5 Reasons I Won’t Give Up Books

    by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo
    February 8, 2008

    Last month at the highly anticipated MacWorld conference here in San Francisco, Apple honcho Steve Jobs said some words that left many agape. Those words weren’t “Macbook Air” but “people don’t read anymore.” He was predicting a doomed future for Amazon’s new Kindle e-reader.

    Shocked, I’ve been going over this for weeks now, trying to cut through the punditry and get to the essence of what Jobs meant. It seems to me that he was trying to say that books have gone the way of the dinosaurs (tell that to J.K. Rowling). That we are a nation (partly thanks to him and to his benefit) glued to flashy gadgets, some of which simulate things that we used to do with ink and paper, such as reading and writing.

    While Jobs may be right to some extent — my post last week here at MediaShift shows that I personally have turned away from paper and towards devices — I believe underestimating books is like writing off a war-worn but sturdy presidential candidate: no matter how irrelevant they appear to be, they’ve still got a base of die-hard fans. I think Steve is premature in writing a eulogy for books, and here are my five reasons why I personally disagree with him:


    1. I hate e-books.
    The PDF format might have been invented for exactly this type of thing, but really: who wants to download a book and read it in Adobe Reader or — worse — print it out? E-books have proven to be valuable for authors (particularly in the business consulting industry) who want to provide their expertise in a book and distribute it widely at a negligible cost to them, often free to their readers. That’s all well and good, but no matter how compelling the subject matter appears to be, e-books don’t inspire me.

    There are advantages to e-books, like the ability for an author to quickly update information rather than going through another printing when things become outdated. But to me, the format is flawed, and I’ll pay for a real book over a free e-book any day.

    2. I can’t curl up with a gadget.
    As excited as I am about my newest gadget, the amazing iPod Touch, the feature I’m using the least is the (unofficial) one that lets you read books. While I’ve got a few books available to me, such as Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, I haven’t attempted to read it. Reading a book isn’t like surfing the Internet (which the Touch is great for). With books, you sit back and get comfortable, letting your eyes do most of the work. Your hands intervene every now and again, but it’s mostly a passive activity.

    Amazon Kindle

    The iPod Touch is small and doesn’t accommodate much text, so I have to constantly scroll. And since I read fast, that’s anything but relaxing. Plus there’s no comfortable way to “curl up” with it. Most of my reading is done lying down, and there’s just no way to comfortably read for an extended period of time on the device while stretched out on a bed.

    3. Sensory stuff.
    It may sound trite, but there is something special about the experience of acquiring and reading a real live printed book. Brick and mortar bookstores are somewhat of a memory for me these days, but receiving a book I’ve ordered in the mail is exciting. Its newness — the flawless cover, the uncreased pages, the smell — begs to be read. Digging into a book and robbing it of some of that newness is part of the experience: bookmarking, dogearing, and highlighting until we’ve left our mark on it and it’s truly ours.

    Another reason that books have it big over gadgets in the sensory department is imagery. As a photography enthusiast, I can appreciate that a large, glossy-paged book with brilliant color photography is superior to seeing the same content on a computer screen or a gadget. When I gave up photography magazines for their online equivalent, it was no big loss, as I was purchasing them for the tips and tricks (the bulk of the content), not the imagery. But to me there’s nothing like a big book of great photos you can lazily peruse with a cup of tea.

    4. Emotional connection.
    Many of us feel emotional connections to objects that remind us of people, places or times in our lives. This is how I feel about books. As I glance at my bookshelf and contemplate how I might rid myself of some of my ever-growing collection, I realize there are books I’ll likely never part with. I have film school textbooks I haven’t cracked open in five years, and probably won’t ever use again. I can’t get rid of them because they remind me of a time and place (I can’t say I feel this way about websites, for instance).

    There are some David Sedaris books that I’ve already read but I keep them around because I know if I ever need a laugh, I can read them over and over again. There is my cookbook collection, which in spite of the death of food magazines for me, will always be around. And then there’s the collection of all my books, on display on my bookshelf to offer visitors a glimpse into who I am, but mostly there just to comfort me when I look their way.

    5. Amazon.com.
    I find it ironic that the same company that’s trying to push me into e-reading is the one that fuels my addiction to obtaining more “real” books. Before Amazon.com, I enjoyed going to the bookstore and picking up some books every once in a while. Now, thanks to the many ways Amazon has to hook you into that feeling of “I must have that book” — such as recommendations, user reviews and creating your own “store” for you — the amount of cash I drop for the printed word is not trivial.


    This company, long before any other, mastered the art of suggestive retailing and knows well that one thing you are enthusiastic about leads to another…and another. As long as there is Amazon.com and as long as they are selling ink on paper, I’ll never be able to break my addiction.

    Periodicals vs. Books

    While I have been able to break up with print periodicals, it’s because magazines and newspapers lend themselves to digitalization. They are made for casual reading. With the current state of the art in e-readers, I’d say books are a welcome refuge from my electronic life. A touch of primitivism is good for us every once in a while. Take that, Steve.

    I’m not saying this attachment to books doesn’t have its downside. Your life is less portable. But it’s a price I’m willing to pay and my books have traversed continents and time zones with me when I’ve left other “more valuable” things behind.

    There are some types of books — such as reference books or guides — that lend themselves more to an electronic format, and might even gain from going digital. I’m not that attached to reference books, so I might be able to see those go.

    With all their shininess and interactivity, gadgets like the Kindle are inevitably trying to emulate something many of us fell in love with when we were children: the reading experience and the comfort of books. Like with other relationships formed in our early lives, sometimes a substitute just won’t do. I don’t want an electronic mom, I want my real mom. And I still want real books.

    What do you think? Do you prefer reading books on devices or in print? What advantages do real books have over devices in your opinion? Will gadgets ever make books obsolete? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Jennifer Woodard Maderazo is the associate editor of PBS MediaShift. She is a San Francisco-based writer, blogger and marketer, who covers Latino marketing at Latin-Know and Latino cultural issues at VivirLatino.

    Images via chotda and John Pastor via Flickr

    Tagged: books ipod modern life
    • Jennifer-
      I am really enjoying your posts. I particularly liked your last one about your shift to digital due to series of “mundane circumstances.” Well put. That IS how major changes occur- little by little.

      I am as Web 2.0 as anyone. In fact, probably a lot more than anyone. Yet I could not agree more about the importance and value of books. What I sometimes find frustrating in this discussion about the move to a digital life is that a false choice gets set up: It’s gonna EITHER be TV OR internet. Books OR a Kindle. I think that is bunk. What most 2.0 tools are, in my view, are additive. There is plenty of room for everyone and everything. TV did not kill radio. The internet will not kill TV. The car did not kill the horse- it just repurposed it. And who is to say any new medium SHOULD kill another one? If e-books and digital readers create a different METHOD of doing something, awesome! But the real value digital tools offer is one of choice. I have more freedom to do stuff how I want, when I want and where I want.

      One thing I think you left out in your discussion about the sensory relationship we have with books also has to do with the deep need we all feel to know that we’re making progress. With a book, you can see how much you’ve read and how much is left. It is source of endless frustration to me to not get that sense of “how’m I doin’?” with all things D. There are few things more frustrating in life then not knowing where you stand, wouldn’t you agree?

      Anyhow, great post and I look forward to more from you.


    • avagee

      You could take a look at http://www.booksinmyphone.com they give away books packaged to e read on cell phones. The reader is pretty nice; it pages (so no scrolling) which is very easy on the eye, and they have a good solution for showing progress through the book. Being in the phone its very comfortable to curl up in bed at night and read, or to flip a book out while on the bus. I have found it a great complement to regular books.

    • Steve

      Have you had a chance to read “Print is Dead” by Jeff Gomez yet? It’s a must-read for any e-book conversation.

    • Steve Jobs’ was just throwing the journalists of the scent. Apple is definitely working on their own ebook device, probably incorporated into some kind of tablet device. He said the same thing about smart phones a few years ago (that no one uses them). As “always on” devices become lighter, cheaper and more prevalent, ebook will become a natural fit for these devices.

    • oops, hit the ok button by mistake. Real printed books will never die. There’ll always be a place for physical books. Maybe not for Danielle Steel of John Grisham (hopefully), but batteries only last so long….

    • Edo River

      I don’t own an ereader, yet. Here are my thoughts on the two types. Prioritized issues are listed.

      1) ereader limited battery life + paper books
      2) medical issues with eyes focusing on screen + paper books
      3) environmentalimpact on initial resource availability and use + ebooks
      4) cheaper price (especially Japanese books) + paper books
      5) electronic gadget pollution and recycling chore + paper books
      6) Limited interaction with books’ authors + ebooks might enhance interaction
      7) Immediate use fragility of ereader compared to paper + paper books
      8) storage space + ebooks
      9) weight in carry ons + ebooks
      10) physical access durability over long time + paper books
      11) accessibility and time for reference points and specific database creation + ebooks, probably
      12) ease of hardware removal + ebooks
      13) range of choices new and used + paper books
      14) worrying about risk of damage in handling/porting + paper books
      15) habitual use + paper books
      16) Reliable access to future publications + paper books

    • Lovely post, Jennifer.

      Steve Jobs is out for one thing — to line his and Apple’s pockets — so I wouldn’t place too much credence on his role as a cultural observer.

      Glad you’re a fan of good old-fashioned books. I’ll be writing another one soon.

      ps — I’ll say it again: This Captcha system here really bites.

    • Nothing lasts forever. Printed books may be one of the human’s greatest invention but their days are numbered.

      With book scanners like booksnap from Atiz, there will be a lot more content available, and it’s just a matter of time before Jobs comes out with the new iPhone for books.


    • Five reasons I’ve given up books.

      1. I can carry a veritable library of newspapers, magazines and books on a single, portable device.

      2. I no longer have stacks of dead trees lying around the house from all the books, newspapers and magazines that I read.

      3. I love being able to look up words I don’t know with a simple click of a button rather than putting down my book, picking up a dictionary, finding the word and then returning to the narrative flow.

      4. I can increase or decrease type size quickly and easily whenever I want.

      5. I can read a review of a book in the New York Times, download the book wirelessly from the Amazon store and start reading it. Now. And, in most cases, for much less money.

      I’m not saying books will die. And I was a bit dubious after buying the Kindle. But a month later, I’m hooked much the way I was when I switched from vinyl to CDs and then from CDs to MP3s. There will always be someone around extolling the “warmth” that vinyl brings to a recording’s sound. There will always be vinyl. But I don’t miss my turntable at all …

    • I love books!

      There’s something deeply personal and connective about sharing a book with a friend and watching it become gently worn buy the multiple of hands that have enjoyed it’s secrets. Passing a PDF just doesn’t provide the same kicks!

    • Hi,

      I always find debates over the eradication of the book to be largely irrelevant. Like most media the book will always have its defenders, users and functions. In spite of the fact that I am the Founder of two digital media companies, one providing information via the Internet, the other content on mobile devices, I still have a library of over 5000 books, 7000 record albums, 2000 cassettes, 1000 CDs and 100 video cassettes as well as DVDs and downloaded MP3s and MPEGS. I like it all.

      The thing is each media has its own usefulness and purpose. We forget in the age of IPOD Nanos and video on Mobile that the TV was once called ‘the small screen’ and was pooh poohed as never being able to replace the cinema. It did and it didn’t and I think we will find that e-books, mobile reading and other digital content will find similar ways of integrating themselves into our lives as well as disrupting the economics of these other media.

      While I love to curl up with a good Sunday newspaper when I’m at home I love having access to the NY Times via my mobile device when I’m sitting in a line-up at the airport. I may not want to read War and Peace on my cell phone but I love having access to it if I’m working on a paper on it somewhere far from my library.

      Each media has its own sense of warmth, usefulness and utility and the notion that one will somehow necessarily replace the other can sometimes be a fascinating exercise to speculate about but ultimately I think we will find that most media (not all, I have nothing to play my 8 track tapes on after all) will find its own niche and relevance with those who still appeciate the individual appeal of printed text vs digital.

      However, and this may be key to Mr Jobs’ comments, lets not forget that the generation now arriving doesn’t have that same loyalty to the printed word, or the television channel for that matter. YouTube, MP3 downloads and Mobile texting seems just fine for them. That is far more relevant to what the future may bring than what those of us who still use books, magazines and newspapers bring to this debate.

      BOB KASHER is the Founder-Director of Global Reader a Mobile Content service available in over 150 countries through 75 mobile phone companies on any Internet enabled Mobile device.

    • Matthew,

      Thank you very much. I agree with you about the “either/or” conundrum. And your point about tracking “progress” in a regular book is well-taken. In a day and age when it’s so hard to make time for things like sitting down to read a book, it’s nice to be able to look back and see that you’ve actually “accomplished” it.


      That may well be the case. And if it is, let’s hope they come up with something a bit more appealing than the Kindle.


      That’s a nice list. The point about weight is a very valid one. I’m planning a business trip and my first instinct is to buy books to take along, but the fact is they weigh me down in an uncomfortable way, and in such cases I might be better served to go digital.


      Thanks. Like I said, I’ll buy your book but I won’t download it as a PDF…glad to hear you’re writing a “real” book.


      Your list almost makes me want to go digital! Seriously, those are really valid reasons for turning away from print. Thanks for sharing them and for challenging my own stance.


      You’re right, sharing a PDF just isn’t the same, and I imagine that the person you share it with might feel the same way. I’ve felt that way with music as well; it isn’t the same to send someone MP3s over a file-sharing service as it was lend a friend a CD or cassette tape.


      Excellent points. I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who has actually lived the transition from print to digital, but indeed those who will be my age in 20 years won’t have this dilemma and will simply choose what’s easier for them.

      Thanks to everyone for your comments!

    • Mary Ann Sprague

      Jennifer — Ive enjoyed reading your blog post and the comments that have followed. I have to say I agree with Mathews comment that it isnt an either/or issue. However, isnt it funny that most people pick one side or the other on this issue? Id say that sometimes the debate between paper and electronic feels like a religious discussion. (If you haven t read the NY Times article last week titled Pushing Paper Out The Door, written by Hannah Fairfield you may want to check it out.)

      I agree that there are a number of benefits to the touch and feel of actual paper. A few that come right to mind are:

      Paper provides emotional ties to activities or events (kind of like how music can take you back to a particular moment in your life). Think about it can you recall an emotional feeling perhaps about the first time you read a steamy novel or maybe if you have saved some of your childrens first written notes or drawings they gave you?

      Paper lends itself to visual organizing while electronic forms of documents or books are more easily searched and sorted contextually. This may be why different people prefer paper or electronic forms of written words they may be more visual or tactile in nature.

      People often feel a different sense of permanence with paper that is not felt with electronic technologies. Think about how much easier it is to fly off an email that you may regret rather than if you had to print it and send a hard copy.

      While many argue that archiving documents or books in electronic form can preserve history better for years to come, I wonder with increasing technology changes, how long will the electronic technology be readable or stable for future generations? Will the mechanisms to read these documents still be available 20 or 50 years from now?

      I work in research at Xerox where we are working on a number of new technologies that can bridge the gap between the paper and digital worlds we currently live in. While new technologies continue to develop I dont think paper is going away any time soon. What I, and many of my fellow colleagues think is important is to create innovative ways to navigate between these two worlds. Perhaps then we can find a happy medium.

    • Lee

      As an indie writer, I also refuse to take an either/or stance – and predictions about the future are usually wrong anyway – but being able to publish my novels as ebooks has freed me from the constraints of conventional publishing.

    • Lauren

      I have to say I am torn between paper books and the new ereaders. There are some definite flaws with them, such as the inability to share books, but I still would like to buy one and see for myself. Being in college I have little to no storage space for books, and having something so small that I can read books on would be nice, but it would be hard giving up on the physical comforts of a book; the feel of the paper, the slight wear and tear from passing it to friends.

      It’s more then likely that I’ll eventually by a Kindle or something of the sort, but I’m definitely going to wait until a newer version comes out.

    • Ray Collazo

      You pretty much hit the mark when you mention about books reminding you of a time or a place: They Are collectors items which we have had in our posession for the time it took us to read it, and the story that we Enjoy from having read it will stay in our lives for as long as our minds allow us to remember it. They can become heirlooms to the young ones, especially if they had a parent share a reading from a particular book.

      In todays modern age, it will be much more difficult to do this with an eBook reader: Sure, the kid will remember reading from the eBook with their parents, but when they grow up, they’ll be lucky if the eBook reader is still being supported, even luckier if it is still functional, given todays ever changing pace of hardware. Books, however, can stay in a family for generations, no matter how heavy they might be…

      I still own the encyclopedia set that my Parents owned when I was a baby. My parents remind me that, back then, I would lay the books down on the floor end to end, and I would crawl over them pretending I was a car… Sure I know I didnt READ them back then (I was only 3), but this encyclopedia set dates from 1969: And it is quite fascinating to crack them open and see what our knowledge was like back then, in the raw.

      There are just some things that cannot be found in modern electronic media, and finding the original printed version is like a treasure find.

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