imagesOn Wired’s GeekDad blog, Jenny Williams writes yet another one of those opinion pieces that make e-book fans roll their eyes: an explanation of how she thinks e-book readers are okay and all that, but she is in love with real books, in all their real-bookish glory. (The smell of books is, of course mentioned as a prominent selling point. Apparently e-books won’t replace real books, but scratch-and-sniff stickers might.)

What’s more ridiculous is that the article is subtitled “Why e-book readers will never replace [books]”. All right, why won’t they? Because you like books too much? Oh, right, I’m sure the rest of the world will gladly take your feelings into consideration, Your Majesty.

This sort of post always reminds me of those businesses that sell old books as decorator items: it doesn’t matter what’s in them—the customers don’t want to read them. They just want their rooms to look nice.

Well, if these people just want books that look and feel and smell like books, perhaps they can visit one of those stores. I just want books I can read, and the electronic ones are easier to carry around.

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TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows has been writing for us--except for a brief interruption--since 2006. Son of two librarians, he has worked on a third-party help line for Best Buy and holds degrees in computer science and communications. He clearly personifies TeleRead's motto: "For geeks who love books--and book-lovers who love gadgets." Chris lives in Indianapolis and is active in the gamer community.


  1. I agree. It’s a silly conceit:

    ebooks will never supplant paper books because I personally have a fetishistic attachment to paper books.

    I can certainly understand someone liking paper books as objects – but to go from that personal fondness to a staunch faith in their eternal invincibility is strictly a non sequitur.

  2. Its the classic “The automobile will never replace the horse” argument… And in a way it is true, because it didnt. Only today we have fewer horses, more automobiles, and the nature of transportation has changed a great deal.

    Likewise, books are here to stay, and many people will continue to love them. Even if they do most of their reading electronically in 10 years from now.

  3. did she also mention the physical feel of flipping the pages?

    ….the joy of looking at the cover art?

    …the joy of reading the jacket copy, inside jacket and back cover copy

    ….the joy of beginning the book, the first page!

    ….the joy of reaching the final sentence on the last page! O books!

    …. the joy of reading the copyright info on the first inside pages, when author was born, when book was published, what city, which edition it is…o joy!

    ….underling, annotating in the marings, circling words, highlighting passages…..

    did she leave anything out? LOL!

    Thing is, books will last for a long long time as book, as paper books, and they will compete in the marketplace with ebooks and ereaders, and she need not worry. We have torah scrolls even today, in addition to telephones, radio, TV, movies and YouTube. And the Internet. It’s an evolving world. There’s room for everybody. And everything.

  4. There are lame presumptions on both sides of print and screen advocacy. What is needed is balanced review to define the interaction. Perhaps a more strategic logic is suggested by an interdependence of print and screen presentations. The immediate legibility, haptic navigation, persistence and self-authenticating nature of print books can complement qualities of automated search, electronic delivery, live content and self-indexing nature of screen books. Such complementary affordances can be extended to the same given title with the prospect of generating new meaning.

    If you want a grip on this interplay between print and screen just ask yourself if you can do without a printer. If yes you are certainly fully migrated to screen transmission. If not ask yourself why you chose to print.

  5. I happen to agree with the overall concept that ebooks will not completely replace pbooks, certainly not for the foreseeable future. There are lots of reasons, some personal, some more universal. OTOH, I do think there will be significant growth in ebooks and significant decline in pbooks. I think the stronghold for pbooks is scholarly work. I know that in my own experience, I readily buy fiction in ebook but not scholarly nonfiction, where I want the pbook.

    Some of this may be a result of the state of the art of the ebook devices, but in my mind, a significant reason for preferring pbook scholarly work is that I tend to trust the work more. The problem with ebook publishing is that any person with a computer can do it — there is no vetting of the quality or the reliability until after you have made the purchase and invested the time in the product. This is a problem that is self-evident with wikipedia — it is often hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. To my way of thinking, this is not much of a problem with fiction. It doesn’t really matter whether what the hero did is physically possible or not. I read fiction for pure entertainment, not to be educated.

    But scholarly nonfiction is a different story. I read it to be educated and I want to feel confident that the author has his/her facts correct. When scholarly publishing creates a system of vetting such as exists for pbooks, ebooks may become acceptable.

    I think the failure of the argument that is made in the article to which this is a comment, and in other similar articles, regardless of whether pro or anti ebook/pbook, is that neither side sees merit in the other position, yet in today’s world there is merit to both sides. ebooks work better for some types of books and pbooks work better for other types. Tomorrow may well be different — or the same.

  6. I agree. How could eBooks ever replace “real” books?

    It’s the same with music. There’s no way in hell these so called “mp3s” will ever replace CDs. No way. People like to hold something they’ve purchased. They like to look at the liner notes and read the lyrics. They like to see their wall full of album jackets. It’s comforting to know that what you bought = something tangible. And let’s face it, MP3s, in general sound poor compared to CDs. Downloaded digital audio will never catch on. At least…it will never dominate physical audio sales.


  7. One thing many paper book fans fail to think of is the availability of those books.

    Indie bookstores are dying at an alarming rate, the chains like Barnes & Noble are struggling to survive while others have died, and the big box stores like Walmart have a small number of titles of popular genre like romance.

    Since most paper sales come from brick and mortar stores, the publishers are printing fewer books because of fewer sales, and they are cutting the number of titles in many of their lines.

    They are also starting to move some of those books into ebook only formats or POD.

    Sure, Amazon will be a source for paper not available locally, but even it is focusing more and more attention on ebooks.

    My question for the paper people is this– If you have a choice between a book that you want to read that’s only in ebook format and a paper book that Walmart wants you to read, which will you choose?

  8. Well, if *actually reading* is more important to one than *owning more objects*, e is a very good way to go.

    Of course people who come to visit won’t know how smart and high-minded we all are, because we won’t have as many book spines for them to read when we’re in the bathroom…

  9. Chris,
    I’d be willing to bet – lots of money – that I read way more books than you do. E-books are not easier to carry around than the average paperback. Also the stiff, sterile reader thing – just nah. The main reason e-books exist is to make more $$$ for some techie folk. Give me real books for a comfy reading experience.

  10. Oh, come on, “pov”. Maybe one average paperback isn’t harder to carry around than an e-book, but I’m down visiting my parents right now and have several hundred e-books with me in the person of my iPod Touch, the Astak I’ve been reviewing, and if necessary my laptop. And if I need to, I can access any of hundreds more books via the cloud. I would have needed a trailer to haul that many paper books with me down here. (Granted, I could never read that many books over the course of my visit, but it’s nice to have the choice if I want to read one.)

    And since I injured my leg last year, I have valued e-books more than ever, as they mean I don’t have to carry the weight of a paper book around with me in my shoulder bag making it that much harder to limp around.

    Call e-book readers “stiff” and “sterile” if you want, but I find them handy and convenient. I can’t imagine having to deal with the bulk and weight of a paper book anymore if I have any choice.

  11. Steve,
    Great. Glad you like reading on the sterile, little PDA. And you know, I have always gauged the value of things on whether they fit in my shirt pocket.

    I’d say 3 or less paperbacks is easier to carry around. And that works well for me. Reading them is a lot more of enjoyable experience for me. And yes e-readers are stiff and sterile. And you (and others) like them better – which is okay. I (and others) prefer real books. For me, there is much more to life than convenience.

  12. Chris,
    One more thing. Since you quip about “I’m sure the rest of the world will gladly take your feelings into consideration” why then do you want to see e-readers proliferate? As long as you have yours and are able to get e-copies of most of the books you want, why are you bothered that many people continue to prefer real books?

  13. pov: Hey, you’re the one who said paperbacks are “easier to carry around” than e-books.

    And for what it’s worth, I’ll tell you why it the continued production of printed books bothers me: With printers worldwide rapidly closing due to economic and ecological reasons, and the need to preserve trees for the sake of our environment, while we approach a population of 7 billion and counting… there simply won’t be enough printed books for everyone; they will become the elite-only products they once were, and those less advantaged will have to do without.

    (Unless, of course, we just keep cutting down trees to supply paper for everyone, ruining the environment, and creating a massive die-off of Homo Sapiens… at which point, it won’t really matter much.)

    That’s why I want to see e-books proliferate… so the rest of the world can continue to read in the future.

  14. Steve,
    It’s very clear that my question is to Chris but thanks for your thoughts. Being a life-long tree-lover I’ll say that what you expressed is inaccurate. Printers are closing because of the hype and greater profitability of the digital medium. And while the world thanks you for your caring, it’s amazing how many despots start out by thinking that their way is a better way.

  15. I’m not bothered that many people prefer physical books.

    I’m bothered by the idiocy inherent in claiming that “e-books will never replace paper books” solely because they, the writer, think so. Whether e-books will “replace” paper books or not is a matter of the overall preference of everyone, not because one person thinks that real books smell better.

    I don’t go around writing articles about how e-books will replace e-books solely because I, the writer, like them better. What I as one person think is irrelevant to what everyone else does.

    I do think they have a good shot at it, at least to a certain extent, but that’s based on how quickly Kindles and other e-readers are being taken up by people. Not because I think they’re awesome.

  16. And, pov, thank you for that back-handed expression of gratitude. As a 20+ -year employee involved in and with the printing industry, it’s clear that you don’t know anything about what has caused the demise of the industry, so feel free to take your tree-hugger credentials and put them in the nearest organic hole you can find.

    As Chris said, you can continue to express your personal preference as gospel… the rest of us will instead rely on reality, facts, history, economy and common sense to base our opinions on.

  17. Steve,
    lol. That was sarcasm not gratitude. (I’ll have to work on my delivery) The point is that I see many such expressions of “caring for the planet” as being driven by other beliefs.

    And you do continue to make yourself look silly and waffling. Chris article had nothing to do with me and -if you had even a smidgen of sense – you’d see that my replies are based on to each their own.

  18. This argument is all very exciting, but no matter how advanced technology becomes, the joy of holding and reading a real book can never be replaced.

    If the day ever comes when books are no longer printed, and all information is in only digital format, then every form of knowledge will become suspect, including history, since it will be subject to alteration by individual or entity who desires to corrupt the original for any reason whatsoever. The Internet already facilitates this type of activity.

    The problem with technophiles is they all too often think all progress is good and inevitable. They are incorrect on both counts.

    What *is* inevitable is the unfortunate future end result of our foolish proclivity to gobble up anything we think will make our lives easier, regardless of possible future consequences.

    I hope I pass away before the building blocks of life and the universe itself fall prey to the fumbling fingers of the arrogant ones who delude themselves with fantasies of improving on nature.

    Have a good laugh at the crackpot; you either can’t see the forest for the trees, or you’re one of those who just want to “watch the world burn.”

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