Six BuzzFeed employees engage in a vicious debate to decide which books are better, printed or electric. Moderated by Nathan Pyle.
Nathan Pyle: Many say, “E-books are a minor blip on history’s radar — paper books have always and will continue to dominate.” Thoughts?
Erica Futterman: There are so many things people dismissed as a passing fad that are now integral parts of how we live day-to-day.
Alanna Okun: I’m pretty platform agnostic, as it were, but I do feel like that kind of thinking is pretty reductive and head-in-the-sand — it’s almost like saying the internet is a fad. Like, “I don’t understand this so it probably doesn’t matter.”
Chelsea Marshall: I actually am team paper books, but don’t think that whatever is dominant is what is better… So basically, e-books might be more dominant in the future but they will never be better for different reasons. (We can get into that later.)
Julia Pugachevsky: It’s definitely not a fad, because it’s helping the environment.
Chelsea: Is it, though? What about the factories?
Isaac Fitzgerald: Exactly. The “e” doesn’t stand for “environment.” How you charging these things? Coal? Nuclear power?
Krystie Yandoli: Logistically, it makes sense that books turn digital — newspapers, magazines, and every other aspect of publishing is following suit. It’s not a fad — however, we won’t be passing on our Kindles to our children and grandchildren and so forth. Links die and break and go away. If we don’t have hard copies of things like we have up until this point … Also, #OldBookSmell and paper books look really pretty on a bookshelf.
Isaac: Yes! What do we read when the apocalypse comes? How are you gonna charge that Kindle when all the energy from the earth is no more and all we have are cave paintings, fires, and books from the old days before the fall?
Chelsea: Are you prepared for that fate?
Erica: Guys, we are redefining the future. Besides, I’m sure someone will create an apocalypse-friendly battery for when the time comes.
Nathan: Speaking of the future — others say, “The age of the paper book was good and wonderful … but e-books are the future.” Discuss.
Erica: Let’s talk about how having an e-reader helps my back. It doesn’t matter how long a book is, or if the book is only out in hardcover…. because it’s all on your Kindle!
Alanna: Totally! Especially living in a city where we have to walk/take the subway everywhere/live in teeny spaces.
Isaac: I’ll admit that holding a giant book on the subway in NYC sucks. But, if it’s a Kindle, how are you supposed to subway flirt? You have no idea if the person is reading a book you love or Mein Kampf.
Chelsea: Oh no.
Erica: That doesn’t stop me from creeping. I will still look over at the person next to me.
Julia: Yeah, I’ll just creep more.
Alanna: I really hate when people hit on me on the subway because of what I’m reading! There’s a reason I am reading and not engaging with you.
Isaac: ::Looks bashfully at the ground:: Faaaaiiiiiiir. I apologize to Team Paper Books for taking us down the “hitting on people on the subway” defense.
Chelsea: But what if you were reading the same book…as your soulmate? And you never knew because of a fucking Kindle?
Erica: Then fate would still have you meet. Maybe you’d drop your Kindle in his or her lap. And they’d be all, “Oh!”
Alanna: Guys, let’s just get out of here and let Erica write this fanfic all the way through.
Krystie: But if you carry around your e-reader and have multiple books on it at once, then you’re more easily enticed to switch back and forth between multiple books instead of concentrating on loving and reading just one story at a time.
Erica: It’s easier to read an e-reader before bed too. Cutting out the whole turning-off-the-light step is a big one.
Chelsea: But the screen before bed = worse sleep. IT IS PROVEN.
Alanna: As an inveterate bath-reader, though, it is nice to know I won’t be out $200 if I happen to slip while reading a paper book.
Erica: That’s what plastic bags are for, Alanna.
Krystie: The thing is, if you write your name and/or phone number in a paper book, then someone else is likely to find it and you never know what could happen. Like in Serendipity:
Alanna: True. Serendipity fucking rules.
Krystie: That couldn’t happen with an e-reader.
Isaac: That’s true. Also, giving a book as a gift rocks. You’re saying, “here is a story that I hope to connect with you over.” Giving a Kindle is like… “here’s a thing that you’ll maybe use…”
Alanna: The best gifts I’ve been given in relationships have been books.
Erica: Maybe I’m a nerd… OK, I am a nerd, but most of my close friends also have e-readers, so I’ve loved giving them gift certificates for their birthdays, etc.
Isaac: Have fun handing over files instead of a beautiful library to your children.
Chelsea: But gift certificates are so impersonal to me.
Krystie: When I turned 21, my aunt and godmother gave me an old, tattered copy of a green hardcover book from 1921. The content of the book wasn’t all that interesting to me — it was about how to grow wildflowers or something like that, and I don’t even garden — but there was a handwritten note on the front page. It was a note from an aunt to her niece on her birthday, and it was just by chance that my aunt found the old used book on a cart at her local library. It was really special to me and has such a huge sentimental value that no e-reader could * ever * give me or recycle for someone else. #BooksForPresents
Erica: Thanks for the tears, Krystie.
Julia: I feel nothing.
Nathan: Are we saying there is a PRACTICALITY vs. SENTIMENTALITY divide that sums up this debate?
Krystie: Paper books do bring a lot of sentimental value. Plus #PaperBookSmell is the best!
Alanna: Yeah, Krystie! I do believe really strongly in the physical, drawing-in power of a book, I guess. A friend of mine died and a book of her writing was just released and it mattered to me that the book was physical, that it could be there beside me even though she couldn’t. An e-book would have felt less, somehow. But! Before the book came out, I would always read her essays and writing online, and it affected me super strongly as well! It just lived somewhere different.
Chelsea: Yeah. I understand it’s practical to have a million books on an e-reader, but I don’t read to be practical.
Erica: For the record I do not have a heart made of stone just because I love my e-reader.
Krystie: I think Alanna raises a good point of how there’s room for both mediums to be taking up literary, online, and physical space. All for different reasons.
Chelsea: What about going to a bookstore, though? Talking to a person there about books…finding new things you wouldn’t have searched for?
Erica: I still go to bookstores.
Alanna: Yeah, you can buy e-books at most bookstores.
Chelsea: Searching for an e-book isn’t going to lead me somewhere I didn’t plan out.
Erica: I definitely explore. You can download samples of e-books, which is great!
Krystie: Paper books do have a big sentimental feeling for me, though. When I look at my bookshelf, it’s filled with copies of children’s books I read when I was younger that I loved and that my parents and grandparents read to me. And then there are YA books from my middle school years, there are books I read in high school that I forgot to give back to my teacher, books I read in college during some of my transformative years.
Erica: Krystie, to your point — I think it’s the mp3 vs. CD thing. I will still buy real books for the books that mean a lot to me. Same as I still buy hard CDs for bands I still love.
Julia: Same. But with a Kindle you can literally get any book at any time.
Erica: Yes. Also, we haven’t even gotten to my most favorite thing about e-books: highlighting passages. Not to mention search. It is so much easier to find my favorite things! Ctrl+F does not exist in print.
Isaac: Real talk, I do like how on e-books you can look up the meaning of words.
Chelsea: I prefer taking margin notes. Also, there’s this thing called a dictionary that helps you look up words, traitor.
Alanna: Show me your dictionary, Chelsea.
Krystie: I agree, Chelsea — I like taking physical notes and highlighting things that are important to me.
Alanna: Yeah, bending back pages is nice too.
Nathan: Are bookstores sustainable or do we merely want them to be?
Chelsea: I want them to be.
Julia: We definitely want them to be. Bookstores are something I would never want to become obsolete.
Isaac: When it comes to e-books, if ever I buy a book through the Apple store, I wish there was a button to donate $2 to my local bookstore.
Krystie: Bookstores are as sustainable as you want them to be. Basic capitalism. (Said the English major.)
Erica: I think, like everything else legacy that’s come up against digital innovation, it’s a matter of them figuring out how to be sustainable.
Isaac: I agree with Erica, and truly believe bookstores are well on their way to figuring it out. The big box stores are failing, but indie stores? That throw events and are a part of their neighborhood? They’ll be totally fine.
Chelsea: Bookstores as community.
Alanna Okun: I love bookstores just as much as you all do, but I don’t think it’s wise or practical to put our hands over our ears and go lalalalalalala because the industry is going through a really disruptive time and might need to change in ways we’re not used to. Because that’s what publishing is at the end of the day, it’s an industry.
Chelsea: But I’m talking more to the experience I have while reading an actual, physical book, which is something we haven’t touched on.
Erica: What do you mean, Chelsea, that reading an e-book feels more remote to you?
Chelsea: Yeah! We’re getting caught up in all the practicality of it all, and I’m not saying it’s not a big business to publish a book, and it is definitely more practical to get an e-book, but I like holding a book.
Isaac: I feel like words on paper is one of our most simple and basic technologies. Nothing beats the written word for getting your point across. And while e-readers are convenient, books are each their own thing, with their own specific story and soul. So while there is definitely room on your bookshelf for an e-reader, there will always be books too. Think of them as portals. Is it cool to have device that can hold 1,000 portals? Of course. But when you hold one specific portal, it feels more important. More special. More a part of you.
Julia: Shouldn’t a great story transcend the format it’s presented in, though?
Alanna: +1 Julia!
Nathan: Prepare a one-sentence summary of your best argument for your side, 140 characters or less.
Julia: Digital books are convenient for commuting, which is where I do a lot of my reading (especially since my subway is packed and I only have one free hand).
Krystie: I understand e-readers are more practical + logical, but there’s nothing like reading an actual paper book. My books are me. I am my books.
Alanna: There is nothing inherently ~ virtuous ~ or ~ better ~ about print, but my memories and sensations are pinned to it. Glad we’re all fucking reading.
Chelsea: E-books are more “practical,” but I don’t read to be “practical”; reading is a whole experience, including those pages. So get off my lawn.
Isaac: I reading, no matter how I do it, but I truly believe in the everlasting existence of physical paper books (especially in the apocalypse).
Erica: E-books are taking what we love about print books, moving it into a digital world, and creating a new experience. Bottom line: YAY READING!