Posted by: Mish | January 31, 2009

Paper vs Digital Books

I can see how the literary world going digital can be good, but I like paper books. I read a few things online, like future publishings, but it makes me appreciate and love books all the more. I love the feel and smell of books, flipping the pages, occasionally jotting notes, and sharing them with friends. I never got into audio books because I enjoy visually reading and listening to music. I’m an old fashioned bookworm.

During my last plane trip, there was a passenger with a Kindle from Amazon who was raving to another about it. I can definitely see how digital readers, which hold over 200 titles, are handy if one travels a lot. Personally, I don’t travel enough by plane to justify spending $300-$400 on a Kindle or a Sony Reader Digital Book. E-readers can also be good if one is doesn’t want books taking up space, but I love my personal library. Friends and I constantly swap books and digital readers make that difficult.

A question that came to mind is how earth friendly digital readers are. How much of the hardware is recyclable? Like TVs and computer monitors, do they have chromium and other toxic chemicals inside? E-readers may save on paper, but what about when they end up in landfills? At least books are biodegradable and recyclable, and in a worse case scenario they can provide fuel and heat if one loses power. The last only came to mind because a few states are without electricity due to a severe ice storm. I’m glad a friend of mine didn’t have to resort to burning books.

With the digital age, the literary world is now facing the same challenges as the music world with the creation of MP3s. Like with music, people can now download books onto their computers or digital readers instead of buying a “hard copy”. This creates the same issue of free downloading or free access sites.

Publishers companies are having to rethink how they do business, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even if one is lucky enough to get published, the contract can be a migraine. For example, due to a publisher’s ownership of an author’s name (unless it’s one born into and legal), an author may find themselves writing under two or three pseudonyms. This may also occur if an author’s writing changes genres or the marketing department decides it’s time for a new face. After inquiring about the reason for different pen names, an author who provided me with the above information also said:

“There are the arcane formulas market applies to sales numbers and decides which one of me can and cannot write a book. Actually I had very low sales numbers on a couple of books and marketing demanded I reinvent myself. Again. And Again.”

My thought is that being forced to write under multiple names can make it difficult for readers to find other books by authors they like, which does not help sales. With self-publishing websites writers can skip that headache and haggling with publishing companies. It also keeps them from being denied repeatedly. Rachel Green used Lulu to sell her poetry and stories and now An Ungodly Child, a humorous and witty read, is available through Amazon. Self-publishing can be a good stepping stone to getting works printed by a publishing house.

Publishers should stop over printing because they pay for shipping between stores, even when unsold books are returned. This does nothing to help their profit or saving on materials, and thus trees. I also don’t understand the reasoning behind releasing books in hardcover before releasing them in paperback. I know part of it is “if a book does well then we’ll reprint”, but seriously they should go right to paperback. I will wait the usual year for a book to come out in paperback because I don’t like the extra cost, space, and weight of hardcover.

I think it’s good that the literary world’s powers are shifting more to individuals and that publishing companies have to reconsider how they do business. Vinyl may have been replaced by digital media and seen as out of date, but there’s still plenty of it around and it’s making a come back. I still enjoy listening to records and years from now I’ll still enjoy reading from a paper-made book that I can hold. Some things will never disappear.

This week’s questions from Booking Through Thursday provided some interesting brain fodder, starting with the article “Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature” from Time Magazine. Curious about others’ thoughts about the pros and cons of digital evolution in the literary world, I ask the same questions as BTT:

Do you have an ebook reader? Do you read ebooks on your computer? Do you hate the very thought? How do you feel about the fact that book publishing is changing and facing much the same existential dilemma as the music industry upon the creation of MP3s?



  1. I don’t actually like reading on-screen, though to be fair I haven’t tried an e-reader yet; perhaps they are easier on the eyes.

  2. I heard they’re easy on the eyes and they have brightness control.

    Cheers and happy Imbolc!

  3. I use Mobipocket on my Nokia E50 phone as an ebook reader. It’s a very convenient way of always having a couple of books handy to read if I am on the bus or have a free lunch hour at work. It’s easy to convert files from Project Gutenberg, and Mobipocket also sell a good range of ebooks too.

  4. Hmm…I think I’ll try a few free books on my Palm. Thanks.

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