Paperbacks vs. E-books – An Article

Something that’s worried a lot of authors, especially new authors recently, is whether it’s more productive to publish in e-book or print format.  With how digital our world is today, wouldn’t it make sense to sell only in e-book format?  Sure, some people still like paperback books, but e-readers and e-books are on the rise.  There’s new technology coming out every day, and people assume it’s only a matter of time before paperback books…well, don’t exist.

Fun Story: I actually had to write a paper on this back in 2018 for my college English class.  And what I found may surprise you.

For your writing advice/help today, I’ve included that paper below.  You’ll have to forgive me for the fairly rigid formatting — I didn’t want to take out any material or source citing for fear of getting into trouble.  I hope you’ll enjoy my findings and take them to heart, especially those of you that are worried about which medium to publish your book in!  And if you’re interested in getting the names of the articles I cited so you can look them up and read through them yourself, just comment below or shoot me a message and I’ll compile them for you.

Hope this helps!  Without further ado…


Since the birth of advanced technology in society, there has been question that has rattled the publishing and writing industries: will paperback books become extinct due to the explosion of e-books?  Publishing companies have leaped onto the bandwagon that e-books are the items of the future; Amazon is a renowned example of an industry that markets and sells e-books and e-readers.  As a writer looking to enter today’s publishing world, this ongoing debate has caused many nightmares.  Do I publish on Amazon because they get a lot of success, or do I publish with a traditional publishing house?  Do I want to publish my book solely in e-book format since people claim they are the books of the future, or do I want a paperback, classic format?  There is so much controversy over whether or not print books will stick around in the future that the opposing arguments and sides can become overwhelming to a new author.  However, after extensive research in this treacherous battlefield, I have come to a conclusion about the argument that has set my mind at ease.  Contrary to popular belief, the expansion of e-books will not cause print books to become extinct.

Ben Ehrenreich’s article, “Books Have Always Survived Predictions of Their Demise,” clearly states this idea.  When he Googled “Death of the Book,” his search engine compiled a list of “11.8 million” matches, revealing just how controversial this topic truly is (Ehrenreich).

People all over the world have expected the demise of paperback books from the 1900’s up until Kindles and other e-readers (Ehrenreich).  That is especially true today, since there are so many formats of e-books available to the public.  A specific reason why people in the past, and even people today, get so bored with paperbacks is because of the “rigid text formatting and language” that often accompanies a paperback book (Ehrenreich).  A few authors from the 1900’s that actually held this belief are as follows: “Gertrude Stein, Robert Carlton, and James Joyce (Ehrenreich).”  However, Ehrenreich states, “Each work [book] is part of an ongoing narrative of humanity, and thus predictions of the death of the book always appear shortsighted (“Books Have Always Survived Predictions of Their Demise”).”

He then asks this question in his article: “What if the book is living by dying (Ehrenreich)?”  While it is certainly an interesting question to poise, he has the research to back it up.  Ehrenreich asks this particular question because he has done an in-depth study of the stories and ideas of Jewish author Bruno Schulz (“Books Have Always Survived Predictions of Their Demise”).  Bruno Schulz’s ideas and stories suggest that, “Books have always been dying in one way or another, and yet they remain with us today: from papyrus and carvings to scrolls to today’s paper and ink and electronic readers (Ehrenreich).”

Rundy Purdy continues in favor of paperbacks in his article “E-books Will Not Replace Bound Books.”  While he believes that e-books will play a part in the publishing and reading world, Purdy believes there is no way that e-books could cause print books to become extinct since e-readers and e-books are so expensive (Purdy).  According to Purdy, many people in poverty do not have the money to get everyone in their family an e-reader (“E-books Will Not Replace Bound Books”).

He also states that Amazon and other publishing houses overprice e-books (Purdy).  “E-books should cost nothing, but authors want compensation for their piece, and if they get compensation, publishers want some too.  E-books can cost more than print books (Purdy).”  Purdy also says that “publishers are also attracted to greed and fear with e-books”; they overprice them not only to make money, but because they are afraid of damaging the paperback industry (“E-books Will Not Replace Bound Books”).  He then explains that paperback books can be taken anywhere “without fear or loss of damage,” whereas if you were to take your e-reader somewhere and lose it, you would be in trouble since e-readers are so costly (Purdy).  For these reasons, Purdy believes it a simple matter of fact that paperback books will stay.

For Eric Sammons, paperbacks are just a fun way of reading books that will never go out of style.  He claims that, “The paper-bound book is a vastly superior technology compared to the current e-readers,” and he lists seven reasons as to why that is (Sammons).  First, “E-books don’t have a common, lasting format,” meaning that you cannot read, for example, a Kindle book on a Nook e-reader (Sammons).  Second, “E-readers can’t share books (Sammons).”  Sammons says that you can sometimes loan an e-book to a friend for up to fourteen days, but after that, you cannot do so again (“Paper Books Are Still the Best Way to Read Books”).  Third, “E-readers are able to be damaged more than real books (Sammons).”  Fourth, “E-readers last 2-5 years, so you’ll have to spend more money upgrading to new e-readers (Sammons).”  Clearly this is not the case with your traditional paperback.  Fifth, “You can truly own a paperback, but you only own the text of an e-book (and that can be taken away) (Sammons).”  In his article, there is a brief mention about the dilemma of copyright laws surrounding e-books today, but I will not go into it since that is an entire topic all on its own.  Sixth, “You can process text better and use more senses with a paperback than an e-reader (Sammons).”  After all, what is better than being able to feel a page under your fingers and then turn it, or breathing in that old or new book smell?  Finally, seventh, “You are focused on one thing – the book – when reading a paperback (Sammons).”  He reminds us that with the e-readers of today, you can listen to music or browse the Internet instead of being solely focused on the story you are reading (Sammons).

At the end, Sammons did go out of his way to mention in his article that he is not saying digitized books would not be beneficial for, say, college students (“Paper Books Are Still the Best Way to Read Books”).  He wanted those reading his article and studying his points to know that he is simply discussing the fun and enjoyment of reading, which, in his mind, leads straight back to paperback books.

However, while the idea is that paperbacks will last forever, it is fair to look at why some authors believe the e-book will triumph, and I will begin with Craig Mod’s point of view.  In the beginning of his article, Craig Mod seems like a tried and true traditional book hater, especially with the phrase, “Disposable books…good riddance (Mod).”  But Mod is not a book hater – he is just unimpressed with the content that goes into today’s traditional paperbacks.  He says, “The true value of an object lies in what it says, not its mere existence (Mod).”

He defines content in two different ways – “Formless Content” and “Definite Content (Mod).”  Formless Content is equivalent to “novels and most nonfiction,” while Definite Content is equivalent to “graphs, charts, formatting that is specific to a book, et cetera (Mod).”  “Formless Content doesn’t see the page or its boundaries.  Whereas Definite Content is not only aware of the page but embraces it (Mod).”  With his theory, Mod claims that, “Formless Content will go digital; Definite Content gets divided between iPad and printing (Mod).”  Thus, according to Mod’s theory, the only content people will want printed will be Definite Content, for the importance of its formatting, graphs, et cetera (“E-books Will Replace Disposable Bound Books”).

Jason Epstein has a different point of view than Mod when it comes to why he thinks paperbacks will bite the dust.  He believes that, “Books will become digitized because it is too much, too expensive, to keep printing books, storing them, and shipping them off to retail stores (Epstein).”  He continues by saying, “Making books available digitally eliminates the costs of storing and delivering books – savings that publishers can pass onto consumers (Epstein).”  If you remember, this is the exact opposite idea of what author Rundy Purdy stated in his article.  He stated that publishers overpriced e-books because “authors and publishers want compensation for their work (Purdy).”

Epstein continues in his article by saying that he believes print books will not become absolutely obsolete, only mostly.  He says that publishers will probably print on demand, like Amazon is famous for right now (Epstein).  Epstein also suggests that, at some point, libraries and bookstores will turn to e-books as their main source of books (“Digitizing Books Will Change Publishing for the Better”).  He also says that perhaps bookstores will make the transition to become on-demand publishers themselves (Epstein).

In spite of the differing viewpoints mentioned, Jan Swafford’s is the one that makes the most logical sense for why, despite the many arguments against it, paperback books will be here to stay.  Her article is rightfully entitled: “E-books and Paper Books Will Coexist (Swafford).”  She states, “Why e-books will never replace real books – because we perceive print and electronic media differently (Swafford).”

She speaks of “Hot Media” and “Cool Media” in her article, where “a hot medium is one that extends one single sense in ‘high definition’ (Swafford).”  According to Swafford, books and movies are considered “hot media” because they are “high definition to the eye (“E-books and Paper Books Will Coexist”).” Because of hot and cold media, “We perceive things differently in print than we do on screens (Swafford).”

Swafford says that e-books and e-readers are extremely helpful for scholarly purposes, especially colleges, but not always for enjoyable reading during free time (Swafford).  Thus, Swafford’s mindset revolves around the logical idea that paperbacks will be read by people who want to read paperbacks, and e-books will be read by people who want to read e-books.  She says, “E-books won’t destroy paper and ink (Swafford).”  The logical conclusion is that paperbacks and e-books will continue to coexist just as they have before, and just as they do now.

For new authors looking to enter the writing and publishing circles, every argument seems as grand and complicated as the last.  The argument of e-books versus paperback books will never officially come to a close; people will still wonder and worry about it in the years to come.  There will still be “11.8 million articles” that pop up on the search engine when looked up in the future, and quite possibly many more (Ehrenreich).  New e-readers and e-books are also created and marketed every year, so they are not just going to disappear.  However, authors are as good at crafting well thought out theories and answers as they are at writing their novels.  I, personally, can take Jan Swafford’s words straight to heart.  Today’s technological e-books and the print books of old will continue to coexist and will continue to do so in the future.  Those that want to read e-books will buy the expensive e-readers and be content with pressing buttons on a screen to turn the pages.  Those that want traditional books will go to the bookstores and libraries in order to turn a real page under their fingers.  In that case, a new writer should not worry about what formatting to choose from or whether to publish their book solely digitally or solely with paper and ink.  Choose both.

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