Does embracing ebooks mean selling out your literary soul?

You hear it all the time: “Ebooks just don’t compare to the real thing.” What does the attraction of a print book over an ebook come down to? Perhaps it’s just more satisfying to the physical senses. What reader doesn’t like the look of books on a shelf, the feel and sound of turning pages, and their… smell? Is this quaint tradition going to be left behind like beautifully hand-written letters?

No. It’s not a war. Readers don’t have to choose. There is time for both. Just as there is time for a laptop and a notebook, a house phone and a mobile, printed news and online news, emails and… well, you can still hand-write beautiful letters if you wish.

So ebooks are yet to thrill our physical senses when we hold them, and they never come in shiny covers – a shiny ebook would only serve to hurt your eyes. But is this stuff what really matters when you read a good book? Let’s have a look at the advantages of ebooks in their defence, before we run away in fright convinced that they will digitalise part of our souls.

If you’re an extremely introverted reader, you can buy an ebook without leaving your quiet habitat, or if you’re always too busy but want something to read on the train, you can purchase on the go, and take a portable library with you when you go on holiday. Most ereaders include perks such as a table of contents to navigate your way around, cloud syncing for different devices, dictionaries and translations, and easy ways to highlight or annotate the text. You can also choose your favourite font to read in, if you’re crazy about Comic Sans that is.

If you’re an insatiable reader and devour many books at once, you may find yourself returning to one book confused about the characters and where you’d left the story – “what’s going on again?” This is why Amazon developed X-Ray, which gives you a comprehensive list of all the major and minor characters, as well as locations and objects, in any given book. There is also a growing capacity to share what you’re reading; Amazon and Barnes and Noble have developed ebook lending programs that allow you to loan an ebook to a friend, one time, for up to two weeks. So you can loan your favourite read and, crucially, you’ll be sure to get it back. Similarly there is a growing number of ways with ebooks to engage in discussions about the book with other readers, get recommendations of similar stuff, and explore and discover whole libraries from your little screen.

Ebooks remain consistently cheaper than print. A report by Books and e-Books UK 2014 found that 26% of consumers who have bought an ebook in the last year are reading more than they used to because ebooks cost less than printed books, a figure that rises to 38% of 16 to 24-year-olds. This makes sense. If you love reading, you can read more for less. And is that not the most important thing – that, in whatever way, people are able to read and share more great books?

Joe Jamieson

Written by Joe Jamieson


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