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?
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