The “are e-books real books” debate returns to discourse with increasing frequency as Amazon reports record numbers and e-books outselling traditional books be growing margins. The same panic occurs and a million think-pieces are released into the wild documenting the inevitable death of the printed page. Author Patrick Rothfuss sparked the latest hoopla with a tweet declaring “A book holds a story. A kindle holds a story. But your kindle is not a book. Is not. Only a book is a book.”
I’m a Kindle owner and I’m 100% supporting of e-books. There are business elements I find distasteful, such as the recent Amazon Unlimited royalties mess, but the basic idea of e-book is one I’m heavily in favour of. The book as we know it is not an unchanging form. Just as language evolves, so have books, ranging from stories carved into stone to papyrus scrolls to elegantly hand-written manuscripts to the first printing press and beyond.
The basic concept is relatively the same, but one of the elements that has changed is the accessibility of the printed word. Books are in plentiful supply in various forms, from hardback to mass printed paperback to the e-book. Each has its advantages and disadvantages but now we have a wider choice available to suit our personal needs. I’ve talked before about how self-publishing has led to a democratisation of publishing, and I feel that the same thing has happened for readers.
E-books have been a great benefit for readers with vision impairments, with most devices allowing you to increase the font size, while the convenience factor of buying books from the device while at home is also a much appreciated necessity for those with disabilities. Unnecessary barriers can be removed by such devices and allow more people to read, not less.
E-books and digital documents are also not a recent development, with sites like Project Gutenberg pioneering the distribution of e-books long before Jeff Bezos started stirring his cauldron. Concerns such as the effect the popularity of e-books will have on independent bookshops are understandable but the books themselves are not the problem there; that’s bad business.
There are many great benefits to the e-book – advantages for students buying expensive textbooks, promotion of previously maligned genres such as romance, chances for authors to experiment with styles and stories previously considered unsellable by traditional publishers – and none of these things will lead to the death of the old paperback. Once upon a time, the mass market paperback was considered the end-times of publishing.
Ultimately, regardless of which format you choose (and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t choose both), the important thing is the reading itself. Denigrating one form of that turns reading into something elitist. Whatever form it takes, reading is wonderful and should be encouraged.
Of course, if the Kindle isn’t a real book, I imagine Rothfuss will be donating all of his e-books sales to charity, just out of principle.