Monday, October 28, 2013

Going Digital #1: Print Books vs. E-Books

Going Digital is a blog article series I came up with when I decided that I'm either getting a new eReader or Tablet this holiday season. I thought it might be fun to share what I learn with here, and to see if you guys have opinions or experiences to share about choosing a new reading device, too. If this goes well it should lead to a smart purchase, rather than an impulse buy. It may also help other bloggers in the market for a new eReader or tablet make a more informed decision, too.
About two months after I started blogging back in 2011 I decided to buy myself a Kindle Keyboard when I discovered they were available at The Source. Now, before I start to bad-mouth this poor thing, let me say that my issue is in no way with the quality of this eReader. It's been a great little device and for the most part I love it. But it has a few drawbacks that have kept me from making a proper (or at least more active) switch from print books to digital ones.

The biggest issue I have with my Kindle Keyboard is how it organizes books. They sit on static lists on the front page. Yes, I can create lists and put books into them. But I've just never liked the setup. It's never been able to make the books feel "real" to me, if that makes any sense. I think if I can find a reader that works well and that lets me see my books AS books when I choose them (kinda like how my iPod touch lets me see my music?) that a big part of my issue will disappear. I like the reading experience on my Kindle. But I don't like the book selection or organization experience and that really bugs me.

My other major issue with the Kindle Keyboard is the keyboard itself. The thing is just too little for me and I find using it to search for things, make notes, highlight passages, etc. a pain in the rear end. These types of features, I think, are meant to be some of the advantages of an eReader--some of the things we get in return for the unavoidable sacrifices switching from print books to eBooks entails.

With those gains and losses in mind, I now present to you ten reasons I'm going digital, eight things I'll miss about print books and three exceptions to everything I've written here.
I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in saying "Print!" when someone asks me which I prefer. I'll answer that without batting an eyelash and it's true: I love print books. Heck, one of the things I'm most excited for with my own book next year is that I'll finally get to hold it.

But let's get real for a minute here. Print books may look beautiful. They may feel, for lack of a better word to describe them, alive. But no matter how much I love them, print books and I are having a few issues these days and I need to do something about them. All the pretty covers and beautiful formatting in the world is useless if the print books they're in are keeping me from getting reading done.

10 Reasons I'm "Going Digital":

1. Print size is mine to choose.

I'm legally blind, so being able to see what I am reading is a huge deal for me. I can read most print books, but sometimes I'll come across one that is a particular struggle, I won't want to deal with smaller print late at night, or I would just rather be able to choose the font by reading on my kindle. Font size and legibility of a book isn't an artform--it's like the user interface of a computer program or a video game. If I notice it's there and it's not for a cosmetic reason, it generally means something went horribly wrong. I find this happens to me less with eBooks.

2. Less chance of wrist strain.

I am prone to joint pain in my wrists because I've spent so much time with computers and gaming. Now that I am aware of this, I try to choose the things I do, and how long I do them for, with a lot more care. I also try to make sure things I am holding for a long time aren't too hefty--especially books. (C'mon, have you SEEN the Infernal Devices trilogy, or the Tiger Saga, or... You get the idea.) While there are some heavy books I would still want in my physical 'library' regardless, I would probably be better served to be reading them digitally from a health and wellness perspective.

3. Shelf space is limited.

I have two bookshelves in my room. It's currently so cluttered with books next to the other one that I can't open it. This is not how I want the books I choose to have on a shelf displayed. But with the fact that I keep all my stuff in a 10 x 10 room comes the reality that I don't have a lotta space!

Not only is this setup ugly as far as book displays go, it's also impractical. Have you ever experienced near death by book avalanche? Lemme tell you, it's not pretty! Plus when I move all of these to find the one I want, it also means I need to put them all back before I can sit down and read. One word sums that up: meh.

4. Portability.

Whether it's just wanting to be able to wander down to the dining room table or being in the car while my mother grabs stuff from Metro, there are loads of times when not only having a book on me, but rather the right book on me, would encourage me to get more reading done. I'm a moody reader and I am *not* afraid to DNF something that isn't working for me. But when it's the only thing I brought, I'm kinda nuked. With an eReader, though, I tend to sample before I buy whenever possible and I tend to make smarter purchases since I research my books before clicking Add To Cart.

5. Fast, easy access to the books I want--no car required.

Being able to try samples and download books at the click of a button is awesome. It only takes a few seconds for a book to go from Amazon to my Kindle and then it's there, waiting for me to read it, whenever I'm ready to dive in. That alone is a compelling reason, but when you couple that with the fact that I read a lot of authors, both trade and self published, the need for a good quality reader that will ensure a good reading experience skyrockets.

Oh, there's also the fact that I don't drive and I live half an hour away from the closest physical bookstore to me. Life before Kindle (or at least Amazon orders) really sucked for me as a reader.

6. Read more, pay less.

This one may not apply to everyone, but it definitely applies to a shopaholic like me. I tend to buy a lot of books when I'm out and about locally. Notice I said *bookstores* in my last point, not *books*. :) I can be a major impulse buyer and if I had a dollar for every time I've grabbed something and had buyer's remorse I'd probably be getting my new eReader / tablet for free!

While I'm a sucker for a sale, at least when books for an eReader go on sale they tend to be cheap or free, and if they cost money I have a LOT more time to check them out before downloading then I have to look something over in a store when I'm out with my family.

7. Forget launch day. How about launch minute?

I've done this a few times with books and albums (on iTunes) now and it's great! Getting something right away and not having to wait for it in the mail or for someone to take me to pick it up can be a really good feeling. There are times when I feel like I can't just "go do something" because of not driving and where I live, but being able to decide "I'm getting (Insert Book Here) today." and being able to because of pre-order and digital delivery is fun. Especially when it's something I've been waiting on for months.

8. Useful for editing, revision and beta exchange.

There are certain things that have become part of my writing, outlining, editing, etc. routines that I would not give up. Among those would likely be the outlining method I use, my Scrivener software and reading my work on my kindle when I am editing it. I catch a lot of things that way that I wouldn't on a regular computer screen, or even in print (likely because of my eyes on the latter?). Plus it makes it a lot easier to beta for someone, because I have the Kindle in one hand reading the book and it leaves my PC free (no having to swap programs or files) to make notes as I go in my word processor of choice.

9. Potential to choose a device that integrates the reading experience, making it more social.

I would love to find a reader that will let me highlight a passage and share it on facebook, twitter, or GoodReads. I'd like to be able to see what my friends are reading and have things recommended by them if I pick something that has some kind of homescreen. I'm not totally sure if anything with these features will be available, but the fact that the possibility exists and that I am investing in that possible future is very encouraging.

10. Potential to better support authors I like by pre-ordering their work, getting more read (and reviewed) on this blog, and (in some cases) ensuring they get a better cut of the money I'm spending on the books I buy.

As someone who has spent almost two years studying self publishing, one thing I am very aware of is the fact that authors tend to make a lot more via digital sales than we do from print ones. While it's true that I don't buy every book I read, (many are given for review) when I do choose to buy a book I want the majority of that money to go to the person who wrote it--not to a giant corporation.

7 Things I'll Miss About Print Books:

1. The artistry and design of an actual book.

Who doesn't love pretty covers, thick, texture-edged pages, gorgeous title headers, and interesting internal matter like maps (in fantasy novels) or contemporary books that have lists, poems, etc. through them? (The Sky Is Everywhere comes to mind here.) Beyond that, the simple feel and even smell of a new book can be an almost heady thing. What an eReader will gain me in portability and access, it will cost me in individuality and tangible possession.

2. Going to book stores and buying physical books.

When I do get the chance to go to Chapters and actually choose new books by hand, there's not much I like better. There's something magical about being surrounded by all of the words and worlds and stories just begging me to pick them up and glance inside. Shopping online may give me more time to make decisions, but shopping in actual stores is an experience. Part of me feels that it's sorta like food. Even if someone invented a pill that would meet all your needs would you want to give up eating your favorite things?

3. Receiving packages with books I've bought in the mail.

I love getting mail. It may have something to do with living with my family and only having a cell phone bill? Regardless, little brings me as much joy as seeing something in the mail with my name on it. It's exciting. It shakes up my routine. It's usually something I really want, so I'm excited about it. Kinda the opposite of the "right this minute!" thing above. But we live in a world that wants everything now and sometimes it's good to have to wait for what we want. (Sometimes we even appreciate it more.)

4. Being able to do videos that show actual books to my readers.

Taking video footage of books on a Kindle, phone, etc. generally does not work. It can be done, but it doesn't have the same quality of connection, possession and passion that holding *the* book in my hands does. I've done both and this will likely be one of the things I miss most if I put as much of my focus on digital purchases as I think I will. (Provided I can get the right tool to read them.)

5. Knowing I own my books as opposed to questioning whether I'm just renting them.

This was one of the biggest reasons I held off on an eReader and one of the reasons I still predominantly buy physical books today. Look at countries in the world where some people are allowed to read while others aren't. Consider the idea that in the middle ages only a very small handful of people were literate. Consider that even two generations ago the average citizen probably had a fourth grade education. Then consider the quality of life that could be expected by each of this individuals.

My point is this: those who control books--and more importantly, their distribution--have the power to control the world. Do not make the mistake of undermining the power of fiction! For generations authors have been using the written word as a medium to express ideas, opinions, feelings and more. While I am not directly suggesting that the online booksellers are plotting a Roman style coup to take over the world, I am saying that readers need to be aware of what they are doing when they support large corporations in ways that could come back to bite us all on the butt in the future.

6. Being able to easily allow others to read my books.

eReaders and Tablets, when not being shared among a group of kids, are generally like Chihuahuas. They're a one man (or woman) affair. While I might be totally fine loaning someone a book, there's no way in hell I'd loan out my kindle! Seriously: what am I going to read on then? What if I want to read one of my other books? It's just not efficient. I know there are libraries that are working to get eBook collections available and that some online retailers are trying to set it up so books can be loaned digitally. But it will (likely?) never be as simple as, "Here. Read this and give it back when you're done." like I can do with a physical book.

7. Being able to trade my books with other bloggers, donate them to libraries, etc. if / when I no longer need them.

This weekend I'm going to a blogging meetup in Toronto and one of the things that has been going on in the months leading up to that is a massive online-organized book swap. I'll be bringing over 30(?) books to trade with fellow book bloggers. These are either books I've read and enjoyed but no longer have room for, or they are books that didn't work for me. Either way, though...aren't THEY better served being read by someone else than they are sitting in my closet or on my shelf untouched? I think so. I have a very strong belief that books only live or breathe when a reader opens and reads them. If this is in any way true, it could be said that the digitization of books is suffocating literature. However, that also doesn't take into account the amount of opportunities it has opened up for readers to discover new books and for writers to share their stories with the world. It's a tough call.

3 Other Things To Note:

1. I will still be happy to get signed books from authors when I go to events. I will also still buy print copies of books written by my friends. (I wouldn't want Sealer's Promise to be lonely!)

2. If the book in question is any form of a reference guide, for gaming, writing, web design, etc. print will still be my top priority (most likely).

3. I'm not getting rid of ALL my print books, nor am I saying I'll never buy one again. I will say that my "keeper shelves" will actually be keeping books I love, though.

My Question To You This Week Is...
Print or eBooks? Do you use one? Both? How has the invention of eBooks effected you as a reader? As a blogger? Would you change anything about this if you could?
Articles In This Series:
Why Go Digital? | eReader or Tablet? | Kindle or ePub 
What's Best For Bloggers? | Help Me Choose!  
Kat's New Reader! 

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