The Rise of Ebooks

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read that December’s shopping will determine whether 2012 is in fact the year ebooks edge out physical books, or if that will happen in 2013. Regardless, it’s coming soon.

Part of me is sad about that — I grew up with paperback books, hardback books, beautiful, real books with gorgeous (or terrible) typography and illustrations. Most ebooks seem to skimp on typography for cross-platform usability, I guess, and while the unlimited space of an ebook should allow for more illustrations, most aren’t taking advantage of that.

On the other hand, though, I’m buying a lot of ebooks now. Part of that reason is cost, part is convenience, part is consumption utility.

Utility & Convenience

I do not mark up physical books — I was raised to respect books, and folding pages, breaking spines, and marking text is just wrong — but I don’t have any baggage about highlighting my ebooks for easy later reference. This is part of the reason I specifically buy non-fiction in ebook form, if available; I can mark the snot out of that thing without any guilt that I’m affecting the text for the next reader.

Plus, it’s hard to argue the convenience of a ebook — I always have my phone with me, so I’m never without a book. And if I read faster than anticipated on a flight, I’m no longer reduced to paging through the Sky Mall catalog, because I can just open another of the hundred books on my tablet.

It’s equally true, however, that paper books enjoy the distinct advantage of not needing electricity (except to read them at night) and of not being subject to the flight industry’s various hangups about electronics. My last trip, I carried both my Nexus tablet and a paperback, so that I could simply switch media during take-off and landing.


Pricing of ebooks is controversial, to put it politely. We’re not going to go there.

I will say, however, that value (more than price) matters. And, in marketing terms, convenience and price together make up value.

Last Saturday night, I bought an ebook online. The ability to spy an interesting title and pay $4.99 to possess it immediately, versus $8.99 to have it delivered in a few days, was a deciding factor. It wasn’t a book I particularly needed in hard copy for any reason, so why not take the less expensive and more convenient route?


Long, long ago, I used to think I read a fair number of books. I used to think I was a fast reader, too. I still think I’m a faster reader than average. But once I met the man who would become my husband, I lost all delusions of being any kind of special about it.

Husband reads fast. Really fast. In school, he had to turn the book upside down to slow himself enough to read aloud. Nowadays, it’s pretty common for him to read a 80,000 word novel in a couple of hours.

So when he travels, as he does frequently, there is no way for him to carry enough books. Fortunately, I introduced him to a handheld reader in the form of my discarded Palm Pilot — yeah, this was a while back — and since then, ebooks and bundles have kept him occupied and off the streets at night.

And while a carry-on full of books, even paperbacks, would be prohibitively heavy, a device full of books adds only a billionth of a billionth of a gram to a device without books.


This article points out that even as ebooks take off, some print books are becoming more beautifully made. This only makes sense; when television became popular, cinema developed new color processes and more sumptuous sets and design to maintain a distinct offering.

So give readers what we want: convenient, affordable books, and gorgeous textured, luxury books. Options — in titles, in bookstores, and in formats — are good.

What do you think about print books versus ebooks?

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  1. As a person who can’t stand the idea of having to wait anywhere without something to read (an opinion solidified years ago after an hour in a repair shop waiting room that had one months-old copy of “Field & Stream”), I love the ability to whip out my phone with its collection of books. :-) But my first love will always be the tangible kind, with their vast variety of embossed covers, textured pages, deckled edges, scattered artwork and other variations. I read books primarily to read the text, but I recognize that there are also other pleasures I get from appreciation of the physical book itself — how it is made, the feel of the binding, the artistry of the layout. So while I also use ebooks, there is a reason that my brain automatically pictures the physical object when someone says the word “book.” ;-) And I like that.

    • Last night I got stuck in the poll line for much, much longer than anticipated. Boredom, at least, was not a problem — I had ebooks on my phone!

      But you’re right, a well-made print book has aesthetic qualities all the way to the smell of it. Books are great!

  2. I like ebooks…however I am currently still buying paperbacks by preference. Why? Because I OWN the paperbacks! The only way I can lose them is if ” I ” do something with it. You do NOT currently own ebooks. You have purchased a revocable permission to read the book. Until I own the ebook, I am going to prefer to own paperbacks!

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