Yesterday I gave you 5 Reasons Books Are Better Than E-Books. Today I want to follow that up with 5 ways in which e-books are superior to their printed counterparts. I suspect you will note some lack of passion in my attempt to do so. I truly do love books and I suppose I give respect to e-books only grudgingly. Nevertheless, I can’t in good consience pretend there are no ways in which e-books have the upper hand.
So here they are, 5 ways in which e-books are better than books:
I have not counted the volumes in my library, but I suspect I have about 1,000 books lining the walls around me (and I keep it around that level, throwing out one book for every new book I add). That is 1,000 books full of information, but information that can only be accessed by physically picking up the book and looking through its pages. To search those 1,000 books would require picking up each one of them and looking for an index, hoping that the word I am searching for is appropriately indexed within. Minor words, unimportant words, would not appear at all. If I want to remember the content of these books, I need to rely on memory and allow it to guide me to a book and then memory or some kind of an index to lead me to a chapter and a page. It’s all quite inconvenient and old fashioned.
Where e-books maintain one great advantage is in their searchability. Though not all e-reading programs or devices support it, in theory at least, I should be able to perform a search and quickly find a word or term within my entire library. When I use Logos to access commentaries, I find the results very different from accessing those same commentaries in their printed versions; the results are faster and the results are more complete.
E-books allow me to search my entire library with a depth and convenience that cannot be matched by printed books. They also allow me to search within a particular book very quickly and easily and, again, at great depth. In both cases this can be very, very useful and is a feature printed books simply cannot match.
Of course for this feature to reach its potential, we will need search technology to continue to improve and, on an even more basic level, we will need more programs to allow us to perform searches across an entire e-book library. Such functionality is a given; it is not a question of if but when.
The 1,000 books I have in my library take up a lot of space and weigh hundreds of pounds. I shudder to think about moving some day and having to take those books from their shelves and placing them in boxes, hauling them down a flight of stairs and into a truck (and then back again on the other end). With the joy that comes through carrying a physical, tactile object like a book comes the inconvenience of its size and weight. As many airport security folk can tell you, I like to travel with a lot of books, but even if I pack my suitcase to its weight limit, I can still bring only a very small part of my library.
On the other hand, a digital library is infinitely portable, taking up no physical space whatsoever. I can take it with me wherever I want, those 1,000 volumes each accessible on my iPhone or any other device.
My electronic library travels with me, in full, wherever I go (or wherever I have an Internet connection, at least) but it is also accessible across many different media. On my Kindle, iPad, iPod, iPhone, PC or Mac I can access every e-book I’ve purchased from Amazon and can access the notes and highlights I’ve made for each. When I go away for a week’s vacation I do not need to choose five or six books to take with me, hoping that they are the right ones or the best ones; I can take my entire library and know that the book will be available to me. In this way e-books offer a great deal of versatility. I can even convert some of them to audio books by allowing Kindle’s reading app to read them aloud to me. I can increase font sizes when the light is dim or move from a backlit screen to an e-ink screen when my eyes are tired.
Last year I flew to a conference on the other side of the continent and, before I left, I purchased a great new book. I had read three quarters of that book by the end of the flight and was enjoying it a lot. I was rather distressed to find that I had inadvertently left it on the plane, stuffed in the pocket ahead of me. Because I wanted to finish the book, I went to a local bookstore to buy a second copy. Had I purchased the e-book instead of the physical book, I would not have had to do this; I could not have lost it at all since something that takes up no space cannot truly be lost! Of course I could have left my entire device on the plane, a far bigger disaster, but let’s not go there. The fact is that I cannot lose or misplace an e-book. If I can no longer find the file, I can simply download it again. It’s never gone, never lost.
And that’s not all. I will never drop an e-book in the bathtub and will never find that my dog has eaten it or my daughter has spilled a glass of milk on it. It won’t tear or bend or fall out of its binding. My house can burn down and my library will be undamaged. It will be as fresh ten years from now as it is today. The notes I take will be preserved on my device and in the cloud, forever accessible should I want to retrace my steps and recall what I loved and hated about the book.
Because e-books take up no space in warehouses and require no shipping, because they have no physical presence and require no raw materials, they can be sold (and are sold) at much lower costs than printed books. A person who buys the new Kindle at $139 and switches from books to e-books will very quickly repay his investment. This will take longer with a “deluxe” device like the iPad, but even then a person who purchases a lot of books will be able to justify the hardware investment by looking at the savings that will come in purcashing books. All-in-all e-books allow us to own more books for less money. Book lovers find that difficult to resist.
If we were to summarize these five benefits of e-books in a single word, I think the best word would be convenience. E-books offer a level of convenience that allows us to search them easily, to take a lot of them with us wherever we go, to keep them safe and to buy more of them for less. What e-books offer is not revolutionary, but evolutionary. They haven’t given us something entirely new–they’ve given us something that tries to do books even better.
I want to say a little bit more about all of this, but I am not going to do that today. Stay tuned tomorrow or Friday and I will tell you why I remain concerned about e-books despite their obvious conveniences.