advanced to a kindle app on the IPad now. How quickly has that changed?

I regularly whip across to my favourite e-book store to download a book – usually because I need it on-the-hop for an upcoming book club or I’ve read a quote somewhere and want a quick, in the moment, look at the original source.

But without question, paper books are here to stay, and not in a secondary way, but holding their own alongside e-books.

If I’m fond of an e-book I usually buy the paper copy as well to either write in the margins (yes, you can make notes in e-books, but it’s not the same is it?) or to keep at the ready. There’s something about running an eye over the bookshelf when you’re looking for a book; it’s a different process than flicking through a booklist on the e-reader.

I’ve recently given up reading e-books in bed in the pursuit of a good night’s sleep (the latest research in is still telling us not to read backlit screens before sleep), but aside from that issue, after a recent stint of reading nothing but e-books, I craved the paper – the visceral experience, the size of the book, the act of turning the page, the glance over the cover at its colour and size. I can’t speak for readers who came into the world with e-books an established option, but reading a paper book is absolutely a different experience.

Most of all, I love the history of a book. We did a bit of a clean-up before Christmas to put off any clue-hunters looking for our hoarding existence, and I found my first ed. 1957 copy of Doris Lessing’s The Habit of Loving that I’d forgotten about, and my 1954 copy of Pippi Longstocking.

These are beautiful books to look at and hold, have a look at them in the pictures – the colours and the soft-look hardback, the thicker pages – there’s a whole industry that goes with collecting books, and although I’m not a collector, I hope we don’t see a time when these kinds of keepsakes disappear.

I don’t know what the stats are, but I’ve noticed that self-publishers – a phenomenon on the rise and rise- are more likely to create a paper version of their book, either alone or to exist alongside an e-book, rather than only an e-book. This is about how the author sees their reader consuming the product, and paper is right up there.

As I write this, a friend has dropped a book off at my doorstep, and I can tell you without looking, it’s not an e-book.

Even though publishers work from an economic point-of-view rather than from the idea of the experience of reading, printed books won’t disappear. And it’s not only about nostalgia for the paper, it’s also about practicalities, as Nick Harkaway said back in April this year:

Digital books are still painfully ugly and weirdly irritating to interact with. They look like copies of paper, but they can’t be designed or typeset in the same way as paper, and however splendid the cover images may look on a hi-res screen, they’re still images rather than physical things. To my irritation, you still can’t flick through an ebook properly; you can’t riffle the pages, you can’t look at more than one page at once..

It all comes down to customer demand, and customers will always demand paper, won’t they? I think they will. I hope it’s not just me, the lone paper-demander. Can you see me now with my lone placard demanding governmental support for the production of paper books? Nah, I won’t be alone.

But on that point about government support, the focus on the book industry is not how we readers are reading our books, but where we purchase them from, and right now money is spilling out of our local bookstores and overseas to cheaper options, and will keep doing so until a governmental tax of some kind puts a stop to it.

Read on paper readers, fear not the dominance of the e-book.

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4 thoughts on “Has all the talk about e-books superseding paper books died down now?

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  1. Hi. After reading your post, I had to say something. I definitely feel the same way about books. There really is no replacement for a solid book in hand. A representation of worth, a physical completeness of being one with that story or information. It can be truly timeless. Unfortunately i will never feel that way about an e-reader.

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  2. I have to agree, though I think there is a change from publishing through agents/publishers. As the number of authors increases, and that of agents/publishers cannot keep up, I think more and more authors will turn to self-publishing through e-books.

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  3. Hello! I found your blog through you liking me. I’ve read some of your posts and then saw this and wanted to throw in my comment.

    I grew up with Star Trek (a child of the nineties) and let me tell you, all I ever wanted was a PADD. A flat computer that did everything. Then we got them and I didn’t want one. I’ve never had an e-reader in my life but likewise I am a fan of them and e-books. I think that, publisher economics aside, they are a great way to read something and a cheaper alternative for the reader in the long run. And I bet you can make as many bookmarks as you like rather than having to grab whatever you have to hand and shoving it in there. You can read it in the dark too. So why have I never given them a chance?

    It is as you say, that feeling of looking along a bookshelf. There’s a certain magic to it that simply can’t be replaced by a list of names and a few small thumbnails for a cover. I can grab those books and hold them in my hand. They’re sometimes awkward and clumsy or light and accessible, but I’ll have a different experience with each one and it is far and away more tactile an experience than with an e-book. I love to read science fiction and fantasy. I like sci-fi with one foot in the past (like myself,) I like to believe we can travel to other worlds and still use paper books. Likewise, how can you not read fantasy upon paper? In this, there is even an aspect of role play when becoming immersed in a printed book. It makes the experiences more concrete and fun than an emotionless electronic slab.

    I definitely agree that paper will be in demand for the long foreseeable future. The place of e-books is beside regular books. I just hope that the future sees the benefits of the convenience of an e-book, yet has that awe and reverence for the magical printed book.

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