With the advent of e-books, this seasonal image may soon be due for an upgrade. E-books have exploded in the online scene, libraries are beginning to shift their emphasis to e-books, and teachers are starting to favor the “e-convenience” of online textbooks. The e-book revolution seemed almost as sudden and unexpected as Paris Hilton’s singing career.
In reality, it was years in the making.
Since the online Gutenberg Project of the ‘70s, e-books have expanded their range to cover just about every genre. From romance novels to textbooks, e-books have firmly established themselves as a veritable challenge to the world of print. Mass-market paperback sales have declined 16% since 2008, and about one in six Americans use an e-reader.
The demographics of “e-readership” are expected. They are most popular with those under the age of 65, those who make $75,000 or more a year, and those that like to travel. Interestingly enough, however, they have a surprisingly high following with Hispanic adults. No one knows why.
E-books still only comprise about 6 percent of the market, but the number is steadily growing. Scott Spiewak, CEO of Fresh Impact Public Relations, argues that digital publishing is “meeting consumers where they are at – on their devices, not in a store.” And so are authors, who must rely more heavily on digital connections in our digitally connected world. Twitter and Facebook accounts are a “must” for any successful emerging author.
The benefits are undeniable. Mobility and convenience are important to every consumer. E-readers and e-books allow one to have an entire library at their fingertips. There are no shipping costs or wait time for new books—it’s simply “click and read.” Search options also make it easier to engage with a text without feeling any remorse about marking it up. And, of course, font size adjustability definitely makes it easier on the eyes.
Green skeptics have reason to question this sudden movement. The environmental impact doesn’t remain entirely clear, as certain chemicals that go into the composition of Kindles, Nooks, and other e-books are a bit questionable. However, one thing is certain—the printed book is a significant waste of energy, water and paper. Obviously, bookworms that love the smell of a fresh (or old) book may disagree, but in the overall picture, e-books are definitely more sustainable. As researchers Daniel Goleman and Gregory Norris argue, “With respect to fossil fuels, water use and mineral consumption, the impact of one e-reader payback equals roughly 40-50 books.” As for “human health consequences,” it’s somewhere in between this figure and a hundred. The only alternative seems to be the public library, and e-books are far more practical.
Still, the question remains: have people completely lost their loyalty to print? Not quite.
In general, college students actually prefer printed books to e-books. Some college bookstore owners have noted an interesting trend: many college students that purchase e-books decide to buy printed ones later. Is it print nostalgia? Ease of reading and marking? It’s difficult to know what exactly goes through the minds of college students, but I think we can all gather that textbooks will stay “printed” for quite a while longer.
Likewise, print has a stronghold in children’s and toddlers’ books. Even if parents buy into the e-book phenomenon, they tend to buy printed books for their kids. Touching a screen or pressing a button may never compare with the “wonderment” of reaching for each page. Junko Yokota of the Center for Teaching Through Children’s Books argues that size and shape “become part of the emotional [and] intellectual experience. There’s a lot you can’t standardize and stick into an electronic format.” It is also a matter of psychological association. Kids nowadays associate electronics with games; thus, if they are given a Nook or other multi-functional e-book reader, they will probably want to play Angry Birds or other games on it. And finally, most parents are unlikely to give their kid’s an expensive e-reader in place of printed books.
Even those that cling to their “dead-tree books” can enjoy at least one function of this revolution: they no longer have to risk twelve long months of potential spoilers, nor fight the temptation to splurge on a hardcover. Electronic editions are often released on the first day that a book is published, and are about the same cost as paperbacks. As a result, publishers are releasing paperbacks just six months after hardcovers.
E-books will continue to gain traction on the market. Demographics will likely change as time goes on, and we can guess that Apple’s iPad will lead the way. At the same time, printed books will never lose their appeal. Hard-core book lovers will always feel a child-like pleasure from flipping through the pages of a book.