Hooked on e-books?

The battle between digital and print books begins.

by Vanessa Ramstack

Imagine a time when the word âÄúbookâÄù does not conjure up the idea of a dog-eared paperback or a weighty school textbook but instead brings to mind only text on an electronic screen. As e-books gain popularity, will the printed book go the way of stone tablets and papyrus scrolls?
The idea of e-book readers has been around since the late 1970s, but with the launch of well-known models such as the Nook and Kindle in the late 2000s, the possibility of holding hundreds of books in the palm of your hand is now an everyday reality.
According to USA TodayâÄôs list of the best-selling books of 2010, the digital versions of the top six outsold their printed counterparts during the 2010 holiday season. Previously, no more than two books had sold more electronic than print copies. Last year 19 of the top 50 bestsellers did.
Are digital books really worth the hype? Does the wonder of technology decrease the wonder of a real book? The statistics from USA Today prompt the mind to make comparisons.
With print books, thereâÄôs no worrying about battery life, and they withstand a casual drop or two. And though e-book readers can hold more content than a bookshelf, they can also malfunction.
On the other hand, USA Today says the average e-book price is $8.75 compared to $15.50 for hardcovers. With a simple click, customers may save a trek to the library or the nearest Barnes & Noble because the texts can be saved in the e-book readerâÄôs memory. A Nook or Kindle may cost $300, but the amount of money saved on texts could be worth the initial pocket burn. At the end of the day, e-books take up less space and are less expensive. Because of this, the increase in electronic leisure-book purchases does not seem surprising.
Besides offering leisure books, many college textbooks are also available for download. According to University of Minnesota Bookstore Director Bob Crabb, the bookstore offers 300 electronic textbooks through its website. With the large role technology plays in studentsâÄô lives, it would be no surprise if students preferred to have electronic textbooks. But Crabb says the ratio of electronic to print books sold is only one to 100. âÄúStudents have not warmed up to e-books for their classes,âÄù Crabb said. âÄúThey simply donâÄôt want e-textbooks regardless of the cost saving, which in most cases is significant.âÄù
Bethany Hiemenz, a sophomore nursing student, says, âÄúYou donâÄôt have to carry all the digital books, but I like having a book physically.âÄù A physical textbook makes for easier note-taking and highlighting, although the Kindle does offer a highlighting feature. âÄúBut [digital books] donâÄôt smell like real books, and theyâÄôre expensive, I assume,âÄù says sophomore journalism major Emma Bauer. This reignites the cost issue.
The initial costs of buying a reader did not seem to deter consumers this holiday season. Whether this carries over to next year remains to be seen. Crabb states, âÄúAt some point, I expect e-books to surpass print books, but the big question is, âÄòwhen?âÄô E-books have made significant inroads.âÄù
It remains to be seen if printed books will remain popular in competition with electronic books or if the publicâÄôs obsession with shiny things will render books as obsolete, as the horse and buggy.
Print books could go the way of ancient scrolls and 8-track tapes, but they could just as easily linger and remain popular among a niche group the way vinyl records have. Given current trends, however, the erosion of the physical bookâÄôs mainstream relevance may come sooner rather than later.