ebooks vs ‘real’ books

When I posted about loaning ebooks yesterday I wondered whether people’s comments – either explicitly or obliquely – would make reference to another subject I’m intrigued about, which is readers’ attitudes towards ebooks. In particular, the differences in the way readers treat an ebook (for eg letting friends borrow them) as opposed to a print book.

I think this did come through in some of the comments so I wanted to ‘strike while the iron was hot’ and hit people with this post because I believe the issues are strongly linked.

If you are a follower of reader and author blogs you’ve probably seen remarks or even the odd debate about whether people think ebooks are ‘real’. I don’t believe this has anything to do with questions about efiction being an ‘authentic’ creative work, but instead everything to do with the ephemeral or perhaps intangible nature of the digital format.

Again, I am fascinated that some readers feel ebooks aren’t real because they can’t treat them, touch them, handle them, shelve them, borrow them, etc in the same way they would a print book. I admit to occasionally feeling this myself. I even had to reword some parts of my previous post where I’d described print as being a ‘proper’ book.

Perhaps the whole issue will disappear as our cultural views and practices towards books – whatever their form – evolve?

Maybe if a Mission Impossible style self-destruct is developed for ebook loaning we’ll feel more comfortable and attitudes will change?


Yet, there’s a certain irony in it all, don’t you think?

About Kris

Reads, rants, randoms & R+s. You've been warned. BTW, don't follow me if you're a GLBTQQphobic wanker. It won't end well. For you.
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24 Responses to ebooks vs ‘real’ books

  1. Dunno if an ebook is less real than a print book, but you certainly have less rights, which is part of the problem.

    If I buy a print book, it's mine to keep, sell or trade to a UBS for money or more books, loan out to however many friends want to read it, or burn it in a bonfire for being completely frickin sporkable.

    All I get for an ebook- at nearly the same cost as that print book, mind- is a license to read the story. I can't legally re-sell it when I'm done, borrow it to friends, or do anything else. That sort of raises my pisstivity level.

    I don't pirate books, but I can see why some do. I'll give you an example. AA sold TA Chase's Allergies for $7, and the book was 132 pages (44k words). I can buy a Harlequin print book, which averages 200+ pages, for $3.08. Not exactly raising the incentive for people to buy that ebook, is it? Now I can go to a file swap site and get the book for free. Guess where most people are going to go to get that book? ePubs are shooting themselves in the foot there.

  2. Lily says:

    @ Kris

    I don't think a book is any less a book just because it's not in print. At least to me a book is a book, no matter what form it's in. Someone took the time to write it so others could enjoy it, it's words on a page, whether I look at a paper page, a computer screen or my eReader, it's still a book.


    I agree with you about the pricing. Especially with the way the economy is going, it's hard sometimes to justify paying $7 for what I always considered to be a “small book” or short story.


  3. Matthew says:

    I really don't care if I read an ebook or a print book. The story is what matters. Personally, I prefer ebooks – they are easier to get, usually cheaper and much easier to carry around. 🙂
    Having said that, Emmy is right – I've read some books I would love to return and get my money back – but I can't even slap the author or publisher with ebooks!

  4. orannia says:

    I thought I waffled on last night about this question, but my post has vanished. *shrug*

    I did think of something this morning though…the same problem occurs with music. If you buy a CD then you can sell it on, but if you download the songs….you can't pass them on. I suppose the issue lies in the fact that the hard copy is just one copy, whereas the electronic copy can be multiple copies. Not sure what the answer is.

    One thing I do want them to look into is worldwide licensing. There is nothing more frustrating that seeing something talked about online but being told you can't buy it because you live in the wrong country. We (NZ) had to wait AGES for iTunes even though we could buy iPods. It's illogica! And we can buy eBooks from anywhere, but yet our options for eBook readers are….well…the iTouch. No Kindle, no Sony. GRRRRRRR! Sorry for going OT Kris!

  5. Kris says:

    To all on the subject of prices…

    I think the cost of ebooks is the real Catch 22 of the epublishing industry.

    Yes, you want to make sure the price covers the costs of preparing and producing the book (author royalties, editors *no snorting!*, cover artists, etc, etc); however, over-pricing can lead people down the path of filesharing as Emmy pointed out.

    On the other side of the coin, filesharing and subsequent loss of income by epublishers may, in turn, end up actually increasing the price of ebooks. A cost born by the reader/consumer, hence the Catch 22.

    To me, the bottom line is the perception – real or not – that ebooks are over-priced. It's hard for many readers – me included – to reconcile the cost of an ebook – a digital file – against the costs associated with a hard copy book. This is especially the case given the restrictions associated with the digital format.

  6. Tam says:

    What is real? Are you guys my “real” friends or just virtual. Kris' Mumma asked that question. We tend to associate things we can't touch (or people we can't go for coffee with) as not “real”. Of course you're real, your just not tangible to me personally (at this point in time :-). E-books are real, just not touchable.

    And I think the whole idea of you can sell a paper book but not an e-book comes down to that old “you still have a copy yourself”. How often do we delete a file when we share it with a friend? Never? I haven't even deleted some DNF but why I'll never know. LOL There are many books I read and never look at again, not necessarily because they were bad but just didn't resonate with me for some reason.

    Still, I think Sean made the point, we've all done it to a degree, whether as kids taping songs off the radio or a whole albums, but I think its the intent. If your intent is to enjoy it personally then I don't think its that big of a deal. If your intent is to profit from it or to put it on a file sharing site where 1000's of people can get it for free, then its different.

    I didn't realize you could get 60 books at a time on a file sharing site. To be honest I've never looked one.

  7. Ingrid says:

    As long as I still can not enjoy an ebook on the couch there is a difference.
    Even when I would have a reader it would not be the same.
    I love the smell of new books and the feel of paper beneath my finger

  8. Tam says:

    Ingrid: I enjoy all my e-books on the couch. I have a small netbook comptuer and I sit on the couch and read. That's pretty much the only place I read, or in bed. Granted sometimes I have trouble getting comfy but still works. 🙂 It doesn't smell the same however. LOL

  9. Lily says:

    @ Ingrid

    I read my ebooks on a Sony Reader and I take it with me everywhere. I read in bed, on the couch, in the car (if someone else is driving of course), waiting for appointments and even at work.

    I don't have the smell and feel of paper but I have the convenience of carrying around a couple hundred books to choose from. It's lightweight and has a long battery life. I love and highly rec eReaders.


  10. Ingrid says:

    I read everywhere too but no ebooks. Plain old paper *g*

    I know I should buy a reader or small laptop. (I am leaning to laptop/netbook) But at the moment they are too expensive for me.

  11. jitterbug says:

    While I think that ebooks have the same dignity as printed books (because of course they're still the hard work of an author), I confess my penchant for the latter. Like Ingrid, I love the sensation of feeling the paper under my fingertips and I love to look at my books on the bookshelf, I like to held them in my hands. So if there is a printed version, if I like the cover art (…), if the price+shipping costs are not prohibitive… I prefer to buy printed books. From a couple of years I mostly buy ebooks though, even if I still don't have an e-reader. But I will. Someday. *g*
    Pricey e-books make me grumble. Pricey DRMed e-books… they make me spitting mad. :/

  12. I guess I'm not upset about paying for music is because the songs are frickin 99 cents. That's a reasonable price point for me. Now, if the music industry decided to sell songs for like $5 each, when I can get an entire CD for $10, I'd be illegally downloading songs along with the best of them.

    Dunno if I buy the argument that ePubs HAVE to raise the price of ebooks because if fileswapping, when the music and movie industries have been dealing with the problem for much longer, and the prices of CDs and DVD's has actually gone down, as has the price of downloading them online.

    Authors online screeching “I saw my books at a file swapping site so I'm NEVER WRITING ANOTHER EBOOK AGAIN!!!” just make me laugh. Especially when they say they're going to print only. Yeah, because people don't scan print books? Bitches, please. I had the pdf of the last Harry Potter 2 weeks before it came out at the bookstores. And yes, I bought the print version when it came out.

  13. Kris says:

    Tam: Ever since you answered the Mumma, she walks around talking to everyone about my virtual friends. Dear God, it's embarassing.

    I don't delete my DNFs and the stuff I know I won't reread, but I do resave it to my external back up – mainly so that I never have to see some of them EVER again as well as so that the thought of having all of those books doing nothing – not being enjoyed by other people etc – isn't so depressing.

    It sounds weird, but to me deleting a book would be like chucking it out or burning it or something. I just couldn't do something that seems so disrespectful.

    Sorry for the ramble.

  14. Kris says:

    Ingrid: Although I have an ereader, which is extremely convenient especially on trips, I do know what you mean. I still prefer paper books. I think for me it's because curling up with a print book is always something that I have done so there's a sense of connection, tradition about it.

  15. Kris says:

    Jitterbug: You know there is only one book that I've read as an ebook that I've also deliberately purchased the print book. Isn't that odd? The reason I bought the print book was because I wanted the Mumma to read it and she is not interested in ebooks AT ALL. It was the YA “Vintage” (terrific book), btw. I wonder why I don't purchase more of them though?? Hmmm.

    I think we have a consensus that pricey ebooks suck!

  16. Kris says:

    “I had the pdf of the last Harry Potter 2 weeks before it came out at the bookstores.”

    You did, Emmy?? Holy Crap!

    I'm not sure I really by the price going up either, but I reckon it is something that is likely to occur though before epubs look – if they do – more seriously about the price of ebooks.

    Here's a question to you and everyone… do you think people treat music and movies differently to books?? It just seems to me that “literature” is frequently put on a pedestal compared to some other creative forms. I remember when someone commented about the similarities – in this instance same probs – between ebooks and emusic she nearly got her head bitten off and I wondered at the time whether it was because of the pedestal thing.

  17. Tam says:

    I think there is a perception that movie companies and music companies are making megabucks so no one feels guilty about ripping them off for $15. I mean when actors are getting $20 million for a movie, there is no lack of money out there. People feel ripped off. Same for music. Beyonce and Jay-Z are renting yachts in the Mediterranean for a million a week. They aren't hurting for cash. Except for a few of the filthy rich like J.K. Rowling and some other mainstream popular authors no one seems to believe that authors are rolling in money. I mean we all know that m/m authors aren't and most have to have and EDJ to survive. I don't see Madonna working part-time as a store clerk to pay the rent.

    Now I'm sure many young bands and independent label musicians are as poor as the rest of us, unfortunately they get lumped in with the Brittany's and David Bowie's of the world, with money to spare. But if you asked most people “name a career where you'll get very rich quickly” very few would say author. The true blockbusters are pretty rare. So I'm not sure its a philosophical pedestal in that literature is somehow superior, but more that the music and movie industry is making mega bucks on the backs of everyday consumers so its a way of “getting back” at them.

  18. Ingrid says:

    I think there is a perception that movie companies and music companies are making megabucks so no one feels guilty about ripping them off for $15.

    Tam, I totally agree. A new CD costs here USD 16-24.

  19. Kris says:

    Yeah, I can sort of understand that myself.

    A new CD in Australia is probably with US$15 – 25 and a trade paperback from US$20 – 25. Emmy's harlequin book here would probably be worth approx. US$10.

    I still think we tend to put 'literature' on a pedestal though. Maybe it's a me thing. 🙂

  20. Tracy says:

    I feel that ebooks are every bit as “real” as print books. I think sometimes without the need for the printing and cover work, etc. that they could come down in price at times but they're still real!

    I'll never be able to give up my print books entirely but I like the mixture of the two I have now.

  21. Kris says:

    I think I will always have a mix too. I don't think I can/will every fully give up my print. 🙂

  22. Kris says:

    I meant 'ever'. *sighing and wondering why she even bothers to do this on little coffee*

  23. Anonymous says:

    Is this something like virtual friends versus real friends?

  24. Kris says:

    I keep telling you, Mumma, that the virtuals are real because they actually type back. It's only the voices in my head that are the worry. *GRIN*

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