Thursday, April 10, 2008

Love a Tree, Read an (e) Book? Nope.


Blogger and author, Lisa Logan, has come up with a list of six reasons that supposedly prove e-books to be superior to printed books. Lisa has several e-books "in print" and, at least for now, appears to be publishing only electronic versions of her work. Here are Lisa's reasons for junking paper in favor of plastic (along with my thoughts):


1. eBooks kill far fewer trees. I can't say NO trees, since the companies and authors producing them do likely use paper for marketing and correspondence. Still, eBooks are much more environmentally friendly than traditional, mass print run methods. POD (print on demand) improves on this approach quite a bit, but eBooks take that a big step further. (Trees are a relatively easily renewed resource. The natural resources used to produce electronic book readers, mostly petroleum products, are not. The planet is not in any danger from paper production - yes, I realize that energy is used to produce paper and to pulp the books unsold, but paper is biodegradable and plastics and batteries are not.)

2. eBook production/consumption requires minimal fossil fuel use. Consider how many trucks, planes, vans, and automobiles are put into service shipping the hundreds of thousands of book titles (that's TITLES, not total books) put into production each year. eBook manufacture requires a miniscule fraction of all this energy consumption. (The amount of fossil fuels used to transport printed books to market is a tiny drop in the overall fossil fuel bucket - there would probably be no measurable impact at all from people switching to e-books)

3. eBooks are less expensive than paper books. Typical prices for new eBooks run between two and six dollars, as opposed to between six and twenty-five dollars for a new print title. (Lisa is being a little optimistic on her pricing model. Check out the Sony e-book site and you will find that best sellers usually sell for between $10 and $15 per copy and other books will be close to $10 unless they are on sale.)

4. eBooks take up much less room. Find yourself hanging onto favorite titles for years? Then you have to have room to store them, dust them, and lug them around when you move. eBooks can be kept forever with very little space (or dusting) required. (This is a minor problem for real book lovers. We are very creative when it comes to finding space for new books and they are packed with great care when it is time to move them to new quarters. I've "lugged" boxes of books across the Atlantic on more than one occasion and would gladly do so again in order to be surrounded by my favorite books. Books make a house my home.)

5. Paper books degrade/damage easily. Pages wear and tear, yellow, and eventually crumble. Hang onto your favorite stories far longer by backing them up on sturdier media. (Hogwash. I have books that were printed in the 1860s and, though they be a little "brittle or yellow," they are still readable and I dip in and out of them on a regular basis - what could be more fun than reading Dickens from a book that was printed when the man was still writing at his peak? Does anyone seriously believe that an e-book will outlast a printed book? If so, they have not experienced the demise of Beta and VHS tapes, LPs, 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, the new DVD just made obsolete, etc. Electronics versions of anything are doomed to short lifetimes because that industry insists on making the players or readers obsolete on a regular basis.)

6. Have trouble reading small print? With a regular book, you're only in control of the glasses you can put on your face to magnify print. With eBooks, you can tweak the font size itself so it's easier to read. (While it is true that the font size on most e-books can be changed, if the e-book reader allows it, reading an e-book is still tougher on the eyes than reading from a printed book.)
E-books are interesting, and I admit to owning one of the Sony Readers. However, reading an electronic version of a book is NEVER my first choice. I have the reader handy for when I am traveling and would like to carry a large selection of books with me. It is certainly easier to carry two or three printed books and the Sony reader that is equipped with another 100 or so. But that's the only advantage I can see.

Book lovers, and we are the ones who probably read some 95% of the books read these days, want books. Books are important to us as "objects," not just for what they contain. We admire their great beauty; we love the way they feel in our hands and the way that a new book smells; we decorate our homes with books and we enjoy seeing the collections of our friends. How can an e-book compete with that?

27 comments:

  1. I totally agree with you - reading is a tactile experience. I have already seen the negative effects of digital photography. Looking at family pictures on a computer screen is not as nice as thumbing through a worn, old photo album. I'm hoping books don't go the same way, I feel like so much would be lost. What would we know about history if ancient civilizations didn't physically write things down?

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  2. Hear hear! That's not to say more couldn't be done to reduce the environmental impact of printing (like, say, printing less crap!), but electronic gizmos are an environmental nightmare from start to finish. I don't think any of my books contain heavy metals, they don't use any electricity, and recycling them doesn't involve sending them to China where peasants will heat up the plastic to pluck out the metal parts while inhaling lungfulls of carcinogens.

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  3. I make up for whatever environmental sins I may commit by not having a car and using public transportation. Nothing's going to part me from my books. It's true that moving them is a problem, but again, I don't have to worry about interior decoration.

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  4. One of my favorite pastimes is just looking at my bookshelves. I love them!

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  5. I'm with Natasha. I love my bookshelves.

    While I would like a Kindle for the sake of convenience, I would NEVER want it to replace my books.

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  6. You mentioned that trees are a renewable source. While that is true, I cannot help but think of the rainforests that are being destroyed and the wildlife in them. These rainforests took hundreds of years to grow, and while we can re-plant the trees, it will take a very long time to get back to where it is now. And the wildlife that is destroyed in the meantime may never return.

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  7. You're right, anonymous, but in order to mine the metals that go into electronics, everything above bedrock is destroyed---they call it "removing the overburden"---and vast amounts of rock are blasted, processed, and discarded to obtain small amounts of metals. Mines are no longer underground tunnels. Now they blast away entire mountains, especially in Third World (i.e. tropical) countries where environmental regulations are lax or nonexistant. A forest can regenerate eventually, if the species are still around, but a pulverized mountain will never return. The question is not which technology is better, but how much is enough?

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  8. There's a mountain right behind my Dorm Sweet Dorm that's being pulverized bit by bit right now, even as I write this. Quite common in South Korea.

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  9. As usual Sam, you articulated what most of us booklovers feel.

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  10. Anon,

    I don't think the rainforests are being cut down for paper. I think they are being cut down to clear land for farming. Most paper companies have tree plantations that they harvest and replant. It's a lot cheaper to do it that way than to go into virgin forest.

    My (former paper company employee) guess is also that rainforest lumber would be far too valuable to be used for paper. You don't use fine mahogany to make Big Chief tablets.

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  11. Sarah, I think we have little to worry about. Printed books will remain the best choice for publishers for countless reasons...and because readers will demand physical copies of books. Electronic copies are just too ordinary and fragile for my taste and I don't think I'm very different from the average book-loving reader.

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  12. Bybee, I really do think we are all doing more and more to be environmentally sound consumers...books are a minor threat to the environment, if any threat at all. I'm not going there...

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  13. I hear you, Natasha, I hear you. I enjoy sorting and resorting my shelves into new presentations and do it at least a couple of times a year. It won't be nearly as much fun to resort my hard drive. :-)

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  14. Exactly right, Amy. A Kindle will not replace books; it will only be used as a matter of convenience and in certain situations, like travel or daily commuting. Books will never be replaced by knockoffs like e-books.

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  15. Anonymous, I don't think that the trees being destroyed in the rain forests are being used to produce paper products, even for book pages. That's not generally the type of tree growing in a rain forest. Paper comes from trees that grow much faster than most hardwoods and they are raised on "tree farms" by companies specializing in that job.

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  16. What you describe is a real environmental horror, Sylvia, unlike a lot of the supposed abuses that people over-react to...nasty stuff, that.

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  17. That's a real shame, bybee. I can't imagine the nerve it must take to destroy a physical feature that has stood for millions of years that way...greed will be the ruination of us all.

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  18. Hey, thanks for the nice comment, herschelian. I appreciate that.

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  19. Whoops, I should have read your response earlier on, Factotum. Thanks for your insights. I think I said essentially the same thing you did, but with less experience to color my answer to anonymous. Thanks.

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  20. What a great rebuttal! Yes, decorating with books is so satisfying - if it wasn't for my books, my home would have no decoration at all. And I can't imagine an author publishing only e-works - how could she resist having those dust jackets to frame?

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  21. I hear you, jlshall...that's exactly why I believe that e-books will always have a limited appeal, at best. Convenience is about all they have going for them right now...and even that is only under limited conditions, such as extended travel.

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  22. If you want to help the environment, recycle your books (that you don't want to keep)- give them to friends, relatives, a resale shop. Obtain your books in the same way! I'm very environmentally conscious - and my sister works in an environmental field, but we both cherish books and will not stop buying them. How absurd!

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  23. I totally agree, forby...I'll be buying books as long as there are books to buy.

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  24. The real power of e-book devices won't be for reading books, it will be for replacing things like newspapers and even magazines. While I understand how you feel (having three bookcases of my own in just my bedroom), I also think you're not taking into account the generation that is growing up with computers. I have a feeling quite a few of them probably won't feel quite as much of an attachment towards books as we do. It is true that the impact of books on the environment is minimal, but it is there. Consider this, e-books can be read on computers that most already own as well, and while one e-book device might be more harmful to the environment than one book, it will last minimum for 1 year (with someone who's always upgrading), and could last quite a bit more, while holding hundreds or even thousands of books with supplemented memory (I think you'll agree that hundreds to thousands of books between printing, shipping, etc., will have more of an impact than one device). To say nothing of the eventual savings if these devices should replace millions of newspapers printed on a daily basis (obviously speaking in long term here, not the current technology).

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  25. I understand your points, anonymous, and I appreciate the time you took to detail them.

    Have you read "The Dumbest Generation," by any chance? The author makes a strong case that the generation that is so addicted to reading only on the internet is fast losing its very ability to read and digest information, much less to retain anything long term. I'm not saying that ebook readers will cause that kind of harm, but I doubt that today's young people will embrace them in huge numbers...they don't even care to read much anymore that's not in summary format.

    I haven't picked up my Sony reader in two months - ever since my vacation trip, in fact. It certainly has its place but it's not something I will ever use much. I wish I could get my money back...

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  26. Hi.
    I agree and disagree with all of you in a way. I am a book lover and an environmentalist (which actually makes me feel somewhat guilty for loving and having books). The carbon footprint of books might be small in comparison to other things but it's still there and every bit helps. Now, e-books will never replace real books among book lovers, but they can serve a purpose. One example is all those books, magazines, and articles which you buy because you have to but really don't plan on keeping. You might buy these because of work reasons or academic reasons, but it happens. Also from what I understand though an e-book reader is not the same as a real book, it is easier on the eyes than a computer monitor so reading long files and articles would be easier this way than printing them out. The technology has a long way to go before it can read all reference books (pdf's aren't properly displayed from what I understand), but hopefully it will come into its own. Though it will never replace real books, and I wouldn't want to give mine up in spite of my pangs guilt, I would like to have an e-book reader made of recycled materials with a good enough selection to get x book that I need for a project due a week later but which is unavailable in my local libraries.

    And on a side note. From what I've read hemp paper is easier to produce and lasts longer than paper made from trees (and hemp grows faster), is less toxic to bleach as you can do so with peroxide (and it stays white longer as well). So I'd there are always other alternatives for helping the environment without giving up our books.

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