Hardcopies versus eBooks - An Ongoing Debate about the Future
“I need a real book in my hands, rather than just text on a screen and it just doesn’t feel real,” people say. Others argue that they’d rather carry thousands of eBooks in an electronic device than have the clutter of paper taking up space in their homes. It’s all a matter of preference. I’ll go through some of the highlights here.
Those of us who grew up in an era when our main tools in school were a pen, paper and a textbook, rather than a simple laptop may feel nostalgic and want to keep hardcopies around for as long as possible. If you love books, you may also love to display your personal library as a symbol of pride and achievement. “Yes, I’ve read that one. In fact, I’ve got it right here”, is what we may say to an onlooker. eBooks stored on your laptop or eBook reader are harder to show off. So, you’ve got 1,000 books on your iPad or Kindle? So does everybody else.
Personally, I like the convenience of eBook readers. They are light and compact and can be taken anywhere with you. They are especially handy when travelling. I’d rather have an eBook reader in my backpack for airport and in-flight reading than filling a heavy suitcase with hardcopies. I’ve tried both and now I am part of a new generation that is using less and less printed media in favour of the expanding digital world. Perhaps it’s a trend towards minimalism and freedom of movement.
eBooks have also sparked a lot of controversy. Any Jane Doe claiming to be an author can self-publish, market, and sell her musings in a digital file rather than approach publishers, who in turn lose out if Jane Doe turns out to be the internet’s next J.K. Rowling. Another issue is piracy. People are losing money. The U.S. Congress relies on piracy to justify passing bills that limit the free flow of information on the internet. In contrast, some believe that we are inevitably headed into a society where all information will be freely available.
As a reader, I've been following this debate for years. Currently I make an effort to buy newly published books in print (my way of supporting up-and-coming authors), ordering secondhand copies of older books (in favour of lower prices and conservation), and downloading the books that I want to read immediately or that are past copyright.
As for writing and publishing, sites like Smashwords and Amazon make it quick and easy to publish your book. However, there is still a bit of a stigma that goes with self-publishing. The reason for this is because the market has been flooded with poor quality eBooks, i.e. those that are badly written or badly edited. That's why it's important to stand out if you self-publish. If a book has good content presented in a professional manner, then it has the potential to do well both off and online. The other advantage of self-publishing is that the writer has more freedom and control. Some use this freedom to release half-hearted attempts at literature; others use it as an opportunity to have the final say in a meticulous editing process. In a sense I'm torn between the two because I believe that certain books work better if self-published online, whilst others will do much better if backed by a traditional publisher.
It is a personal choice. However, for various reasons like convenience, conservation of the environment and an expanding global digital footprint, electronic media will grow to become the norm. Will it render traditional books obsolete? One day, most likely.