Digital Books Are Better (Sorry, Not Sorry)

That’s a pretty provocative title, yeah? As somebody who loves book paper-printed and digital publishing, and is currently working on their OWN novel, I have to say I really have enjoyed reading books on my Kindle Fire and Galaxy tablets, and even on my smartphone. I have friends who will swear by their paper books, and I can agree with some of that mentality – I still have plenty of paper on my shelves – but by and large, digital text is not just the proverbial “wave of the future” (as douchey as that might sound), but it’s just… better.

On paper, it’s simply a better format than… paper.

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Eyeballs and high school notebooks, what more d’ya want?

I’ve thought about this before, but I started thinking about it again recently, after I won a bet.

Three of us were out bowling with some friends when I proposed the wager. The two losers would have to purchase a book each for the winner – not something super-expensive, but a book of their choosing. And as the winner, I received nice new paperback copies of Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan and Lexicon by Max Barry. After receiving my prizes I set these new mass-market paperbacks (my favorite type of tangible thing, by the way) on my bed, in their floppy-paged glory, and I appreciated the view. But there was a little niggle at the back of my brain wondering if I maybe should have asked for the cost added to my Amazon account so I could download the books myself.

Like I said, I still have plenty of paper on my shelves. And there are plenty of benefits to reading paper books, from the practical (no battery power needed) to the paranoid (it’s much, much harder to track a paper book than a digitally-purchased copy), and some books deserve to be read on parchment on principle… I’ll always have a paperback copy of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury in my collection, both a “nice” copy and my “reader”, marked-up copy. But as nice as the feel of paper under fingertips and dried ink to the eyes, reading on a small, dedicated screen has just so many upsides to it.

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About 950 pages between those three books, while that Kindle Fire is currently filing over 80 books (not including samples, and not including what isn’t currently downloaded to it). Perspective, meet physical perspective.

The best example being, I don’t need to lug a book around with me wherever I may go that a book may be welcome. I have a smartphone as so many people do nowadays, complete with a few different reading apps, and books loaded to it (and more available online). In a pinch, I can be sitting on a bench waiting for my pizza to be cooked, and open up my app to read a few lines to pass the time. And yes, I have done this, and multiple times… even when my glasses prescription was well out of date, I sat in the waiting room waiting for my eye exam, squinting into my phone to get through part of a chapter of Generation Atheist or North Korea: State of Paranoia. Then, after I got home, I could sync the progress I had made back to my Kindle or tablet, and I’m back to reading on a more “appropriate” screen size.

So I can read my digitally-purchased books anywhere, and without even the need for an external light source. I read a lot in my bed or sprawled out on the couch, where there isn’t already perfect lighting, so when I’m reading a physical copy I’m contorting myself to allow precious rays of light hit the page. I don’t have to worry about it when reading from a back-lit screen, and even better, if the screen hurts my eyes (as it sometimes does), I have the ability to adjust how the screen appears. Gone are the days of bright-white behind jet-black text, and in is the ability to change to a browned, sun-faded page facade, doing wonders for my glass-improved eyesight. I don’t need my bedside lamp anymore… though I’m gonna keep it. It’s still nice.

And then, there’s the price. If you’ve already got a smartphone or a tablet, you don’t really need a Kindle of any flavor, since the app is available for free. And the books themselves are cheaper due to the lack of physical manufacture costs, and are more likely to be on sale for some really great prices. I bought The Fault In Our Stars a few years back on my Kindle for $3.99, WAY below the hardcover sticker price (which is STILL $17.99) AND the paperback price (currently $6.49 on Amazon). Hell, it’s even cheaper now – as of this post you can buy it on Amazon for $2.99! I’m sorry, for a book I’m even remotely interested in, I’m much more likely to buy if the cost is down that far from a physical copy. And so many other books currently on shelves for $15 or more can be bought in digital form for ten bucks or less, and many classic texts like the Tao Te Ching are even totally free.

If you don’t have a tablet or smartphone already, the prices are falling to the point nearly anyone can afford them. You can find a super-inexpensive phone plan and a smartphone capable of running the Kindle app for as little as thirty or forty collars and a minuscule monthly fee. Or, you could buy an inexpensive tablet online for under fifty bucks that does little beyond basic web surfing, running the Kindle app, and working as a halfway-decent alarm clock. Seriously, technology is so cheap now that you can buy a device capable of accessing a wealth of human information not accessible to anyone but the most elite only 25 years ago, and use it as a noisy paperweight… AND it can hold a charge long enough to read through a sci-fi novel from before portable computing was an idea adapted from early Star Trek episodes.

All of this brings back the question then… what’s the point of the paper book anymore? They can be damaged and unrecoverable, they get expensive if purchased new (or even used sometimes, and especially hardcovers), they take up space that could be used for other outdated tech (like DVDs, CDs, video game packaging, and other things I also enjoy), so why do we still even produce hardcovers and mass-market paperbacks?

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I could have more shelf space for games! (BTW yes, I realize these are an outdated medium as well. Still love ’em though.)

I’ve only got two reasons: because they smell nice – especially the old dusty ones that’re probably giving me dusty nose death disease – and because they’re somehow more “real”. I love the feel of paper, and I love the tangible feel of turning a page, but aside from the dusty texts from the local used book shop, is there really a need for paper books anymore? How many people are regularly spending lots of time away from a power outlet, at least for longer than their Kindle may hold a charge? Is there something about the paper book that simply can’t be recreated in the digital realm?

If you know, please let ME know in comments. I’m genuinely curious and want to hear it, since I want more reason to purchase the physical item. I look forward to hearing the defense of ink-on-page writing!

Stand tall (even if you need a phone book or two to stand on), my friends!