Ebooks vs paper… still?


ebook vs paperA statement from Steve Davidson, owner/publisher at Amazing Stories, recently posted to Facebook:

“I wish to go on record to state that my recent physical encounter with physical books has absolutely in NO way diminished my love of physical books, nor has it diminished my loathing for so-called e-books in the least!

“We’re taught that the things you work hardest for are the things that you cherish the most, are the things that have the most import and meaning. This is true…and no less true for REAL books. When you’ve carried and sorted and lifted and twisted while holding what amounts to tons of paper in the aggregate, you may ask yourself – “why am I doing this?” After all, there is an easier way – just ditch the whole thing and buy the electronic version, store em in the cloud and get some space back in your hallway.

“But then you look at the titles…the author names…the artwork…and you remember where you where (sic), who you were with and what you were doing when you first started carrying it around and you realize how full of life, how full of stories beyond the story, each and every volume is, and you realize how soulless and meaningless a bunch of ones and zeroes stored on some server farm in Outer Outer Mongolia is and, suddenly, those books just don’t seem that heavy or awkward anymore.”

I don’t know if this post was written in response to an event, such as an avalanche of books falling upon Davidson while he was running an inventory, and a subsequent hospital stay… or possibly the act of moving, said process significantly complicated and made more expensive by the inclusion of an additional few truck-fulls of books and magazines.  And I’ll try to ignore the clear slight to those of us who not only appreciate, but prefer reading and writing in ebook formats.  No matter—my rebuttal, also posted to Facebook:

“It’s funny: I can look at those old books, and see rotting paper with dried and fading marks left by energy-wasting, environmentally-damaging printing presses and even less identifiable stains, beat up by smoke-belching trucks and rat-infested warehouses before ever reaching me, encouraging the build-up of paper-eating insects and mildew, breaking my back, breaking my shelves, taking up space my wife would just as soon see filled with colorful pictures, knick-knacks and sculptures from our travels…

“against a miracle of electronic storage and display, carrying the equivalent of a few-score boxes of books within it, in malleable formats easy to adjust to the eye, easy to search, easy to buy from wherever I am (if there’s a WiFi connection, anyway), easy to take my entire library to Outer Mongolia if I wish…

“and suddenly the point of all those paper books is completely lost to me. In fact, the only reason I keep them around is in the hope that I find an easy way to convert them to ebooks sometime in the near future.”

It’s always interesting amazing to me that people who espouse science fiction—which means by definition that they have an appreciation for science and the things it has wrought over the ages—seem to have an outright disdain, bordering on manic hatred, of books in digital formats.  (It’s also interesting amazing to me that SF fans, many of whom by extension do not ascribe to any religious views, nonetheless like to imbue books with souls.  Well, I suppose they could have souls—most likely the souls of the healthy living trees that were cut down to make them…)  But to condemn an entire format of books, and by extension, the novels that are available in that format, seems beyond the extreme to me.

ebook readerI can certainly understand an attachment to the trappings of personal pasts and traditions, which often include those tired old paperbacks that, at one time, may have seemed to be your only entertainment… maybe even your only true friends.  I have memories like that, too, and they include other geeky items, like models, toys, comic books and movie posters galore.

But my memories also include a constant and unwavering interest in science and technology, and the many ways in which they would enrich my life as they developed.  And in the same way I view the transition from black-and-white TV to color… the development of computers from room-sized goliaths to devices that fits into my pocket… and the creation of a communications network that allows me to share documents with friends on the opposite side of the planet… in the same way that I view all those things as a clear enrichment of life; so I see the creation of ebooks, and the ability to carry a flexible, searchable and ever-expandable library with me at all times, without having to do the damage to the environment that printing, hauling and storing physical books requires, as an enrichment of all of our lives, an undeniably good thing.

ebook reading habitsNow, if Davidson and others like him prefer printed books, value the memories made when hauling them around, and prefer potentially risking his health dealing with heavy, moldy fire-hazards, that’s clearly their prerogative, and I don’t begrudge them that.  (Mild shake of the head, a little eye-rolling, okay, but that’s it, I swear.)

But considering all the wonderful new fiction that is available to them, from sources they’d never have had access to before electronic media and internet communications became a thing—including, potentially, my own stories—and considering how most of them, especially Davidson, are taking advantage of that selfsame technology to gain themselves exposure and further their own ends—I’d certainly hate to think that they are purposely shunning all that technology-provided entertainment from their lives, and new potential memories to be made, based on a luddite attachment to an ancient and wasteful production and dissemination system that has been quite thoroughly surpassed by the wonders of the modern century in which they stand.

Because, when it comes down to it, it’s not the format; it’s the story that has value, however it’s packaged.


7 thoughts on “Ebooks vs paper… still?

  1. Victor

    As a long-time fan of classic SF, I grew up on the traditional paper books — whether they were hard or softbound. In fact, I ‘ve amassed great quantities of physical books. But about 8 years ago I began experimenting with ebooks and ebook readers, and I’ve never looked back. These days, if I need to purchase a book of any kind, about 90% of the time I will definitely prefer the ebook to the paperbook. There are a multitude of values that can be found in ebooks. The first is longevity; they dont rip, stain or wear out. Next is the scant amount of space they take up, a real boon to frequent travelers who like to take some books on the journey. And finally, the small form factor and lightness of the reader (assuming you have a dedicated ereader, and not a massive tablet). The ereader makes it easy to one-handed hold the book and flip pages. Coupled with a nice ereader – one with infrequent charging requirements and a good software browser – and ebooks are a real delight.


  2. Bravo, Victor. And I’ll just add that the larger tablets are also good readers because not every ebook is a book. I have multiple magazine subscriptions which I read on tablets and save or discard as desired… again, much easier on the environment, and better than boxes of old magazines filling up my basement.


    • Victor

      Steve, definitely agree about tablets for non-books. My ereader can show an e-magazine, but it is black & white only. At this stage in electronics, tablets are my preference for magazines, and also do a better job on some PDF books – dependent on the formatting.


  3. I’ve grudgingly begun to like my Kindle. I still have a fondness for printed books, as I’m sure people once had a fondness for illuminated manuscripts or parchment scrolls. But ebook readers are pretty nice with or without the nostalgia value.


  4. You know Steven, this is an unbelievable distortion of a comment on FB.
    I guess that you don’t recognize the difference between a personal preference and what one does to keep up with science and technology – and even work in those fields.
    This would be amusing, considering that I worked on developing some of the basic technologies that support the internet and multi-media technologies back in the 80s, but its annoying because you could have continued the discussion in situ on facebook but chose to instead retreat to more familiar ground here.
    Let me show you what you’re doing here:
    I see no mention of the fact that you stated that ebooks were 21st century technology and my correction of that error here; A minor error, certainly, and I only mention it here because you seem intent on attacking my credentials. So – What can we say about a science fiction author who doesn’t know what century a particular technology was invented in? “Oh horrors, everything the guy writes must be inaccurate!!” Of course that’s not the case, I’m sure, but that is EXACTLY the same kind of false connection you’re trying to draw between my PERSONAL preference for print books and my editing/publishing of Amazing Stories.
    For the record, Steven: I did not attack you on FB. I did not attack people who publish ebooks, nor did I attack people who read them. I stated a PERSONAL preference for one media over another.
    For the record, Steven: I publish electronic editions of Amazing Stories and of the anthologies and classic reprints from our licensee. We offer our products IN BOTH media so that they can be accessible to anyone who wants to read them, regardless of what their personal reading preferences may be. In that respect, I think we’ve got a leg up, as I understand that you ONLY print in electronic format, thus denying your works to those who may prefer print or who – OMG – might not even be able to open an electronic file. There’s still a lot of people in the world who don’t have computers or ebook readers.
    Unlike some, I recognize the difference between my personal preferences and the full set of options available to everyone else.


    • You’re right, Steve: I took your initial statement at face value, since it’s the initial statement that usually reveals people’s actual opinions.

      Yes, you are entitled to your opinion, as I am entitled to mine. However, when I read your opinion I also hear a distinctly sharp criticism of those who appreciate ebooks… as well as those who create them. So, basically, I read your comments as a direct and clear loathing of people like me.

      Considering how much work I’ve put in over the years, not only trying to legitimize my work, but the work of ebooks and their producers, that hurts… apparently more than you realize, being in a more established and dominant position in the industry. Comments like yours have been instrumental in the eventual resignation of upcoming authors trying to break into an unforgiving industry… yes, I know them personally. I am still in considerable threat of being one of them, and a primary reason is the constant belittling of ebooks and their creators that I must suffer.

      So, feel free to discuss your opinions as you see fit. But I don’t see that there’s anything further you and I need to discuss. I may have to take criticism, but that doesn’t mean I have to speak to the critic.


  5. C.W. Roden

    I like ebook readers well enough, and I understand the value of what you said in terms of how easy they are. Even I have to admit the benefits of having them for travel and for taking up little space on bookshelves. I love my own ebook reader.

    Now that being said, there will never be a perfect substitute for a bound and printed book in your hands. No other sensation better than weight of a bound leather or hardcover book, the feel of the pages between your fingers, or the smell of newly printed (or old, time-worn) pages as your companion takes you to other worlds, seeing other lives, and experiencing their trials and tribulations.

    I practically grew up in a library, spent much of my free time in middle school and high school in the school libraries, and (surprise) became a librarian. Right now I am working towards writing my very first science fiction novel and hope to have finished before the end of this year. My dream is to have the characters and settings of my vivid imagination in a published book, on shelves for people to enjoy….and yes, in ebooks too.

    While I respect the value of the benefits of ebooks, it will never fully replace a bound and printed hardcover or paperback in my heart.


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