In Defense of E-Books: Why Loving Your Kindle Doesn’t Make you a Paperback Killer

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

When it comes to e-books and e-book readers, too many people tend to extremes. At one extreme, loyal e-readers have abandoned all things paper for digital texts and sniff at the idea of purchasing a leather-bound classic for a few bucks (e-versions of classics are usually free). At the other end of the spectrum, members of the non-digital-reading-public often consider themselves traditionalists and eschew reading on a screen of any type, wrestling with unwieldy newspapers and stressing their wrists holding open massive tomes by Tolstoy and Joyce.

As a compulsive reader, myself, I will read pretty much anything, in whatever form or format I can get my hands on and see certain advantages and disadvantages to both of the afore-mentioned reading alternatives. So here’s a brief explanation of why you shouldn’t feel guilty if you routinely e-read, and why print books still warrant a time and place in all readers’ lives.

Electric experiences with the written word: e-books and e-book readers

There’s no arguing it, e-books are ideal for readers on the go. Instead of weighing down your handbag, backpack or carry-on luggage with paperbacks newspapers, and magazines, you now have the option of carrying an electronic device that crams thousands upon thousands of words into a package smaller than many paperbacks—not to mention lighter weight—trust me, your no-longer-aching reader’s back will thank you.

An added bonus is how easy it is to devour books on an e-reader. Unlike computer screens, most e-readers are designed to be easy on the eyes, and unlike your average newspaper, e-readers allow you to change the text to a size that you can decipher without reading glasses or a magnifying glass.

Besides, you know how with a standard paperback it’s difficult to turn the pages without losing your place or even just hold the book open except in the very middle of the book? This is a non-issue with an e-reader. Two of my favorite things about my kindle are not getting hand-cramps from holding the book open, and always opening the book to where I last left-off, no dog-earing or fancy facial-tissue bookmarks required.

Are you reading for work or for school or just so scholarly that you analyze everything you read, anyway? Taking notes with most e-readers is a snap. With a kindle, you electronically highlight the text you’re interested in, key in your notes and then access it online at Amazon.com, or Findings.com.

A con that might not be a con for other readers that don’t have serious self-control problems when it comes to books is how easy it is to buy the next book in a series, and how impossible it is to run out of things to read on an e-reader. Because when I’m dying to know what happens next, and I can get another book with a click of my finger, my finger gets a little trigger-happy, and then I’ve spent money and time I planned to use otherwise.

Another negative aspect of e-books is how many e-readers make it difficult or impossible to lend friends titles. For example, on Amazon, some of Janet Evanovich’s books can’t be loaned, and those that can be, can only be loaned once, for a set number of days. Which is a bummer when you want to share a book with a friend so that they can try out a new author at no risk before investing in a new book.

And while classic titles are usually free and there are sometimes really affordable sales on new titles, on an e-reader, there is no such thing as a second-hand book. Also, free titles (especially classics) are often poorly formatted for e-readers, and replace the maps and illustrations that enrich print versions with pages of unintelligible gibberish (failed html code, perhaps?).

Yet another inconvenience is that the device is electronic. So if you’re camping, scaling Everest, or have limited access to electricity for whatever reason, your kindle, nook, or whatever will eventually die, and you’ll be without reading material. And if you get it too hot, too cold, drop it from great heights or soak it in river water, you’ll be out the purchase price of an e-reader, which is typically much higher than that of a mass market paperback. Since e-readers are by definition electronic, that also means that during take-off and landing on an airplane when all electronic devices must be switched off, you can’t read (unless of course, you’ve brought back-up reading material).

Finally, basic black-and-white e-readers aren’t ideal for illustrated or photo books. But then there’s always the option of color e-readers like the Kindle Fire, and tablet computers like the iPad that do double duty as e-readers.

On Paperbacks, hardbacks, and printed media, oh my!

While they may not be glamorous, or fashionable, and rarely come with extra bells and whistles, there is something to be said for the simplicity and portability of traditional print media. Most of us can read a trashy paperback by the pool, get it wet, break the spine, or even leave it behind without any real economic remorse. Since the book was an affordable initial investment of $8ish, and you don’t have to keep it to read other books, it’s almost disposable. Also, if you’re traveling in places where petty theft is rampant, pickpockets and other ne’er-do-wells will likely leave your weathered copy of Nora Roberts’ “The Last Boyfriend” alone. An iPad, is another matter entirely.

Losing a paperback may be upsetting (especially if you haven’t finished it yet), but it’s not the same as losing an e-reader that will cost you $100 plus to replace, and had all of the other books you’re currently reading in it, too. So while paperbacks and print magazines are heavier, and less convenient, for some types of travel (safari, camping, hanging out on a busy public beach) they are ideal.

For some types of stories, print trumps digital every time. Good examples are the photo books that people keep on coffee tables. Yes, photo resolution on many tablets and monitors is as good or better than print, but looking at the large scale photographs in a book form that covers your entire lap is somehow more satisfying, don’t you agree? Ditto on art books, picture books, and illustrated editions of novels and literary classics. When it comes to recipe books, and DIY books, I could use my kindle, but I just want a physical book with big (huge) pictures to refer to that I can gum up with my sticky fingers without stressing overly much.

Besides, printed books never have to be charged or plugged in, or turned off on the plane.

At garage sales and thrift shops, I can usually pick up a recent paperback for pocket change and a beautiful leather-bound edition for $5 whereas on Amazon, e-versions of recent releases cost fractionally less than print editions.

Of course the disadvantages of printed books and texts abound as well. Paper is fragile, it rips and tears, and much like an e-reader, is not waterproof.  Paper bound into books is heavy, and will weigh your bags (and you) down. Beautiful leather-bound volumes sometimes have tiny, faded text that causes migraine headaches and premature crow’s feet (from squinting).

But books are books, no matter the medium

At any rate, both mediums offer certain pluses and pitfalls; the key is to use them to your advantage. E-readers are my preference for long trips and city breaks. If I’m camping, or hanging out by a pool, or lake, I prefer a less-expensive paperback or magazine. In my home, I like to use books as art and occasional furniture (a stack of books easily becomes a table). Beautiful old editions, children’s stories, and photo books are a great thing to drag out and bore dinner guests with.

What about you? Do you read exclusively on paper or on screen? Or do you mix it up? When do you prefer which medium, and why?

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Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

Photo: Some rights reserved by goXunuReviews.

11 thoughts on “In Defense of E-Books: Why Loving Your Kindle Doesn’t Make you a Paperback Killer

  1. All good points that you have brought out. The conveniences of an eBook are many, but I wonder if people actually take in account the cost of replacing a lost or damaged device, or the problems with lending a downloaded book.

    I guess both kinds will exist because they serve different needs.
    Anjali

    1. You’re right Anjali, lending with the devices is a headache, and losing the device is a bit of a pain, although you can easily reaccess your book collection online if you’re using Amazon’s Kindle and cloud server. Thanks for reading, and thanks for your comment!

  2. Read.Learn.Write says:

    I read an article not too long ago that raised the question, what happens to your digital stuff when you die? A book you can pass on to an heir, but Amazon has made it fairly clear that you have no right to transfer your digital purchases. I think we are still in the infancy of the digital era in some ways.

    1. Interesting enough, although Amazon would have a hard time preventing you from leaving the device, complete with your password and account details to access your collection with someone… But I agree, it’s early yet, this beast is still a babe in arms.

  3. I don’t own any kind of e-reading device, although I do read a lot of things on the internet (mostly just blogs like this and literary magazines though). I think one of the biggest problems for me and for a lot of other people is how expensive it is (sometimes downloads are actually MORE pricey than the actual books themselves). Why even bother if I can just go to the library or eventually pick up a cheap used copy somewhere? A lot of people also have issues with paying a lot for something that only exists nebulously out in the ether (which is one of the reasons why brand new video games haven’t gone completely digital as well, unless they’re relatively cheap to begin with).

    1. Good points, Joseph, some e-books are more expensive than print versions or almost the same price. Although there are a lot of free books on Amazon, and many libraries offer e-books for check-out….still, to me the e-book is about convenience, it doesn’t hold the emotional charge of a much loved copy of a favorite book.

  4. Chris, you said it. Books are books, not matter the medium. And that is that.

    1. I agree, Laura. Books are books, and I love most of them.

  5. Great post. I, for one, am such a voracious reader that traditional books and electronic ones can happily coexist at our house. I’m mirthfully reminded of when I told my Aunt Liz, a former English teacher, that I had a Kindle. Although this is a woman who reads squillions of online newspapers every morning while she has her tea and toast, she just couldn’t conceptualize something as small and lightweight as the device I was describing. Several times, in fact, she asked if it was awfully uncomfortable having a big computer in my lap if I wanted to read in bed. Even after I sent her a picture of it propped up against a coffee cup so she could appreciate the size, she was not convinced this was a smart way to go. Not only does she believe I am personally responsible for bookstores closing and all of those nice young clerks losing their jobs because I’m ordering new titles without leaving the house, she also asserts that ebooks aren’t real. Every time I tell her now that I’ve just finished a new novel, she snarkily inquires, “What it a real one this time, dear, or one of those fake thingy’s?”

  6. I like the feel of a solid book, but I don’t like its weight when I’ve embarked on a reading marathon that lasts into the wee hours. The e-reader was great while riding in the car (that is, as a passenger, not a driver), but when I’m cozied up in my favorite armchair, I like to turn pages. Also, I love the racks of books in my library. There aren’t a lot, but they’re the ones I definitely want to keep. And when the power goes out and the e-reader battery doesn’t work (because I’ve lost the power cord that recharges it), I can light a candle and choose one of my favorites to curl up with.

    1. Reading with a real book and a candle in a comfy chair sure sounds cozy! I love both my “real” books and my e-books too, Lizbeth

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