Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Paper or Plastic?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

I admit it—I’m one of them.

I’m talking about e-book enthusiasts, and I’m a card-carrying, flag-waving, dyed-in-the-wool member of the club. I make no apologies for it, either. I love, love, love the Kindle. Not just because I like to read on it—I also make a living from it. Personally, I think they should name a country after Amazon, or at the very least, give them an island.

But I’m a gadget sort of guy (read: tech-nerd), always have been. It’s not that I feel the need to one-up everyone else. I’m not that guy. My reasons are pure and simple: I’m all about anything that makes life easier, and for someone who loves to read—at least from my perspective—it just makes sense. No more lugging cumbersome books around, no more tiny print, and best of all, no more having to drive to the store or wait days for books to arrive. Seems like a win-win sort of thing.

However, not everyone feels that way.

While the number of e-book readers continues to grow each year, there are still many who resist the Great E-book and want nothing to do with it. Now don’t get me wrong—that’s in no way a criticism. A book is a book, and as far as I’m concerned, in any shape or form it will always be a wonderful thing. In fact, I still print paper versions of my novels, and quite honestly, love them. I think there will always be room for both in this world. But what I still don’t get is why some people disagree, why they prefer to cling to only one form. Many say they it’s simply because they love the feel of paper, the smell, love to hold it in their hands. But I have to wonder if maybe it’s something else.

New scares people—it even scares me sometimes—while old provides a sense of comfort. I get that. But there always has been and always will be resistance to the new—that is, until it becomes old. Know what I mean?

Case in point: years back I recall this funny new concept called the Internet. Lots of people thumbed their noses at it, said it would never fly. And look where we all are right now.

I see the same thing happening with e-books. For the first few years people talked about how ridiculous it was, how they just couldn’t see it catching on, how attached they were to their paper books. Well, we know how that turned out. Although Amazon keeps a tight lip on just how many Kindles they’ve sold, others have not. One prediction is that revenues will reach $8 billion by 2012. Yes, that’s billion.

So readers and writers, maybe you can help me understand better: Paper or plastic? And why?


  1. I love my Kindle.

    After staring at a computer monitor all day, it's refreshing to be able to increase the font size if I want to - something I can't do with a paper book. Frankly, I've discarded two books in the past year because of type that was so small it made me feel like an octogenarian. I'm not one, so I resented it.

    I don't understand people who say they love the feel of a paper book. What does it matter HOW you read, as long as you read? And that's another thing I love about the Kindle. I think it might make literacy cool.

  2. I still read both but only because people send me print books, I win them, or pick them up at conferences. I only buy e-books, and I love my Kindle. This discussion will be moot in a few years.

  3. Both. I hate the idea that there can't be choices. I have the NOOKcolor and use it constantly. I also use my library, the Mystery Guild, and for some authors, bookstores or Amazon.

    My first published works were with e-publishers, so I got on the e-bandwagon early. I still have my first reader, an eBookwise. Back then, people would say, "Oh, well tell me when it's available as a REAL book."

    Now, I'm just as likely to hear, "Oh, you write? Are your books on the Kindle/Nook, etc.?"

    (Pet peeve -- that people are starting to make Kindle the generic term for e-books, like Kleenex for tissues.

    But, playing to both camps can't hurt, and I decided to take my newest release, which was my first non-backlist title, and go the Create Space route as well as digital. My mom's definitely a paper-and-ink woman. I suspect she'll be my only sale in print, but ...

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  4. Depends on what's available. If I have a choice, I prefer reading on my Kindle (never leave home without it), but I won't pass up a book just because it's in paper form.
    As a writer, my dream was always to see a set of books on the mantle with my name on them. And though now I'll probably go with e-publishing, I'd still love to see at least one paperback in my name. :)

  5. Library in a handbag!

    I move a lot which always involved lugging boxes of books from one home to the next. Now, my kindle is my library. It helps me to travel lightly through life and to step lightly on the earth (it saves trees and has a lower carbon footprint without the need for physical distribution). Also, I love being able to pack my entire library in my little handbag. For me, that's far more comforting than a paperback.

  6. Very good point, Jodie, and something I forgot to mention--it's green and in the end is saving many trees. That's a great thing. They don't call them DTBs (dead tree books) for nothing.

    Christine-you'll more than likely get your books on the mantle. Paper books will never die--just more than likely lessen in proportion.

    Terry--I don't know if I hear many people use Kindle interchangeably with e-readers. I know I don't. But maybe I just don't notice. Then again, it seems like the majority of people do have Kindles anyway.

    L.J. I think you're absolutely right--in a few years this discussion will be moot. The next best thing will inevitably come along, and in a blog post you or I will be saying. "They said the same thing about e-books."

    Karen--great point. It does seem lots of people who previously didn't read as much are doing it more, now that they have Kindles. Great for the literacy movement. Great for authors, too :)

  7. I like the Kindle and that I can get an e-book much faster and often for a lot less money than a print book, but I'm not sure I agree that the preference for print books is simply provoked by resistance to change or to the new. I think, instead, it might be that print books give people a feeling of permanancy and "realness" that e-books don't. There's a sense with the Internet and computer-stored data that it could all be wiped out very easily, I think. From imaginings of a grand hacking scheme to some end-of-the-world type scenario where we are left with no electricity - one can imagine it just gone or, at least, completely inaccessible. With a print book, once it exists, there is much more confidence that it's forever.

    But there is also a sense, maybe more so for people who are not of a technological or mathematical lean, that computer "writing" is just a bunch of numbers programmed to have the end result of reading as words. Whereas, with a print book, the words are "real," right there in front of you, a material, tangible thing.

    This need for permanancy and "realness" has been part of the human psyche for a long time, from the first cave painters to the "Kilroy was here" writer leaving the proof of his existence on a wall. To write an idea down in a very material way is to make it real to material beings. Undoubtedly the reason the printing press was considered such an incredible invention, as it could take changeable passed down by word-of-mouth folklore and handwritten manuscripts and give them that "eternal" seal of reality.

    Again, this is not to say there aren't great benefits with computer technology or the e-book, but I don't think e-books should ever replace print books, any more than I would want digital art to do away with artwork made with oil, acrylic, pastels and other "real" world materials.

    Thanks for the great article and question! I'm sure the debate will continue. :-D

  8. I prefer fiction on my Kindle, and non-fiction in paper form.

    I have never, ever marked up a novel. I won't even bend down a page as a place-mark and the commercial showing the ditzy blonde doing that makes me nuts. If I fall in love with a word or a phrase, I write it down somewhere.

    My non-fiction books, predominantly writing related, are highlighted and written in, with sticky-flags poking out all over them. One of these days, e-readers will let me do that easily. But until they do, I need to feed the tactile side of me with DTBs.

  9. I seldom purchase paper books anymore, although I still receive a lot of them for review purposes. I really like having an iPad, because I'm able to read e-books in many formats.
    Perhaps someday, all the ARCs I receive will be in e-form.

  10. So, I feel a bit left out here and maybe not the best judge on the subject because I don’t own a Kindle or other ereader. I do have Kindle for PC, Nook for PC, and Adobe Digital Editions, etc. on my laptop … but I could never imagine dragging that to bed to read until I doze off like I do my paperbacks. I can’t really see me plopping it in my bag as I run out the door so I’ll have something to read as I wait at an appointment or to pick up my kids either. Now, would I feel differently if I had an actual ereader device? I don’t know.

    What I do know is that while the books CAN be extremely reasonable, the device itself is still quite costly by comparison (well, a costly upfront outlay of cash for a mother of 4 school-aged children, anyway). I just checked and they sell for $139.00 - $189.00 on Amazon. The covers are, on average $39.99 - $59.99 and you have to make sure you get the one that goes with your generation of the device. Does that mean if I do make the investment to get one, the next generation is going to be born as I’m taking mine out of the box? And, if that is the case, do I need to worry that mine will become unusable?

    Regardless, I am quite sure I will own one, and hopefully in the near future. But, I feel pretty sure it will not replace my paperbacks. I think there is and always will be a desire for both because individuals are as different as the books we read … and the way we read them these days.

  11. Have to agree with Linda. There are so many things we need, an e reader is not anywhere closet to the top 50! However, the main reason I like real books is well, I love being surrounded by friends! If all my friends were in an e format, I couldn't gaze at them, touch them, hold them, loan them to two legged friends who forget to return them, track them down again, leave them on the floor where they can get stepped on, and press leaves and flowers in them. (yes, I use my friends as a plant press when I need to!) I just love books and will probably end up with an e reader someday. But, for now, am off to the library to check out some more dead trees!

  12. and I read that over and realised I used 'real books' to describe books with pages. Am sorry, e books ARE real books! I would have edited my comments, but am not very techhy in most spots!

  13. Drew, I returned home last night after a visit with my mother. She sent home with me a few of my articles from nearly a decade ago. After I read them a bit ago, I decided to post a short blog about my response in 2002 to an article by a local librarian regarding her put-down of ebooks.

    I posted an excerpt on FB, and then I saw your article here. Nice post. And I call that synchronicity. :-)

  14. I have a Kindle, but seem to use it only when I'm traveling. I have bookshelves and bookshelves of books, including a bunch I haven't read yet (but will) and I'm still buying paper books, probably for some of the reasons that Krisi and others have mentioned, and also because I like to visually browse through them and choose one. Habit, I guess. Like Peg, I would never write in a novel, but my nonfiction books (mainly on writing) are all marked up with flags sticking out. A comfort thing, too, I suppose. I do plan on continuing to buy e-books for my Kindle, for the convenience, to enjoy anywhere, and also to support my friends and author acquaintances, and to get books that are only available electronically.

  15. Jodie & Marlyn: I have walls filled with books, but I'm afraid all they are is decoration at this point. I just can't go back to them. Pretty to look at, but for reading? Not so much.

    Linda : Can't wait to read your post. On my way there right now ;)

    Linda B. and Kazul: Fear not. The prices will continue to drop. Competition can be a wonderful thing. Soon they'll be just like cell phones-- cheaper or free with service. Just you wait.

    Peg: I find the underlining/side note feature on Kindle serves me just fine for making notations.

    Krisi-The debate will indeed continue, that is, until something else comes along and renders the e-book a dinosaur.

  16. I will always love my paper books and will always buy them, but I love,love,love my Nook. It took me a while before I stopped feeling like I was cheating on my beloved paper books, but I did get over it. Most of the new books I buy are e-books, unless they are part of a series I already have in paper. And if I buy the e-book and absolutely love it, I'll buy it in paper, too. I don't think I'll ever be able to choose one or the other.

  17. I still read both although I'm buying more eBooks these days. I simply love the fact I can get access to eBooks instantly. Plus I dont have to worry about a physical storage space for any books I want to keep.

  18. We just moved, which means I had a chance to unpack all my books at the new house and arrange my new library. The Kindle was awesome on the move, because it was so light and small in my suitcase (just kidding, I’d never ever ban it to the suitcase; it was with me at all times). The problem was/is, I don’t want to buy e-book versions of series books. I want to continue buying the paper versions of the series I follow, so that they will be complete on my bookshelves. So I mostly buy single titles or new authors on the Kindle. I wish, though, I could read some of those series books on the Kindle, too (but I’m not quite up to buying both versions yet).


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