Monday, April 4, 2011

Digital Advantages

I don’t see ebooks replacing physical books any time soon, but there are some types of books and some particular books that I think really utilize the particular advantages of digital books.

Books in a Series. There is nothing worse than getting to the end of a book in an absolutely addicting series, like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, and not having the next one handy. It’s one thing if you finish Storm of Swords, on a Saturday afternoon and you have a chance to get to a book store to pick up A Feast for Crows, but another thing entirely if it’s 11 pm and you’re already home. The ebook can be purchased any time of the day, any day of the year. Furthermore, if you’re going on a trip you can load up your device with several books in the series and not have to worry about running out of a series on the plane ride home.

Big, Hard Books. Having a book on a digital device can also provide convenient access to the Internet, which if you’re tackling Moby-Dick, Ulysses, or some other big, hard book, can be really handy. Looking up terms, finding criticism, and accessing cliff notes online can greatly deepen (or just help you complete) a first reading. Also, the ability to annotate with links to useful websites or your own thoughts about the work can make re-reading even more rewarding.

Classics You Somehow Missed in School. Because many old classics are in the public domain, you can almost always find them in inexpensive digital formats, so you catch up on Heart of Darkness, Silas Marner, or The House of Mirth. You can also explore less famous works by classic authors like The Old Curiosity Shop by Dickens, A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, Hadji Murad by Tolstoy...

Books and ebooks are different technologies and have different ideal uses. You can’t look at an ebook on your shelf, pick it up and flip through it randomly just to see what catches your eye, and you can’t wrap it as a present. You also can’t link a passage in a book to an online video, cut and paste a quote directly into a paper, essay or review, or infinitely annotate. Given that they have these different uses, I believe books and e-books should co-exist for years to come.

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