Someone I know
is selling all of his commentaries and reference books because he can get digital editions. He plans to use the money to buy an ipad. Can I just say that I think that is the worst idea I've ever heard in all my life?
While e-readers are amazing and I agree that they are perfectly suitable for some situations, there are so many issues I have with using them to replace print materials, especially if you already own those print materials. Want to hear why I will not be buying an e-reader anytime soon and why I will never replace my books with e-books? I thought you'd never ask:
- We have no historical context for the longevity of digital materials. While we have print documents that are thousands of years old, we have absolutely no knowledge of how digital materials will age. We really don't have a guarantee that the internet will last, or that computer technology will last. We have at most a few decades of experience with digital media. I realize that there is nothing to suggest that there will be problems in the future with digital media, but when you compare the few decades of knowledge regarding digital information to thousands of years of knowledge of print materials, digital just hasn't proven itself yet.
- The rapid rate of change in technology could very well eliminate the e-reader from functionality within a few years. For those who are using e-readers to read the newspaper, popular fiction, magazines, etc. this isn't an issue. But replacing expensive and important reference works in print with digital versions that could be obsolete within a few years is not a financial bet I'm willing to make. Think about microfilm. What if libraries had thrown out all reference works and put them onto microfilm? We'd be in trouble because it's quite a search to even find a microfilm reader anywhere. We have no guarantee that the i-pad and other e-readers won't go the same way within a few more decades.
- The issue of validity. It is much, much easier to alter a digital text than a print text. Copyright violations, intellectual propery ownership, and ethical dissemination of information are also much more difficult to control in a digital, internet based media than in print.
- Although e-readers and e-booksellers claim that you have ownership of materials you purchase, it isn't quite the same as actually owning the book outright. You own the book in one format that can most likely be read on one e-reader, maybe two. Some e-readers allow you to lend books to friends, but those friends must also have the same e-reader you have. You can't lend to someone without an e-reader. You can't give the book as a gift when you are finished reading it. You can't take it back to the used book store and exchange it for credit. Basically you are paying for access to the book - not the book itself. Again, if you just want to read the book once, e-readers are a fine solution. But they shouldn't be a replacement for books that you want personal ownership of. E-readers just can't provide the same benefits as owning a print copy of the book.
- Finally, and most importantly, it's just not the same. Your e-reader may be really cool, but it isn't a book with history. It's not a first edition Dickens. It's not a signed copy by your favorite author. You can't pick it up and hold it. It doesn't smell like a book. You can't turn the pages. It might be pretty and shiny and new but it's still just not the same.