Will E-books Kill Hardcopy Books?


Will e-book readers kill hardcopy books?

This post was inspired by the Kaizen Reading blog. I don’t know the answer to the question posed in the title, but I will share my thoughts.

Upon reflection, I came up with a few main points. First, computers didn’t end pen and paper or hand writing, but they certainly affected them. Second, this reminds me of the fountain pen vs. ballpoint pen debate. Ballpoint pens have replaced fountain pens for most people, but some still use fountain pens. Their reasons sound very much like the same reasons people still read books, i.e. the feel of a fountain pen in your hand is more satisfying than a ballpoint pen. In the same way the feel of a book in your hand is just better than reading it on a screen. Third, there are parallels with the rise of electronic movie and music formats. Now, what format will e-books take? I used to think that they would be like CDs. One book loaded onto a disk that you pop into an e-reader. That would leave the book publishers in control of their books. But… now I don’t think that is what’s going to happen. Music evolved past CDs into purely online electronic formats with DRM, and I think that’s the same way e-books will evolve. I think e-readers may take on characteristics of expensive books. They may be made of more expensive materials and made to mimic old books at first, then simply be made of expensive, non-plastic materials, such as wood and metal, to appeal to aesthetics.

In my opinion, not only are e-books here to stay, they will replace books in the same way that ballpoint pens replaced fountain pens. I think some people will still prefer hardcopy books just as they prefer fountain pens. However, e-readers have access to a huge library without the need for corresponding storage space. In the same way storage of newspapers was replaced by putting their contents on microfiche, most books will be replaced by e-books. I love that e-books can now be self published as easily as music can. Just put it up online and anyone can enjoy it. If you want to make money, slap some DRM onto it, or maybe don’t even bother if you charge a price most people think is fair.

Another consideration is the content of books will tend to increase in importance as the book’s cover is no longer an issue. The phrase “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” will become something you have to look up to find out why it’s used. In the same way that “Going off half cocked” is a phrase we don’t have any current experience with, you’ll have to do some research to find out what that phrase means.

The one objection to e-books that I’ve heard and agree with is the difficulty of citing a page from an ebook, especially one with no page numbers. Different readers have different pagination. What’s on page 300 in one e-reader will be on page 312 on another, so if you’re reading a reference book or scholarly work and you need to cite it for your own work, how do you do that? Well, it turns out there are a few ways to cite e-books. A few methods are listed below. There are more:

1. The Chicago Manual of Style

2. The APA (American Psychological Association

3. MLA (Modern Language Association)

4. Turabian

Different editions of a hardcopy book will have different pages cites, so I think if people start to follow a convention in citing e-books, it won’t matter as much since they’ll just be considered a different edition.

Those are my thoughts on e-books vs. hardcopy. Not as polished as I would like, but you get what you pay for. Comments and differing opinions are welcome.

The Speed of Dark

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

This book is about Lou Arrendale, a man with autism. This was enough to get me interested, because my son has autism and I find most things on the topic of autism interesting. The idea of a novel about a man with autism was very compelling to me and I felt real anticipation and interest building before I even started reading it, emotions I have not felt about a book in a long time.

The Speed of Dark did not let me down at all. I did not expect it to be written from Lou’s perspective. I more expected something from an outsider’s point of view. At first I had some difficulty with it because the perspective was jarring and very different, but after a few chapters I was able to sink into Lou’s point of view. This book truly held my interest throughout and I was always reluctant to put it down when other things came up to deal with, like meals and sleep, for example.

The back of this book has a set of discussion questions meant to prompt a book discussion group. In one of the questions, one reviewer is said to have described the book’s ending as chilling, while another called it a cop out. After thinking about how the book made me feel in general, I think bittersweet is the best description of my feeling about the book. As I read the book, I expected events to take the same general course as another short story Elizabeth Moon wrote about a man who thought he would be forced to change against his will. In that case he was going to be forced to have a colony of symbiotic organisms removed from his guts. He ran away and was helped by the people he met to fight for his rights in court. Things seemed to be following that track in this book, but then it took a turn and wound up going in a direction I didn’t expect, to my further delight. The choices Lou made were definitely not ones I think I would have made, but were still realistic and understandable. In fact, the more consider it, the more I am not sure what I would have decided to do in the end.

The unexpected direction of the novel, well thought out characterizations, excellent and immersive point of view of Lou, and my own son’s autism along with my interest in the subject makes this book easily one of my top ten favorites of all time. If you have a connection to Autism, either through a relative or someone you know, I believe you will find this book interesting. However, if you have no connection to autism, I think Elizabeth Moon’s solid storytelling abilities will engage your interest anyway.