Sunday, January 1, 2012

25 Reasons Real Books Are Here to Stay

The e-book publishers would have us believe that paper books are being rounded up to cries of “Bring out yer dead” and dumped by the cartload into burning plague pits.

Don’t sound the death knell just yet.
Old books in a Czech castle. (Maurizio Abbate/Creative Commons License)

While printed book sales figures are down (like everything else), the industry still generates billions of dollars per year while e-books are still in the high millions, not to mention the fact that folks are still willing to plonk down $75 for a coffee table art book.

Just check the comments section of any article predicting doom for paper books and you’ll find a near-rabid gang of defenders who say you’ll have to pry their ARDs (Ancient Reading Devices) out of their cold, dead hands.

Why do some of us prefer books made of trees? The easy answer is that you either get it or you don’t, but for those who don’t, here are 25 reasons some of us --even those of us who own Kindles on the side-- will always love our pulp.

1. Reading in the bathtub.

Or by the pool. Or in a light drizzle. E-readers don’t take kindly to getting wet, and the warranty often doesn’t cover damage. A cheap paperback, though, is made all the more sentimental once the two of you have had a bubble bath or two together. (And you won’t have to frantically stick it in a bag of rice afterward.

Don't try this with a Kindle. (goldsardine/Creative Commons License)

2. Re-selling.

Once you buy a print copy of a book, it’s yours. You can sell or trade it at the used bookstore for more books, auction it off on eBay, make some extra nickels at your next garage sale or swap it for magic beans.

3. Gift-giving.

Books still make lovely gifts (which is why they sell like the dickens at Christmas time), and downloads are hell to try to wrap.

4. Sharing.

Passing on books is one way that readers maintain bonds with their friends and family. Sure, you can still read the same books on your e-readers --and simultaneously-- but the sharing and passing around of the book itself is almost sacred. (Yet another “You get it or you don’t” example.)

5. Collections.

Some people merely read books, others read and collect. The curating of a book collection is as satisfying to some as collecting art, antiques or glass menageries is to others.

6. Book signings.

There’s no way around this one. If you’re an avid fan of a particular writer, the sine quo non of your collection  is a copy signed by the author herself. No author wants to inscribe “Never forget the bloaters” across your Nook with a metallic Sharpie. Book signings require books.

7. Reading on airplanes.

You can open a paperback anytime you want, without the flight attendant’s say-so. What’s more, you can ditch a cheap book at the hotel when you’re done with it, freeing it for someone else to read, and lightening your luggage at the same time.

8. Shopping.

Sure, the web makes it easy to browse books, even to peek inside a little. Shopping for print books allows you to read as much as you like, though, and see a book’s size and scope, as well as who else is reading what. Shopping for books doesn’t just mean hitting Barnes & Noble, but also digging through the bargain bins at the warehouses, searching for gems at the antique book shops, or finding boxes of forgotten ephemera at estate sales. 

Browsing for books is part of being a reader. (_SiD_/Creative Commons License)

9. Showing off.

It’s something few people want to admit, but sometimes some of us want people to admire our books, and admire us for the books we choose. Displaying a book collection is part of it, but also showing the world what we’re reading when we read in public, revealing our intellect, our beliefs, our romantic nature, etc. as the case may be. Taking an unusual title with you to the coffee shop is also a sure way to spark a conversation if you need company.  

10. Hiding things.

If books go completely digital, where will anyone stow away a secret stash? In a de-gutted Kindle? That hollowed-out copy of Alice in Wonderland will be pretty easy for thieves or cops to spot if it’s the only print book in the house.

11. Pop ups and fuzzy parts.

Yes, the technology for interactive e-book displays is amazing, but they still can’t duplicate the surprise of having a pop-up literally leap out of the book. And what about Pat the Bunny? (Yes, there’s an app.) Will the next generation of children think rabbit fur feels like glass?

Classic lit that literally pops off the page. Try this, Nook! (abrinsky/Creative Commons License)

12. Appreciation.

The financial kind. Downloads have pretty much no value once you buy them, except in personal reward. Many books, though, can increase in value over time. First editions, limited editions and specialized titles just may see you through your retirement if you choose wisely.

13. Choice.

With out-of-print books becoming available and digital self-publishing made easy, it would seem as if more books are available than ever. That’s only partly true. Plenty of obscure books will never be digitized. Titles are lost any time there’s an upgrade in technology. Just as some silent film reels were never converted to VHS and many VHS titles were never converted to DVD, publishers make choices about what’s worth converting. Some things don’t make the cut.

14. Art.

Don’t hate books because they’re beautiful. And boy, are they. There are few other consumable items that people want to decorate their homes with. Book-lined walls are gorgeous, as swoon-worthy as The Marriage Plot claims to be.

And, not just as collections, books can also be real stunners as individual specimens. Leather bindings and gilt edges can’t be reproduced digitally. They just can’t. Popular paperbacks count, too. Those ultra-cool pulp covers from the fifties didn’t seem like anything special when they were new. Even today’s mass market paperbacks may be tomorrow’s collectible objets d’art.

Old book as objet d'art. (jsbanks42/Creative Commons License)

15. Sentiment.

The book itself can evoke memories in a way a download can’t. No one stores old PDFs in a hope chest, inscribes them to a child, or returns one in anger to an erstwhile lover. If print books disappear, a lot of flowers will go unpressed.

16. Posterity

Bequeathing a well-curated collection of books to a library or university is a way of passing on one’s love for a subject from beyond the grave. You don’t have to be a rich collector, either. Passing down books to a family member who will love them can be appreciated just as much even if the books are romance novels or comics.

17. Permanence.

Technology can fail. So can companies. Because the technology is so new, your e-reader probably won’t even be compatible with digital books in the future. (Can you play 8 tracks on your CD player? Or Atari games on your X-Box? So long, e-books you already bought.) Your print books, though, will always be readable, come mergers or apocalypse.

18. Security.

No one will mug you for a copy of The Hours. And if someone does steal your backpack with your book in it, you won’t lose your entire collection.

19. Burning.

Not that any of us would participate in such a thing, but in a society that allows free speech, the burning of books is a powerful political statement that has no substitute. (The small upside to organized book burnings is that people often purchase the books solely to destroy in public, thereby supporting the very thing they decry.)

20. Motivation.

Having a stack of unread books by the nightstand is a hard-to-ignore reminder that you need to catch up on your reading. With e-readers, there’s no physical difference no matter how many books you buy.

21. Reference.

When doing academic research, the ability to have more than one book open and glance back and forth between them is crucial. (Even Thomas Jefferson invented a bookstand to do just that.) While tabbing back and forth is useful, it’s no substitute for seeing multiple pages at once.

22. Power.

Books don’t need it. Just the energy in your index finger, which is infinitely renewable.

23. Smell.

You knew it was coming. If there’s one thing that separates the old-school book people from the technophiles it’s this. There’s no faking it, and there’s no explaining what old book smell does and means. 

Don't you wish you could scratch and sniff to smell the magic? (Moyann_Brenn/Creative Commons License)

24. Magic.

Opening a book is a powerful action. If you don’t believe it, you’ve never been young and/or you’re not reading the right things. It’s a signifier. It embodies possibility in a way that pushing a button can’t. It’s like the difference between coolly clicking a remote to unlock your car and slowly turning an old skeleton key in a big wooden door. What happens next?

25. Having your books and reading them too.

Owning an e-reader doesn’t mean giving up on books, and plenty of readers --especially the lifelong book addicts-- have both. There’s even evidence that e-readers may ultimately be a boost to the print book industry, as readers try new authors, then want to own hard copies (for the various reasons outlined above.)

Why do you love print books? Maybe there could be 26 reasons. Weigh in, and Book Dirt will update to add any new answers.


  1. I lovity-love-love this post. I have a Kindle. I didn't want it, but it was a gift and after giving it a whirl, I like it. I don't love it, though. I love books. Real books.

    Soon, my work will be published in three separate multi-authored books. I'm very excited about that. My hope is that in the very near future, I'll also have a book that's all mine.

    I'm delighted that the three will be real books and I pray that when the time comes for my book, it's a real book, too. One that I can hold in my hands and that my children and grandchildren will hold, as well. There's a big difference between a book and a file. I'll take the book, please.

    1. well done m8 with the books m8 m8, m8, mmmm88888888888888!

      ps: just waiting for a m8!

  2. Yeah.

    And to "#23 SMELL" I wish to add this:

    The scent of perhaps a year's worth of incense burned in the New Age bookstore that I find emanating from every page of my Joel Goldsmith books. How you gonna get that into some electronic device?!

    What is "The Master Speaks" or "The Art Of Meditation" without the aroma of incense on the pages?

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  3. Word Nerd: I'm so with you. I like my e-reader, too, but I love books. It's a distinction worth noting. Congrats on your upcoming anthologies!

    Stephen: Well put! I work in a used bookstore, and we frequently get in orders of New Age books that smell like incense, or Wicca books that smell like sage and patchouli.

  4. I could debate many of the commnents. Kindles can be read in a tub, if one has the waterproof cover, for instance. I can read my kindle on the airplane because I have it off and it is not connected to the 'net. I can give, and have received kindle books as gifts, I even have (through a new online system) personal autographs on more than one of my kindle books.
    Having said all of this, the author makes the other error that makes people believe one has to choose one over the other. I collect certain books (Matt Helm series, Perry Mason series) and read them. One can have an e-reader, and also read paper books.

    1. The autograph is not real, it is not the trace of the actual pen in the authors hand. The ink put to the page by the author them selves. It is a bunch of pixels not the real thing.

    2. "the author makes the other error that makes people believe one has to choose one over the other"

      huh? did you skip the last paragraph: "Owning an e-reader doesn’t mean giving up on books, and plenty of readers --especially the lifelong book addicts-- have both."

  5. Hi, Anon. You must have skipped #25, in which my point is that you don't have to choose unilaterally. I myself have an e-reader and still buy plenty of paper books, and most people I know support both, just as you do. I think that Kindles may well encourage the book industry.

    I never say that one or the other is better --they each have their purposes-- but I do believe that paper books aren't going away as some predict, and these are the reasons why.

  6. Ever have one of those moments when the book you're reading freezes, and you have to wait a couple of minutes before you can turn the page? Or you're underlining a word or making a note, your pencil freezes on the page, and you have to wait another few minutes?

    You can if you use a Kindle!

    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  7. Great article! As a book review publication, we love books (physical books). The vast majority of our 120 reviewers STILL prefer physical books over eBooks. And, as Stephen Colbert said "Newspapers are an important part of our lives, not to read, of course, but, when you're moving you can't wrap your dishes in a blog.”

    Heidi Komlofske
    San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review

  8. Peter: Brilliant! Might add that to the update.

    Heidi: Thanks for stopping by, and I'm pleased to hear that your reviewers prefer physical copies. I'm totally stealing the Colbert reference, too.

  9. LOVE this post! I just got a kindle for christmas and there are plenty of things I like about it but I still prefer the real book. reading on the kindle just makes me sleepy. lol

  10. I'm fascinated by the technological changes of the past few years and think there is plenty of room for printed books. However, there will be many authors who will have to accept being published in e-book form, if their work is ever to see the light of day.

    I've been playing Devil's advocate to amuse myself on my own blogs recently, as it is certain that publishers will be increasinly less inclined to invest in printed materials that might end up remaindered and shredded.

    What puzzles me most is the way that bookshops are closing without people taking more notice. Where will we go when they are all gone?

    A very insightful blog and a delight to read.

    Perhaps some day we will see it in print?

  11. As a collector I'm generally sympathetic to the points here but not all points support your argument. As someone working on reading/annotation technology in the past, I've thought about a lot of these issues.

    #2. I have cheap waterproof cameras which have all sorts of openings for the lens, battery etc. Waterproof ereaders which are totally sealed can't be far away and will make them more pool-friendly than paper-books.
    #13. Choice. If someone has a paper book they can scan it and make it into any format ebook using free software like Calibre. ebook technology may actually rescue many forgotten titles.
    #17. Permanance. eBooks are software so conversion to new formats is trivial. You can play Atari Games on an X-box - it'll just be delivered in a different format - heck there are even plugins to use old cartridges on new equipment. Most arcade games are now free downloads that you can play on your PC.
    #18. Security. When a copy of my collection is stolen, I download a new copy for free. Can't do that with paper books

  12. I'm a book whore with both dead tree books and a Kindle - which I got reluctantly, but love more than I thought I would.

    Especially for travel - you don't have to lug 10 books in case the first 3 don't interest you - it's great. I also wish I'd gotten it before I had the wit/stupidity to invest in the Complete Works of Shakespeare - in one immense volume, all 15 lbs of it. Not a cozy book to take into bed or the tub.

    But you list so well all the reasons why print books aren't going away anytime soon. I do love my bathtub books, and there is nothing like that old book smell. (Or even a new book smell!)

  13. Interesting you should mention travel. Try putting a travel guide on your Kindle if you really want to explore in depth the disadvantages of an e-reader.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  14. I've just posted on Moderntwist2 in answer to your question.

    What becomes really interesting is where the two media meet up and become mutually beneficial.

  15. Here's hoping this is not considered spamming.

    I have a literary style blog as well as Moderntwist2 and books feature largely there.

    There is one very strong reason for printed books to continue. The linguistic content is only one aspect of a book and graphic designers, font experts, printers, bookbinders and the great body of skilled crafts people who have spent years learning their trades will not let them die off.

    I often wonder how much printer's ink is used every year worldwide. The emphasis is always on saving trees and not wasting paper.

    Much to think about...

    1. Paper can just as easily be made from hemp. No need for tree's...

  16. I will believe the sincerity of claims that e-readers save trees when Jeff Bezos issues a statement advising against buying the latest Kindles on the ground that disposing of old ones will hurt the environment.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  17. @Peter: he might not say that since Kindles are being sold at break-even or at a loss right now. It's the free razor that we add e-blades to.

    @PáD: graphic designers, font experts etc will still have work. For paper books so much printing and bookbinding is done by machines that you'd have to say that it's nearly 100% by volume. The great number of jobs were lost when electronic typesetting came in decades ago. The labour-intensive craftwork now is really for bespoke volumes.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. My Kindle makes me more selective, being more selective I spend money on the books I really want. The library only lets so many books be checked out and now I can just choose a few. Carring a library around is just fun but what is going to happen with bookstores are they going to be limited to bookracks in the grocery store, corners in a coffee shop????

  20. I'm with you. Book in the tub or on the beach can't be beat.

  21. "If print books disappear, a lot of flowers will go unpressed."

    that line made me slightly sentimental.

    Le Sigh

  22. Why pay money for something you can not own. If a publishing house goes out of business, I still own my book. My book don't break if it gets hit or dropped. I don't have to replace or charge my book. I own what I paid for. It is not saved on some companies web site, it's a way for companies to get something for nothing. If my book ends up in a landfill it will be gone in a year or so, say that about you e readers. As far as saving tree's, hemp makes better paper. One last thing, if a solar storm wipes out the power on Earth someday, what will we have to show for it, a pile of plastic. LONG LIVE THE BOOK!

  23. Number 23 and 24 mean so much to me, nothing can beat the emotions and the memories that the sent of a book can trigger. One of my favorite things to do is curl up with a book under a cuddly blanket, with a cup of hot chocolate/coffee or glass of red wine and get lost in the magic and wonder of the story. Yes I know kindle owners can argue that they can do that fine, true enough they can. But what really and I mean REALLY makes it all special is the sent and the feel of the pages in my hand.

  24. I love to read, period, and found it doesn't matter which type of media I use. I received a Kindle as a gift and was hesitant to keep it as I loved old fashioned books. My daughter talked me into downloading a couple of free books on the Kindle just to try it out - I did, and ended up loving it, too. I still have all my printed books and will continue to purchase them in addition to downloading books on my Kindle. They both have their advantages and disadvantages so why not make the best of both worlds, old and new!

  25. Just want to add to #23 Smell. I adore the smell of new books as well as old. The smell of a bookshop and of new books cannot be recreated electronically (no matter how hard they try) =)

  26. You know I'm partial to #23 as well, smell oh and shopping. There's nothing like having a book in your hands to buy v.s. downloading it onto your kindle. Not the same thing. Maybe with the young kids it will become a thing, but not for me.

  27. What about when the world ends and we can't charge our Kindles or whatever exists in the distant future? What would happen if all we had were ebooks? I wouldn't want to live in that world. We might have to redo that Twilight Zone episode where the world ends and sole survivor breaks his glasses, the world ends and the sole survivor can't charge his Kindle!

  28. Good points. While I find my e-reader useful in some situations, I don't want to live in a world without books, either.

  29. When your own book is finally in your hands...that's a feeling that you cannot have without a book thats made of tree! You're so happy, it feels like its not yours because its so unreal but at the same time you cannot deny that your own book is printed and in your hands. It's something that you want everyone to have, your own book! For the autor, for me at least, knowing that people have my own book on their selves is really a marvellous feeling because I know that people will remembers me for my work way much nore than if they just load it. Real book are trully irremplacable for everyone not just the readers, for the writer too!

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  31. I like real books. The only thing that I like about e books is that it makes my luggage lighter when I travel but that's it. I don't enjoy reading e books so I end up buying a cheap paperback on location anyway. I am 24 and I guess this makes me unusual. Well, it's unusual for a girl my age to be reading anything. Borders closing and now Barnes and's devastating.

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