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E-Books Aren’t Virtual Reality

E-books are real books. Really.

I had conversations with two people in the past week who both said they read e-books, but that they also liked to read “real” books.

One friend, a noted author in his 70s, with many “real” books to his credit, told me that he loves his Kindle, and that he has found it especially useful at those times when he’s read of reference to a particularly interesting book. He can simply download that book and have it handy to read.

But my friend also said that he prefers his Kindle for flights and vacations. “You don’t have to carry all those books,” he says. When he’s home, he sticks to those “real” books, which grow in piles like stalagmites around his apartment.

Another friend, a writer who has self-published, tells me he likes e-books, but that he too has an old-fashioned regard for the physical book. He realizes the importance of e-books, and the changes in reading and buying habits that e-books have fostered. But the old-fashioned publishing model still has appeal. Despite his younger friends telling him to eschew traditional publishing and even literary agents and go the self-publishing e-book route to ensure greater control over content and even a platform. It’s easier, and sometimes better, to create and market your own book online, in e-book form, than otherwise. But some still prefer the other way.

I can understand this. It’s a tactile thing. And you can see a book as a possession, even as a reminder of something you’ve admired, where with an e-book, that digitized information remains there in the file to be tapped open. A Kindle, or an iPad, or a Sony Reader doesn’t have the same evocative power as that copy of Moby-Dick or Pride and Prejudice that sits on your shelf, calling to mind your joy in discovering what lay within its pages.

We’re not at that stage in the evolution of publishing when physical books will disappear. That’s because many are still not available as e-books. (Try looking for noted, if lesser-known, authors such as Barbara Pym on Amazon – electronic versions of her wonderful novels simply do not exist. You have to make do with the “real” book.)

But many readers are beyond the stage of considering books as objects. We’ve moved past considering music that way – it’s been a while since a collection of LPs or CDs proudly displayed meant something. It’s what we hear that matters.

It’s what we read that matters, not how we display it. And books are only a part of an author’s career – they’re a stepping-stone to something bigger, a continuing dialogue with an audience of readers.

Sure, you can’t sign an e-book. But then, you’re not likely to end up, as a famous British poet did, when he found at a secondhand bookstore one of his own volumes of poems. He’d inscribed it to his parents.

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3 Responses to “E-Books Aren’t Virtual Reality”

  1. Dawn October 24, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    One day most people will be able to say just “book” when referring to any format. I’m guilty myself of diffentiating between “ebooks” and “traditional” books.

  2. Aldous Irving Jimenez-Echegoye October 24, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    I agree.  E-books are “real” books made easy…

  3. Nine Andres November 8, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    Call me old fashioned but I still have affinity for hardbound/softbound books over ebooks. It’s something hard to miss on the shelf as opposed to it sitting  inside my tablet’s hard drive. That’s just me though. Great article Bob, as always!

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