Sunday, 26 June 2011

Physical versus eBooks

As well as prevaricating over what book to buy, I’m now prevaricating over whether to buy a physical or eBook next. I’ve pre-ordered the physical version of A Dance With Dragons, and imagine I’ll still get some historical books in physical form.

The problem, and the reason behind me getting a Kindle in the first place, is that I really do lack room and don’t want to get rid of any books I have now.

There are a few advantages to eBooks. Firstly, they do save a hell of a lot of space. Secondly, the screen is very good and does not detract at all from reading or cause eye strain. Thirdly, delivery is almost instantaneous. Fourthly, they’re often (sadly not always) cheaper.

So, why even consider getting any physical book?

I do still prefer the experience of reading a physical book. I’m not sure why, though I’m reminded of what Giles said in a Buffy season 1 episode when asked why he disliked computers. He said it was because they didn’t smell, like books smell musty. I’ve got a copy of Outlaws of the Marsh and the glue (I think) used is different to most others and always evokes memories of China and reading about Li Kui and Sagacious Lu.

Physical books are much better, I feel, as gifts. Like vinyl, the essential information is the same, but the physical copy somehow feels more fitting and meaningful.

Last, and most annoyingly, some eBooks aren’t that well formatted. Sometimes you get strange wide spaces between lines. The Night Watch is a good example of a well-formatted eBook. It does have slight gaps between paragraphs but they are clearly intentional, make reading it a little easier and at no point during the book do they became over-sized. OCR errors (OCR is Optical Character Recognition, I think, the scanning technique used to transfer the characters from physical copies to the eBook format) sometimes happen but in the few books I’ve read they’re rare. One exception would be in The Night Watch where ‘lie’ is mistranscribed as ‘He’. Fortunately, it’s clear what the word should be and I think there are only two in the whole book (so, no worse than the odd typo in a physical book).

The Kindle’s eased my problem regarding space, but hasn’t removed it completely.



  1. Similarly I *could* do without a dead-tree newspaper, but nothing beats having the thing neatly folded up and the crossword there physically in front of you.

    Cumbersome, large, awkward and some idiot will probably tell me it kills polar bears but the electronic equivalent just isn't the same.

  2. I know what you mean (well, sort of. I don't read newspapers very often).

    Incidentally, I went for Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson. It's cheaper than the physical version, well-formatted and the sample was good.