Should We Embrace the E-Reader Revolution?


by Nick Verboon 

While the rest of the world crosses their fingers waiting for the zombie apocalypse, the real old-school nerds await the true end of the human race: the inevitable rise of the machines.  Technology is quickly replacing everything from analog media to actual face-to-face human interaction.  It’s likely only a matter of time until we make even ourselves obsolete.  But in the meantime, let’s enjoy some good reads before we are consumed in the fires of rogue AI, embrace full transhumanism, and become one with the machine.  But what format to use?

So the question I get asked at this point in my life more than any other is “what is that thing?”.  The thing in question is my Nook e-reader, which I received as a gift last year.  What inevitably follows is a full-on discussion on what the hell an e-reader is, why someone would want one, what the features and advantages are, and the occasional shaking of fists as skeptics bemoan what they perceive to be the death of the traditional book. 

Anger 2

“Why do you hate America!?”

Given the interest in this topic, I’m going to go ahead and discuss the pros and cons of both formats.  Let’s start with a good old-fashioned book.  One of my co-workers walked up to me on my lunch break and said to me ”don’t you miss the feel of a real book in your hands?”.  And he’s not wrong.    I practically grew up in the library.  It was a magical place that had a look, a smell, a sound, and an intangible aura all its own.  And you know what?  It still kind of does.  So much information all stored in one place, thousands of books just waiting for some intrepid literary explorer to pick them up and take them home for absorption.  I still take my son there almost weekly, and every now and then I pick up a classic for myself too.  So a book in my hands just feels natural.  It’s a real physical thing, not some file to be downloaded and deleted as if it never existed in the first place.

Reading “Fahrenheit 451” loses some of its symbolic significance when the title no longer means what it means.  And the image of a woman choosing to be burnt to death with her beloved book collection rather than stand aside and watch wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic if the books were replaced with a cop running a magnet over her hard drive or smashing her iPad with a hammer.


Yup.  Definitely better.

 Books are something we can all relate to, and to many of us they are almost like totems or talismans to be proudly displayed on bookshelves as a sort of statement of who we are.   And in many ways, we are what we have read.  I believe that paper was mankind’s greatest invention as it allowed us a simple, convenient way to immortalize knowledge and pass it down indefinitely without a single word being lost.  With that in mind, it’s easy to see why there is resistance to technology threatening to render something so entwined with human history and culture obsolete.

While an e-reader may be a conversation starter now due to the format’s relative youth, that will soon pass.  But what will always be a conversation starter is a book.  Leaving out a big coffee table book full of gorgeous, glossy, full-page pictures begging to be picked up and leafed through is something that can’t really be replicated electronically.  And how many conversations have been started and interpersonal relationships begun by somebody happening by and seeing the cover of a book somebody else is reading and taking an interest?

That social aspect is another legacy that can’t be replicated by e-readers.  How easy is it to hand a book over to a friend to read?  Pretty damn.  But with e-books you need them to bring their tablet or whatever over or you have to convert the file and email it (if you even remember to do it) or worry about any number of potential headaches, and that’s assuming the person you want to loan the book to even has an e-reader.  Just handing somebody a book to take home with them; that’s simple and easy.

Then there are used bookstores, where for a few bucks you could take home an armful of adventures.  I don’t believe there are many of these to be found these days, but I have fond memories of looking out the window on family trips looking for used bookstores and then begging my parents to stop for a round of low-cost impulse buys and discussions with friendly clerks before resuming our trip.

The combination of paper and ink may be one of the simplest human inventions, but it’s been nearly as long-lived as the wheel, and for good reason.  It’s practically the foundation of our entire civilization.  Books are real, relatable, physical things we can own and give out at will.  They are and have always been part of the human experience.   But time marches on…..


Damn it, technology!  Is there anything you can’t do?

While there is obviously a case to be made for the purity of tradition, there are a great many things to be said for the digital format.   First off, there’s the fact that files don’t age or wear in the traditional sense is a plus.  How many of your old favorite paperbacks have pages falling out of them at this point?  Files can be stored on hard drives and cloud drives and reformatted ad infinitum, making them pretty much immortal in a way physical objects simply are not.   And then there’s the horror of buying a nice big, shiny hardcover graphic novel and opening it to look at all the pretty pictures minutes before the resident toddler walks over, slaps his hand in the middle of the page, and then drags it back to himself, bringing half of the beautiful sheet of comic art nirvana with it (true story, in case you couldn’t tell).

One of the biggest reasons people don’t invest in e-readers is the cost.  A negative is that on top of the initial investment in the hardware, a lot of e-books are not significantly cheaper than their physical counterparts.  This is pretty much inexcusable seeing that it obviously costs less to send a file than it does to print, bind, and ship full books so a price reduction is a very natural expectation.  But I do believe that that annoyance is partially offset by two words:  public domain.

Public domain, of course, means that nobody really owns it anymore; it belongs to the world.  However, that does not stop book publishers from selling the book at full price.


Very, very sneaky, sir.

With e-readers, you can buy the complete works of legendary authors like Poe, Wells, and Lovecraft (to name a few personal favorites) for next to nothing.  That is a lot of reading and it would likely cost you more to buy physical copies of their complete works than the cost of an e-reader.  The public domain alone is enough reason to at least give digital reading a shot.

Then there are the features.  On a Nook or Kindle, for example, you can highlight any word with a touch of your finger and see its definition.  You can digitally “dog-ear” favorite pages, highlight the best passages which then go on a list so you can access your favorite quotes all at once (Kindle also tracks the most highlighted segments among its readers).  You can even change the text size and font to your liking.  All very cool.

A plus for e-reading in general, but a negative for specialized e-readers is the fact that our corporate overlords at Apple and the like are insidiously combining all devices into superdevices such as the iPhone and iPad.  In fact, the reason I received my Nook as a gift was because a relative bought it for himself and then realized there was nothing it could do that his iPad/Phone/Touch couldn’t do with a Kindle or Nook app.  Now, if you don’t own any of those and all you want is a reader then a specialized device is much cheaper, but with Apple’s near-ubiquitous devices doing it all and then some, I suspect the e-reader hardware market may be wiped out.

So technical and practical aspects aside, I’m going to discuss the creative impact of electronic media on modern literature for a minute.  In the past, few people had the means to mass produce and market book.  That meant aspiring authors had to beg and borrow while attempting to sell a book to a bunch of corporate publishers who would typically either reject them outright and send them off to starve in the gutter or suck the very life out of them and their art, work them for every penny they were worth, then move on.  And what happened to those poor authors, you ask?


This is an actual picture from inside a Random House Inc.  facility.

With digital distribution quickly becoming the norm in the industry, the costs of doing business have been greatly reduced and we are now likely approaching a golden age for independent authors.  Without a big publisher to spam the mainstream media with your book, you may never make that J.K. Rowling money, but you can rest assured that you will always have a way to distribute your work to those who want it without necessarily having to go through a major publisher.  And without corporate interests jacking up the price, the cost of giving an unknown author’s work a shot is much lower, so it’s a win-win for independent authors and readers both. 

Like it or not, technology moves forward, formats change, and our culture adapts to it, for better or worse.  While I still purchase and lend the occasional physical novel, get most of my comics by mail, and agree with people who espouse the virtues of the traditional book, there’s seldom anything of practical value to be gained by attempting to hold back the tide.  Digital distribution and consumption are here and they are replacing physical media.

There’s part of me that’s happy to see that books are going to be the last physical format to go.  They were here long before musical recordings were possible or film was even a concept and have remained largely unchanged over the centuries, and in a way, writing is a more flexible art form than any other, and older.  It just seems fitting that after discs have been replaced with files and are practically worthless, there will still be book collections, and they will still be just as valuable if not more so.   But in the meantime, rather than fighting against progress, I’m going to go ahead and prepare for the future.


 Do you think they’ll like it?



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  1. You make a good case for both sides. Personally, I collect series that I really love in hardbound and will always want them in an actual book format. Browsing bookcases full of beloved stories is almost as much fun as reading them. On the other hand, for the convenience of travel and for trying out new series that I may not want taking up shelf space, my kindle makes life simple.

    And no matter what changes they make to the intensity of the light and the reflection on the glass, the digital ink style readers are far easier to read for long periods of time than their apple counterparts.

  2. One huge advantage over the physical books is just simply a matter of real estate. Books literally were overwhelming the space I had and by having digital books it saves a ton of space.

  3. All sounds pretty and fine, untill you remember that you (and many others) get all of their live-experiences and context from a firs-world perspective. E-readers only make sense if you have access to hem, access to education in using technology and, of course, even electricity. Most of the people living under privileged (yeah, that’s what it is) conditions tend to forget that not everyone has those. Hell, even internet isn’t exactly as homogeneously distributed as people tend to think. And there, where no e-reader can go, a book will always make it’s way to. Also, the “inmortalyity” argument isn’t exactly strong. Books have proved to be able to survive thousands of years, ven in non-optimal conditions. How many of the digital pictures we have taken in our lives are still around? Digital files, unless in the hands of people and institutions specialized in preserving them, tend to be even more short-lived than phisical media. We just don’t care that much about them, it takes a specialized device to access them and if the storage unit fails, they just get lost (no one ever has multiple backups, be honest). Digital files have most certain the possibility of living long, but di they actually?

    Personally, I will always prefer a book, a foto, a thing. When there’s no more mediator between you and the information than your brain and your body, when you can access it instantly, without power, softeware, apps, updates, creen, etc. you “feel” it IS, and we are hardwired to live in a phisical world after all. Best example… digital platforms always tend to imitate the phisical wolrd, use their terminology, disguise themselves as their “real-world” counterparts. It’s just the non-plus-ultra of intuitive.

  4. I remember reading a study a while back which seemed to indicate that people will reflect their environment. For instance, if a kid grows up in an environment decorated with sports memorabilia, he’s much more likely to become interested in sports. And so on and so forth.

    Obviously, that’s a simplistic idea, accounting for only one factor out of hundreds, but there’s a tangible value to physical media that goes beyond mere sentiment, IMO. Surround yourself with knowledge, or stories, or beauty, and you will come to value those things more and more. Put them in a little black box… well, while they may still be accessible, it’s hard not to feel something gets lost along the way.

    Also, everything KaosNoKamisama said.

  5. I bought a Kobo Glo and love it. For me and my wife we both read tonnes and tonnes of books. It was to the point that our living room looked like a giant that eats books had vomited in our house. Our house is a 1 bedroom 790 square foot house that just doesn’t have the space for two huge book collections. So I buckled and bought the Kobo and have now put 38 books on it.

    It has become a practical purchase. In my work world I spend a large amount of time waiting in vehicles. Now instead of carrying 4 books I can carry my e-reader. At night with the Glo’s backlight screen I no longer have to deal with light induced headaches and my damn Basset Hounds can no longer chew the last chapter out of my copy of Storm of Swords.

    I do miss the feel and even the smell of books, but the practical uses have won me over.

    The only downfall. Mr. Tassi’s book hasn’t been made available for Kobo yet, so I haven’t been able to give it a shot.

  6. I dig all of the responses. I’m always impressed by the civility of the Unreality community.

    @Craig- Did I forget to mention that? [facepalm]. Let’s just pretend I was leaving the obvious unstated out of respect for your intelligence, kay?

    @KaosNoKamisama- Consider my privilege checked. That’s an excellent point about my piece coming from a first-world perspective, and it’s my bad for not mentioning that aspect, although being an internet article means I’m only addressing those with internet access. Also, what I meant by “immortal” was that it’s not going to physically degrade, but with cloud storage and the like a lot of this stuff is stored on the actual internet so if you lose your hard drive or whatever you can just redownload. But in case of apocalypse, physical books will likely outlast civilization itself, so good point.

    @sean- maniacal_laughter.gif

    @David R- That’s an interesting point.

    Thanks for the input all.

  7. OP here. My responses don’t seem to be posting under my given name; maybe because I usually post here with my internet handle.

    I dig all of the responses. I’m always impressed by the civility of the Unreality community.

    @Craig- Did I forget to mention that? [facepalm]. Let’s just pretend I was leaving the obvious unstated out of respect for your intelligence, kay?

    @KaosNoKamisama- Consider my privilege checked. That’s an excellent point about my piece coming from a first-world perspective, and it’s my bad for not mentioning that aspect, although being an internet article means I’m only addressing those with internet access. Also, what I meant by “immortal” was that it’s not going to physically degrade, but with cloud storage and the like a lot of this stuff is stored on the actual internet so if you lose your hard drive or whatever you can just redownload. But in case of apocalypse, physical books will likely outlast civilization itself, so good point.

    @sean- maniacal_laughter.gif

    @David R- That’s an interesting point.

    Thanks for the input all. Much appreciated.

  8. I just don’t have enough shelf space for the physical books I already own, plus, it’s difficult to carry multiple books around if I’m going on a trip somewhere.

    I’ll still buy physical books, just probably not as many as I used to.

  9. I used to be completely against e-readers. I saw it as the eventual down fall of physical books. Then my grandmother (of all people) passed away and I got her Kindle (because my bro and sis don’t read). I was like,”I don’t have to go to a bookstore or order a book from amazon and wait for it to be delivered? Cool.”

    I find now that I read much more often and a lot more books that I probably would have never given a chance. A lot of times Amazon has books for the kindle for next to nothing. I think it also helps the independent writer a way to get their book in many more hands. I also have an ipad, but I’m not a fan of using the kindle app because I think sitting in bed reading on the ipad is much more cumbersome than my kindle that weighs next to nothing.

    By biggest fear is that one day comic books go completely digital. However I think that collecting comics is a much wider hobby than collecting books. I barely ever take advantage of the free digital versions of comics. But I nice thing is that sometimes publishers like Image will allow you to read an issue or two for free and you can see if you like that series to jump all in.

    Sorry for the long winded response.

  10. Damn, double posted under two names like dope. I guess there was a delay on my first post displaying or something because I could swear that wasn’t there before. Anyways, I often give long winded responses, Moddy, so I’m all for receiving them. I agree that comics are superior in physical format as well, partly because the screen size of most e-readers doesn’t really work great for the format, especially for stuff like splash pages or high-concept art like the yin-yang motif in “Batwoman: Elegy”. I can and do read comics on my Nook, but I always prefer physical given the choice. Thankfully, the collector aspect of that business pretty much secures that physical comics aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

  11. Isn’t it a little late to be asking this question? E-Readers have been the most popular gift 2 Christmases in a row. John Scalzi’s e-book sales of Redshirts have been beyond anyone’s expectations (Source: and his Human Division series, an eBook serial, has been consistently on the bestseller list.

    The question isn’t whether we should accept eBooks, the question is how can we take the most advantage from digital print.

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