The Book Argument

No author prior to about 2007 – when Amazon’s Kindle first appeared – had to consider the matter. Today, however, no author can ignore this issue. There is no getting away from it.

[Microsoft Surface tablet. Text from Capture The Cause manuscript. Copyright © 2021 by R. J. Nello.]

And what is that issue?

Ebooks vs. paper books, of course.

Recently, The Atlantic’s Ian Bogost made it clear he has an opinion:

[From The Atlantic, on Instagram, September 16, 2021.]

It is not so much that above. The following is not going over well it seems on the whole among the Instagram visitors to the above post. As of my writing this post, he is mostly getting creamed by commenters for his take (including one I saw who pointed out that they had a digital subscription to the Atlantic):

“Perhaps you’ve noticed that ebooks are awful. I hate them, but I don’t know why I hate them,” Ian Bogost writes. ⁠

“Maybe it’s snobbery. Perhaps, despite my long career in technology and media, I’m a secret Luddite. Maybe I can’t stand the idea of looking at books as computers after a long day of looking at computers as computers. I don’t know, except for knowing that ebooks are awful,” Bogost writes. But “if you hate ebooks like I do, that loathing might attach to their dim screens, their wonky typography, their weird pagination, their unnerving ephemerality, or the prison house of a proprietary ecosystem. If you love ebooks, it might be because they are portable, and legible enough, and capable of delivering streams of words, fiction and nonfiction, into your eyes and brain with relative ease.”⁠

A particular reader’s receptivity to ebooks, then, depends on the degree to which these objects conform to, or at least fail to flout, one’s idea of bookines—its cover, shape, typography, and layout. “As a somewhat haughty book person, I also can’t quite wrap my spleen around every book looking and feeling the same, like they do on an ebook reader,” Bogost continues at the link in our bio. Plus, “who says everything must involve a computer? Maybe it’s better, even, to protect the print-book market by building a firewall against ebooks’ expansion … and read normal books, like humankind has done for 2,000 years.”

In short: He really dislikes ebooks.

I think it is worth noting simply that both ebooks and paper books have their positives and negatives – and it is up to a reader to decide which platform best suits their reading taste.

[Photo by ArtHouse Studio on]

Ebooks tend to be less expensive (although that is clearly not always the case any longer as big publishers have raised ebook prices a lot in recent years). One of my ebooks may be anywhere from 99c to just a few $, while the paper book can be five times or more as expensive. Unfortunately I can do nothing about that latter: paper costs and manufacturing costs are outside of my control.

Ebooks are also great for first inexpensively exploring a new author’s writing. A friend some years ago pointed out that keeping my ebooks as low-priced as possible was a good idea because readers would be more willing to take a chance on a new author like me if they are only paying a dollar or a few dollars compared to “$15” for a paperback. That appraisal made perfect sense and I have tried to follow that advice from her.

That ebooks take up no space on a shelf and are easy to carry around hardly needs mentioning. (You can take a paper book or two on a plane; but your single Kindle could have hundreds of them.) More importantly, ebooks are vastly superior for those with eyesight problems because of the ease of the text size adjustment; and relatedly the text may also be read electronically aloud by the device in the style of a computer-voiced audio book, which is especially useful if the book does not have a humanly narrated audio book version. (As mine as of yet do not.)

[Photo by nappy on]

A paper read is another sort of reading experience. As I have noted previously, I find there is a fundamental difference in how one’s eye follows an ebook’s text as opposed to that in a paper book. We tend to read with our eyes subconsiously looking ahead – we don’t even really know we are doing it – skimming down a page and (if we are on the left page) even over somewhat to the next (right) page.

So with paper pages as we read we sense we are moving along, unlike an ebook which is truly “flat” so we have no real sense where we “are” in it. We could be “twenty pages” from the end in an ebook and not really grasp that, which in its way impacts (I think somewhat negatively) the read. (I enjoyed War and Peace in paperback, yet I had found a year or so earlier I could not get through it in ebook form despite the fact that the translation was the same one.)

If you want to read a “big” book by a familiar author, or a “classic” (as I did with War and Peace), my suggestion, based on how we read, is read a paper copy. A paper copy simply often reads “better” than an ebook. And if you have any thoughts of someday “giving it away,” you have to have a paper copy…

[Kindle ebook or paper book? You decide. Photo by me, September 17, 2021.]

…for bear in mind too this MAJOR difference between the two: You do NOT truly own an ebook. You are essentially borrowing it even if you “buy” it. The moment you die your entire ebook library “vanishes.” (Read the terms and conditions’ fine print.)

In contrast, you OWN a paper book. It becomes your personal property, so you may then lend it, or give it away, or bequeath it to someone in your will, or even resell it… because it is YOURS. This should not be shrugged off lightly because over a lifetime we may well buy hundreds and even thousands of books that cost in total A LOT of OUR money. If all we buy are ebooks, they do not technically belong to us, so they are no “investment”; but our paper books may go to children or others – who may choose to sell them – so that money was therefore never “wasted” in the same way.

So ebook or paper? In my opinion, it is your personal call. If I total up all the pros and cons, I guess I slightly more prefer paper books, but ebooks are certainly not without their upsides, too – including the fact that most of my novels’ sales are, well, for now at least, ebooks. LOL!

Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂


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