With the rise of smart phones, tablets and Kindle, have the days of paper and ink passed? The sales figures for print versus e-books suggest not. The following 10 reasons are based on those given by respondents to a survey by book seller FatBrain explaining why they still preferred analogue, supplemented with some other thoughts:
- Sheer physicality – the weight, notes, inscriptions, feel of the cover, well-thumbed pages, folded corners, the old shopping list tucked into page 56, the coffee stain on the back and the biscuit crumbs in the middle. ‘There’s no ap for that.’
- Learning – ‘So who studies without Post-its, highlighters and three volumes open at once?’ In their classic, How to Read a Book, the authors discuss in chapter 5 how to ‘Make a book your own’ – which basically means scribbling all over it. Not just the ‘note’ and ‘highlight’ options available on e-book readers but also 1) underlining; 2) vertical line in the margin; 3) star in the margin for the 10 or so key points in the book; 4) numbers in the margin to track the author’s points in an argument; 5) page numbers in the margin to point to other pages which discuss the same topic or clarify an ambiguity; 6) circling key words; 7) writing in the margin questions, objections or a phrase summarising the page; 8) outlining the structure of the book on a blank front page; 9) writing a personal index or reflection on the book on a blank end page. Now someone might argue that all these options exist on their new iPad but surely just using a pencil on a paper book is easier and expresses more strongly your ownership and mastery of the book (back to the physicality point).
- Sharing – Unless it was published as a free resource you can’t lend an eBook to friends and loved ones. And when you can it’s probably a pirated copy. This is a particularly relevant issue in our Kenyan context (ironically one of the most pirated books in Kenya has been Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat). Sharing physical books with one another is a great means of discipleship.
- Seeing – e-readers are getting better but they still don’t do very well on pictures, maps, diagrams. A well published book with clear text in a nice font with the right amount of space on the page is a work of art.
- Re-selling – A hardcopy is yours. You’ve paid for it and if it’s in half decent condition you can re-sell it. For businesses and ministries in Kenya this is an important point.
- Collecting – A pastor friend used to talk of ‘book collectors’ – people who, every time there’s a free book available at church or a conference, will snap it up only for it to sit unread on a shelf. That’s sad. But building up a book collection is not a bad thing if its a library that you can easily turn to for reference, sermon preparation and lending to others. Sure you can have a ‘library’ on your phone or Kindle but it’s not the same as scanning along a nice shelf of books.
- Giving – Buying someone an eBook is a bit impersonal as a present. And if you haven’t got a Visa card its probably not possible anyway. Or it’s a free eBook which isn’t really much of a gift (though it might be a good resource to share). In the Kenyan context gifts are usually pragmatic so we’re not so likely to give books, but why not? It could be best thing you could do for someone’s soul.
- Shopping – Buying a book on Kindle takes about 5 seconds which is pretty cool (IF you are lucky enough to have Visa or Mastercard). But even where online shopping is a possibility lots of people (maybe it’s just a UK-thing) actually like poking around for an afternoon in a dusty old bookshop until they find the treasure hidden on the back top shelf.
- Smelling – ‘Books smell nice. eBooks don’t. Simple.’
- Being seen – With an e-book or smart phone people can’t see easily what you’re reading. All they can see is you’ve got a fancy bit of electronics. Which is a problem (especially on public transport). With a physical book, no-one is likely to want to steal it but they will be able to see what you’re reading. Now we don’t want to be posers, trying to impress people that we’re reading Dostoevsky in Russian or Calvin in Latin. But when it comes to a good Christian book it can be a great conversation starter with a non-Christian you’re sitting next to or an encouragement to a fellow believer.
eBooks are a great invention and there are loads of excellent free ones out there (e.g. from DesiringGod or collected by Monergism) that are a great resource to the church (I’m reading some myself at the moment) but let’s have some paper and ink too.
And for quality, affordable, Christ-centred, paper-and-ink books in Kenya check out the iServe Africa Bookstore.