The ebook revolution: a debate

Using the logic that I’m the one writing this blog, and not the target audience, I think it’s healthy to occasionally allow readers to suggest topics they’d like to see covered. This is one of those posts, and today’s topic is on ebooks. Thanks to Twitter user, @Groovydaz39 for the suggestion.

A couple of weeks ago I was sat in my Friday afternoon lecture on cultural aspects of the environment when my lecturer asked who had completed the reading for that week. I had both necessary textbooks checked out of the library and sat in front of me at the time, being the desperately-wanting-a-First student that I am. A couple of other students claimed they were unable to read all the material due to it already being checked out. I slowly covered the books with my notes and avoided the evil glares being shot into the back of my head.

Besides the frustrating politics of lecture readings however, the incident raised an interesting issue. While some students had simply claimed the textbooks had been unavailable, another claimed to have been unable to complete it due to the texts not being present in an online format. To me, trying to find the books online hadn’t crossed my mind. They were listed as in the library, sat ready and waiting for my eager hands to snatch them before anyone else, on a physical shelf, in print. Why should I look for them elsewhere, or in another format?

What I find interesting here is why I only considered looking for paper versions, and why another student looked exclusively online for the same readings. Here are some pros and cons for both sides:

Paper books, the pros:

Once it’s printed, it’s printed. Copyright issues are already established and bound, and the book will always appear in full form, from the first page to the last.

They’re better to read: this isn’t opinion, but fact. Apparently human eyes have to work harder to recognise printed words, and this makes retaining and recalling information easier as our brains have spent longer understanding what we’re processing.

Paper is pretty: it’s a long-standing dream of mine to have my own library; a room with floor to ceiling bookshelves, complete with sliding ladders, a fireplace and comfy armchair, oh yes, and ahem, books. Showing off your complete collection of classical authors by switching on your PC just doesn’t have the same effect.

They’re transportable, and don’t become unreadable once your Kindle has used its battery life.

And the cons:

Sharing is difficult. I’ll accept this much. I’ve been on the other end of the luck spectrum when only a limited number of copies of a lecture’s readings are available in the library and someone beats you to the last copy.

They get worn: old battered copies of some books may seem to add to the charm when they were published in the 1800s and have been passed through many hands since, but a recently published copy of Stephen Fry’s autobiography with several rabbit teeth marks in just doesn’t give off the same quality.

Ebooks, the pros:

Okay, the obvious: storage. If you’re not big on bookcases taking over your house then they have an obvious advantage here, not to mention the problem of carrying numerous books with you on long journeys. One device to fit them all does sit well with commuters and travellers, so long as you’re able to charge said device.

Duplicate copies. As mentioned above, this combats the problem students have of scrambling over the last print version on the shelf. It also combats the problem of late fines at the library.

They save paper and ink. Fantastic if you’re keen on the green. But then plugging in an additional electronic device doesn’t exactly combat the environmental aspect.

And the cons:

Some could say ebooks are making reading less accessible, especially when it comes to children. Parents aren’t going to shed out over £100 for a reader for every child in the country on top of the cost of the individual book too, and a rapid move into electronic reading could cut interest in literature amongst young people.

They’re expensive. As mentioned above, you still have to pay for the books after you’ve forked out for the Kindle, reader, or whatever you choose to read your books on. Unless you’re going to get a LOT of use out it, I can’t justify the outright cost.

Technology doesn’t always work, and when it does work, the batteries run out. Not great if you’re in the park, on the beach, on a plane, etc with nowhere to plug them in.

And finally: they’re just not books, are they?

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2 thoughts on “The ebook revolution: a debate

  1. Hi Laura, I came here from Twitter.

    I think you missed the fact that there are hundreds of ‘classic’ free books available for the Kindle. I bought my Kindle a few weeks ago primarily for the free 3G and ease of reading newspapers, but the free classics have been a very welcome side effect which rather than making reading less accessible, encourages me to read more.

    1. Hi Jamie,

      Good point, although you may have guessed I don’t own an eReader from my post and didn’t know about the available free classics, though it did remind me of an article I read a while ago regarding copyright laws regarding titles over 100 years old. In basic terms, authors/families of authors no longer own any rights to the work and can no longer earn income from continued sales. It’s a completely different point to that of my post but would be a good one to debate I think.

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