I don’t buy books anymore, at least not the way I used to.
I mean, I still buy books. In fact, looking at Amazon I’ve bought 14 books in the past 30 days, not counting ones I’ve gotten for free. Of those, 3 of them were physical books, and the rest were all e-books. I am well and truly converted over to the ebook manner of reading, and there’s no turning back. The real proof of it? Jim Butcher’s Changes came out in this window too. I’m not counting it because I’d pre-ordered, but it’s nicely illustrative.
See, it was one of the books that got caught up in Amazon’s squabble with the publisher, and the kindle version got yanked off shelves (so to speak) shortly before release. Now, Amazon made it right – they sold me the hardcover for the price I’d paid for the ebook, $9.99 – and I’m grateful for that, but here I am a month later, with this book form a series I love by an author I dig which I’ve heard is fantastic, and I haven’t touched it. Why?
Because it is just too much of a pain for me to bother with carrying it around. I always have my kindle. It’s part of my regular kit. And I’ve got four different books that I’m reading at once going on it. It lets me read in strange places at random time. In contrast, for the hardcover I need an uninterrupted block of time at home, something I just don’t have with a rambunctious 15 month-old in the house.
All of which is to say, I am very much the ebook audience these days, and its with that in mind that I want to highlight the three books of the past month that AREN’T electronic, because I think they illustrate something important. See, I still love books, but the kindle has changed how I think about them. There are books I buy because I want the actual book, but there needs to be some reason beyond reading it. If it’s just the content I want, the Kindle does a better job.
Setting aside gifts and books with sentimental value, I think these three books do a good job of illustrating what attributes call for a real book.
The first is Sanjay Patel’s Ramayana: The Divine Loophole. Patel’s a graphics guy from Pixar and the book is, to put it frankly, absolutely beautiful. I saw it on the shelf in Borders and every page was a wonder to behold. It’s possible this book would do well on something with a really nice screen (like an ipad) but for something this lovely, the ability to flip pages and be struck by the images is entirely worth it.
So I’ll buy a book if it’s beautiful.
The next is Headfirst Rails. It’s an instructional book about the Ruby on Rails programming language. The Headfirst series are unique and well regarded because they present the information the reader needs in really engaging and innovative ways. Comparing their books to a random computer textbook is like night and day. They use layout and presentation as a technology, using the book form to its fullest. It is probably readable in electronic form, but it’s so well designed as a book, that would actually seem less efficient.
So I’ll buy a book if it takes advantage of being a book.
The last book was the late Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat Strikes Back. This is a great book and I *really* wanted it, but it wasn’t available as an ebook, and given the circumstances of its production (Snyder died before it went to print) I didn’t feel confident it would be available in any kind of timely manner. So I bought the physical book, and despite it being fantastic, I’ve barely dented it for the same reasons I haven’t read Changes.
So I’ll buy a book if I have no other choice.
I would suggest against publisher’s leaning too heavily on #3 – in most cases there’s a different book I could buy, and I almost certainly will. However, #1 and #2 are hopefully a little bit more informative, and they both have something in common. Both celebrate the book as an object rather than a mere container.
Now, none of this addresses the very real frustrations I have with ebooks – the inability to gift or lend them is a paralyzingly bad element that I tolerate only because they’re still in their infancy – and I understand fully why any of those other problems might keep someone from embracing the ebook. But once you do, it’s hard to go back, and it also makes you appreciate the books that really deserve appreciation all the more.