eBooks are commonplace.
You can borrow them from libraries, they only take a couple of seconds to download, and they’re easily shareable.
But when eReaders first hit the shelves in the late 2000s, something weird happened.
eBooks vs Paperbacks: A Very Millennial Debate
Folks – myself included, I’m ashamed to say – were reluctant to embrace this new digital age.
The increasing encroachment of digital media upon consumers’ actual ownership of goods – a reasonable concern, to be fair – spawned cataclysmic articles about the end of paperbacks & hardbacks.
What would eBooks mean for high street retailers? Would it become more cost-effective to only publish digitally? Would environmental pressures mean the end of paperbacks?
Like most disruptive technology, eBooks appeared to be a genuine threat to the status quo.
Now, it all seems bizarrely twee.
One thing was certain however – eReaders would change how we consume media, including books.
Are eBooks here to stay? What’s changed?
And quite a lot has changed actually!
For a start, eBooks offer the basic appeal of being cheaper.
And as of May 2020, eBooks just got even cheaper in the UK, thanks to the government abolishing VAT on online publications. eBooks make it easier for people to pick up books – and for a reasonable price – that in itself is a great thing!
eBooks are also democratising writing. Self-publishing, market oversaturation and quality controls aside, is becoming an increasingly popular means to bring books to market. You don’t need a publisher to get your work out there anymore.
Then there’s the practical factor. eBooks were instrumental whilst I studied for my MA. I had all the course books in my pocket, on a single device. Sure – I didn’t need this; I could simply have carried the necessary books to and from seminars, but it was very, very convenient!
The Streaming Phenomenon
Streaming has changed consumer habits in a significant way. It’s actually more popular than subscription TV, according to UK regulator OfCom.
Put simply, services such as Spotify and Netflix offer the flexibility of media consumption we’ve never had before.
With a wealth of content available, they’re convenient, competitively-priced, and easy to opt in and out of.
The ease of streaming has certainly had an effect on the uptake of eBooks. It demonstrates that consumption of digital media can be affordable and straightforward.
Amazon even has its own book subscription service now in Kindle Unlimited.
The Evolution of the eReader
eReaders have existed for quite a while now, but early on, they were a pretty difficult sell.
£60-£100 as an upfront investment before you’ve even bought an eBook? When you could just buy a paperback for £8.99?
Especially when you consider that purchases used to be confined to a single device thanks to heavy-handed DRM (digital rights management) software. Conversely, you could share your paperbacks with other people…
These days, eBooks and eReaders are compatible with cloud technology, meaning you can read an eBook on one device and pick it up on another without losing progress. If you’re like me and read in small chunks – very occasionally on mobile too(*) – this is super convenient.
*As an aside, reading comic books on mobile is AMAZING thanks to panel view technology. It’s so, so cool. I read the first few volumes of The Walking Dead on mobile and it was a tremendous experience!
Convenience + Price = Success!
Convenience. That’s the crux of the issue.
If new technology isn’t more convenient than its predecessor, it’ll be dead on arrival.
eReaders have evolved. You can watch videos, download apps, read newspapers, and browse the internet on eReaders now. They’re very much budget tablets. Plus you can sync eBooks (and audiobooks) with other devices.
Suddenly, the value proposition is much more agreeable.
And when convenience and reasonable pricing overlap, consumers pay attention.
So, will eBooks replace physical copies?
Honestly? All evidence points to no.
The expected domination of eBooks and eReaders has not happened, and despite a fall in market share paperbacks still dominate sales.
Physical media is trendy.
Just take a look at BookTube, Bookstagram, and other social media avenues. Fancy books make for attractive, marketable photos for bloggers and content creators.
There’s just something less sexy about Photoshopping a book cover onto a tablet. It isn’t as authentic!
That being said, eBooks are here to stay. They’re cheaper, take up less space, and are altogether a fantastic option for readers.
So… I think it’s time to draw the curtain on the eBooks vs Paperbacks debate. There’s plenty of room for both.
How many eBooks do you read each year VS paperbacks? Do you own an eReader? Have a particular preference? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!