eBooks vs. paper

I read an article on the Guardian today that has me thinking. The title is “How eBooks lost their shine: ‘Kindles now look clunky and unhip’. Unfortunately, I am not sure what I think about it.

The author talks about the resurgence of physical books, stating

figures published today by the Publishing Association show that sales of consumer ebooks have dropped by 17%, while sales of physical books are up 8%.

Overall sales of books in Britain have risen, she goes on to state, which is the good news in all of this as far as I am concerned. The format of the books isn’t as important as the reading of books.

What irritated me was this:

Once upon a time, people bought books because they liked reading. Now they buy books because they like books. “All these people are really thinking about how the books are – not just what’s in them, but what they’re like as objects,” says Jennifer Cownie, who runs the beautiful Bookifer website and the Cownifer Instagram, which match books to decorative papers, and who bought a Kindle but hated it.

In general, this seems like a throwback to the days of people having libraries or bookshelves filled with books that were there to impress, not to be read. That doesn’t seem like progress to me. Books are for reading, not as a kind of art. It shouldn’t matter what the cover looks like; the story is what matters.

And I have to wonder why she didn’t like her Kindle. Was it because it was unhip or because reading on it was not pleasurable? Did she give the Kindle a chance or just abandon it right away?

Buried way down in the article was a very important statement:

The figures from the Publishing Association should be treated with some caution. They exclude self-published books, a sizable market for ebooks. And, according to Dan Franklin, a digital publishing specialist, more than 50% of genre sales are on ebook. Digital book sales overall are up 6%.

Most of the authors I read are self-published. Part of that is because there are some awesome self-published authors out there, and part is because traditional publishers often price their ebooks at or higher than the paperback editions.

There is another side to this discussion, too, and that is privacy. My husband sent me a link to a First Monday article by Clifford Lynch on reader privacy in the age of reader analytics. I will admit to not having read the whole article, but his closing thoughts include these:

At some point it’s worth asking what readers of various kinds will actually tolerate before the creepiness factor becomes overwhelming and repulsive. Suppose, as a thought experiment, that Amazon said it would share every purchaser’s e-mail address with the author of books they purchased? (Pick your own opt-in or opt-out boundary conditions). How about sharing this information with the book’s publisher? Would a discount on the purchase price or some other reward make most readers more comfortable? What conditions (enforceable or not) might be imposed on the author or the publisher regarding reuse of this purchaser information, and would this make any difference to readers’ comfort levels? What choices would customers make in such situations?

I probably don’t worry as much about privacy as I should. Do I need to worry about Amazon or Kobo selling my data? Would I be better off switching to paper books? Amazon could still sell my data if I buy my books from them.  I don’t see much way around it: we have very limited privacy anymore.

My husband loves to buy and read physical books. He only reads used books that he buys or gets from lending libraries without any paper trail. He is very concerned about privacy and, although he has had two ereaders, never got into ebooks. His approach is a fine one, I think. But it doesn’t work for me.

I love my ereaders. I love my ebooks. I buy mostly genre fiction by independent authors, so ebooks are right for me. What about you?

 

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