Are E-Books "Stupid" or "A Revolution"? (Survey)

©. Amazon

A big publisher says the former; an author says the latter. What do you think?

Every couple of years we ask the question: Paper or e-book? This has long been an issue of interest on TreeHugger, both in terms of energy and resources, but also the question of how people absorb information. The head of one of the world's largest publishers, Arnaud Nourry of Hachette, calls ebooks "a stupid product" in the Guardian.

It’s the limit of the ebook format. The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience.
He describes the battles they fought to keep e-books close to the price of paper books and control their distribution, so that they didn't go the way of music. But perhaps most importantly, he felt that they had to be differentiated somehow and they have not been.
I’m convinced there is something we can invent using our content and digital properties beyond ebooks, but I reached the conclusion that we don’t really have the skills and talents in our companies, because publishers and editors are accustomed to picking a manuscript and creating a design on a flat page. They don’t really know the full potential of 3-D and digital.

This is interesting and reminds me of an early post I wrote on this subject after reading David Weinberger's book Too Big To Know. His thesis was that the book was a form that developed out of the technology of the time, and that there is no reason for an electronic book to actually be, well, a book.

Books do not express the nature of knowledge. They express the nature of knowledge committed to paper cut into pages without regard to the edges of ideas, bound together, printed in mass quantities and distributed, all within boundaries set by an economic system. To think that knowledge itself is shaped like books is to marvel that a rock fits so well in its hole in the ground.

After reading the article quoting Nourry, author Erin Kelly responded in the Guardian with Ebooks are not 'stupid' – they're a revolution. She found that e-books gave her novels a new lease on life when it came out as a 99p Kindle. "It topped the charts for six weeks and I was able to take my family on an overseas holiday for the first time." But she also loves the enhancements that the e-book offers.

"It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience,” said Nourry. Fake news! The built-in, one-tap dictionary is a boon for Will Self fans. And as an author, I’m fascinated by the facility that shows you phrases other readers have highlighted; what is it about this sentence that resonated with dozens of humans? It’s an illicit glimpse into the one place even a writer’s imagination can never really go: readers’ minds.

She also notes something that I have been saying for years:

And then there’s the simplest, most important enhancement of all: on any e-reader, you can enlarge the text. That in itself is a quiet revolution. Page-sniffers who dismiss ebooks out of hand are being unconsciously ableist.
Kindle screen

Vaclav Smil on a Kindle/Screen capture

As someone who writes a lot of reviews, I find e-books far easier to use, and Kindle is leaving iBooks in the dust. I can read it on my iPad and open it on my computer and see all of my notes and highlights; they are also all stored on my Amazon account so that I can copy and paste them as required. And I love the fact that I can adjust the font size.

Erin Kelly likes her e-books just the way they are.

Nourry claims there is no digital experience. Isn’t that the point? If it’s got graphics, noise or animation, it’s no longer a book – it’s a computer game or a movie. Just as I write disconnected from the internet and in silence, I don’t want my books to do other stuff.

I like my e-books just the way they are, too -- portable, easy to mark up, easy to read on my iPad Pro. What do you think? (We should probably have another survey asking about spelling it ebook like the British do, or e-book like Americans do.)

E-books: Stupid or a revolution?