Reading books is one of the few well-guarded pastimes that does not require a WiFi connection or batteries…
Ah, wait. No, sorry. It isn’t…. Not anymore!
Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook are pushing the ebook as if there was no tomorrow. And maybe there isn’t, not for the paperback book as we know it, at least.
Novels, textbooks and dishwasher manuals are being read off smart-phone screens, the PDF is gleaming from every corner of the Internet. The ebook is marching into our homes, following us around in subways and work-spaces, lurching onto our tablets and e-readers from all directions.
And people like me keep releasing one after the other, just because…
Classic Musty Smell And Eau You Have Cats
For some people the big difference between an ebook and a “real” book (maybe we should call them unplugged-books?) is tangibility.
Touching and smelling the paper is an integral part of the reading experience and adds to the overall ambiance.
No matter how nice the iPad or the Kindle feels in your hands, touching paper is different.
The lack of scent is easily countered, by the way, with the help of products like Smell of Books™ which is a spray-on scent that comes in five different flavors from “new book smell” to “crunchy bacon”, the “low cholesterol alternative for your breakfast reading enjoyment.”
But, bacon aside…
For now, there’s no need in dressing the ebook up as a paper book or vice versa.
Both excel in different areas.
Dividing Along Genre Lines
Ebooks seem to be especially well suited for non-fiction material like textbooks, manuals and how-to instructions.
In short: It’s easy to reference, bookmark and retrieve information.
Instead of stuffing your tome about sub-molecular biology with hundreds of colorful stickers, desecrating it with earmarks or whatever, with the ebook it’s all neatly organized and conveniently mobile.
In primary school parents used to complain about the heavy weights of books ruining the children’s tender backs. By 2015, at least in Korea, children won’t need to carry any books, at all, anymore. It will all be digitized and mobilized.
Also ebooks are very good for linking to further materials directly from within the book so that if you’re studying a chapter about the Declension of Possessive Pronouns in The German Language or something with similarly high entertainment value you can do interactive exercises right on the spot without needing any paper or even a pen.
Only recently Amazon’s Kindle started offering rentals for textbooks in digital format, pushing into a market which is already buzzing with competition. Textbooks are expensive! Making them available as ebooks and renting them makes them as affordable as never before.
Speaking from my own experience as an ebook publisher, my two books “How To Teach Online Without Selling Your Soul” and “A Mindful Guide to Online Living” are the best-selling ones so far and they are both instructional by nature.
Speaking of which, I’m currently readying the next one for its inevitable publication, this volume being about the unbearable convenience of digital communication. But I’m digressing…
As a reader I have to confess, that the only ebooks which I bought myself are also non-fiction, while most of my reading away from the screen is fiction. Due to fortunate circumstances I recently got my hands on a brand new short-story collection in PDF by a promising author but I have to admit that I haven’t even opened the file.
Ceci n’est pas un livre: That’s no book but a remote control!
Johann Hari made a great point in the Huffington Post in June this year, saying that in the Internet Age what we need more than anything else is the book: A Real Book that is, which …
doesn’t beep or flash or link or let you watch a thousand videos all at once — does for you that nothing else will. It gives you the capacity for deep, linear concentration
And, as I wrote here, reading a book is still one of the best ways to spend your time which does not involve machines! It’s one of the few islands of intellectual or creative stimulation which does not involve pushing buttons, loading batteries or “sharing” every line you like with your 5,000 Facebook friends.
I am aware that most publishing houses these days are offering their books in electronic formats, as well. Also, most of the Top 100 in the Kindle store are fictional by nature.
So novel-length ebooks do seem to work for people.
But also there are very different kinds of reading. Many best-seller novels are mainly read for entertainment value which is very different (not better or worse) than analytical reading, explorative reading or even contemplative reading.
To test this I’ve recently converted an uncanny collection of poetry to Kindle & PDF which I had released as a paperback a few years ago. (more info)
So far, in terms of numbers it’s still lagging behind the sales of my more instructional texts but then again, contemplative poetry is not everyone’s cup of tea.
What do you think? Does it matter what kind of text you are reading?
Or do you prefer paper to ebook or vice versa by definition?
images: CC by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com