Thursday, December 5, 2013

Print vs. Digital 2

Revisiting the whole print-versus-digital argument. I already addressed one aspect of this subject before in another postThis time, I’m looking at the issue of which do readers generally prefer? The print version of a book or the digital (ebook) version of a book? I'm not questioning whether one is superior over the other. Simply, which do people find themselves preferring.
Let’s just cut to the chase: in a recent poll by The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, 79% of the respondents preferred print books to ebooks. Goodreads had similar results in a 2010 poll (still live and collecting votes) that shows 80% of readers prefer printed books.
Seems like print books pretty much have the lead. But not so fast.
A more scientific poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2012 revealed something that countered the above results. Surveying avid readers, they approached the subject by asking which was better—an ebook or a print book—in several different situations. The ebooks came out ahead by a fair margin. One key point in this survey focused on “Reading in Bed.” This point addresses the issue of actually holding the book, and it found that readers were nearly split between ebooks and print books, with ebooks getting a small lead.
Looking ahead, I’m willing to bet that by the end of the holiday season when retail sales are tallied up, they will find that the print/ebook spread will probably be around 65%/35%. Thirty-five percent is still a pretty damned good portion of the market.
Over the past few years, ebook sales surged past sales of print books, particularly during the holiday periods. This had everyone ringing the bell for the impending demise of printed books. Yet, sales of printed books would surge back during other parts of the year. I don't see ebooks completely replacing printed books any time soon. 
When looking at what people prefer—not counting the survey by the Pew Research Center—the results I found on this question came from polls set up on various web sites. The problem with these polls was the questions were not qualified. Meaning, how many of those people who responded to the polls saying they prefered printed books had actually tried reading an ebook on an ebook reader? I’m sure if the poll-takers qualified the question to read, “If you use an ebook reader, which do you prefer…?,” the results would be different.
With this in mind, I was talking with someone who said he vehemently preferred print books to ebooks if he had ever actually read an ebook on an ebook reader. His answer was, “No.” That means, he really didn’t know what it was like to read an ebook. It also disqualifies his answer from being valid, because he cannot truthfully compare the two. (How can you say you like stuffed nup-nups if you've never even seen a stuffed nup-nup?)
Even though I liked the idea of ebooks, when I was trying to determine whether or not my book would work as an ebook, I was still unsure how well it would work out. So I tested the issue. I bought a few ebooks and read them on my iPhone—including one I already owned as a print book. Reading on a smart phone really pushes the envelope between ebooks and printed books. I had pretty strong doubts about it. Surprisingly, I found myself able to become as immersed in the story while reading it on my iPhone as I was reading the same book in print. Reading on a dedicated ebook reader was as pleasurable as reading the book on paper.
I was sold on the concept and decided when I wrote Nobody, releasing it as an ebook would be a good choice.
I enjoy reading and become just as immersed in a story regardless of whether it is on paper or on a digital display. Ebook? Paperback? Or Hardcover? To me, there’s no difference; they are merely different containers for the same story. I have become just as lost into reading a story on a web page as in a printed book.
You, as a reader of this blog, are probably a good candidate for reading books as ebooks. You are already used to reading articles on web pages. That’s all an ebook is: a self-contained web page. Each chapter in an ebook is merely an individual web page. Where you scroll down through a web page in a browser, you “flip pages” in an ebook reader as you go through the chapter.
So what is the key issue with switching to ebooks? What problems create resistance in readers?
In my opinion, it's conditioning and habit.
I spent 48 years holding books in a certain way. Picking up an ebook reader and reading a book on it for the first time was awkward.
Holding an ebook reader this way
works great—until you fall asleep
and your arm goes limp.
I bought a cover for each of my ebook readers, with the thought that it would be more natural to hold it like a printed book. I was wrong. All the weight of the reader in a cover is on one side. Plus, you are not twisting and turning to look at one page or another on an ebook reader as you would a paper book. Ultimately, I find I prefer to remove my ebook readers from their covers when reading them. Doing so led me to finding a comfortable way of holding the ebook reader while reading. A slight variation of that allows me to hold the ebook reader suspended above my head while I’m laying down reading—far more easily than holding a printed book in that position.
If you are buying an ebook reader for the first time, think carefully why you are buying a cover for it. A book-like cover does not make an ebook reader feel like a book. One reader on TYWKIWDBI, Cathy M., noted she got a cover for her Kindle that was like an easel so she could prop it up on the table while eating. Think of a cover as more protection for the ebook reader rather than making it look like a book and you will probably choose something that is more appropriate.
I was surprised to find that an individual ebook reader is lighter than most paperback books.
My father has often been fond of a rule of thumb used in marketing: "weight equals value." If I placed two coins on a table in a darkened room, one made of aluminum and one made of gold, you would easily be able to tell which one was made of gold just by picking it up. The aluminum one would feel cheap because it was so light. One attribute of print books that some people say makes them better than ebooks is their heft. An ebook—which is composed of electrons held in a certain state of energy—weighs less than .0000000000000000000003g, according to U. of California Scientist, Dr. John Kubiatowicz. An entire library of ebooks loaded onto a 4GB memory card in an ebook reader would still weigh less than a single bacterium.
The weight of an ebook reader leads to an interesting statistic in ebook sales: older generations are adopting ebooks faster than younger generations. The key issue being, it is easier for a senior citizen to hold an ebook reader than to hold a printed book. Especially if said individual has arthritis.
Another plus for senior readers is the font size of an ebook can be increased to make it easier to read. Large-print books are huge and heavy.
There is a psychological aspect to a physical paper book. I am less compelled to pick up an ebook reader and start reading than I am when I see a book laying on the table. I attribute this to conditioning. See book, must read book! Yet, as I pointed out above, once I start reading I am as lost in that story in any medium as I would be reading it on paper.
There is one place where ebooks just cannot compare to paper books: the library. Sure, a single ebook reader can hold a massive library. But there is nothing like walking into a room that is filled with shelves of books. You can tell something about the person by the selection of books showing. Even more by the ones that look more worn and creased than the others.
This can work both ways, though. I have walked into a few houses where the shelves have been filled with books that had obviously never been opened. Set up more as decorations and intended to impress visitors. Problem is, it only impresses those people whose opinions really don’t matter and makes the homeowners look like buffoons to those who they truly should be trying to impress.
Another point comes to my mind. As an author, until I can afford to put Nobody and the subsequent Aggadeh Chronicles novels into print, I won’t know the pleasure of  riding on the subway and seeing someone reading one of my books. That’s something I can look forward to, I hope.