Are ebooks as ‘special’ as print books?

A few days ago, Nick Bilton asked an interesting question of the New York Times Bits blog. Nick is currently moving from New York to San Francisco and, as a voracious reader, found himself with a dilemma. Should he pack up his collection of several hundred books across the states, especially as many of them now also sit – in ebook form – on his Kindle?

Nick says:

During a work meeting at The Times, I began talking about my move to San Francisco, and which of my personal belongings would make the trip. When I voiced my reluctance to ship my books, one of my editors, horror-stricken, said: “You have to take your books with you! I mean, they are books. They are so important!”

The book lover in me didn’t disagree, but the practical side of me did. I responded: “What’s the point if I’m not going to use them? I have digital versions now on my Kindle.” I also asked, “If I was talking about throwing away my CD or DVD collection, no one would bat an eyelid.”

It’s an interesting point and one I’ve struggled with myself in recent months. As I’ve already written this month, I’m a complete book addict and my own Kindle has only fuelled my addiction. I must admit I never thought I would embrace the electronic book as I like the feel, touch, look and smell of traditional, analogue, dead-tree books so much, but embrace it I have and now think nothing of downloading a book or magazine. I thought that same about music, but hardly ever purchase actual, physical CDs any more.

But there is still something different about books. A couple of months ago Jeffrey Deaver’s new Bond novel, Carte Blanche, came out. As a life-long 007 devotee I knew I wanted to get my hands on it as soon as possible. I could have downloaded it for my Kindle, but instead, I paused for a minute and bought the hardback edition instead. Why? Well, first of all, I wouldn’t be able to display an ebook on my shelf along with my dozens of other Bond books. But, my anal collectors gene aside, somehow the ebook didn’t feel special enough. For me a new Bond novel was an event and I needed to hold the over-sized, hardback edition in my hands to make myself really feel part of it.

The question is will this need change over time as it has with music? Will I ever overcome the need to line certain books on an actual bookshelf? And will ebooks ever feel as special as print editions?

What about you? Do you share the same feelings or are all books, electronic or otherwise, equal in your eyes?


  1. That describes my approach exactly. Some books, I want to own. Some, I just want to read. I don’t think that will ever go away – it’s just another tier, like my old ‘need’ for some books in a smart limited edition format, while with others a mmpb was just fine.

  2. Lets not forget though, that many people embraced CD over vinyl, then mp3 over CD. Now, years later, many are going back to vinyl because the digital media lacks the warmth (audibly and perceived).

    Personally, I have no problem with people wanting eBooks but, having spent 20 years in the business as librarian, book retailer, publisher and just a plain, old-fashioned buyer of books, I would never give up my 1500+ strong library. Yes, it’s aesthetics and nostalgia but so what? I guarantee that the current obsession with eBooks will fade over time as people realise that part of the fun of books and reading is the ‘package’, something you just don’t get with an eBook reader. I can see the use of eBooks for textbooks, with searchable indexes and note-taking capabilities but for fiction… I don’t think so.

    Think of going on holiday, buying a book to take with you. You go to the beach, read for a bit then fancy a swim. You can leave your book with your towel knowing that, if you come back and find it has been pinched, it’s only going to cost you £6 for a replacement. Now imagine leaving your eBook reader with your towel… I know that’s only one example, but I have many more which I won’t bore you with.

    I also can’t see anyone shoving a Kindle under the leg of a wobbly table 🙂

    • Oh, I can definitely see ebooks for fiction. In fact, that’s pretty much all I read on my Kindle. Especially the short form. Short stories are ideal for the commute and I’m always dipping into them on the bus or train via my kindle, iPad or even iPhone. In fact I probably read far more short fiction now than I ever did largely because I don’t have to lug around anthologies with me.

      Yes, so you may not want to leave your Kindle on the beach, but that’s fine. Just don’t take it to the beach and go for a paperback…

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