Paper Books and eBooks: preferences

In my spare time I’m two things: book-worm and techno-geek. I could read before starting school and have never stopped. Give me anything: magazines, the web, fiction (almost all types), technical, general non-fiction, whatever. My favourite is when the author mashes up psychology with history and sociology; Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Karen Armstrong, for example. At uni I majored in physics. I like knowing how things work. I take things apart. Sometimes I even put them back together.

E-Books, therefore, held an appeal for me even before they became available. How I envied Captain Picard for the tablet Jordi was always handing off to him. Jordi–give it to me; I can put books on it!

Of course I bought an eBook reader as soon as they became available. The first was a Sony, touch edition. It cost a bag of money (over $400 Canadian) and was quickly loaded up with books bought here and there. Fiction was significantly cheaper. Non fiction: well…

It sucked.

All of it. I hated that reader. Far too dim indoors; you had to have a very bright light. You had to use a USB to charge it up–it often went dead at the worst times and transferring the content to it was such a pain. Non-fiction did not format well at all. PDF files were almost unusable. Scrolling through pages took forever. It also locked up far too often. Right in the middle of a good book: FROZEN! Had to go get the pin and reset it. That took to long; generally had to pin it 40-50 times (really) before it would come back to life. And the  software that came with it: Awful. I downloaded Calibre instead. It least it was okay.

It’s on the dresser in my bedroom. Hasn’t been used for a long time.

I got an iPad shortly after they came out. My iPad 1 is 3+ years old. What an awesome toy! Finally I felt like someone from Star Trek: Make it so!

It, too, was a horrible platform for reading books. Heavy. A bit “laggy.” Oh, and I HATE the way IOS does things. As a physics major I therefore want to do things the way the little electrons work. Show me the files; I’ll choose HOW to do the actions needed. Besides Apple wanted me to buy everything from them and do it their way. Uh Uh–that’s not how it works. Want to really piss me off and get me to do the opposite from what you want? Then tell me what to do and how to do it. Thanks!

The iPad sits forlorn in the living room. Hasn’t been used for a long time.

Last Christmas Santa (Mrs. Clause actually) gave me a 32 G Google Nexus 7. It has, among other things, very nice Facebook, Twitter and, yes, WordPress apps. It also came with Google Books, which sucked. Fortunately there’s Aldiko, a simple, practical eBook reader, which got installed. I immediately switched back to eBooks. The Nexus doesn’t mind where the books come from. Chapters-Indigo and Amazon, for example, work just fine with the thing, as do the university and public libraries. There’s about 30 new books on it since December.

Right now I’m in my back garden, under my ‘umbrella’ silver maple tree using my laptop to write this. The Nexus 7 is right next to me; a constant companion.

Last week while browsing a local Chapters store I came across an excellent paper-back (Jane McGonigal’s “Reality is Broken.” The next couple of blog posts will be based on it).

Guess what: paper-backs (mostly) suck. Bigger than the Nexus, can’t store local notes easily, not easily searchable, pages blow to-and-fro in the wind, gets dog-eared, takes up space in my tiny smurf house. Oh, and cost more.

Of course I don’t expect agreement–what works, works for me, that’s all! You decide what works for you!


About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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44 Responses to Paper Books and eBooks: preferences

  1. I love this commentary on the intersection of old-style and new-age. You’re a hoot Maurice … but we (both) already knew that. My wife has all of your issues, and more, when it comes to the audio book … the blue smoke which she generates each time she tries to get Audible, iTunes, and her various devices to all agree is surely something to see. Thanks for the chuckle this gloomy, rainy, morning (I envy your afternoon under the umbrella in the (I assume) sunshine). D

    • It’s a ‘dull’ day here; completely overcast. The temperature is only in the low twenties C but with the humidity it feels much warmer. Just got down off the roof–I HATE HEIGHTS–where I was finishing scraping the paint off the eaves. Hopefully they’ll be fit to prime again on Monday (I’m off work on Monday and want to have something to show for it). Too warm!

      Of course, as you suspect, I’m just having a little fun. I LOVE books in all forms. It’s just that I was struck, while reading that particular book, thinking that I’d wished I bought the eBook version instead. That’s not always the case.

  2. anyakirax says:

    Several good points Maurice, and I almost entirely agree with you.
    One thing though. To me reading the book is only the start. After I read the book , if it was any good, I want to share it. That is far easier when it is a paper book , I just shove it in your general direction and say read this . That is not nearly as easy with an ebook.
    Also I wonder what to do with it after I read it. Not all ebooks are cheap compared to paper, some are nearly the same price. At least with paper I could pass it on to a library or sharing table. I can keep it of course, but unless it is in a searchable format I am not likely to return to it. I would like it if I could give the eBook to the library.
    Finally ( okay, this is the third and last thing) reading books can be infectious. When my niece saw me reading a paper book she fetched one of hers and curled up next to me. This then turned into both of us reading her book as she would ask what a word was or growl or chirp along with the characters, and prompt me to as well, but if asked she said we were each reading our own book. When she sees me using my tablet she doesn’t know what I am doing unless she is looking over my shoulder. She knows about ebooks and uses them some times, but they are not infectious like paper books are.
    Now , back outside with my eBook!

    • Hey Andrea! I really like your points. You are especially right about sharing. While many of the books are relatively easy to share, the ones we buy now come pretty locked down to the point that we KNOW we’re violating their rules when we pass them on–not that it’s THAT hard to get around it if we wanted to. :>) I find that very objectionable, by the way. Surely there must be some middle ground out there that we can agree on. Yes, I know the producers do need to be paid for their efforts–and I mean at all levels: writers, editorial, production, sales & distribution…everyone. Right now, though, the intention is for everyone to pay a rather hefty price per ‘read.’ Not fair! If a physical book costs, say, $16 a copy then how is it that the ebook (which can’t be shared) should cost the same? Pretty sure the answer is, “Because the producers, along with at least one prominent fruit-named tech company are gouging the consumers and making it legal for them to do so.” Your last point is unique and utterly valid :>) Of course there’s one more thing: flipping through a regular book to find your place or some terms is easy; even pleasant because you often stumble on extra stuff along the way. Not so for eBooks. It’s a pain. Oh and many, including many friends of mine, take great pleasure in assembling a physical collection. Not me :>)

      • anyakirax says:

        I reviewed my reading, probably 75% electronic. That last 25% may hold on for a while for the reasons mentioned by all your responders.

        As a child I usually had two and sometimes three library cards, one for each of my community and my grandparents and wherever else we visited. A trip to the library was an event! for me that is now all electronic , much more convenient but no longer an event.

        Some situations still need paper, like when I try to use the tablet in the sun. Soon give up. A day like today it was either pick up a paper book to take outside or spend thirty minutes fighting with a cranky computer, various ebook stores, different file formats and whatever else to download and get a file on the eink reader. I opted for 30 more min outside .When that process is streamlined it will take a big chunk out of my paper time.

        Good things to think about today!

  3. SJ O'Hart says:

    I think you know what my (very strong) feelings are on this topic, so I’m not going to get into it all again on your nice shiny blog. I just want to say one thing: PAPER FOREVER!

    *clears throat*

    That will be all. 🙂

    • I would have been utterly disappointed if you had not weighed in on this one, Sinéad :>) In fact, when I hit ‘publish’ I was snickering just a bit, thinking about the look that would no doubt come across your face as you read my little bit of fun.

      Oh, and in all fairness, my comment about note-taking on the Nexus 7 with eBooks was total BS. Yes, I am taking notes on the current book I am reading but it is with a nice pen and on a Blueline Miracle Bind Wirebound Note Organizer, same as I have been doing for decades. I buy those things by the half dozen and will NEVER use the tablet for note taking on eBooks.

      Anyway, since you’ve kind of called me out on this, here’s how I really feel:
      Current fiction: eBook, probably bought from Chapters-Indigo.
      Current non-fiction: paperbound, soft-cover, again most likely bought online from Chapters Indigo.
      Work related: try and con work into getting it for me. Will take it in any form. :>)
      Magazines, comics (yes), graphic novels: bought in-store, paper bound.
      PDF: will send it to a printer. Can’t stand reading PDF on a screen; any screen.

    • I agree! I think that I shall never see, an e-book as lovely as the book made from a tree!

  4. Tracy says:

    I could read before going to school too, I’m sure it’s why I read so much now. I used to be choosy about devices, now not so much. I’ll even read on my new toy – Nokia Lumia 925!

    • That’s a sweet phone! I just looked it up online as it’s not available in Canada yet. Windows phone 8–that’s new to me. Wicked display too :>) Mine’s a Samsung Galaxy S3 that I got in June 2012. I waited 3 months past the previous contract as that was the one I wanted…at the time. I will say that now 13 months later the ‘shine’ still has not worn off. Once you get a smartphone there’s no going back. Funny, my current data package allows me 6 gigs of download per month and I get what Bell (the service provide) calls “Fab 10” which allows me unlimited coice calls to any 10 people in the world. I have not bothered to even set it up. I don’t talk much on the phone. If I need to talk I will either use Skype (personal) or Lync (work) which both run perfectly on the phone. I also use texting for the simple stuff: “I’m here now”, “When do I pick you up”, “will I get milk on the way home”, etc. Twitter’s even bearable on the phone (like you, I’m not a big fan. I do follow some interesting organizations, though). The phone is particularly well-suited to giving me the things I used to get through newspapers. I follow, for example, the New York Times and The Guardian. They tweet their headlines and if something interesting comes along I just get the link on the phone. Perfect.

  5. kanzensakura says:

    Okay, so I started reading at 3… 6 I was a morning newspaper at breakfast regular…labels on ketchup bottles, signs, billboards – if it had words, I’d read it. My first love was books – smelling the paper and age in some of them, the feel of them – texture of the paper, heft of the tome, turning pages quick, quicker, warp speed…..My beside table has been and still is stacked with at least 8 books in various progression of being read, or as my husband says since I am a speed reader – being book sucked.

    This being said: I love my Kindle. I love my Kindle Fire. I am never ever without them. I have over 3000 books on my Kindle – yes, one can have one’s books and read them too. I like the plain simple kindle – the screen is readable even in bright sun and it is easy to navigate. I can make notes on the text. I can get books for free, I can borrow books from the county library, I can share books. If I don’t like something, I delete it. No stacks gathering dust. All of them in collections arranged logically and easily accessible.

    That being said: I still love books. I collect antique cookbooks. I can do that now and not feel guilty about the space being taken. What used to occupy that space is now in my Kindle, Kindle Fire and Amazon Cloud.

    All I can say at the end of this is: You’ll take my Kindle when you pry it out of my cold, dead hand.

    • LOL! No need for that as they’re now becoming nicely affordable. You bring up an interesting point: it is nothing short of awesome knowing that in that one tiny little device we store or access all the written knowledge of the world. I wonder what some of the ancient ‘greats’ like Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas (I did that on purpose) would have done had they that level of access. Hmmm…maybe even Kant would have written ‘stuff’ that didn’t ramble and twist so much :>)

  6. jennypellett says:

    Books always win hands down for me. Husband has a kindle. Drab. No nice covers.

  7. Great piece Maurice! You have such good perspectives. I have lots of books, in many languages, hard cover, paper back, you name it, But for me eBooks are “it” now. I simply ran out of space at home, and couldn’t get enough books in my carry-ons, but maybe most importantly my Kindle Fire lets me decide at any time, even at 11 pm., what I want to read next…that’s great for someone who’s not into too much planning 🙂

  8. Mjollnir says:

    Books, dear boy, books. Second-hand, dog-eared, scribbled on books, with possible exam q’s underlined and annotated margins for the hard-of-thinking! £0.50 from the local charity shop and you can take them back and pass them on to someone else. Books, Maurice, books! 😀

    • LOL! You win. Between you and Andrea, I think the real killer argument here is accessibility. The electronic stuff is just too buttoned down. Sure the digital locks can be broken… Fairly easily in fact but who needs to be dealing with the possible legal repercussions? Not me.

      • Mjollnir says:

        Well, as soon as someone invents a non-fission powered EMP device all you e-bookers are phuqt! So’s the NSA right enough – so not all bad. 😀

  9. Mary says:

    Greatly enjoyed this post!! ( I intend to borrow Nassim Nicholas and Karen Armstrong from the library – 2 authors I have not read yet). Thanks for the introduction. As a librarian, I am greatly interested in the e-book debate and funnily enough my library book club meeting this week ended with this debate. Some championed the virtues of paper – others the convenience of the device. Of course I am all about the printed book! The cover art – the texture of the paper – is the font Garamond or Times – which friend would like to read it after me..etc. I also love to see parents borrow stacks of picture books to cuddle up with their little ones and share and teens who are so tech savvy but for the most part also seem to prefer the printed book. I like that also that the printed book does not put a cost barrier between a person and reading – all you need is a library card. A younger thirty something friend however loves her Kobo – She and her husband live on a boat – no room for books and love to travel – so the device is very handy for them. So I guess it depends really. Glad you are getting a little time to read under your ‘umbrella’!!

    • I was hoping you’d weigh in on this one as books are your ‘thing.’ Good timing too—the debate could not have occurred at a better time from my perspective. It seems, in the end, that everyone does have their own way of looking at it; and all for very good reasons. One thing we all can agree on, though, is that it’s great to be able to gain access, so easily, to good reading.

      And yes, I do dearly love my umbrella tree! I got about 2 hours under it today. Too bad every day couldn’t be like this one!

  10. Peter Smith says:

    I didn’t read all the comments, am a bit too groggy at the moment (from tiredness, not intoxication!). For me, I prefer paperbacks, I know many prefer hard covers, but I like the way paperbacks feel, and like their size and weight when reading in bed, my preferred location.

    I do have an ereader as well, but for me I generally use it only when I plan to go somewhere and may want a quantity of books. Its great for on a plane or bus, or vacation. That said, I think its mainly because thats what I’m used to, I see newer generations embracing them, or tablets, or some digital format more readily as they’ve not had the experience.

    Unfortunately, some of the magic of libraries, both public and home may be lost to them.

    • I agree on all counts. That’s an interesting comment regarding libraries. Just as I read it, many, many happy memories of times spent in the community libraries both at Southern Harbour (Bride Whiffen was/is an awesome librarian; she knows just what to put in place for those who drop by!) and at St. John’s. Yes, libraries are getting better and better at making digital content available but, yes, there’s nothing quite like some time just spent browsing through the stacks. Viewing previews online pales by comparison.

  11. Jane Fritz says:

    Nice post, Maurice. I agree with the comments below that call out the eBooks on not being shareable. Not because of being a cheapskate, just because of wanting to share a good read. But I will admit that I’ve enjoyed being able to read some good indie books (eBook format all that’s available) on my iPod Touch.

    • Yes, for all the wonders of the web (and yes, online book reviews are something I consider a truly valuable resource; I hardly ever make a purchase before checkiing a few out) nothing beats sharing a book. It’s excellent both ways–being both the lender and the lendee!

  12. About the only time I have tried to read on line was something from Gutenberg or whatever it is called. Good way to get your hands on old books. Well, not literally. But oh, what a drag.

    I’m clearly on the brought up to read before school paper books all the way. My houses are overflowing with books. We have a library across the road so I don’t exactly have far to go. We have neighbours who pass on books and we do the same, either to people we know, or leave on benches.

    We rescued some 70 books out of the rubbish bin, so have a nice selection right now. Sometimes it is good to have books inflicted on you to get a different choice of author. Must take some pix of them all!

    I love curling up with a book. I’m a voracious reader. I can’t see the attraction of a kindle or ipad though. I loathe reading on screen at the best of times! When we first started using computers in journalism we would often print out the stories to check them.

    Which brings me back to Apple. You can do what you want with Apple. If you know enough about OSs you can fiddle around with it all you like. I don’t so I don’t. Mainly because I haven’t taken the time to learn. Windows drives me spare. It was tolerable years ago when you could happily fiddle with DOS but after that – appalling.

    I like Halphone (iPhone) but never use it for browsing but that is a cost issue, nothing to do with the ‘phone.

    I am considering publishing an ebook however!

    Anyway, that’s my contribution.

    • Yes, I recall your post regarding the 70 books from a few months back. My Dad always said, “one persons junk is another person’s treasure,” and that certainly applied there. That’s one thing that’s missing from the current eBook repertoire. You can’t easily transfer ownership or loan books. That fits right in with what many of the producers want, of course. They are only partially correct, though. Just as there is no evidence that shows that pirating music has had an effect on sales, I think it’s also the case that enabling people to share the content will have no adverse affect. In the case of music, the act of passing around the music files creates a culture of music lovers while at the same time exposing consumers to artists they would otherwise have missed. I’m pretty sure the same is true of books, both electronic and paper.

      • My point about books is that I find a physical book nicer. Simple as that. Some of the books I have read have been hard-hitting, again, not my choice but certainly good, apart from some annoying typos.

        It will be a while before I go down the ebook road if I ever do. I do PDF though 😀

        Music is a different issue. I do use youtube to recall favourite records so I wd say it had an effect on sales. And I heard a fabulous Judy Collins record the other day via another blog. Would I buy any of them? No.

        But would I buy anything? 😀

  13. john malone says:

    wel I still haven’t got an ebook reader but I guess I sometime will. I just haven’t got around to it, and that maybe because my dissatisfaction with paper books is pretty low but I am moving towards ebooks and like you I prefer fiction

  14. I have been thinking about getting a kindle reader, but still researching the market a friend said going on holidays and carting a pile of books is a pain in the #$@ so yeh Im considering stepping into the ebook world thanks for your insightful post I enjoyed the read.

  15. My husband loves my Kindle Fire because he can watch Star Trek on it. Seriously. I’ve found I actually have started reading more ebooks than paper books, and I never thought I’d say that.

  16. Who doesn’t LOVE a great Jean Luc Picard reference?

    • Then you will love this one, as do I: Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we’ve lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal.

  17. elkement says:

    Great post – what a story!! I am a Kindle fan, though this was unexpected – the Kindle was a present and I am not sure if I would have purchased it myself.
    In particular, I like: the low weight (compared to a book with hundreds of pages), reading ouside (compared to standard displays), long battery life-time, and… above all: no Internet, no clock (Probably this only holds for the European Version – I can shop in Kindle store, but I can’t browse the web. I have the old Kindle Keyboard.)
    However, I tested and stopped reading technical documents (formulas etc.) – there is still room for improvement.

    • Absolutely! One thing, and maybe I should rant further on this, that irks me to no end is the terrible methods the web have for marking up math. Back when I first got serious about it, around 15 years ago, I learned of how MathML was properly defined to do a fairly good job. The problem, though, is that there’s still no good agreement on how browsers handle web documents that have MathML. Some expect a precisely formated XML document, while others expect the MathML to be displayed using a plugin. You would think that problem would have been solved long ago! Most of us, of course, still just give in and reduce the equations to images and try hard to ensure that the type in the images matches the surrounding HTML text. Primitive!

      That’s still, more or less, where tablets are. “Living” documents still do not have good enough standards and definitions in place to be properly transportable across platforms and that is annoying!

  18. seeker says:

    Hard bound books, nothing feels better that a book on my hand and touch that paper. Writing on the side, marking it x or check or !!!. Dog ear, spilled coffee, no big deal. I have an IPad, I’ve used it for a week. That was in the beginning of June.

  19. jrlambert says:

    I think one difference from my experience, is I did not get a Kindle or a tablet until they were more stable. I e control, which is why I do not really care for Apple products. Even Windows drives me nuts with its “wanting to think for me” issues at times. I love books. Their smell, their feel, all of it. I am a sucker for the convenient though. I always have something to read with me, and just from that standpoint, the Kindle or tablet are way more handy.

    I am writing this comment on my tablet actually. 🙂 I think books are just better in many ways, in terms of feel and presence. The handiness of the tablet has really won me over, however. I remember Star Trek, and all those gadgets, and it just amazes me that I once saw a 40mb hard drive that was so massive, it had to be stored in a huge rack. Now I have a little tablet that completely blows away my first computer in terms of computing power.

    I do think convenience has won much of the war. In some ways I really miss the books, and hate that my kids will not have that growing up in the same way I did. On the other hand, though, I really am ruled by convenience so much of the time. At work, I have had binders full of contract information and other such things that I have worked hard to convert to files, that take up so much less space.

    • LOL–in my fairly small house the space thing is quite important!
      That said, I just finished shoveling the latest batch of snow and am about to drop off son #3 to his part time job for a shift. I’ll have an hour to kill waiting for son #2 to finish his and I shall spend it, along with daughter, browsing through Chapters 🙂 Who knows–maybe I’ll buy a paper book or come home and order the ebook version. We’ll see.

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