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Column: The pros and cons of ebooks

In this new generation of Facebook, the iPod, and texting, the growing popularity of ebooks shouldn't come as a surprise to me. Still, I don't feel the need to keep up with the technology on this occasion. My friends and family can testify that I'm a pretty tech-savvy person, and while I like to marvel at each new iPod, I have not once been tempted to buy a Kindle. Not yet, anyway.

By no means am I opposed to ebooks entirely; they have their place, I'm sure. No, what bothers me most is something people have started saying-- something that makes me shudder with fear and denial-- that print books may be becoming obsolete.

For centuries, books have been present in every educated person's life, and now those same people are suggesting that we do away with the printed page? A typical reader of ebooks will reply with a "Well, you're reading the same material, so it doesn't really matter," an answer that makes me wilt a little inside.

If books do become obsolete, there will be so much missing from the experience of reading a novel, or even something as superficial as a textbook. There would be no going to the library to check out the book, or to the bookstore to buy it. There would be no satisfying weight of a hardback, and no cracking the spine of a paperback.

To what, then, would the experience of book-reading evolve? Would libraries exist only online, their empty buildings eventually demolished and turned to parking lots?

Of course, I have a hard time believing that print books will really be wiped out for good. I won't disregard the argument that ebooks might be more environmentally friendly, but I don't think that means that books need to disappear. What about the jobs that would be lost if publishers stopped printing?

Just a little over a week ago, the New York Times announced that they will allow ebooks to join their bestseller list next year. Even those snarky New York Times people are accepting ebooks as quickly as our generation has adapted to carrying a phone around wherever we go.

Though I will persistently trudge eight long blocks in the cold to the Urbana Free Library on Saturday to check out David Sedaris' new book, these new technologies aren't just fads. I suppose I'll need to get used to ebooks, too.


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Nice job!


I really like this column, partly because I own an Amazon Kindle. Although I still prefer reading a physical, real book, the Kindle is great. There are number of reasons that do it for me...

-Cheaper to buy (and in some cases the cost is nil)
-It takes up very little space
-Good to travel with
-Included dictionary
-Many more

One thing I have also noticed is that I am more careful with where I put books down (and thus lose them or misplace them less) when I am using a Kindle, which costs much more than $20 to replace. Also if you write a lot in your books, it is easier to do it by hand than deal with the clumsiness of the Kindle note-taking/highlighting system.

But don't get me wrong. I prefer reading the "real thing." Using an ebook, you might have to make some sacrifices, but it ends up being worth it.

Great job!


Charlotte Popetz's picture


Thanks, James. I did take up most of this column proclaiming my refusal to read ebooks, but I'm more interested in keeping the market for print books open than boycotting the Kindle and things like it. If there ever comes a point where I'm offered one I won't say no (especially if I'm going to be traveling).

Margarita Mouschovias's picture

The good and the bad

I much prefer real paper books to ebooks, with one exception: I'll be going to college next year, and if I tried to take all my favorite books with me, there wouldn't be much space left for a bed in my dorm room. For that reason, I might turn traitor and buy an ebook reader (or possibly just read them on my iPod Touch - however, the iPod has a much smaller screen than an ebook reader, which is unfortunate).

We'll see.

I tend to disbelieve that real books will ever become obsolete, however - or at least not in the near future.