Printed Books vs. eBooks

For new authors and experienced authors alike, it is imperative to keep honing our craft and learning new things. For this reason, I recently became active in a writing group on one of the social sites. I was interested in getting their opinion on a certain subject, so I posed a query to the group: What are your thoughts on eBooks vs. printed books? I was quite surprised by the amount of responses I received. It seems that for most, there is an emotional connection to the printed page. After reading the responses, I thought it would be a good idea to address the subject further.

As authors it is our job to express ourselves in words, to craft a story with the flow of beauty and to paint a picture in our reader’s minds. It is our passion, it is our life. Does it matter what venue our labor of love is presented on? With the advent of eBooks and growing industry surrounding them, will our beloved books be preserved on paper?

How many of you swore when you were younger that you would never give up your vinyl records and albums?  Most of us thought the CD would go the way of the 8-track tape. None of us could imagine listening to this impersonal piece of metal. There was no character to them, no vinyl smell and limited artwork; yes, the sound was better, but it was the whole experience we wanted. The scratches added character and richness to the music. Will this be the path of eBooks?

Will eBooks replace the paper books we love? They certainly have their merit, such as the CD over vinyl, yet the experience is totally different. A bound book, with a worn spine and the yellowed and torn pages, can it really be replaced by a piece of machinery? EBooks enable us to carry as many books as we would like without having to labor under their weight. We can download a book over the internet and not have to leave the comfort of our homes. On vacation we don’t have to seek out a local bookstore in order to have something to read when we finish what we brought with us. In our homes, our bookshelves do not have to be cluttered with copies of our favorite books.  Then of course there is the matter of trees; conserving our resources. Yet there is another side to that conservation. Technology itself is taxing on our resources, so which is better? Do we save the trees and deplete our other resources in the name of convenience?

Those of us who love the feel of a book in our hands may have strong feelings about eBooks vs. paper books. There is an emotional connection to a paper book that is lacking in an electronic copy of the same work. There is nothing like the weight of a beloved friend in our hands, the well worn pages of a truly loved book, the smell of the paper and the silken feel of it between our fingers as we turn a page.  Seeing your own book on the shelf of the library or bookstore invokes an emotional response. There is a feeling of satisfaction and a thrill of seeing your work on that shelf. Will we still feel that way when we are looking at a digitized copy on a computer screen? Probably not; how sad it will be to lose that experience of walking into a bookstore and browsing amongst the shelves for just the right book, the one that jumps out at us asking to be read as we sit by the pool, on our deck or in our favorite comfy chair.  Yet for our children and their children, the experience of the printed page is not as important as it is to us. The readers of the future are growing up in a digitized age.  Computer screens are replacing textbooks and workbooks in the schools just as the ipod is now replacing the CD. We authors need to realize that the future may lie with these electronic versions of our work.  The eBook market is expanding rapidly (currently it is 8% of book sales, but it is expected to rise to 25% by 2012) and it is foolish, in my opinion to ignore it.  Printed books may be going the way of the vinyl album, but I do not believe it will be a quick death. There will always be printed books, just as there are still, in some instances scrolls of papyrus in existence.  I don’t believe that we will see the disappearance of printed books in our lifetime, yet at some distant point in the future, the printed book will become as scarce as that scroll of papyrus that you see in the museum. There will always be connoisseurs of the written word whose shelves will be lined with leather bound copies of the classics; but for the common consumer, the reader we are trying to reach out to and whose hearts and imaginations we are trying to touch, the eBook will be the norm.

It is the age of computers and digitalization and we need to consider that this may be the future of the written word.  I personally do not own a kindle nor do I intend to read my books on that format.  I do embrace the future in that my books are available on all three formats: hardback, paperback and electronic. I for one do not wish to ignore a growing segment of the market. Those who are already buying electronic versions will wait until the book they want to buy comes out in that venue and then they will buy. If you do not publish in this sector, you are missing a growing part of your audience, and what author wants to miss out on that chance to touch someone’s heart?  Why deny the public what they want when it is our job to give them exactly that?



10 responses to “Printed Books vs. eBooks

  1. Darlene,
    You have some interesting articles, would you mind if I linked to them from my website?

    I recently started a website I call I use it to post info that I think is of use to new authors and amateur writers. I have only just begun filling the website with content but hope to have something to offer people who are interested in writing.

    If it were ok with you, I would love to post your articles on the site and even links to your books.

    Good article!
    Mike Robertson

  2. One thing that concerns me is the potential for a hacker to break the copy protection and post the book’s contents online. A friend of mine who is a non-fiction writer says that twice she’s found entire books of hers posted online. Her publisher has pursued the sources and gotten them removed. But it seems like it’s only a matter of time before a “kindle-hacking” program becomes widely available, and suddenly authors will be giving away everything they ever wrote.

    • You bring up a very interesting point, Leah. I wonder if there is anything in the works to prevent this?

  3. Hi Darlene,
    I read this article with interest – it certainly is one of the most intelligently argued, yet emotionally connected that I’ve read by an author.
    As you mention, they seem to split into two camps; either confidently expecting the printed book to be extinct in the next couple of decades, or loudly declaiming they NEVER will use one of those eReader thingys… It is heartening to read something with more balance!

  4. Hi Darlene,

    Excellent post here. I’ve been editing a WIP recently, I’m getting closer and closer to finishing, and although I’ve been promising myself that this is the work that I’m seriously going to throw every ounce of weight behind in my pursuit of fame as an author, I find myself in such a quandry over how to go about it. On the one hand, when people publish their work as an eBook, they risk not getting the real recognition they might deserve because they’re surrounded by a sea of people who may not be as well-respected as someone who’s gone through the channels to be a print author. On the other hand, I read blogs talking about people getting ripped off by crummy agents, print publishers not giving manuscripts the time of day over things as simple as syntax mistakes (when they could be missing out on a beautiful tale), meanwhile, movie houses are looking to eBooks for their next big budget picture.

    I just don’t know what to do. My work MIGHT not be 100% up to par as far as literary style, but there’s an amazing tale to be told that can really surprise readers into wanting more, I’m positive of that much. However, I don’t want to kill myself over editing this thing over and over and over, stressing about what to say in query letters and risk going nowhere when I could’ve gotten the same exact exposure going through, for instance, Kindle Direct Publishing, ya know? After all, a good story is one that will spread no matter where it comes from, right? I put something good out there as an eBook, people have instant access to it at really cheap, they like it, they spread it around, word goes viral. Hell, I could even make my own YouTube video commercials if I want to add some buzz, 😉

    What do you think? I mean, is there more “respect” for people who succeed as print authors? I’ve read classic books by best-selling authors and found plenty of issues in style that I found troublesome, that’s kinda why I write fiction at all! To go about putting together a story in a way that makes sense to me, and hopefully makes sense to others as well.

    I’m definitely considering just making my WIP an eBook and promoting the hell out of it however I can, but I’m still not sure, 🙂

    • Hello Marc, I’m so happy my blog inspired you to write to me. Traditional publishing vs self publishing is a controversial subject for most people. I think which one you go with depends on you; your purpose for writing, what you want from your book and your readers, who your target audience is…there are an abundance of questions you must ask yourself before making this decision. As far as eBooks are concerned, once you decide how you will publish, you can make the decision from there as to whether or not to offer your work on electronic devices or only on the printed page. My Webs series is available in hardback, paperback and electronic device; I don’t see any reason to alienate any potential readers because they can’t read my books in the fashion they choose to.

      Trying to publish the traditional way is an experience, though. Writing queries and synopsis are good exercises for any writer. It all boils down to doing what is best for you and your work. Don’t be in a rush to get the story out to the public, take the time to nurture it the way it deserves to be nurtured.

      You have some wonderful marketing ideas and they will serve you well no matter which way you go. I would think that readers would respect any author with great content no matter which way they published, but that is only my opinion. It seems technology won’t stand still for any of us, no matter how we feel – progress is progress, right?

      I wish you all the luck in the world and I hope that I have helped in some way. I look forward to seeing your book one day.



  5. Darlene, I don’t own a Kindle either and prefer books, however, I fear leaving my Kindle somewhere as I have with books. Also, I spend so much time on the computer that another electronic device seems like too much. I’m sure I’ll change my mind one day though.

  6. Darlene, what an apt comparison of musical modes–I worked in the music industry when CD’s were introduced and as you’ve said, people predicted the demise of vinyl–which also as you’ve said was a slow death. It appears that every new method of artistic delivery usually takes two or so decades to catch on and then become obsolete just as they do. However with the advances in technology, flash sticks now replace MP3’s and IPhones have replaced Bluetooth for the most part. IPads are threatening (successfully) laptops. So what I am saying is technology marches on regardless of emotional attachments. Personally, I see print existing alongside ebooks for an extended time–until the next generation who have grown up without print start asking, “what’s a textbook?” just as they laugh at my old MP3 player and wonder what The Beatles were and how we eradicated them!
    Great article! Thanks!

  7. My grandchildren are fanatics about e-books; however, I worry they are losing the wonderful experience of the library and bookstores. I do hope the day does not come that Barnes and Noble, or Border’s Book Stores will disappear from our social fabric. That always worries me. It appears Blockbuster is going the way of the home movie download. I still love going to the book stores, having that cup of coffee in their coffee area, and enjoying that whole experience, but agree with your article that one day this may become like the dinosaur age.
    Brenda Minor

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