Is one of them better? (click to read the article)

I have had multiple discussions about e-books vs. books in numerous blogs. It is a pointless endeavour  largely because most people aren’t liable to having their opinions altered – myself included. It’s hard to acknowledge you’re wrong. I never do.

What bothers me in most of these posts is not that the pro-printed-book advocates have strong convictions. What bothers me is that they usually have a strong opinion on a subject they’re merely ignorant of. I wouldn’t say a movie on a TV is not a movie if I never watched one outside of a theatre. Why is it OK to say that a book is not a book if it is not printed if I never owned a Kindle or a Nook or a Kyobo?

From those discussions I compiled some of the arguments I’ve made. They have gone mostly unheeded and ignored, or responded to in broad statements that resulted in no further advance on the discussion. Some were even not approved or erased after the fact – if you’re not up for discussing the opinions you post on-line either disable the comment section or ask only for one-dimensional complementary input.

Imagine a discussion only slightly fictionalized:

Pro-print: “How do we convince them these new books aren’t books? No matter how many realistic additions you add to the e-readers, you will never replace the feel, smell, and experience of a real book. It’s not some cop out that old fogies use to get out of changing. It’s about respecting the package the story comes in and how it affects your experience. When you can ctrl F key words or at the flip of a screen go to the end of the book, the mystery of the story is lost.”

Pro-electronic: “Books are words put together. The better the words, the better the book. Hard-cover binding doesn’t improve Nicholas Sparks, electronic format doesn’t diminish Dickens. Real readers read real books, I agree with that much, but I disagree with your definition of “real book”. It has nothing to do with where it is printed. Nothing! Moses would probably say that ‘The smell of old stones is a gateway to our memories’ or ‘That no matter how many realistic additions you add to the printed book, you will never replace the feel, smell, and experience of a real rock.’”

Just doing some light reading.

Pro-print: “Oh yeah, smart ass! Then how do you explain that people will spend hundreds of dollars for specific editions and leather bindings because it adds character to the story rather than just words on a screen.”

Pro-electronic: “People will spend hundreds of dollars for a lot of different things, that doesn’t attest to its validity. In books, they do so chiefly for its aesthetic value, which is a valid motive to buy a book. I have a few dozen which I bought for that motive solely but they don’t add a single thing to the story.”

Pro-print: “An electronic version may be more convenient, but there is a lack of actual material that you are receiving. An electronic form of Dickens is radically different from a bound book because you can experience Dickens in the way it was first created. Moses is also a character from a story in a book that I bet has been purchased almost completely in print form.”

Pro-electronic: “If you want to read the books Dickens wrote, the way you think he intended them, you won’t be able to by reading the most beautifully crafted hard-cover book. What you must do is to build a time-machine or purchase one – I hear the Deloreans are on sale on Amazon – travel back in time to the Victorian era, and purchase the newspapers in which he published single chapters at a time, and wait a few weeks or maybe months for the next one. I believe Dickens, as any other author, intended to be read. That’s it. With his words put together the way he intended; nothing more. Maybe he didn’t plan to be published on a printed book nor on a Kindle. He planned to be read.”

Hipster Charles Dickens, defending e-books before it was cool.

Pro-print: “Yes, the actual material has changed from papyrus to cloth to paper, but the idea is the same with all of those materials. You can feel the work involved into writing it. Making an e-book doesn’t take the same work or investment as a print book does. I understand that most people refuse to change because they are set in their ways. But has it occurred to you that some people just prefer a more personal, individual experience that an electronic device can’t provide for some people?”

Pro-electronic: “What you say about what’s the idea behind materials like papyrus or cloth or paper, well, it’s just not true. I know it suited your argument to say that the point of those materials is to ‘feel the work involved into writing it’, but it is not the case. The idea of using those materials as any other that might emerge is to convey ideas through language and record them.  ‘In all ages it has been customary to engrave on stone or metal, or other durable material, with the view of securing the permanency of the record’. The engraving on metal, stones, clay, parchment or paper has served the purpose of recording. Its evolution has occurred because more suitable, less costly and more practical materials have emerged. Electronic fits in that category pretty well.

As for the individual experience you say e-books deprive you of, I must say I’m not familiar with it. I normally create a relationship with the characters, the dialogues, the ideas, the phrasing of the author. Maybe you think an object can convey that individuality; I think if you truly believe that, and if you would enjoy more a hard-cover book than a paperback, or you would appreciate more a paperback than an e-book you’re either completely set on your ways and unwilling to change, or you’re ultimately a shallow human being.”

See also:

6 Writing tips by George Orwell

Bukowski’s Number 1 Rule

The Rise of the eReader (and What It Means for Traditional Bookstores)


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33 thoughts on “Get Off Your High Horse, Book-Lover!

  1. Interesting discussion. As I read through this I was thinking well, a BOOK is printed, a STORY is written. A STORY, whether it is printed and bound or published in cyberspace is still the same STORY, that is true. Each method of conveying a STORY to others is just as legitimate as the other. However, Cyber STORIES, while just as good as printed and bound STORIES, do not evoke the same emotions from me. Nor do they create the same to desire to collect and treasure them as a STORY printed and bound beckons me to do. Never will.

    1. Of course, I understand that. I just believe that if our children, or our children’s children won’t feel that way. You don’t miss something you never had.

  2. I love both e-readers and books. At this moment I have almost 100 books on my Nook and more books on my shelves than I actually have room for. In fact, a lot of the books I own I have gone back on bought for my Nook for the simple convenience of it. On the flip side, there are some books I’ve read on my Nook that I eventually go and buy in book form. I’m not pro-print or pro-electric, I just love to read and love having books all around no matter what the format.

  3. Whatever. You do like to have it all your own way, don’t you? And no, I would not be offended, since the word “proper” was obviously a joke, which you apparently didn’t get. My bad for not making that clearer.

    1. Seriously? You said clearly stated that “proper” books was your definition for printed books. Now it’s a joke?
      I already agreed with what you meant, I just found the phrasing offensive, and as a sensible person you probably do, too. Just apply to any other thing. I prefer “proper” food, “proper “films, “proper” writers… Well, I suppose this will have to end like most internet discussions, agreeing to disagree lol
      Nice meeting you.

      1. Please stop telling me what I think. I made it clear that it was MY definition, my personal preference and not a universal fact. However, since you’re so offended, I have taken the article down and would prefer it if you didn’t comment on my blog again. Thanks.

  4. Wrong only in your opinion. As a published author, I know which I prefer. And do you mean that e books might very well be the beginning of the end for printed books? I hope not.

    1. I said nothing as to your preferences. I also prefer the printed book: But saying that while I’m reading on Kindle I’m not reading proper books, makes one infer I’m not a proper reader. Thus my skirmishes with your use of “proper”.
      And I do believe that, but it certainly won’t happen on my lifetime, even though it’s almost an inevitability in the future.

      1. Let’s end this once and for all. You will have noted that the word “proper” in my article was in inverted commas, therefore I had my tongue firmly in my cheek. I am certainly not inferring that anyone who uses a reading device is not a genuine reader. Why would I, when my own novel can be bought as an e book? The very definition of a reading device implies what it’s used for.

      2. No, you’re implying. I’m inferring. You refer to printed books as “real books” and “proper” books. You’ve asserted you don’t mean that, so we’re in agreement. 🙂 But you can understand that your phrasing leads to my confusing. If I said I prefer to read real writers and “proper” writers instead of writers as yourself, would you not take offence? I believe you would, and you’d have grounds for that.

  5. For me the printed word, IE: “proper” books will always take precedence. That said, I’m prepared to use a Kindle to re-read my favourite authors, A. because it means I preserve my printed books for longer. B. Because it’s convenient outside the house. And C. because e-books are here to stay and give the informed reader a choice. Books, in their original form, will always be cherished and I don’t think electronic devices are a threat to them. Being dogmatic about either form of reading serves no useful purpose.

    1. “Proper” a wrong description. Dogmatic is saying that “books will always be cherished”. And printed books might very well be the beginning of the end for printed books.

  6. Oh so that’s what’s inside the pro-electronic mind! Well, I decided long ago that this issue will never be resolved. It’s just a matter of choice and if you made yours, then that’s cool. But if people stopped printing books then that’s a different story….

  7. Interesting point of view. A question I was asked recently in an interview ‘Do you think that the two [print and electronic] can coincide?’ The answer was: Of course. There’s just as much effort and creativity (though possibly different to the creation of a hardback or paperback) that can go into the creation of an ebook. I think my issue lies with what this means in a socioeconomic sense. And bear with me before you delete my post here (do you actually delete posts you don’t agree with..?). The popularity of the ebook is continuing to rise by leaps and bounds. It’s foolish to think that this is just a ‘fad’ and will simply disappear over night. It won’t. It’s here to stay. People need to get over that. What I think many people are worried about (myself included), is the day when we see the disappearance of the print versions or at least the day when print is too expensive to afford. And this is where I make my point. What happens to the people who rely on places like, the library, for example? On places, which rely on the donations of others to help feed the need to read, but may not have the money to do so. To people who desperately love to read, but if it’s between feeing their kids and paying the bills and buying a book, it falls to the first every time? Reading is such an important part of life (as I’m sure you know, clearly being such an avid reader yourself). It would be a sad day when whether or not you can access a book in the Western World (because we obviously already have these issues in other parts of the world, yes, I realise this) relies on your social standing in society.

    Now you can delete this, if you feel necessary 😉

    Oh and thanks for liking my blog post!

    1. This was actually the first time I’ve been posed with this concern. I never thought thoroughly about the consequences of the disappearance of the printed version of books. I too, relied mostly on libraries to read books I could in other ways afford.
      It would be a shame to deprive someone of the joy of reading because hey have not sufficient means to acquire books.
      This would actually be a strong enough reason to concur that the continuity of printing should be supported, even though I don’t think it will make much difference. The needs of the less well endowed has never made a big dent on financially-driven evolution.

      P.S. Your comment barely made it through the censorship.

      1. Yes, I agree. ‘Financially-driven evolution’ has always far surpassed the needs of those without. It’s the kind of (unfortunate) world we live in.

        And really? Wow, well I must say, I am thoroughly honoured to have made the cut. 😉

    1. For me is not a matter of choosing between one and the other. I just counter argued what I thought to be poorly constructed one-sided points.

  8. Thanks for following my blog about Malta, I appreciate it a lot! I thank you also for entertaining me, I was on my way home tonight (from the gym) and decided to dine out (alone, sniff) but thank God for my iPod and I was able to browse several of your articles while I ate away my lonely, unhealthy food. Obrigado!
    PS: Your level of English is amazing, keep it up!

  9. Lol – but I like books…..
    I think it really comes to preference. I don’t think readers will replace books, because it’s up to the person. I do think that readers are great for text books and I’m all for them being used in schools and as an educational medium. I’m not terrible fond of the idea of reading fiction books on them, but it doesn’t mean that the whole thing isn’t exciting. I will be sad if the reader does replace books and second-hand book stores and book stores in general disappear but hopefully that won’t happen in my life-time.
    Oddly enough I make eBooks for a living… go figure.


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