posted 2012-04-25 22:48:48

The Digital Age-Old Question

Pros and cons of e-books vs. print media

Alexandra Heidler

Staff Writer

Digital or print? As the market for e-books continues to expand and evolve, defining a new age of technology, there is still a lot to be said about holding a print copy of a book. It’s much like the difference between a digital copy of your favorite song that you pump into your mp3 player or laptop, and having an LP or CD manifestation. There are certain things one gains by holding onto that physical property, not least of which are aesthetic.

One of my favorite things about having books is the little bedside table stack. When I crawl into bed and get ready to wind down, my eyes shift and swim over the various stories I have ready and waiting for me. I’m a pretty avid reader, and my stack includes a wide variety: cookbooks by Alton Brown, stories of families dealing with autism, an analysis of the food waste in first world countries, and the latest Game of Thrones book, among others.

The books themselves contain minute details that make the reading experience unique. Slightly different font, dancing colors and pictures vying for your attention, perhaps the paper quality is better in one than the other—maybe the binding makes that nice fresh crinkling noise when you open it up the first time.

But an e-book reader? You tend to miss out on the many small, handcrafted choices that come into play with a physical book. You open your list of books with a bar that tells you how far you’ve come. The text and font remains pretty much constant, and although you can change it yourself, you lose an essential connection between the publisher and the reader. Page turns are clicks, and you have to make sure it is well and charged. The constant anxiety of having to check my battery bar is enough to drive me up the wall. My favorite reading ritual is picking out a spot in the house, and curling up into a nice corner with a cup of tea and the intention of not moving for a solid 2-3 hours. It’s all about the full immersion for me.

Of course, my experience with e-book readers has had its benefits too. I bought a used Kindle when the second-generation version was coming out, in anticipation of my Shakespeare survey course. The course included the reading of about 8-10 different plays. Since many classics are available online these days for free, I figure I’d make back a good chunk of what I spent buying the Kindle by not buying all of the books, which the teacher had insisted we’d need in class for discussion.

There was a real convenience factor involved, too. I could carry thirty books in one hand. Subway rides became slightly more enjoyable. I could still highlight, take notes, and, since I was a dog walker at the time, it was pretty easy for me to find time in the park to sit and get my homework done. If a friend recommended a book I could have it in my hands literally within seconds, at a click. But there were drawbacks too.

When I came to class, I couldn’t just “turn to page 84,” because the format was different. It took me a few minutes of navigating and listening to the teacher to understand where we were. My notes became useless because they were often out of context, and I was less able to draw on them during discussion. My highlights were on one page instead of within the book. When I annotate, I also like marking things according to color. Previously, in my “Asian American Memoirs” class, I was asked to write an essay based on emotional and physical context, and proceeded to fill my book with contrasting green and purple page markers.

As the e-book market has become trendier, prices have also increased over physical formats. At the start of this race, it was the other way around. But book suppliers have come to find that customers will pay for instant gratification, betting on our unwillingness to travel down to physical stores.

I also can’t lend books out in their digital form. Although the Nook contains an ability to lend books out for a month or so, with so-called LendMe capacities, it’s a limited time frame. I hate talking about a great book, and at the end, when I’ve got someone’s eyes good and fixed there’s the letdown of “No, you can’t borrow it.” It’s not personal, I just can’t give it to you.

So although I’ve tried all three of the holy trinity of e-book readers– iPad, Kindle, Nook, I’m just not ready to give up my physical tomes. They can’t be revoked with a system crash, or stuck to the confines of my reader. When I buy a physical book, I truly own it. I can cut out the words and make art, I can write notes inside or I can pass the books to friends. I can follow in a class discussion and flip to stories or pages much better. Give me the physical copy over an e-book any day.