Posted June 10, 2013 by and in Book Debate

eBook versus Paperback - The Debate

Today’s debate will be a heated one. We have one of the most recent and controversial topics: eBook versus paperback. Lauren has been challenged by Tara to a debate on which reading format is better for books from the past, to the present and into the future. Tara is pro-ebooks while Lauren is pro-paperback.

Lauren: 1. Ownership Issues:

When considering the permanence of ebooks versus paperbacks, one must consider first whether you can actually own an ebook. Since our ereading devices are connected to the internet in one fashion or another, the question of updates, editions, and error correction becomes much simpler and more immediate. However, even though the ebook revolution has barely begun there was already an incident where a book was pulled right from reader’s devices without any forewarning: This article by Brad Stone details how one of Amazon’s retailers listed a book it did not have rights to and Amazon’s solution was to simply remove the purchased copy from all the devices that had downloaded it. Since they did provide a refund for the removed copy, this may not have posed a problem for some, but Stone mentions that a student “from the Detroit area, was reading 1984 on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. ‘They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,’ he said.”

As you can find on Amazon Kindle Store terms of use page, while an ebook may cost close to or more than an actual printed book, “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold,” meaning that an individual does not actually own an ebook at any time. Buying an ebook is essentially purchasing a license that can be revoked or deleted. The concept of owning a license instead of an actual book was tested when a customer named Linn Nygaard allegedly violated the aforementioned Kindle Store terms of use and had her account closed and all of her purchased ebooks taken away, which you can read the Forbes article on the incident here

Tara: 2. Variety

While it’s true that a digital copy of a book can be removed from a device without warning, it is generally a rare occurrence. However, a physical copy of a book can be lost, stolen, or destroyed just as easily. One benefit of e-books is that the digital library is stored in the cloud. If the device is lost or stolen, or the owner simply wants to upgrade, the entire collection can be easily added to a new device. In fact, that content can be easily added to multiple devices: smart phones, laptops, tablets, and dedicated e-readers. Families can share books from a single account just as they would with physical books at home, without physical wear-and-tear.

Buying (or, rather, licensing) content through major retailers is one popular way of using e-books, but this is not the only way of accessing content. Many libraries have added digital library books to their collections, allowing patrons to digitally “borrow” books. At the end of the lending period, the book is automatically removed from the device and made available to other patrons on the waiting list. With digital library books, overdue or lost books are a thing of the past!

Lauren: 3. Content:

A retailer’s cost for offering ebooks to consumers is very low since there are no costs for the materials, printing, or advertising. Because of the low cost, Amazon, Apple, and other purveyors of digital books have very low standards for authors who wish to sell their ebook through them. With printed books, a publisher would filter some of the content for the consumer, deciding which books had met their standards of accuracy, grammar, and style before the manuscript was approved for publication. Since ebooks do not have publishers, readers have to sift through the seemingly endless availability of material. Having too many unreliable resources is the best way to get a consumer to spend more money because if one purchased book does not have the answers, the customer is likely to buy a second or third book. Ebook publishing has become free-for-all, allowing virtually anyone to “publish” an ebook. The content is not vetted by an editor for accuracy or legitimacy, allowing ebooks with false information to flood the internet along with fiction teeming with grammatical errors.

Tara 4. Accessibility

Readers read, and they read A LOT. In the waiting room, at lunch, and before bed . On vacation, business trips, and in coffee shops. E-books allow readers to take an entire library along wherever wherever they go! Instead of bringing ten different books in a suitcase to suit every reading mood on vacation, readers can bring a single device. Smartphone apps even make e-books available during unexpected downtime.

In addition, e-readers make e-books more accessible to readers who have difficulty reading print books. Any e-book can easily become a large-print book with a simple tap. Most e-readers also offer dictionary look-up, highlighting, and notation features. E-book text can be searched, and notes can be searched and sorted. Even the colors and fonts can be changed for readers who prefer a different look.

Lauren: 5. File Format:

The world of the ebook has not been entirely established yet. The Kindle, nook, Kobo, and other brands are all readers that can view electronic content, but many of them require different file formats and often because of encryption schemes or DRM (Digital Rights Management) standards they cannot even be converted from one to another. Bottom line: you aren’t reading a B&N book on a Kindle or vice versa without extraordinary technical effort.  The Kindle app and devices work best with their own standard “.mobi” but has some ability to read other formats though often at reduced quality. Even within the Kindle family, the e-ink and color tablet devices vary in their capabilities and suitability for different ebook formats. Similarly, Barnes & Noble Nook products vary wildly on how well they handle .pdf or other formats. Admittedly, B&N does at least better support an open format similar to “.mobi” called “.epub,” but even between the Nook and other devices that display “.epub,” the text-on-page rendering can vary greatly.

All of this confusion is good for retailers. Most consumers do not understand or want to understand file formats. If you buy an ebook from Amazon you know it’s going to work on Kindle. If you buy it from the Nook store it will work on your Nook. Ultimately controlling how you buy books is the reason for these stores to push these devices so aggressively.  

Tara: 6. Novelty

Part of the appeal of e-books is the novelty of the format. For avid readers of print books, this can be a new way of accessing familiar favorites. However, e-books can also refresh the reading doldrums. Instead of visiting the same library, shopping at the same bookstore, or browsing through a stale Amazon wish-list, e-books can breathe new life into reading. This subtle shift in format can result in a subtle shift in reading materials. 

For anyone who is not already an avid reader, the novelty of e-books could also be the gateway to great books. Tech heads can discover the latest best-sellers. Teens often prefer this format because, as digital natives, they have grown up in the digital world. E-books offer reading in a format they understand. Multi-media e-books, with integrated web links, video, and audio, continue to push the envelope of what a “book” is an how people can interact with it. 


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eBook versus Paperback - The Debate 5.00/5 (100.00%) 2 votes

Lauren Bryant

Having studied library and information sciences in a graduate program at San Jose State University, Lauren is a professional librarian who has worked in middle school, high school, and public libraries with teen patron groups. Favorite genres include fantasy, historical fiction, cyberpunk, and stories with strong female characters. Check out Lauren's website, LaurentheLibrarian.com for book reviews, giveaways, and library stuff.