Cookies and Capacitors

eBooks are for suckers

Wed, May 16, 2012 at 12:39AM

I won’t ever buy an eBook (a sole eBook, that is); not now, not ever. After all, I can purchase a brand-new, hardcover, acid-free copy of a book at usually identical prices to the identical eBook. In nearly every case, it’s cheaper to buy a used softcover, in great condition, than it is to buy an eBook.

Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror recently wrote an article comparing eBooks and their dead-tree clones. He reached the conclusion that printed books, for the moment, are superior to their digital counterparts because of formatting and typesetting disputes between eBook formats. He also found the prices of eBooks to be over-inflated. What hit home with me the most, though, was that you are not going to be able to hand your eBooks down to your children in 30 years.

A newly-discovered favorite activity of mine is writing comments and bantering in the margins. Sure, I could annotate an eBook, but I cannot make them visible as quickly as turning a page, and they are infinitely less disposable when printed on a pressed page.

Now, is there any instance when I would buy an eBook? Not many. It would fill me with extreme glee to see PDF versions of books distributed with each purchased paperback, but alas, not many publishers would spring for the idea. Would it be unlawful of me to download PDF versions of my already-purchased paper books? I don’t think so, and the authors wouldn’t mind, but those pesky publishers get in the way!

I would only buy a sole eBook under one circumstance: the content is inherently disposable. Take newspapers, for instance. I do NOT want to keep archives of newspapers. If I actually read newspapers, I would prefer them to be delivered digitally to any acceptable reading device. There’s absolutely no reason to expensively, and wastefully, manufacture inherently disposable text. In every instance, it is cheaper to digitally deliver newspapers than to print and ship them.

eBooks, by design, should only replace disposable material. If I buy a book, I must be able to read it now, in 10 years, and in 50 years. I want the freedom of lending it to my buddy, and I want the intuitiveness to annotate the pages liberally. It’s a damn shame that properly-formatted eBooks will probably never be distributed with their pulp-based brothers.