Choosing between a Printed and an Electronic Book

IMG_0404Last Saturday, The Wall Street Journal published an article with a title that caught my eye as being both strange and obvious: “Don’t Burn Your Books—Paper Is Here to Stay.”

It seems strange to me because I can’t, for the life of me, see why anyone would burn his/her books if paper were going away. In fact, if we woke up tomorrow morning and there were no more paper to be found anywhere, I would suspect that one of the last things people would do would be to burn their books.

What would be the purpose of that Fahrenheit 451 experience? If paper disappeared, would people say to themselves and their friends, “We can’t have any more new paper books, so let’s get rid of the ones we already own. No reason to keep these old relics around.” Instead, wouldn’t we treasure those paperback and hardbound books even more than we do already?

This headline also seems obvious to me because paper is here to stay, including paper books, which was the real subject of this article with the headline that made the reader guess what the story was going to cover.

The first sentence of the article stated without any sense of humor or satire: “Ever since Amazon introduced its popular Kindle e-reader five years ago, pundits have assumed that the future of book publishing is digital.” And the first paragraph concludes with: “By 2015, one media maven predicted a few years back, traditional books would be gone.”

Really? I wonder who these poorly informed pundits and this media maven are and why they made such a large leap from reality because aScreen Shot 2013-01-09 at 5.20.05 PM
company introduced another electronic device on which people could read books—as they could already on computers and smartphones.

I wonder if they ever looked at history to see how correct the “experts” of the day were when they pronounced, for example:

  • The end of radio when television was introduced. I bet most of us still listen to the radio a few times a week, especially when we’re in the car;
  • The end of vinyl when CDs came out. Those who cherish the pure sound of music on vinyl never switched to the new format and now are responsible for a growing number of albums becoming available in that format;
  • The end of CDs when digital downloads were introduced. Today downloaded music accounts for only about half of all music purchased in the United States;
  • The end of newspapers when it became cheaper and easier to publish the news online. A quick look at the driveways on any early morning reveals that the residents of almost every home in the neighborhood subscribe to anywhere from one to three newspapers a day.

The apparent reasons for this article is that after several years of increasing e-book sales, the growth has slowed considerably, and the sale of e-book readers has actually declined, while the number people reading their books electronically seems to have stalled: Only about 30 percent ofScreen Shot 2013-01-09 at 5.36.46 PM those who regularly read books read at least one e-book in 2012, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

Clearly what’s happening here is that the printed book is not going to be totally replaced by its electronic cousin anytime soon, if ever. Instead, these two ways for people to satisfy their desire to read will live side-by-side well into the future, as some people prefer to read their books on paper, and others choose to do so on an e-reader, tablet or other device.

Our household represents this split between paper and electronic readers. I fall into the first category; my wife into the second.

Of the many books I read in 2012, none was electronic. I have nothing against the e-book and, in fact, find the experience to be okay, neither really good nor bad. But somehow, when I think about getting a book to read, it always seems preferable to get a book printed on paper—whether it’s a new one, (heavens, no) a used one, or one from the library. The numerous books I read last year, including those by and about E.B. White, those about pioneer airmail pilots, and the books of essays by William H. Gass, all seemed to want to be read on paper.

On the other hand, Jane never considers reading a paper book. Every book—and there have been many of them—she’s read for the past two years have been electronic.

And now at the beginning of the new year, we are continuing to stick to our reading patterns. My first book this year, was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which was given to me by a friend as a Christmas present. (By the way, I doubt that she ever thought about giving me an electronic copy of this book.) I liked the book so much that I recommended it to Jane. But she had no desire to read it on paper. Instead, she spent $9.99 to buy an electronic version that she can read on her newest e-reader and her iPad.

The two of us—like many others—will long support both the printed and the electronic book.

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