In one of my first posts on this blog I wrote about my love for ebooks. Back then I already said that I love both, paper books and ebooks. There’s room for both. But it is interesting to think about how these two worlds will transform in coming years and I believe they will influence each other and each will find their own ground.
Two, three years ago press and blogs were screaming about the surge of ebooks and how the paper book was doomed. Last year press and blogs were screaming about the decline in ebook sales and the rebound of the classic paper book. Apart from the question if these reports were accurate (lots of blogs were written to the contrary) I think it was complete foolishness to think in terms of one type of book killing the other. It makes for nice clickbait, that’s true, but the truth is much more complicated. There are a lot of different reasons why people choose between ebooks and paper books and I’ll mention a few of them that play a role in my own decision whether to buy paper or ebooks.
If the so-called rise and fall of ebooks has shown us something, then it is that price still rules. After the epic battle between Amazon and the publishing industry in 2014, ebook prices have risen sharply. Demand fell accordingly. Big surprise! Not really. I am regularly appalled by the fact that ebooks are sold for prices significantly higher than the paperback version. It’s just not right. On the other hand, if I want to read a book that’s quite interesting, but I’m not sure if it’s really worth the money, I almost always go for the cheap ebook if it’s available.
2. Book pride
I have lots of wonderful books of which I’m proud to be the owner. The books are beautifully made, they are extremely valuable to me because of the stories they tell, or because of the story I can tell about them. Those books have become part of my life. I love going through them, I will cherish them all my life and I secretly hope my children will learn to appreciate them. Long way to go there, but who knows. And then there’s the rest of my books. Lots of the books in my bookcases are just a testament to what I’ve read. I liked them, sometimes I hated them, but I have no habit of selling any of my books to second hand bookshops. Would I mind if they were gone? Probably not. Would I consider them buying as an ebook right now. Probably. There are many books of which I know beforehand that they will be nice reads to pass the time, but I won’t add them to my list of honor. I think that this divide might in time develop into a chasm. Cheap reads will be published as ebook-only and paper books will mainly be quality books. I’m not sure it will play out like this, but it’s a strong hunch.
Where you want to read is becoming one of the decisive reasons to choose between paper books or ebooks. People who say they prefer paper books often admit they do have an ereader for vacations. To me vacation is one of those periods every year when I load my suitcase full of books and ambitions to read. Sometimes I manage to fulfill my ambitions and return with a satisfied felling of finally having read the tower of books that had been lying next to my bed for months. In recent years, with the advent of ebooks and e-readers, I was able to buy a smaller suitcase. Commuters that sit in train or metro every day also appreciate ebooks more than others. At least that’s my impression. Of all those people staring at screens in the train a certain part is reading ebooks, either on their smartphones, or on e-readers. In the old days I sometimes forgot to bring along the book I was reading and stared out of the window with frustration because I had nothing to read. That never happens anymore. I myself used to drive a lot by car and in those days I listened a lot to audiobooks. So to me it’s quite natural to read or listen to books in different formats depending on location or the way I’m traveling.
4. Browsing for books
How many bookshops will there be in ten years? Nobody knows. Barnes & Noble announced last week they plan to close 197 bookstores by 2022. There are signs small bookshops are making a comeback, but I’m not very optimistic about this. I live in the Netherlands and here we have the same picture of traditional bookshops closing. Some of them survive, others are opening new shops. But those new shops are not the same as the bookshops we used to know. The one here in Weesp offers an integrated coffee bar, gifts, office supplies and games. I am very pleased that it opened, but it is a far cry from the bookshops we were used to. Bookshops with just endless bookcases full of books. I’ve already bought many books there, but many times I can’t find what I’m looking for. Browsing for books is important to me. Walking along al those bookcases just to to see if I can find something that surprises me. When I can’t find that in my local bookshops I do that online and when I found something I don’t go back to the bookshop to order it there. I order it online, via the website of the bookshop, or if they don’t have it. via another online bookshop. But then reason number 2 kicks in and if I’m not sure this will be a book to be incredibly proud of, I will consider buying the ebook.
6. Size matters
It may be own of my peculiarities, but to me size is one of the elements that weigh in on my decision if I choose paper or ebook. I prefer short stories, novels, papers and pamphlets as ebooks, medium sized quality books I often prefer in paper, but with books with more than 400 pages I noticed that I tend to prefer ebooks. One consideration is that my house is bursting with books and it is becoming a serious problem to find a place to store them. Moving to a bigger house is not an option for the moment, so when I see a huge book I think twice before buying the paper version. Also, one of my guilty pleasures is reading science fiction and fantasy novels from time to time and those are often of epic proportions these days. Every writer seems to have the ambition to create the new Lord of the Rings trilogy and 800 or 900 pages have almost become standard. I stopped buying those in paper. It’s just too much. Ebooks will do. And after I’ve read them they usually catch electronic dust in my ereader libraries. Perhaps I’ll read them again in ten or twenty years.
Those are six considerations whether I buy ebooks or if I’ll choose paper books. I would be interested to hear what other reasons there are to choose one or the other.