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E-books and the Middle Ground

24 September, 2010

In certain corners of the internet – okay, make that most of the internet – whenever the subject of a new Apple computing product comes up, comments always descend into the ‘Mac vs. PC’ discussion. It seems to me that a similar thing is starting to happen whenever e-books are discussed. The opinions of the commenters who appear fall into two, usually distinct, categories, as follows:

  1. E-books and e-readers are a great idea, allowing you to carry around hundreds of books, download new titles on the go, read with one hand whilst standing on a crowded train etc. etc. I love them so much that I’ll probably never buy a paper book again.
  2. Paper books have a feel that can never be replicated by e-books. They’re cheap, free of DRM, easy to share with friends and family and I like the look of them on my shelves. I love paper books and will continue to buy them. (Incidentally, these commenters tend to categorically hate e-books, whilst the first group don’t always hate paper books.)

I find myself reading these discussions in bemusement. Both sides make some good points and some that seem a bit worthless (how many readers really, genuinely need to carry hundreds of books around at once?). What I can’t understand, though, is why so few people are treading the middle ground. A few are, but not many. Where has this assumption come from that, when it comes to paper books and e-books we can only have one or the other?

In my own experience, I’ve found that both have their place. I use my e-reader for free classics (of which I’m, admittedly, not very well versed – yet) and for the occasional cheap bestseller. I also chose to only buy an e-reader when I’d collected enough e-books to justify the cost: to buy all the e-books I had on my hard drive (all obtained both for free and legally) would have cost more than the price of my basic Sony reader.

In other circumstances though, I tend to buy paper books. New releases by my favourite authors are usually bought in hardback, with paperback for the older books and second-hand books that I buy so many of. I do genuinely enjoy having shelves full of the fantasy/SF I’ve read (and might well re-read), but I don’t really feel the need to display paper copies of the classics (which I rarely re-read) when I could have got them for free electronically.

Now, there likely will come a time when books, like music, will go mainly electronic, with the paper copies reserved for collectors and the author’s biggest fans. However, I think worrying about which format you’re going to exclusively use is a bit premature at the moment and probably won’t be a necessary decision for many years to come. Instead, why not choose the middle ground and take advantage of both? It’s what and how much you’re reading that really matters, not what surface you read it off.

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2 Comments
  1. 27 September, 2010 2:39 pm

    I use both, and as I don’t have an e-reader, I usually download either the PDF or the TXT version of e-books… and I do use them to read the classics for free (lots of catching up to do, just like you!)! šŸ˜‰
    I found it very useful when researching for my historical novel, a lot of old documents and ancient chronicles are now available online for free download, so why not use them?
    I’ll stick to both for some time (besides PDFs can be printed out, just like paper books, so…)! šŸ™‚

    • 28 September, 2010 9:39 am

      That’s a great point about ancient documents, Barb. When I was studying for my degree, I found that there were a lot of online translations of Greek and Roman works and it was often a lot easier to search through them online than to find them in the library.
      I think e-readers at the moment are a bit of a niche product, but that will probably change over the next few years as they start to do more things. It’ll be interesting to see where the publishing industry as a whole goes next!

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