E-books vs. print book: The struggle between old and new technology

When a new technology emerges, there is always talk about what will happen to the outdated product.

It happened with vinyl records when CDs were introduced and with CDs when MP3s came out. It happened with the VHS when DVDs came out and DVDs when Blu-Ray was introduced.

Now the question is what will happen to print books with the growing popularity of e-books?

“As more and more people have handheld devices that are incorporated more seamlessly in every day life, the demand for e-books will increase,” said UIS librarian, Jane Treadwell. “There will still be some books printed but I think, over the next decade, it will move to more e-book publications.”

In a society where many people have an e-reader, tablet or both, it is easy to see the appeal of e-books over traditional print books.

One relatively thin, lightweight device can hold a person’s entire library, making e-readers ideal for people nearing the end of a story or traveling and don’t want the bulk of multiple books weighing them down.

However, it can be a real pain if you forget to recharge your device and get stuck on a train or plane without anything to read. Also, glare from the sun can be annoying if you’re enjoying a book on your e-reader outdoors.

This inclusiveness has also attracted the attention of textbook publishers and students. Students can either rent or purchase many of their textbooks in electronic form, saving themselves from lugging the backbreaking load of multiple required texts across campus.

“Textbooks already have a format that would be easy to make electronic. Videos could be embedded in the text and there could be sidebars that you can click on,” Treadwell explained.

Making textbook publication primarily electronic can also reduce the costs of these expensive books. Textbooks are constantly coming out with new additions, making the previous addition as good as a doorstop.

“The way that encyclopedias are updated continuously, textbooks could be too,” said Treadwell.

There are a few drawbacks that could put a damper on electronic textbooks though. A 2011 study by Kate Garland found that people who use e-readers are less likely to remember what they’ve read and have to reread several times to completely comprehend what they’ve read.

I have found this to be true with myself. I often have to reread passages because I space out while I’m reading on an e-reader. It is easy for me to just click the forward button because I don’t have to focus on separating the pages and shifting the weight of the book.

Several people have offered different reasons for low retention rates among e-readers.

Kent Anderson explained in an article on scholarlykitchen.org that the issues lie in the experience.

“Using e-readers in place of books is akin to looking at a place in a picture and living in it – there’s an experimental quality to walking the streets, smelling the smells, seeing the perspective shift as you move through the buildings, and so forth,” Anderson wrote.

He claims the aspects that make print books unique are what make reading them more memorable. Things like the cover art, the actual shape and weight of the book, the different fonts from book to book as well as within a single book, and the feel and smell of the paper add to the experience of reading the book creating a link between these senses and the memory of what you’ve read.

I know I honestly prefer the feel of a real book in my hands than my e-reader, but the amount of free content available in electronic form is invaluable to me. I currently have over 400 books on my Kindle and have paid maybe $10 total for all of that content.

Many of the great classics in literature are offered free on several different sites opening a new world to many readers who would never have paid to read such great books.

That being said, the price is my biggest hang up about e-books. Several popular e-books sell for the same price as the paperback version.

Electronic copies of books don’t have the production costs as traditional print books. Publishers don’t have to pay for paper, ink, a printer or distribution fees. So, then, why are they charging the same price for an actual book and an electronic file?

An alternative for people like myself with issues of e-book pricing is borrowing e-books from libraries. Several libraries across the country now offer this service and Brookens Library will soon be following their example.

Treadwell explained that the library already has over 200,000 e-books, mostly academic and scholarly titles, available right now. However, they are not compatible with handheld e-readers.

“We are planning to launch [handheld compatible] e-books in the fall, starting with more popular books,” said Treadwell.

Don’t have an e-reader or thinking about purchasing one but not sure how well you’ll actually like it? Have no fear: Treadwell said Brookens is going to allow students to check out an e-reader as well.

While I do enjoy the convenience, size and storage space of my e-reader, it will never replace print books for me. I will continue to enjoy the feel of a book in my hand as one side gets heavier and heavier with each turn of the page. I will continue to enjoy looking at my bookshelves filled with found memories of late night murders with Agatha Christie and storytime with A.A. Milne.