Sunday, March 13, 2011

Five arguments against the total inevitability of e-books

Surprisingly, many writers I know are starting to embrace e-book technology. They cite their portability—parents can load up a bunch of kids’ books for long car trips (which might mean more book sales); their paper-bag potential (no one will know you’re reading a romance novel on the subway); and their prospects for generous royalties (anywhere from 25 percent to nearly 100 percent, for self-publishers).

Perhaps the most persuasive argument is that they save trees.

As I’ve said in a past post, I’ll probably be the last person in the United States to buy an e-reader* because they're expensive and I lose things.  But there are still broader, compelling reasons to continue publishing things on paper, including:

1. Longevity. I've had some of the books on my shelves for more than 30 years. If they were in bygone electronic formats (like 8-track tapes or 5-inch floppy disks) they would be useless now. This year's e-book probably won't be readable a decade from now. Good books meant to last still need to be on paper, even if also available electronically.

2. Tactility. Babies need board books they can grab and chew on, and which can offer smooth, rough and fuzzy elements.

3. Sturdiness. Small children need books they can fling and sit on without parents screaming at them. At the same time, the perfect vacation book is not something worth $100+, which must be vigilantly guarded against theft, sunscreen and drops of water. (I've never figured out how the sunbathers in the recent Kindle commercial are going to swim since they can't leave it on their towels).

4. Accessibility. More and more e-editions will mean fewer book titles for the poor. Even if libraries begin to lend e-readers, their cost will limit how many customers can be serviced at any given time. Many families won't be able to buy multiple e-readers, meaning that if newspapers go entirely electronic, sharing the Sunday paper will be a thing of the past—everyone will have to wait their turn.

5. Locality/serendipity. I'm a trained librarian, but I still find many books in my house by the color of their spines, their placement on the shelves. An html search has its value (for finding recipes online, etc.), but it's not the same as browsing a physical space. Many is the time I've stumbled upon an interesting book simply because of where it was in the library—on an adjacent shelf or left on a table. And I would miss bookstores. People who love books need a place where they can go and see one another occasionally. The virtual bookstore is a silent and lonely place.
* My resolve is not entirely firm since I have the Kindle App on my iPod now (pictured above)—but it gives me a headache if I read on it for more than ten minutes at a time.

1 comment:

Nancy Strickland Hawkins said...

Another argument - you can't browse for used e-books. I love going into used book stores and finding the strangest things - some out of print.