Paperbacks v Digital Books

There was a time in the not so distant past when I clearly remember believing paperbacks would always be my preferred reading source. I love books. I love reading. It’s the one thing I do constantly in my life and have done since I was a very young child. Books are important to me.

I love the feel of them. I love the smell of them. I love seeing them lined up in a book case, showing their vivid colours and inviting me to jump into their secret worlds. These things cannot be said about digital books.

I love walking into someone else’s home and viewing their books of choice scattered around the place. It hints at the type of person they are, the imagination they might have. It’s possible to spy reference books which tells you of that person’s interests too. And in moments of quiet, they allow you to point to a book and ask them about it … which may well lead to a very interesting conversation. Again, these things cannot be said about digital books.

I love walking into a book shop and browsing the shelves of unknown authors, never before seen covers. Picking them up and flipping them over to read the (hopefully) catchy blurb on the back. Will it intrigue me enough to want to read it? Or does it sound boring or too serious for me, which will make me put it back on the shelf? At the risk of repeating myself, this cannot be said about digital books.

Yet, with all this said and done, I can’t help but prefer to read books in digital format these days. In 2011 most of the books I read were digital. 2012 has only just started, but my reading list comprises of digital books only so far. I have a beautiful wooden bookcase in my bedroom, filled with wonderful books. I want to read them all. They deserve my time, but I feel pulled to my reading device.

It’s a small object really. Most people would lift an eye brow and scoff at reading on it. They mumble things like “small screen” and “eye strain” but I always assure them that the size of the screen is not noticed and I’ve never had eye strain whilst using it.

Perhaps it’s my personal circumstances that make reading this way more attractive. Our lounge room has no lighting except for a single lamp. Reading in the evening is difficult due to shadows across the pages. To avoid the shadow I must sit in an uncomfortable position. I’ve tried using a book lamp but it was more trouble than it was worth, to say the least. However, when I use my reading device I can sit anywhere I want, however I want because the backlight on the screen is just right (for me) for reading.

If I can’t sleep, I can sit in bed and read in comfort. If I want to sit in the garden, I can. I can read on the train, and can swap and change between books if I want to. I can take a selection of books with me on vacation or to work or to the hospital. There’s no weight, no storage problems. If there’s a power source, I can plug in and read. If not, the battery lasts for an entire week if all I’m doing is reading on the device.

I have purchased ebooks from online bookshops, but there is no personality and no feeling of belonging. Shopping in the virtual world is not as good as shopping in the physical world. I still want to browse books, pick them up and flick through the pages, read the blurb and make a decision. But I think when the decision is made I’d like to be able to go up to the counter and say I want the digital version.

Bookshops need to get with the times, and I believe this is starting to happen, but it’s not something I’ve seen for myself. Bookshops draw booklovers to them, so why not entice the booklover to walk out of the shop with a book in hand (be that paperback or digital). Instead of denying the existence of an ever changing world, merge with it and grow.

People will continue to buy printed books, but more and more people are swapping to digital reading. Once, I would have vocalised loudly about the need for paperbacks, but now I find myself vocalising more loudly about reading itself, not the format it’s done in.

3 thoughts on “Paperbacks v Digital Books”

  1. Great post, Karen! I feel the same way. I love book cases full of books, and I will never get rid of mine. I love small book shops and the big chain stores, but it’s a fact, I read far more in digital than I ever will again in print. The last hurdle for me was technology books, which I’ve resisted because I don’t read them cover to cover, but use them as reference books, reading particular chapters and skimming the rest. That’s changing as well. I think it will eventually come down to the fun of browsing shelves and occasionally buying a printed book.

  2. Great post Karen. Though, I find the backlit devices distracting. But perhaps it’s not the light, so much as the other things on it, which has something to do with my personality.

    You’ve got me thinking about how bookshops might develop to cope with the digital times. Perhaps they will come more communal spaces, for browsing and sharing ideas and presenting writers, more launches and events, and spaces to read than places to buy things. Or perhaps other spaces that already do that will become much more critical.

    But one thing I do like about digital books is sending a preview, with Kindle, to my device and reading the first chapter or so before decided whether to buy it and keep reading.

  3. Good article Karen. I have a Kindle but am torn between that and paperbacks. I’m an established writer and want to see people buy my hardback novels, but have resorted to POD and Kindle with a few of them. Interestingly, I read an article yesterday, a very lenghty one about the battle royal going on between Amazon and the established publishers. Amazon have declared their intention to go into publishing. Paprebacks do you think?

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