Matt essentially makes the following points in his article:
- There is no troubleshooting for paper books.
- When people know what you’re reading they’re more likely to engage you.
- Far fewer distractions while reading a real book as compared to an ebook.
- The tactile experience is unmatched.
- Sharing is much easier.
- You own what you buy.
In many ways I completely agree with Matt. On the surface many of his points make sense, however once you dig deeper it becomes apparent that eBooks will still win. For all their flaws, they still have some advantages over books that will become even stronger as we continue to move away from paper and move more and more into digital media.
There is no Troubleshooting
Just look at all the things that can go wrong when you’re attempting to read or purchase an eBook. For starters you must have an internet connection. If you don’t you’re out of luck. Secondly your device has to have battery so that you can actually read the darn book you just bought.
Problems like this can be cumbersome, but there are advantages to ebooks as well. Have you ever been someplace where you can’t find a bookstore? Nowadays there are fewer and fewer stores. While it may be a hassle to get online, make sure your credit card is valid, search for your book, it is still potentially much more convenient than driving across town to go to the last remaining book store in your city.
As for the battery issue there’s a silver lining…. you can read in the dark. Most ereaders as well as tablets and smartphones have backlit or frontlit displays.
Matt’s right, there can be more troubleshooting involved with eBooks than paper books, but I don’t think those problems present a large enough issue to ditch ebooks entirely.
People will Engage You
I’ll admit, I don’t read in public often, but I have been known to ask people about the books they’re reading. It’s human nature. We want to be engaged and involved with those around us. That being said, I think we’re beginning to see the new equivalent of this in the online world. Sites such as ReadMill and Goodreads are replacing the in person engagement and potentially providing an even greater platform for sharing our experiences.
While the author Sherry Turkle makes a compelling argument in Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. that we are engaging each other less and less, I think ultimately we will understand how to use these technologies to bring us closer together in real life.
There are fewer distractions with a paper book
While a smartphone or tablet is likely to constantly ping you with the latest news, game request or text message the same can’t be said of dedicated ereaders. They lack nearly all of those functions.
As for tablets and smartphones my iPad can be placed into Airplane mode (why do we still call it that?) I also often forget to do this as well. However, since we’re talking about software here, there is a simple solution. When I open the Kindle app, Nook app or iBooks the iPad (or Android tablet) should be smart enough to disable all notifications. That would go a long way to providing distraction freed reading on those devices.
The Tactile Experience is Unmatched
He’s right about this one. Holding a book is definitely a more tactile experience than using an electronic device. That doesn’t mean it makes it “better”. If the goal is to read the book then shouldn’t everything else just get out of the way and let me read? I am willing to say this one comes down to personal preference.
Sharing is Easier and Encouraged
This one is simply a function of publishers being scared of becoming the next music industry. They are scared to death that if they sell books without DRM then one person will buy a book and give copies to everyone else. I think they music industry is actually the model to look to here. We haven’t had DRM in iTunes, Amazon MP3 or Google Music for years. People are still buying music. Artists are still making money. There’s no reason to believe that books would be any different. In fact I think people that read are more likely to want to support the authors they love.
If DRM (digital rights management) was removed from books then most of this argument about sharing would go away. Sure, you might have some people that abuse the system, but on a whole I think we would all be better off for it.
We Don’t Own eBooks.
Finally Matt’s last point is that we don’t own the ebooks that we buy. While it’s true that Amazon can decide to remove a book from it’s servers I don’t foresee this being that big of an issue. If you’re really that scared about all of your books disappearing then the best thing for you to do would be to back up your purchased to an external hard drive (or even a flash drive). Books are extremely small, you could fit every book you’re ever going to read onto one 32GB flash drive that costs $20.
In the end the goal of the book is to share ideas and tell a story. The internet and the myriad of connected devices have been able to do more to spread ideas in the last 25 years than the printing press was able to do in its first 100. More people have the ability to present more ideas to a wider audience than at any point in human history. The spread of ideas will not be slowing down any time soon. This is one of the strongest reasons that ebooks will eventually win. It is simply easier to get an ebook into the hands of more people more quickly than with traditional publishing methods.
I’m not saying that ebooks will completely replace print books. I don’t think they ever will, but eventually they will make up the lion’s share of books sold. If history is any guide, I think we’ll benefit from this change.