The Book Stops Here

It's a book. It's all the books.Not really, but I couldn’t pass up that title.

In the age of the e-book, I still buy physical books. Firstly, these books often come from favorite authors whom I might one day meet and wish for them to autograph it and from books, though I have been considering reviving the old autograph book to collect signatures.

The Wall Street Journal just published an essay. Go read it, I’ll wait. Done? Okay. I want to call attention to one line in particular:

In fact, according to Pew, nearly 90% of e-book readers continue to read physical volumes.

The second reason I still buy physical books is that some books aren’t available as e-books. I went to buy a bunch of books for my wife for Christmas (it’s how I spent the money my father gave me, because reading lots of books was something the two of them shared) and half of them weren’t available as e-books. There is a good chance that many people who would like to go 100% e-book simply can’t. If they won’t sell them, we can’t buy them.

The third reason I still buy physical books is that some publishers seem to think that an e-book should sell for nearly the same price as a hard cover. Seriously, go browse Amazon for a while and you’ll find plenty of examples where a physical hard cover can be bought for $12 or $15, and the e-book will be $15 to $20. This is primarily due to that agency model kerfuffle a while back where Amazon wanted to sell e-books the same way they do physical books, i.e. they wanted to pay the publisher the price the publisher was asking and then sell the book for any price they wanted. The publishers were afraid that e-books would destroy their physical book market, so they aligned against Amazon and force upon them the model of “We set the price, not you.” But only for e-books, Amazon still discounts the physical books.

See, Amazon, like any other retailer, pays (guessing) $12.50 per copy of a new book. The suggested retail price is $25. This is so the retailer can make a profit AND still run sales on it. “20% OFF!” brings it down to $20, still a nice margin from what they paid. Amazon, on the other hand, not needing to pay as much – no stores, fewer employees by volume, etc – can sell the same book for $14 and make up for the narrow margin by selling more copies. They were doing the same thing with e-books. Now they aren’t (can’t), though there are cases in court that might change this.

The fourth reason I still buy physical books… the technology just isn’t quite there for some books. It’s getting close, but frankly for long prose I’m always going to prefer an eInk screen like the older Kindle because I stare at a computer screen for 8 hours a day, when I get home I don’t want to stare at a computer screen for more as I read. But, tablets are becoming more advanced and the publishers and reader tech is catching up so that graphics heavy texts like manuals and comic books are beginning to work better. I can see myself in the future getting a large 10″ screened tablet to use for browsing and other tasks as well as reading graphics heavy books… I’ll still have the eInk reader for the novels.

The fifth and final reason that I still buy physical books: bookshelves. Someday, I will renovate my home and in that renovation I will have a library. Floor to ceiling books, preferably two floors, with a spiral staircase, and a fireplace with big comfy chairs where I will be surrounded by books… reading on my eReader.


  1. Chad Tindale says:

    Your arguments are not unfounded. The availability of ebooks (or audiobooks) can be a detriment to reading audience. Many books are publishing in ebook now exclusively. Because of no overhead at all, prices can go lower, though people pretend that new technology should be pricier than previous mediums.

    My favorite system is to read a book (ebook or audio) and if I REALLY like the book, I’ll get a physical copy. That’s not to say I have a lot of books, I don’t like very many that much.

    Eink is really easy on the eyes. It’s much more breakable than a screen, but if you don’t have kids, that shouldn’t be a problem. Mostly, I prefer the less limitations of an ebook. I can take it anywhere, even the shower (put it in a ziplock bag). It takes up almost no space. Lending it out doesn’t make me fear never getting it back. I never lose the books (except on my hard drive but I can /search that). It holds my place better. I can adjust the font or print if I have a hard time reading it.

    Really all novels are going to be replaced, and only reference books are going to linger on my shelves. I still prefer hardbacks for RPG books, Medical Reference. Text books. Especially if I’m going to be flipping back and forth to the index. Comics are also not replaceable. Some authors cannot be put into ebook form. Or audio for that matter. If you’ve never read the book “House of Leaves”, stop what you’re doing and go pick up a copy from the library or book store. You can’t/shouldn’t get it on ebook. The form of the text is just as important as the text itself. And it’s an example of a person using the medium of the book to his advantage rather than telling a story and putting it in book format because it’s what’s cheap and available.”House of Leaves” is definitely a YOU book. because of the movies you watch, you should certainly read, if not own, that book. I’d loan you my copy, but I loaned it to someone else, and didn’t get it back.

    • Jason says:

      House of Leaves is on the list. I suspect I’ll pick up a copy within a few months as I close in on finishing up my current must-read list.

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