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Kindle Update: Why I Still Buy Paper Books

I have had a Kindle since January. My husband has had an iPad for about the same length of time. Having an e-reading device has revitalized his love for reading. He buys books and reads them often. The only reason he will buy paper any more is if he is at the book signing of a friend and wants to show support. He’ll bring home the paper book and then buy an e-version for reading. We buy all the books on one account, so when he buys an e-book I can also read it. It is kind of nice to not have to negotiate over first turn. I really liked reading the Hugo voter samples on my Kindle. However we’ve noticed some troubles.

Howard bought the latest Pratchett book and began to read it. I then downloaded it to my Kindle, which helpfully assumed that I’d want to start in the same place where Howard had been reading. I began reading on chapter three without realizing I was doing it. Another problem also manifested with this particular book. Pratchett loves to do footnotes. I love to read his footnotes. On an iPad you tap, read the footnote, tap, and are back to your place. On the Kindle I have to push up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-over-over-over–over-over-over-over-over-select to get to the footnote. Then I push back to return to reading. It is a significant disruption to the flow of reading. Between these two frustrations, I am currently reading some paper books I got from the library instead of reading the new Pratchett book. I’ll eventually read it on Howard’s iPad, but am waiting until there is a period of time when I can have unfettered access to the device. Or perhaps I’ll just buy the book on paper.

I still find reading on an electronic device to be a touch distracting. It takes awhile for my brain to settle into the story because I associate electronic devices with internet and work. When I am stressed and need to disengage, I pick paper over electronic unless there happens to be a book that Howard bought electronically that I really want to read. Most of my reading is still on paper.

I know it is possible to borrow e-books from my local library. I don’t want to learn how. I want to read, not learn a new electronic-based skill. I certainly do not want to have to troubleshoot a loaning system. Electronic devices invariably have snags, errors, crashes, and annoyances. All of these can be recovered from, but all of them can steal my small space of relaxation and kill my good mood. About the only frustration a paper book can supply is being lost.

I regularly loan books to a long-time out-of-work neighbor. He has no money for cable television or to buy an expensive e-reader. Getting to the public library costs him money either in gas or bus fees, but he can come raid my library easily. If all my books were electronic he would be out of luck.

We are still buying kids books on paper only. I do so for the following reasons:

I can hand a child a $7 paper back and not have to police the treatment of the book. Books end up in bathrooms, spattered with snack food, left on floors, buried under piles of clothing, stepped on, shelved, stacked, and read. I could not do the same with a device costing over $100. I would have to keep track of it and spend time training my kids to treat it correctly. This is not just a kid problem either. I constantly have to remind myself not to leave my Kindle laying where it could get knocked off, stepped on, or other wise smashed. That little bit of extra required attention can be wearisome when I’m stressed or tired.

I have four kids. I want them all to be reading, sometimes simultaneously. I don’t want to spend $400-$700 to get enough reading devices for everyone to read at the same time. Additionally we have a house policy that a child can have an electronic device when they care enough to buy it with their own money. This way they have an emotional stake in taking care of the device. If my kids save up $150, they’ll buy an iPod or a 3DS, not an e-reader. They regularly spend $3-$15 buying books for themselves.

One of the best ways to get kids to choose reading is to have books laying around where the covers can catch their interest. Many moments of boredom have resulted in hours of reading because book was laying nearby. This does not happen if all the books are neatly filed on my Kindle.

Physically taking my kids to the library addresses reading in a new way. The kids are able to speak with a librarian and really think about what they are looking for in a book. Then sometimes their favorite books are ones that happen to be shelved near the one that the librarian was showing them. Involving a librarian in the book selection process means a new perspective and opens up new possibilities for the kids.

Owning a physical book and shelving it with their possessions is one of the ways my kids begin to form their identity. Different kids will latch on to different books or series of books. Then they loan them to each other. There is power in being the one who loans or recommends a book. If all the books are organized in the same electronic library my kids will not feel the same sense of ownership.

My children spend a lot of time playing computer and video games. Sitting down with a paper book gives their brains a break from the flicker of screens. It encourages them to switch over into a relaxed way of thinking. I’ve had them read things on my Kindle or Howard’s iPad, they read for shorter lengths of time because the presence of the electronic device is a constant reminder that there are video games in the world and that those video games might be more fun than reading.

When my Kindle was new, I had three children taking turns with it reading the same book. The process for bookmarking and unbookmarking was button-press intensive. As a result, they only book marked, never unmarking. This meant that we always spent at least a minute, sometimes as much as five, trying to figure out which of the bookmarks belonged to the child whose turn it was to read.

In summary: Paper books are still useful to me in ways that e-books have not yet managed to replicate.

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15 comments to Kindle Update: Why I Still Buy Paper Books

  • Hubs thinks e-readers are the best thing to ever happen to books. I disagree. I love to read, and I like having a book with me at all times. (I don’t always have one, but I like to.) I can take a paperback to the pool or the store and not worry too much about it getting wet or stolen. Not so with an Ipad.

    Also, there’s something so simple and efficient and fundamental about me, a piece of paper, and a light source creating an experience together. Weirds me out to be dependent on a power source to read a novel.

  • E-readers are nice for us when it comes to travel, which my lady wife does a LOT of, and I do less of. She can load up her iPad with dozens and dozens without carting around several hundred pounds of pulp, or spending several hundred dollars and then mailing boxes home. At home, it’s about fifty-fifty on whether she’ll pick up a book, or her iPad. My iPad is used primarily for work. I don’t have more than a game or two, and certainly nothing like PvZ or Angry Birds (evil, evil time sinks).

    Sandra, you’ve unfortunately given me a very good reason to not get rid of the hundreds of pounds (I think about them in terms of weight, you see) of paperbacks we own. When it gets to that point, I’d much rather they get thrashed than the e-device or a hardcover. It looks like I’ll be carrying boxes of books until my back gives out.

  • yachris

    Good post… another thing about libraries is that they’re AWAY from all the electronics. Our kids got used to going to the library, finding a stack of books, and then just sitting and reading them while mom & dad browsed. Nice practice :-) and gets the kids in the groove of just reading for fairly long periods of time.

  • hswoolve

    There is also a sensual experience to books that does not occur with electronic devices. To open a new book by a known author, or a book by a new one, is to mix anticipation of fresh (or well loved) words with the tactile experience of the weight and texture of the pages, and the scent of not quite dried ink (or what the previous owner liked to eat or use for incense, in the case of used books).

    That, and, I like to read in the tub or other places with water. A wet book will dry. Wet electronics not so much.

    • I keep hearing this sensual facet being discounted by e-reader aficionados, but it is very real and a completely valid basis for making purchasing decisions. We should spend money in ways which make our lives happier.

  • Nice post and very interesting point of view, Sandra.

  • Maybe it’s because my job requires me to stare at a computer screen for long periods of time, but when it time to relax the last thing I want to do is keep staring at a computer screen. Maybe the Kindle is better since it uses reflected instead of emitted light, but reading on the iPad gives me a headache (or makes it worse if I already have one). Again, the kindle might be better, but I’ve never tried one for long enough to tell.

  • lc piper

    Every time I see /hear this debate, I can’t help but wonder if the whole e-book thing turns out to be fad.

    I doubt it’s hold over sales will be as significant as some fear some five years on the future. Those who like it will get it, those who don’t will pay more for paper.

    • I don’t think it is a fad. E-books are here to stay because they solve some very real issues for many people. For example, e-books are a life saver to someone who needs very large print to see the words. We can have both though paper and e-books in the world. More options for people to use while reading is a good thing.

  • Rob

    I agree with most of your reasons, but “I then downloaded it to my Kindle, which helpfully assumed that I’d want to start in the same place where Howard had been reading.” is PEBKAC (PEBRAC?). You can turn that off and that’s one of the first things we did once my wife and I started sharing the Kindle account.

    Of course, the argument still exists whether or not you should have to turn that feature off versus turn it on.

  • Laura

    My household loves reading – my husband and I have probably 4,000+ paperbacks in the basement and my eight month old son has a seven foot tall bookshelf stuffed full of baby books – but I love the Kindle app on my iPad and you could not pry it away from me. I will never give up on paperback books because I don’t think the earlier stuff is ever going to be scanned into ebooks, but I can’t turn down the ability to have several books of different types in one portable device so I can read whatever genre I’m in the mood for, the lack of storage space they require, and now I can check out library books on it too! I feel a bit like a traitor for saying it but I love ebooks more all the time.

  • Barbara

    We (family of 4 w/ 2 teens) have books stashed two & three deep on multiple 7 foot bookcases (eight of them), stacked 3-4 ft high in a closet, and in uncounted boxes in our storage unit. The bulk of them have been read at least twice; many of them 5 or 6 times. Sometimes it’s nice to pick up a book you know well just to have a “comfort read.” We also have a constant flow among friends & siblings of loaned books. Not so likely with an e-book.

    I have been tempted by an e-reader for travel, since it would likely reduce my carry-on load significantly. I have tried traveling with magazines, with the hope I could toss them or leave them someplace en route. But even some of those come home with me. And as been mentioned as a factor for others, I’m a little hard on electronic devices (good thing my cell phone loves me). I have friends who are “early adopters” who are slowly wooing me to the e-side, but I’m not there yet. While I agree with Sandra that both will continue, for now I like the cookies on the paper side better.

  • lucy

    I hate e-readers (because I think they rob us of the sensual aspects of reading, cost way too much, and fill the world with more plastic that will be thrown into landfills once it stops working) and I think one thing that is not being thought of much is that the resources to create them are as finite (if not more finite) than the resources needed to create paper books. A lot of the metals needed to create electronic devices are going to run out, possibly within our lifetimes. And then we’ll have to go back to paper books anyhow.

    I’m glad you are giving your children paper books. I fear for the next generation of kids being increasingly disconnected from nature by a connection to electronic devices. Books are a tactile experience as well as an intellectual experience and I think they encourage people to feel more in touch with the real world.

  • I loved your post! I cited it in comment on this blog post. I saw your comment about linking to your url so I did.

    http://www.idealog.com/blog/searching-for-the-formula-to-deliver-illustrated-books-as-ebooks