Digital Versus Traditional Round One: Books

Technology has in recent years, allowed us to create and view things that in the past have been restricted to manual forms. Whether it be comic books, cameras, or even phones there has been a massive shift from “traditional” forms of these items to newer digital versions.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting articles about several different traditional to digital shifts and what their implications (both seemingly positive and negative) are.

To start I’d like to focus on a topic close to my heart, books. From novels to comic books  I’ve always loved reading anything I could get my hands on. I love spending hours in a bookstore looking through books until I find one or two that catch my imagination. However, now is the time of the e-reader, and many titles of any genre can now be purchased digitally making that trip to a bookstore useless.

But is this conversion to digital media necessarily a bad thing? Personally I’m on the fence. I haven’t quite picked a side on this issue, stubbornly staying neutral. However, there are many others more vocal about both sides of the issue. I’ll attempt to outline some of the very basics of the two sides to this battle now.

We should stick with paper books:

For most of the history of written word paper has been the medium of choice. Everything from the news to children’s stories have been printed on it. Paper books form a huge part of our culture and it’s understandable that the sudden drastic change over to digital media is not something we accept easily. Paper books are tangible objects that we can hold, dog-ear the edges, and mark up in the margins. You just can’t do that with a digital book. A digital book will never age, it will never have the look and feel of a book re-read many times. Digital books stay static, they forever keep that sterile structured look no matter how many times you re-read it. Basically, digital books just don’t have the nostalgia that paper ones do.

Also, while a paper book may be stolen or even damaged, you don’t have to worry about a technological failure deleting it. When you buy a paper book you own it until the day it degrades to nothing. However, with a digital book you run the risk of losing it forever should your chosen e-reader fail.

Another big issue is the fact that without the need to buy physical books, what will happen to bookstores? Recently, mega-chain bookstore Borders closed all of it’s locations. That massive closing alone is enough to worry some book lovers.

Digital is the way of the future, why fight it?

Digital books may not be a physical item you can hold, but they have numerous benefits. One big one is the environmental aspect. Instead of cutting down trees to create paper for books all you need is an e-reader and you can download your book digitally. Paper books contribute to the nearly 4 billion trees that are cut down for paper annually! Also, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory, paper mills and pulp mills are massive contributors to air pollution problems in the U.S.A.

So going digital acts like using a reusable travel mug instead of a throw away Styrofoam cup. It lessens the demand for the more environmentally harmful product by replacing it with a more durable, less harmful version.

Digital books, or e-books, also take up no physical space. This means that if you’re an avid reader you don’t need to line every room of your house with bookshelves. You can keep all your books in an object the size of a single novella!

Also, many e-readers have an option where you can zoom in on text, making it easier to read. This is welcome news for those readers struggling with the impossibly tiny print of some books.

So which is better?

I can’t answer this for you. The choice between digital and print books is a personal one that you have to make for yourself.

However, what seems to me like a good strategy is to do a little bit of both. Treat books the way you treat movies. If you see a movie in theaters that you love, you generally buy the DVD. The same can be applied to books. If you read a book digitally that you love, buy a paper copy to proudly display in your home, and to read again. However, if the book wasn’t so great, don’t bother buying a print copy.

Do you have a strategy or opinion on the digital versus paper issue? If so feel free to let us know in the comments!

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