The Great Book Debate

Yesterday Cooperative Press posted a “State of the Press” message about some of the changes they are making to their printing processes. The gist of it is; the cost of printing books is rising, and in order to cut costs and keep printed books an option they’ve switched to a different printer with matte instead of gloss pages.

Cooperative Press is a small, but fabulous publishing company that puts out, in my opinion, some of the most innovative, interesting, and relevant books in the knitting industry. So far I only own one Cooperative Press book (in print) – The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design, and I subscribe to their digital magazine Knit Edge, and these have both been some of the most influential additions to my knitting library in the past year. Many more of their books are on my wish list.

The State of the Press announcement brought two things to mind for me:

1) It reminded me how much I want to buy some of their other books, particularly Extreme Double Knitting, California Revival Knits, Beyond Knit & Purl, and now the newly released Knit Accessories, and if I wasn’t dead-broke I would add them all to my cart RIGHT NOW.

2) It made me wonder what format I would buy them in…would I buy the print version, knowing it’s not only more expensive for me, but sounds like it’s also more expensive for Cooperative Press? Or would I go with just the digital version, despite the fact that I rarely read books digitally?

I know this argument will probably sound hilarious after I laid out my case for digitally managing my to-do lists, but when it comes to reading books I seem to much prefer them in physical form.

I say that I seem to prefer them that way because I’ve never really put that much thought into this preference. I know there are plenty out there who are very strong advocates on either side of the fence. Some people consider the feel of the paper, the act of turning the pages, the weight of the book in their hands, to be an integral part of the reading experience and would never dream of trading in their filled-to-the-brim bookshelves for a tablet full of their favorite novels. I personally could care less about the feel of the book, though I must say my hands do get tired after holding a book too long while reading in bed, but not prohibitively so. Then there are those who love the freedom of being able to toss a single device into their bag and have access to hundreds of books at the touch of a button wherever they go – no need to plan ahead, the tablet is typically lighter than a book (I’ve heard), and their love of reading doesn’t create a storage crisis. That all sounds nice, but I’m concerned about whether or not the things I actually want to read are available in digital form. Not to mention the fact that I am still too broke to own a tablet.

This doesn’t mean I don’t own eBooks though, I do. I have bought several eBooks, all of them about knitting, and there’s even that Knit Edge subscription I mentioned earlier. The problem is, with the exception of Knit Edge, I’ve never read any of them. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of paper books on my shelves that have never been read, there are plenty of those too, but the difference with those is that I can see them on a regular basis and am reminded of their existence. As soon as I downloaded those eBooks and stashed them in my eBooks folder on my computer, I sort of forgot they existed. In fact, there’s another book offered by Cooperative Press that I really want, Market Yourself, that I did not add to list above, because I had the sudden nagging feeling that I already have it in eBook form. In fact, now that my brain is on the subject, I’m not entirely certain California Revival Knits isn’t locked away in one of my back-up files too. I know it’s been in my cart before, I’m just not sure if I was able to pull the trigger. I won’t know for sure until I’m done sifting through the back-up files from my old computer and transferring them to my MacBook.

“Why don’t you just put a reminder on one of your fancy lists?” you may ask. Shut up, that’s not the point. The point is, when I sit down and start screwing around on the computer, my brain never jumps to “reading a book” as a logical thing to do. It just hasn’t been trained that way. “Reading a book” is an activity that my brain translates as something to be done with the TV off (it’s rarely off while I’m on the computer), and either sitting at a table or desk with a pad of paper and pencil at hand in study-mode, or lying in bed in attempting-to-slip-into-unconsciousness mode. NOT sitting in a recliner with a laptop on my lap half-watching “Monsters Inside Me” while in social-networking mode, or looking-for-inspiration mode, or photo-editing mode, or aimlessly-wandering-the-internet mode.

Now, if I had a tablet, then reading may be a natural thing to me when the tablet is in my hands and I would be far more likely to want eBooks. I don’t really know, I’ve never had one. I would like one, but I have no idea when that might happen. If I do get a tablet and it turns out I really like eBooks it would make me really sad to have spent a ton of money getting paper books when I could have been getting them digitally all along.

What are your thoughts on the paper vs. digital debate? Are you one of the people who has strong opinions one way or the other? Or maybe your opinions are more situational like mine seem to be? Either way I want to hear about it. At this point I’m kind of on the fence and I’d like to hop down to one side before I buy another book.



4 thoughts on “The Great Book Debate

  1. I tend to fall pretty firmly on the paper-book side of the line. eReaders are extremely spiffy, don’t get me wrong. Some even have back-lighting now too, so you can read them in the dark. But I DO love my over-flowing bookshelves. Even if I get an e-reader, I have the distinct impression that I’d end up buying books in eBook and print-book form, just because I wouldn’t feel like I really owned the book if I didn’t own a real-life version of it. And then I’d feel bad for ignoring it and reading my eBook version, like it was sitting on my shelf, missing me, wishing I loved it more.

    Plus, I have this nagging worry that I’d end up with an eReader full of eBooks and then I’d get a virus or I’d update to something else and the books wouldn’t transfer over or I’d just drop the damn thing and shatter it. You can’t shatter a real book. Real books don’t get viruses, and they always interface with everything. Sure, yeah, your house could burn down and all your books would go up in smoke, but if that happened, I think you’d have other worries to distract you.

    And yeah, if I was really committed to this “paper is more reliable” thing, wouldn’t I also do all my writing in notebooks with pen and ink instead of in Word documents? Maybe. But I have back-ups in print form and saved on a flashdrive AND (usually) emailed to myself. The world has to end for me to lose all my writing. plus, writing by hand takes FOREVER.

    AND in a Dr Who episode where they go to this giant library planet, the Doctor says that other technologies have come and gone but people always love books, real books on paper and with binding. And there’s a nice booky-romance about that.

    So that’s my two cents. Well, it was a long comment. Perhaps five or six cents. 😉

  2. I forgot about the Doctor Who bit! I am just geeky enough that I might base my life decisions on a hypothetical future…

    I worry about the whole virus/breaking thing too, but I’ve had enough technology disasters that I am pretty diligent about back-ups (though I don’t do paper backups). However, I also worry about fires, in which case all of the paper books would be gone forever too.

    BUT, the great thing about the Cooperative Press books is, you have 2 buying options: you can buy the digital PDF version only, OR for about $10 more you can get the print book AND the digital copy. So your physical copy will have a digital backup – this is particularly nice for knitting books that have lots of patterns in them because you can print off the pages with the particular pattern you want to work on and not have to fiddle with trying to scan the book. There’s just that extra $10 you have to consider…

  3. I’m with Gitta in the “I love books with paper more” wagon. I can’t separate the physicalness from a book and the act of reading it. Yes, an ebook is physical, but I mean that each book has its own personality that doesn’t come across on ereader in the same way for me. It’s not just about the words of books, it’s about the pages, and that great feeling I get when i crack back the spine of a paperback and fold it over (if an ereader cracked, I’d probably be swearing because it’d be broken), and the cover, and the weight of the book. “Moby Dick” doesn’t feel like itself on a digital screen; the weight of it, both physical and … I’m losing words as it’s late… “spiritual” isn’t right, but along those lines… The impact (I suppose that word works) isn’t as much. Plus, I love the feeling of pages, and the physical act of turning them, and the smell of them. I have no fond feelings for ereaders or computer or other digital surfaces that can be read from. I have need for them, but no fond feelings. I love my books, and while living in Korea, it would have been far easier for me to download books on a reader, I couldn’t stop myself from buying paper books. Having them physically around is comforting; almost of them were shipped back to the states even though the cost was high. Like you, I also forget about things that I’ve downloaded, but when something is physically in front of me I don’t forget it. Plus I just have this feeling of wrongness that to read something on an ereader, that it needs to be charged. Books don’t need to be plugged in. Ok, I’m very rambly and feel not very coherent. But my basic feeling is that physical books in all their individuality and ripped, stained, textured pages, are far more precious to me than a million books downloaded onto one e-reader.

    • You know, I don’t have fond feelings about books in particular, but I do like the physical act of turning pages. It just feels so much more like progress is being made than clicking to the next page on a PDF document.

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