Why I still buy paper books

Why I still buy paper books

Christmas was a bit of a revelation for me as far as book buying goes and I thought it would be worth sharing my recent thoughts on that sometime contentious subject of ebook versus paper book.

I have had a Kindle for a little over a year now and I do really like the device, not only is the screen really easy to read but potentially having a whole library stored on a wafer device is incredible and reminds me so much of watching Star Trek TNG back in the 80's and 90's.

I have a few hundred books stored on my Kindle including the complete works of Mark Twain (counted as one book as it's all in one volume), although over a third of these are ebooks sent for review; yet despite my love of the technology I still find myself reading physical paper books much more than the electronic equivalent.

So anyway, I received a number of book tokens (and money which for me equates to the same thing) over the Christmas period and every single book I bought as a result of this gratuity was a paper copy, not a single ebook was purchased. While I do understand that when you are buying a book you are really paying for the contents (the actual story), the simple fact is that I still believe that at this stage the paper format is more desirable than the electronic one.

Part of this reason is the whole experience of buying a book (or any other media for that matter) you are actually getting a physical manifestation of that work which then gets proudly displayed on a book shelf. Buy an ebook and all you really have is an electronic file stored on a device that you only ever see when you switch the ereader on. Yes ok you can read it within seconds but part of the fun for me is the anticipation of waiting for that box of books (if you bought online that is).

If that ereader device breaks or becomes damaged by a wayward child / pet / dropped in the bath (and let's face it electronic devices do break or get damaged all the time) unless you have backed up the contents (something which is still a bit of a grey area legally until the laws are amended or clarified) then you've lost your whole electronic library. The chances of this happening is much more likely than your physical library being destroyed by the house burning down or flooding (thankfully).

Why I still buy paper books

You might argue that when the Kindle fire reaches the windswept shores of blighty we can store everything in "the cloud" and should your device fail then your data isn't lost but is it really worth giving THAT level of control to another private, profit minded company, stored on their servers and essentially accessed at their whim? The question also remains that what happens when your internet breaks just as you about to read one of these cloud-based books (although if it's just "backed up" then the problem is negated).

I think that technology still has some way to go before this is a viable option however and we really need to strengthen our personal rights regarding data too. I personally am not happy to give up so much of my own personal information - or indeed my library of precious books to a third party.

Then there is the price, now I've already covered in the past the fact that the actual cost of the physical printing of the book is only a very small percentage of the overall RRP and I accept that logically, but it still doesn't change how you actually feel. If there are two choices of format that you can buy (and this isn't limited to books) - the insubstantial electronic version and the physical, solid version and both are a similar price then the physical will win for me every time. Regardless of any arguments you are then buying something that is real, an actual object and not just a non-corporeal electronic file.

There is also the fact that every man and his monkey have jumped onto this electronic bandwagon and taken advantage of the self publish root (and I mean no disrespect here), after all the actual cost of formatting and converting a book from a word doc to an e-reader format is negliable - Amazon will then even sell it for you. While this means that talented writers who have in the past never made it as published authors have started to do so, it also means that a mass wave of un-edited and un-proofed works are flooding the market and for every good book there are hundreds of poor ones.

Angry Robot's open door month in March last year is a good example of this. For one month only they allowed any author to submit a synopsis of their unpublished work without the usual need for an agent. According to those publishing Robots they got 944 submissions and while I can't find the details of the final figures of those who made it through to actually being considered (the stage that an agent submitted work would actually begin at) I do remember it was in the single figures. While I accept that this isn't just about quality - Angry Robot Books do look for very particular styles, the figures do still speak for themselves.

I have read a number of great books from talented self published authors and I hope to continue doing so but I've also seen a huge number that are either just not very good, haven't been effectively edited or even formatted for an ereader and this lowers the perceived quality of ebooks in general. You know that if a book has gone through the long process of actually being published in print then it has at least been proof-read, edited and has been in some way seen fit to be printed and make someone some money. This is the struggle that ebook only publishers face, that perception of quality and it's one that isn't easy to overcome.

I understand that I am not the average reader on the street and could very well be considered a little fanatical about reading, but it doesn't make the points any less valid. I will still use the kindle - at the end of the day it's a heck of a lot easier for authors to send me their work, especially if they are in the USA, Australia or even Japan as some have been last year but when I go out and buy a book, 90% of the time it's going to a paper version (and you wouldn't believe how often I have to restrain myself from calling them "real" books) and I can't see this changing anytime soon.