Will E-books Replace Traditional Paperbacks?

image credit: MegMoggington (flickr)
image credit: MegMoggington (flickr)

Percy Parry

The battle between the traditional paperbacks and the digital books goes on, mainly because of our endless love for them both. Now this often makes us wonder, or it at least makes me wonder, is there going to come a day where traditional paperbacks will finally become extinct? Or will it be the opposite, where e-books eventually fail.

Purchasing a good book to read is a painstaking process. With the rise of Indie authors it has become difficult to know for sure whether a book is good or not. But what gave rise to all these confusions in the first place?

The best and sometimes the worst aspect of a man’s nature, is his urge to improve his condition through replacements and upgrades. It can be traced back to the Early Man. When he was tired of walking everywhere, he decided to domesticate horses to ride, which in turn got replaced by automobiles, which is now man’s primary mode of transport. Man has always expanded his horizons to greater heights, in the field of technology, especially with computers, his leaps and bounds are a wondrous feat.

Computers that occupied the entire room became desktops, which then became laptops, and have now become tablets and smart-phones. The next thing up for such physical compression, seems to be the written word in the form of novels and books. The e-book is the digital version of a traditional paperback, in a digital page-by-page format, readable on any compatible device. This has taken the tech market by storm. Amazon and Barnes and Noble, two major publishers are fighting it out with their respective e-book readers. So ultimately will e-books replace paper books and relegate them to the literal bookshelves of history?

Price:

image credit: GreGG from GriDD (flickr)
image credit: GreGG from GriDD (flickr)

The cost of buying a device on which you can read your e-book is obviously going to be expensive. The Nook and Kindle alone cost around $150 each. Now add to this the cost of your e-reader (software) the price which might be around another $100 and you’ve got yourself a very expensive book! On the other hand traditional paperbacks will cost you around $10-$50. No doubt once you’ve got the gadget the e-book will cost you nothing more than $30, and this in the end accounts for a far more number of e-books that you can read with the same amount that you would otherwise spend on paperbacks that are far lesser in number. But then not everyone can afford to buy this expensive device!

Storage:

Storing your paperbacks is no joke. Whether you stack them up, put them in boxes or just neatly arrange them on your study or shelf, they’re always occupying too much of your space! Plus with time, the dust, termites, etc get the best of your collection turning them into falling apart pieces of yellow stained papers. Where as e-books don’t require shelves or boxes to be stored in, and neither do they occupy a lot of your space! Plus, storing them isn’t much of an issue since they’re in digital format and are dust and termite proof! Well yes, the case of viruses and accidental deletion can lead to data loss, but then again you can back up your files. Imagine backing up your paperbacks by making copies of them or buying new copies. Doesn’t really seem that feasible right?

Portability:

How many books could you possibly carry, single handedly? In addition to this don’t forget to consider the distance to be traveled. Carrying more than 5 books will turn you into a hunchback! There is a physical limitation to how many books can be carried around by one individual. Now think about how many books a child can carry or a senior citizen.

image credit: WELKYN SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS PVT LTD (flickr)
image credit: WELKYN SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS PVT LTD (flickr)

With e-books, all you need is your device and the e-reader software installed in it, you can thus carry around a virtual library of your own! No back-breaking loads to lift and carry across distances, a one-stop digital device holds all your books in the digital format. Considering the compressed size of an e-book, a huge volume like say The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by Tolkien, can be stored on the e-reader at a size of approximately 10-15 MB. So depending on its memory capacity you can only imagine how many eBooks you can store on one device,. This is definitely much more than 5-6 paperbacks. Also any eBook device today is much more lighter and thinner than a paperback. So carrying your e-reader around allows you to read with ease while travelling and makes reading easier on your back too.

Miscellaneous:
When it comes to an e-book, the problem of being “out of print” or “no recent edition” is never a problem. Because once digitally created and stored on an e-book device, the book never goes out of print.

An e-book can be read over a wide range of devices, like your laptop, a desktop, an e-reader and even on some mobile phones. True, there are many different digital formats and compatibility can be an issue. But the digital medium is very adjusting and converting between said formats can be done.

e-book devices make reading in the most impossible situations like, in dim light or utter darkness, while walking or on the move, possible. Plus the font sizes and picture quality can be adjusted, so even with those with poor vision can read at ease.

When it comes to reading in different languages, paperbacks can be very inconvenient because only the bestsellers are printed in different but not most languages. And here’s where an e-book trounces a paperback. E-books are available in multiple languages. Not just this, the e-reader offers a translation option, so incase you want to read the English translation of Voltaire‘s works or read the plays of Shakespeare in French, you don’t need to order a book or run around various bookstores searching for a translated copy, just go online and download the version you want.

image credit: dave.ceylon (flickr)
image credit: dave.ceylon (flickr)

To get an e-book to read, all you have to do is go on-line, visit the on-line e-book store from your e-reader or search for e-books, purchase and download. Ready for your reading pleasure. You can peruse through multiple books or authors or search for a particular title. With books, you need to visit your local bookstore or shop, lending library, ask your friends and neighbors… more time is spent in searching for a book, than actually reading it. Plus on the Internet, there is an amazing array of books to choose from. Amazon alone offers nearly 950,000 e-books for the Kindle.

An e-book is not made of paper or ink or plastic or any material except digital code. Hence no natural resources are spent in its creation, use or deletion. One paperback requires at least one tree for its production. Its production process also consumes raw materials. So for a smaller green footprint, reading an e-book seems to be the better choice.

So does the future of books and libraries and stores that carry them really seem dim? If the prices of purchasing an e-book and the price of e-readers increase, then books will continue to reign amongst the masses. Traditional bookworms insist that the satisfaction from turning a page and holding a book in one’s hand cannot be replaced by a cold electronic device. On the other hand, keeping the example of cassettes in mind, an ever-increasing library of e-books could soon be the normal mode of reading. For now the debate rages on, only time will decide who the real winner is!

Percy Parry interns with CinnamonTeal Publishing.