Ebooks and Print Books are Not Mutually Exclusive

Ebook discussions invariably lead to the “tactile experience” counter argument. Many folks love the sensory associations of a printed book, and they’ll defend those feelings vociferously — even when no one is challenging them. The simple suggestion that an ebook could offer functionality beyond the scope of a printed book causes some book lovers to pull up the castle gates and light the moat on fire.

But here’s the odd thing: A small group of bleeding edgers believe print’s demise is imminent, but in many more instances the people taking a pro-ebook stance are also fans of printed books. They’re not looking for printed books to go away, rather, they want to consume content in the best possible format for their particular needs.

I’ve witnessed a number of lively discussions in which the sensory argument overwhelms a broader analysis of future reading behaviors, and that’s where the problem lies. In each case, the print defenders run through the “sensory checklist”:

  • Reading in bed
  • Reading to your children
  • Slowing down, sitting down, curling up …
  • Holding, feeling, smelling, experiencing …

All of these are excellent print book defenses, but each is a counterpoint to debates that were never raised. The bigger conversation — and something that often gets pushed to the back burner — is about the reading ecosystem. Print books, ebooks, Web sites, mobile and whatever emerges down the road are merely conduits for content. Unnecessary defense of one format of another obscures the opportunity to customize and improve the reading experience on a title by title and consumer by consumer basis.

Sara Nelson summed up this same idea in a recent column:

… the e-worriers are, I predict, way wrong, just as those who worried that audiobooks would supplant “real” books, and DVDs would demolish cinemas were wrong. Sure, there is some cannibalizing and crossover, but just as there are certain books you would rather listen to than read (and vice versa) and some movies you’ll rush to the theater to see, there is room in the world for another way to enjoy written narrative.

tags: , , ,