10 Reasons for the Success and Failure of eBooks

A couple of years back, eBooks were supposed to revolutionize the publishing world. The end of bookstores was near (and it still is, but for a completely different reason). Physical books were supposed to be a thing of the past and with eBooks being “nature friendly” (debatable), it seemed that conventional books had already lost the battle.

Things are different today. While there might be growth in favour of digitalization, it’s not fast enough to cover the expenses that publishers have to pour into this new format.  It seems that publishers have to really push hard to sell digital editions of their books.

So, why is it that while we have adopted and adapted to new technology in almost all fields that people still prefer physical books over eBooks?

Here’s are my 10 reasons for why I think so:

1. Price: The biggest initial deterrent that had a major impact on sales when eBooks were released was pricing. I still remember countless readers cribbing about how eBooks cost nearly as much if not more than the physical editions. While that has changed dramatically over the years, it still is true, for it is rather easy to find a brand new paperback edition that is cheaper than its eBook.

2. Devices: When eBooks were released, one of the most attractive features about them was they could be read anywhere on a number of devices that we were already carrying with us. But, with use, over time, most will agree that reading a book on a computer screen or your smartphone is next to impossible, not to mention that it is probably bad for your eyes. Nevertheless, tablets were another option and while they work, they haven’t been that successful that serious readers would adapt to them wholeheartedly.

As a result, stand alone book readers were introduced in the market and yes they have been picked up by bibliophiles the world over. However, the issue with digital book readers is that most casual readers are not ready to invest in them and therefore once again as a result eBooks sales have not seen a tremendous jump. Personally, even though I read quite a bit, I still haven’t felt the need to buy a digital book reader, and while I do have some books and comics on my iPad, I haven’t really enjoyed reading them in this format.

3. Smell Vs No Smell: Okay, so I do not smell books. I’m one of those who finds this weird. But the truth of the matter is that quite a few of you do and are quick to link nostalgia and romance with the smell of books. Good for them, but I guess it’s not good for eBooks, at least not until they manufacture devices that can also emit that new book smell.

4. Reusability: For me, the biggest advantage of paper books is that they are easily reusable. Gift them, sell them, give them to charity, have giveaways on your blog, or have competitions on #TSBC (search the hashtag on Twitter if you do not know what this is), there are a number of uses for physical books. In contrast, eBooks are hard to share — you can’t sell them, lending them would involve giving away your device to someone, or breaking piracy laws. That makes a big difference.

5. Piracy: This is a touchy subject because piracy is evident in both formats of book publishing. In India, we have the “photocopied” versions of books being sold on roadsides, and obviously the internet is full of pirated copies of books and magazines. I do believe that in this case the eBooks have a slight edge over the physical books because people are now savvy enough and with the economy is the state that it is, most find it as a desperate measure to save some money. But, either way, remember there is no excuse for illegally downloading anything. Do make an effort and borrow or wait a while to get the book by legal means.

6. Internet, Downloading, and the Ease of Use: eBooks are now easy to acquire and companies make it easier for people to download editions that might not be available in a certain country. But one needs internet access for all this. Granted, internet is slowly but surely becoming available everywhere, but we still have a long way to go. Unless you have means to get it for free, you have to pay for it which is an added cost that people sometime forget. It also means that the reader has to be moderately tech savvy to go about searching and purchasing books and paying online.

7. The Charm of the Digital Reader: Yes, you can store countless books on your digital readers. Yes, they are easy to carry. Yes, it looks all fancy and nice. But think about the last time that you went traveling with your book reader and you ended up reading more than one or two books. Think about all the free books that you downloaded when you first got the reader, and how many of those have you actually read. In fact, if you have read the free ones, then how many have you bought and read? I’ve found that the charm of free books to be a myth in actuality. Don’t get me wrong, but there are thousands of classics that one can download for free, but then they aren’t always of the highest quality. Or take comics for instance. Digital readers have some amazing features like the “panel view” that should make reading comics all the more fun, but I have found all these tricks to be restrictive as they take away from the true joy of reading and dare I say the artwork doesn’t quite have the same appeal as it does in a physical comic book.

8. Special Covers and the Show Off Factor: Another advantage that physical books have over eBooks is that they are available with many different covers and many readers prefer that. Like, I enjoy collecting Penguin orange covers and many a times the cover of the book is responsible for attracting me towards it and picking and reading the blurb at the back. Moreover, reading a physical book in public lets the person “show off” a little as with a book reader the public is unaware of what you are reading.

9. The Dying Art of Browsing: I’ve talked about this before in another post, so I will simply say that not just eBooks, but also online sellers have resulted in the decline of the art of book browsing. It isn’t until people realize that it is essential to browse for book in bookshops that they will experience the joy of discovering a new author or a book on their own. The same is also true for children as part of their learning should involve letting them lose in bookshop so that they can explore this world on their own and pick out something that interests them and isn’t always dictated by their parents. Furthermore, reading books digitally also leads to the debate about kids spending too much time in front of screens and being a parent I’m happy to see my kids read physical books over eBooks.

10. The Art of Buying: Lastly, browsing aside, the actual act of buying the book is something that should be cherished. Going to a bookshop to buy a book in one big exercise which involves going out, browsing, comparing, interacting, smelling (if that is your thing) and the joy of carrying the books back, where as eBooks can only be bought through your computer/tablet/eReader screens.

There is no doubt that eBooks have some advantages; from tackling storage issues to the ease of acquiring books to even carrying books when travelling, but when you look at the big picture most of these benefits narrow down to the “space” issue and that eBooks lets to have a so many books on one device, but in doing so aren’t we losing out on a lot; the idea behind finding books, the way paper feels when you flip through the pages, the use of bookmarks that in itself adds a personal touch, to physically holding something that can be shared after you are done with it.

So, what do you think? Do you feel eBooks are the future and over the next few years we will see paper books slowly diminish or are there still enough people out there who will fight as long as possible to keep the passion of book reading as physical as possible?

Raghav Modi

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Raghav Modi is one of the founders of #TSBC. He is also co-founder of #MTOS and #TVTOS and blogs about films, books, food and travel

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2 thoughts on “10 Reasons for the Success and Failure of eBooks

  1. Physical books continue to be my first choice although I have overcome my initial misgivings about non-physical books and have adopted e-books particularly for my commute. I do not want to invest in the ebook reader yet and use the free kindle apps for computer and smart phones. It seems to be working fine with me. There is no denying the strain on the eyes though. I like audio books better, provided the reader is good. This way my hands and eyes are free to do my little craft projects. 🙂

  2. Reading from the screen gives me a headache.I am not ready to let go of my bookshelf.
    I am too proud of my book mark collection and I would like to continue using them and showing off. I enjoy turning pages more than scrolling the screen. Gadgets have taken over more than we would like them to…Why more?

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