Traditional Books vs eBooks? No Contest!


What pleasures await the eager reader of each format?

I have some friends that have pretty well gone over to the electronic side almost completely. The books they own, buy, and read are all electronic in nature. There are students now at all levels of education who get their text books the same way.

I also, have, of course, many friends who consider the eBook an evil and deviant form. They extol the sensory experience of holding, seeing, smelling a finely made book. To them, eBooks as cold threats to book stores, libraries, and collectors.

I am proud to declare that I have a foot firmly in each camp. I love both formats for what they offer and recognize the disadvantages of each. In my view, they are not competitors so much as they are complimentary partners in literacy. Allow me to explain.

Traditional books are, indeed, wonderous things. They are so real and so suitable as tactile rewards. The finer products are wonderous examples of craftsmanship, design, and content. The heft of a thing with the feel of excellence from a leather cover, tight binding, high quality paper and ink. The attention to detail on every surface is wonderful.

Even the more mundane versions of this genre are welcome parts of my life. I have old paperbacks no longer in print, held together with tape and glue. They are old friends I like to visit from time to time. Looking at my books, organized (a doubtful term, I admit) by content is like going through a scrapbook of the mind. Younger readers ask your elders what a scrapbook is; comeback to this blog when ready. Old memories stir, new curiosities arise from their ranks.

Here is a story I bet many can relate to yourselves. I have donated books to a charitable book sale, only to come back the following year to see one of my books still there. No one bought it! How is that possible? I could not let that stand, so I bought back my own book. Welcome back home, old friend – we missed you.

But I love my eBooks equally, although for different reasons. I became an eBook fan some years ago, when my work had me spending more time in airplanes than at home. To have such a thin, light thing travel with you is wonderful. Inside that small package could be hundreds of books, all at your fingertips anytime.

I currently use a Kindle Paperwhite, which I judge to be the perfect example of this medium. It is comfortable to hold or carry. It adjusts to your reading preferences, including level of light and size of font. You can highlight and take notes. It evens notes how many other readers have highlighted a passage. This creates an odd sort of bond with fellow readers. “Hey, I thought that was a great line, too!”

My wife and I have shared accounts, so we can “lend” each other books. My local library has books online that I can download from home onto an eReader. It still fascinates me that I can stop reading on the Kindle, pick up the same book later on my tablet, phone, or desktop. It picks up exactly where I left off. Magic, I tell you!

Perhaps best of all is the capacity to acquire a book instantaneously. I have often heard a book review or author interview that peaked my curiosity. Go on line, read up on it. Read a few pages. Like it? Hit a button, and it’s yours. It shows up on your eReader in seconds.

Two other bonuses with eBooks. One, publishers have not always been models of generosity in sharing with authors. They also can be heavy handed in editing, to tailor a book for their market. Don’t like that? Look at self-publishing. This option used to be a joke (remember the term vanity press?). But no more. There are authors doing very well publishing through Amazon, Apple, and other options. This is still a developing environment, but it holds promise.

Second, this could free up the current tyranny over school books. Publishers generally have to conform to what their largest customers want. Texas is infamous for demanding what could charitably be called novel material, ranging from evolution to slavery. As eBooks become more of the norm, they could bring the ability to provide academically sound texts to all. If they choose to cater to a particular market with different material, then so be it. But others will not have to accept such material because they are too small to demand academic rigor.

So, in the battle between books and electrons, I declare that there is no contest. There is room for both. For a long time, people feared Amazon would be the death of the local bookstore. There is something of a renaissance going on around the country in such stores. Things have changed, but the genre will survive. So too is it with books. It is true that eBooks have changed much of the reading environment. But the fears that they would be the death of paperbacks and then hardbacks seem overblown.

Let’s close on a lighter note. People have always found it difficult to adapt to change. Take a look at this spoof on the transition from scrolls to books. Enjoy.

     Bill Clontz

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4 replies to Traditional Books vs eBooks? No Contest!

  1. Because at the end of our book sale all the remaining books are sold, or given away in bulk, when I see a book at the sale the following year it must have come from someone who bought the book, enjoyed it and put it back in the sale for another person to buy. That’s the wonderful thing about hard cover and paperback books…you can’t recirculate your eBook.

    I agree there is room for both.

    • A splendid example of recycling carried to the next level, Jerry. I had not thought about that, but you are right – I too have seen books make a later appearance at a site from which sold earlier. Nice way to keep sharing. I have seen a few like this with notes in the front from the various owners, which added another level of fun.

  2. I, too, am firmly in both camps. My Kindle is perfect for travel (and commuting, before I retired), but isn’t suitable for books with an important visual component such as military history or art. And nothing makes me happier than sitting in a room in a comfy chair surrounded by walls of books. So we turned our dining room into a library, and I’m also on my 4th Kindle.

    • Perfect. I forgot to mention the issue of illustrations – an excellent point. Funny you should mention being surrounded by books. I have that same feeling. A family member just relayed to me an article on a study that convincingly concludes that being in such surroundings and in a family of readers has major (good) life impacts. The article is a good addendum to this post. Find it at

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