A Futile Debate

by Jessica Chiodini

The great e-book versus print debate has been raging since the introduction of the Kindle, the first e-reader, in 2007. The digitalization of our reading experience was right on par with the disappearance of CD collections in favor of invisible MP3 libraries and streaming capabilities of favorite television shows that sent TV Guide right out the window. Listen anywhere, watch any time, read everywhere became a mantra that has replaced the need to make a date with our culture because dates take time, and in our fast-paced world, people only have the length of a subway ride, the wait in a doctor’s office, or the walk to class to digest what’s on a screen before the subway doors swoosh open, the nurse says she’s ready for you, or you realize you forgot about the assignment due in ten minutes. And life starts again.

E-books seem to fit right in with this new mantra. E-books become immediate new additions to our online libraries; they don’t weigh anything or take up space, they allow us to read in the dark or search on a whim–all while engaging our fingers. In the beginning, their success in the marketplace was evident as they were propelled by the technology’s early adopters that made the move to e-books happen quickly.

Despite the early success of e-books, with increases in the triple digits for several years, 2013 saw e-book sales stabilize into single digits. In fact, the first half of 2014 saw printed books outsell e-books, according to a survey by Nielsen Books & Consumer. Hardcover books made up 25 percent of unit sales and paperback books made up 42 percent, for a combined 67 percent of unit sales. E-books constituted 23 percent of unit sales for the first six months of 2014, lower than both hardcover and paperback books on their own. The digital wipe-out of printed books that was predicted to happen hasn’t, and it looks like it probably won’t.

Printed books, while cumbersome in our back pockets or hefty in our bags, still manage to hold a place in our hearts that motivates our wallets. Paper books have no need for electricity. They can survive a coffee spill. You can resell them or give them away without inciting a battle over copyright infringement. Pop-up e-mails and other apps will never be a distraction glowing by the page number. Paper books can’t disappear from your library due to company policy or technical malfunction. And no matter how handy an e-book is, its intangible nature can’t elicit the same sentimental feelings of returning to a dog-eared page or scribbling in the margins.

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