What is it about print books that makes them so much more cuddly than digital books?
Is it the “feel” everybody keeps talking about: the high you derive from sensory connection, the warmth of paper that digital devices somehow lack?
Or is it the fact most of us learnt our ABCs on paper and, given the inherent human resistance to change, pixels have not succeeded in replacing ink in readers’ esteem?
What about the nagging thought at the back of your head that your Kindle book is not actually yours in the sense of “physical” ownership, as with your print books? You can lend or resell your print books to anyone; you can also let your frisky dog sharpen its teeth on it. Try doing that with your digital books or your digital devices.
The answers are yes, yes, and probably to a lesser degree, yes again.
“Probably a lesser degree”? In truth, that last yes is the yes with the most significance. Think about it: are you like me in that you have some kind of misgiving, somewhere at the back of your mind, about your digital device? A misgiving you have not yet bothered to pin a label on? It paws at you like a kitten seeking attention, only you are too absorbed in the denouement of the cold-hearted vampire meets warm-blooded mermaid fantasy you are reading.
Take some time off and give a few minutes to that kitten.
Every time you buy a digital book, you buy an infinite amount of intangible 0s and 1s that convert into text and images on your digital device through some unfathomable wizardry. Though you pay for them, you own neither those 0s and 1s nor the process of that wizardry. When you make these purchases, you bind yourself to their maker and supplier with chains that restrict you just as effectively as a traditional publisher’s contract, even while they are as intangible as the 0s and 1s. You cannot read any other supplier’s 0s and 1s on your device. You cannot, of your free volition, lend or resell your 0s and 1s to someone else.
You do not own the book you paid for.
There is another aspect, more relevant to authors than to readers, to why digital books do not have the same appeal as print books.
Digital books do not offer the same scope for manipulation of typefaces, fonts and images as print books do.
Imagine you are writing a fairy tale for children. You want your chapter titles in cursive font and your chapters to begin with drop caps. You have lots of illustrations, and you intend to use fancy script fonts in the captions.
You have just written off any possibility of an attractive digital version of your book.
Am I against digital books, then? Absolutely not. In recent times, I have been reading them a lot more than I have been reading printed books. I am now so used to digital books I have even stopped flipping the device over every time I reach the end of a page.
At the end of the reading, the ultimate, intangible degree of reader satisfaction does not depend on how you read it.
I wish I had more options to exercise. I mean, I can avail of a raft of email services—which are based on more 0s and 1s—without having to buy a specific device to access each of the services. So why can’t I read a library of digital books without having to buy a specific device to access each “brand”?
Is that theoretically possible? Oh yes, if things are set up the right way you can read any digital book on any device, like you can access any email service on any device with an internet connection.
But theoretically possible does not make for sales and profits, does it?
And here are some “Miscellaneous” reasons for why print books are better than digital ones.
If you ever meet your favorite author, you are going to feel stupid asking her to autograph your digital device, even if her book is on the screen. Especially if she is signing with a marker pen.
You cannot build up imposing shelves of books in your study with 0s and 1s, even lots of them. And it would need serious money with lots of 0s to build a library of digital devices.
You can swat an annoying mosquito with a paperback and the only risk is the squash factor. You can swat an annoying mosquito with a digital device and there is no risk not covered.
If you are a bathroom reader, you can accidentally get your print book wet and still stand excellent chances of finishing it. If you accidentally get your digital device wet, you stand excellent chances of finishing it off.
If you break a leg—a coffee table or something—you could always prop the table up with a hardcover edition of Les Misérables. You would be well advised not to try that with digital devices.
You are about to go out and while waiting for your PhD-in-literature date to turn up, you read Sense and Sensibility, paper version. When your date turns up, you earmark your page and casually lay down the book, front page up, on the table. You impress the pants off your date. Cuddly, if you remember.
If you are reading the digital version, your date will probably not pay any attention to an open page when you put your device down. Of course, you can make sure the cover page is on the screen when you put it down, but you risk looking pretty damn stupid, don’t you, if your date gets the impression you read cover pages and not much else?
Well now, I probably missed out on a couple of reasons why print is so much more cuddly than digital. What do you think? You could use the digital device you are reading this post on to make a comment.