Is there a prejudice against ebooks?

11th June 2013

kindle and hardback

Recent years have seen a sharp rise in the number of titles available as ebooks. Many of these titles are new releases that are simultaneously published in print as they are released as ebooks. Or they are books which were previously only available in print and have now been made available as ebooks to cash in on the rise in the popularity of the format.

Despite the rise in popularity of ebooks, of which the increased possession of readers, smartphones and tablet devices among consumers is perhaps some cause, there is still some stigma attached to electronic publishing. It is safe to say that ebooks are now out of obscurity and into the mainstream. However, many readers still refuse to ever read them or see them as a worthy method of publishing the written word.

I personally read both electronic and printed books, but believe the rise of ebooks is a great thing in the long run. I believe this for the following reasons:

Less deforestation: One major benefit to ebooks is that there is no need for paper to produce them. Just think for a moment how many trees need to be chopped down every year just to keep up with the printing demand for books. Imagine now if ebooks made up the majority of published books, and how it would benefit the earth.

Convenience: Many eReaders can hold thousands of ebooks on their internal memory at any one time. Likewise, an eReader can fit comfortably in your bag or even in your pocket (depending on how big it is).

Accessibility: Virtually all eReaders and ebook formats feature the capability of changing text size and layout to make them easier to read. This is particularly useful for readers who may have difficulty reading small or regular sized text.

Cost of production: The cost of producing an ebook is substantially less for publishers than producing a printed book. For this reason it is particularly useful for authors who wish to self publish.

Greater opportunities for first time writers: Until now it has been very difficult for first time writers to become published and those who have wished to try self-publishing would have had to have ALOT of money to see it through. With ebooks self publishing is now so much easier, especially through such channels as Kindle Direct Publishing.

Take up less space: See “Convenience”

Unlikely to be lost by backing it up: If you lose a printed book there is no way of you getting it back unless you buy another copy. Ebooks may be backed up onto a CD/DVD disc, flash drive, or external hard drive etc. So if you lose your eReader or your computer experiences a hard drive failure you can still keep your ebooks that they held.

Classic texts: Texts written by authors who died at least seventy years ago are now in the public domain. This generally means that anybody is able to use them in any way they wish. Although publishers still print copies of classic texts for sale in bookstores they are also legally available for free as ebooks on Amazon, and through sites such as Project Gutenberg.

Despite my reasons for being in favour of ebooks, I do understand a few of the reasons why some are reluctant to support their greater use. However, without meaning to offend and with all due respect to those who may hold a different opinion to myself on ebooks, I believe many of the reasons given do not hold much weight and may show a lack of understanding of the medium and how it has changed in recent years to be a viable alternative to printing. Some arguments that are given against ebooks include:

They don’t feel/smell/look the same: True, they do not. But the feel, look or smell should not be a factor when enjoying great writing. The content is surely more important than how it is delivered.

They allow anybody to get published easily, regardless of their skill as a writer: This is somewhat true. However, everybody knows that there are many printed books which are horrendous in terms of their quality of writing and many of which were not self-published. A book being published by a mainstream publisher does not necessarily mean it is a great piece of work. It just means that the book has commercial appeal. Great writers can also find it difficult to be published, and ebooks may help increase their chances of having their work be given the attention is deserves.

They increase book piracy: This may be true. However, many ebooks are highly restricted. But piracy will happen no matter what. One way or another pirates will find a way to counteract any measures or limitations put in place to curb their activities. Besides, book piracy is not now and never has been exclusive to ebooks.

Looking at a screen for a prolonged space of time is bad for your eyes: If reading on a computer, yes. But most eReaders are designed to be as much like reading from paper as possible with virtually no backlighting. Proof of this is the difficulty of reading from many devices without the use of lighting.

You have to charge it up: Yes, but most eReaders have a very long battery life and only use energy when changing pages. Even then they use very little.

Cost: I do believe there is a good point made about cost in regards to ebooks. Often ebooks by mainstream publishers are the same price or only a small fraction cheaper than their printed counterparts in retail outlets. I do believe this is unnecessary given their ultra-low cost of production. Therefore, I do agree with this being a good argument against ebooks.

They cannot be bought in store: True. For consumers who prefer to purchase items in person and from a store so they can see what they buy before they buy it, printed books are naturally much more preferable than ebooks. However eReaders CAN be bought in stores.

The best titles are not available as ebooks: Simply untrue. Several years ago this would have been true. You would now be very hard pressed to find a new release of a book that is only available in printed form. Likewise, many older titles are now available as ebooks.

Big publishers are uninterested in ebooks: This is simply untrue. Ten years ago anybody claiming this may have been correct. Now most large publishers will produce electronic versions of their printed titles.

Ebooks cannot be bought used: This is obviously true and I do have some sympathy for this being cited as a reason for preferring printed books. There is certainly a great feeling in finding an old gem in a used book store.

You cannot borrow ebooks: Untrue. Amazon offers a Kindle book-lending service and many libraries do have a service to facilitate for borrowing ebooks. However one drawback is that ebooks often cannot be borrowed from/to individuals.

Lifespan: Many opposed to ebooks point out that particular file types of ebooks may have limited support in future while a printed book can be read five, ten, twenty or more so years from now. This is a good point. However it is also likely that eReaders may continue to be able to read older file types.

You need to make sure your ebook is compatible with your reader: This is somewhat true. Amazon uses the MOBI (.mobi) format on the Kindle. Other eReaders may use other device-specific formats. However the standard format that works across most other devices is the EPUB format (.epub).

I believe that resistance to the rising popularity of ebooks is akin to the resistance against the arrival of printing of books that replaced books being hand copied. The difference being that there are some more understandable objections to the rise of ebooks. At the time that Gutenberg invented the printing press there were criticisms that printing was not a good thing and was less aesthetically pleasing (understandably, considering the beauty of the decoration of medieval manuscripts). Though perhaps if it were not for the printing press, literacy may still be with only an elite few in our society. In the long run, ebooks too may prove to be a great step for the future of literature and literacy around the world.

I am not in support of a complete halt to printing books as printed books do have some clear benefits over ebooks. Although I do hope to see more people give greater consideration to ebooks as a viable means of publishing and as a reading medium so that printed books and ebooks can coexist with less stigma towards the latter. However, I do also believe there are some books which do not yet owe themselves to an ebook format. In my opinion, such examples of this are photography and art books, and comic books. I read many comic books and graphic novels, and although I have read them in electronic format I do very much prefer to read a comic book or graphic novel as a printed book as they are a predominantly visual medium and it does detract something from your experience of reading them and taking in the story when they are not printed. However when reading novels as a printed or electronic book I do not understand how it would make a difference to my experience either way. After all, should not the quality of a novel be judged by its content as opposed to how it is read?

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