E-books — even better than the real thing?
I was previewing some books today on Kobo when I realized how much I’ve changed my book-buying habits over the last year. For the past five or six years I’ve maintained more or less a 50-50 split between buying books in stores or buying them online (at first through Amazon but then Chapters when I started to worry about Amazon’s business practices). I’ve generally tried to buy in stores first and have then gone online when I couldn’t find the book, but I haven’t been religious about it.
Since I started using Kobo, however, I’ve shifted my book buying to e-books without even really noticing I was doing it. I estimate about 70 per cent of the books I buy now are e-books, almost all of them from Kobo. Most of the physical books I purchase are through Chapters online, and generally that’s because I can’t find an e-version. I probably haven’t bought more than three or four books in an actual store this year.
There are all sorts of arguments for choosing the physical book over the e-book — design and the physical book as fetish object being the main ones — just as there are good arguments for visiting physical bookstores, such as supporting the cultural ecology of a community.
There are also valid arguments for choosing e-books over physical copies. For me, a major one is ease of use. I love being able to read and bookmark a book on multiple devices, so I can pick up where I left on an any computer I happen to be at. There are also the space savings — I just get overwhelmed by my physical books sometimes and have to clear them out, but you don’t have to worry about that with a digital library. They’re probably also more environmentally friendly, although stand-alone e-reader devices may skew that equation. I don’t use stand-alone readers, though, so I’m probably greener than I used to be in my reading habits. And, of course, there is the issue of availability. I’m rarely able to find the books I want in physical bookstores for various reasons — they’re not mass market enough, they’re older books I’ve discovered through word of mouth, they’re poetry. And let’s face it, the design of e-books will improve, and in the future e-books will likely be more interesting than their print counterparts, not less. Check out the Alice in Wonderland app for a hint of things to come.
Perhaps the main reason I’ve switched to e-books is because most of my purchases are spontaneous. I’ve bought a poetry book while rocking my baby, an absurdist yet touching take on job cover letters when I’ve been down at work, a non-fiction war book while working out on the exercise cycle. No more wish lists and/or scouring bookstores to find a print copy. Now I read about something, check it out on Kobo almost immediately, and decide right then and there to buy it or not. So I’ve usually made a purchasing decision within minutes of reading a review, blog post, interview, etc. (OK, if baby’s crying, I add the book preview to my library and come back later to make up my mind.)
I suspect I may be buying more books now, which is good news for writers and publishers alike. I’m going to see if I can figure out the differences between years when I tally up my receipts at tax time.
I wonder how many other people are experiencing a similar transformation in their book-buying habits. I suspect it’s a large number, and it’s going to increase as e-books are now — finally — becoming widely accepted and read. I was at a conference recently where many of the attendees were enthusiastic about e-books and the possibility of shaking up the publishing industry — and the very ways we read. The only people pushing back seemed to be those working in publishing, who obviously had personal interests at stake. There were also some publishing types who saw it as a way to improve their business by allowing them to produce books that might not have made financial sense in print form.
Anyway, I’m just thinking out loud here, not trying to write some manifesto about how e-books are better. I’m curious about other people’s experiences with book buying. Any stories to share?