The print vs. digital divide

Y’all want to know the fastest way to get an epubbed author’s blood pressure spiking? Refer to printed books as “real” books.

This got shoved into the front of my brain yesterday when one of my favorite local bookstores linked off to an opinion article written by a twenty-something who was stridently against electronic readers–to the point that they’d confessed to having irrational hatred for seeing other people reading them. One of their primary objections to them appeared to be that they could no longer sneak peeks at what those other people are reading, if they’re reading electronically! They proceeded to wax eloquent for several following paragraphs about why they would never stoop so low as to acquire an e-reader, because they loved “real” books too much. Snarky commentary was made about how e-reader enthusiasts got on this person’s case about “what are you, a Mennonite?” And even the bookstore in question, in their linking to this article, dropped a cute little remark about how they “don’t have anything against e-readers, no wait, maybe a little”.

This makes me sad.

Part of it is of course that as an epubbed author, I’m really tired of hearing the print books getting referred to as the “real” books. This carries the automatic implication that digital books are “not real”. Imaginary. Lesser in value than books that were fortunate enough to get put into print. Which is an awfully cruel thing to say to somebody who labored just as hard to get her epubbed book written as the authors who are in print. I guarantee you, people, that to us epubbed authors, our stories are every bit as real to us as the ones that are put down on paper.

Part of it though is the bigger question of the print vs. digital argument. It’s yet another variation of the “this thing vs. that thing” debate that crops up in every single aspect of our daily lives: Coke vs. Pepsi. PC vs. Mac vs. Linux. Emacs vs. vi. Etc., etc., on and on, with each side espousing the virtues of whatever they’ve committed to and often sneering at the other side, who are clearly not clever enough or intelligent enough to realize the virtues of the Right Choice.

Don’t get me wrong. I get that the digital book is a threat to traditional bookstores, and that indie bookstores in particular, who have been struggling for ages against the bigger chains, are going to hunker down and cling to their print books for as long as possible. But I’m really tired of the print side sneering at the digital side, and vice versa. For me as both a writer and a reader, this loses sight of the most important thing: the story.

You tell me a good enough story, I’ll read it in whatever format is available–print, digital, on the back of a cereal box, in fortune cookies, in tweets, in skywriting, whatever. Seriously, I do not care about the format. I care about the story. Print has its virtues for me, such as the art of a beautifully designed book–Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin comes immediately to mind. It’s also lovely for reading if the power is out, or if you’ve left your Nook or iPhone at home and/or uncharged. And although this makes me sad too with my writer hat on, truth be told, writers still are compensated better for print than they are for digital. I’d love to see that change, but I’m not expecting it to do so quickly.

In the meantime, though, digital also has its virtues. Many folks like how a well-used book will have crinkled corners and bent pages and such, and this to them is a sign of how much the book is loved. For me, though, that’s an irritant. Because I love my books, I don’t want to damage them. And if I carry them around in my backpack on a daily basis, they will get damaged. Therefore, for me as a reading choice, a reader makes more sense because in its protective case, it’ll take a lot more abuse than a paperback or trade will. Never mind a hardback, which is often going to be too bulky to carry around easily anyway.

You tell me a good enough story, though? I will buy you in print and digital. Print to keep the archive copy around, and digital for day to day reading. I am living proof that you don’t have to choose one or the other. I long for the day that publishers will start offering sales of both print and digital for one nice premium price, because I will totally put down money for that.

In the meantime, though, print enthusiasts, I beg you, please don’t look down your noses at the digital fans. Digital fans, same goes for you in reverse. Let’s just all just agree that yeah, each of us will have our personal preferences as to how we like to read, and get back to the important thing that we all have in common: i.e., reading. Thank you!

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