Books vs Electronic Readers

With all the hoopla around Amazon’s new Kindle 2, I keep seeing more blogs extolling the virtues of electronic text readers, so here are a few reasons why I don’t think electronic reading devices will replace bound, paper books any time soon:

1. Technology is always subject to fail. How many old, dead computers have you been through prior to the one you’re using now? Are you going to back up your reading device? Do you back up your computer?

2. What happens if it’s stolen? Are they going to be able to shut it off, and ship you a replacement?

3. What happens when you lose it? People lose cell phones and laptops, cameras, you name it,  all the time. They’re going to lose their electronic readers if they take them out of the house. It’s not going to be like leaving your $8 paperback on the bus. You just lost your entire library.

4. And what about libraries? Until these devices become free and available to anyone, they are an elitist toy that the majority of people will not have. People still need access to information, via libraries. I don’t see libraries loaning out electronic readers in the near future.  It’s the same reason there are still pay phones, despite the popularity of cell phones.

5. Art/coffee table books. The electronic readers will never be able to duplicate these, at least not in their present hand-held design. Maybe someday they will if they become some sort of holographic projection tool with astonishing graphics, but that’s a long way off.

6. It’s electronic and that means banner ads. Eventually someone will figure out a way to place  ads on them, the way they put previews onto DVDs you buy, and you have to wade through them before you get to the feature you actually paid for.

7. It will get hacked. Just like you get spam text messages and ads on your cell phone, since they’re using the same networks the cell phone companies are using, it will get hacked, it’s just a matter of time. You don’t have that problem with a book.

I’m sure I’ll come up with other reasons and may amend this list as time goes on.

In my heart, though, my main objection to these things is they are the antithesis of what a book does for me. When I’m holding, reading, disappearing into a book, I am unplugged from the distractions that swirl all around us – tv, phone, computer, internet. It’s just me and my book. Quiet. Peaceful. Private. Am I elevating the book to a mystical status? Maybe, a little bit. Is there not something sacred about entering someone’s mind, vis-a-vis their writing?

‘Every novel is an equal collaboration between the writer and the reader and it is the only place in the world where two strangers can meet on terms of absolute intimacy.’

Paul Auster

21 thoughts on “Books vs Electronic Readers

  1. I love holding a book in my hands. An electronic reader will never have that warmth.

    I’m not a luddite (love my tv, and the internet, obviously!)- but I don’t want my whole life to center around computers.

    And what about the joy of browsing through rows and rows of dusty stacks in libraries? Or perusing bookshops?


  2. That’s something else I was thinking about. Walking into Borders, or Barnes and Noble or any bookstore with comfy chairs and sitting down and looking through books before you buy. I look up books on Amazon, but then I like to hit a local bookstore and see the thing for real before deciding to buy or not. Even with Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature it’s not the same.


  3. I love how books feel, how they smell, I love their covers. I love knowing approximately where in a favorite book I’ll find that familiar passage, and flipping through the pages to get there. I have books in my library I may never read again, but if I just look at the cover, I remember where I was when I read that book the first time. I can’t imagine getting any of that from an electronic reader. Or having to worry about batteries or electricity in order to be able to read. Would I dare to read a Kindle in the bath tub? No thank you. I’ll pass.


  4. My #1 reason: I can’t imagine snuggling into bed holding a kindle and falling asleep with it on my face…not ever going to happen! long live books!


  5. Now when I let my sci-fi imagination run wild, I can envision these things in 50 years more as a holographic device, projecting what appears to be a physical book that simulates flipping pages. Even with that, you won’t get the rest of the sensory impressions – the scent of the book, the feel of the paper pages. And being able to bookmark a favorite passage is crucial! And I want to be able to read when the power goes out. (I have a small army of candles. Is it possible to have too many candles?)

    I have a hard time parting with books, too. I have quite a number I know I should take to Powells and see what they’ll give me for them, but…


  6. As everyone else seems to think, books offer a tactile experience that can’t be electronically replicated–nor should it. I don’t have an Amazon Kindle, and I doubt I will ever buy one. I enjoy looking through my library in my office, and I spend too much time looking at a screen as is.


  7. I have mixed feelings about the Kindle. I’m all for anything that gets people to read – reading anything, in any format, is better than not reading at all – and sometimes my beloved paper books threaten to take over the house, so I can understand how people with w/storage issues might find ’em handy. Plus the very techie, 21st-century digitalness that we oldsters find so offputting may actually help encourage the i-pod/Twitter generation to read more. My biggest beef is, I worry that availability will be limited to the same crappy recent books one always sees in the big chain bookstores. I mean I could spend all day in Borders or B & N, but have you ever tried to find your favorite author’s second-to-last book, or her early, interesting effort that didn’t sell a billion copies, there? I don’t think Kindle will have ’em either, and while it’s likely to carry the light popular reading I do at the beach, I don’t want to bring an expensive electronic device to the shore any more than Uppington wants to take it into the bathtub. And I will admit, I hadn’t even thought about banner ads – gaaaaak!


  8. Apparently the offerings for the Kindle are somewhat limited, and it’s a proprietary format, so if you have a Sony reader, you can’t transfer books to a Kindle, and vice versa. I am also appalled at the price for e-books! There is no justification for paying upwards of $5 for an e-book. After the initial digitization of the book, there is no cost. I just saw that Stephen King’s latest “Ur” will be $2.99 for the e-book, which seems reasonable. I’ve seen ads for $20 and up for e-books. When you have to shell out almost $400 for a reader to begin with, this strikes me as exorbitant.


  9. And what about used book stores? One of my joys is to go to my favorite used book store and find some treasure of a book that’s out of print but I’ve been looking for for years.

    However, in light of that, I can tell you one situation where an e-reader would have been a godsend.

    When I was in college and had to lug around all those darn, heavy textbooks!

    Having had all my textbooks on an e-reader would have certainly done my back a lot of good 🙂


  10. Jenna,

    I never thought about how convenient it would be for all school books to be e-format. That’s an excellent idea! So long as my “reading for pleasure” books remain in paper-format I’d be quite happy to purchase an e-reader for my 12 yr. old. I’d love to get that heavy book bag off of his back!



  11. That is a good point, textbooks are heavier than anything we lug around for pleasure reading. Maybe someday the readers will come down in price like pocket calculators did. When those first came on the scene they were fabulously expensive, and these days you can get them for a song. I just wonder if having textbooks in e-format would make them any cheaper? I’m old enough to have gone to school (grade school, high school) back when the schools provided the books, no cost to students. Not so these days. But $400 for a reader would be a real burden for many parents, especially if they have more than one child in school.


  12. I agree. I just don’t see e-readers completely replacing actual books. And while I know there’s a lot of, “I can think of a book, order it, and ten seconds later I’m reading it,” defenses of e-readers, that’s just not how my book-buying works. I browse books, flip through them, get a stack of half a dozen, flip through them, consider, sit with them, and eventually choose two or three. I’m usually not certain I want to buy a book until I’ve spent a little time with it.

    Books aren’t like films where you watch a trailer and decide you want to see it and then do so. The artifact itself, as well as the content, helps me make up my mind. Do I like the smell and the feel and the font, the way it’s been laid out, the margins, and so on? Books are very, very human objects.


  13. Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for coming by and joining our little cadre of Defenders of the Book 😉 And really, how often would you order a book and need to start reading it in the next 10 seconds anyway? I tend to stockpile books, nothing stops me from buying more even if I won’t get to it for awhile!

    Congrats on your new book coming out!


  14. Hi Riene,

    As far as I know, they don’t yet, but I’m willing to bet it’s just a matter of time. It’s too good of an opportunity for advertisers (and Amazon) to pass up for very long.


  15. eBooks are slowly infiltrating the school systems, and I think it’s a good thing. The content is easily updated, and video, artwork, photographs, sound clips, etc, can be easily added to enhance the content. The problem lies in the cost and how to provide enough of them for each student to have one. What do you do when the student breaks, vandalizes, or loses the eBook? Having a family replace an $80.00 textbook is one thing, replacing an eBook-reader that may cost a couple hundred dollars is another thing. Schools also seem to be leery of the initial investment needed to convert over to eBooks, and of course the traditional publishers are not happy with it either.


  16. Hi Riene,

    From what I’ve read, they’re pretty useless as far as graphics go. Aren’t they all black and white for one thing? And the size will be very limiting. How do you look at maps for a geography or history class on a tiny screen like that?

    I can’t see schools really taking to these things until they come way down in price. Most families would be hard-pressed to afford more than one. The schools won’t be buying them, I’m sure. In my area, which is 50% (or more) Hispanic immigrants, buying 3 or 4 of these per family would be out of the question.


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