Paper or Plastic


I’ve had a couple of Kindles over the years, but I always find myself going back to paper books. More and more, I’ve been trying not to accumulate books, though. I mean, I love them as artifacts and as decor, even, but I’ve recently begun getting rid of books I didn’t love or that I figure I’ll never read again, keeping only the really good ones.

Since I’ve tried to stop keeping as many books as tangible items in my home, I’ve thought about trying to read more electronically. Reading on a tablet or Kindle is pretty convenient when running on an exercise machine, for example. You just situate it on the control panel in front of you and flap a hand up to tap the screen when it’s time to turn the page. Compare to the dismal experience of trying to wrangle a big thick floppy paper book with sweaty hands while running. It’s an infomercial in the making.

This week, I finished the last in my current queue of paper books and debated trying again to make the switch to electronic books. Because I’m a miser, I thought pretty quickly about the cost difference. I can pay $10 – $12 for an electronic book and sort of maybe have it forever, whether I liked it or not. I can pay $8 – $16 or so for most of the paper books I’d want, and then I can sell them to a used book store at a significant markdown for store credit to get more books. If I don’t like the book that much (which has been the case for a lot of what I’ve picked lately), I can sell it to a used book store for (based on a recent experience) about 17% of the purchase price. That’s a pretty stiff markdown, but it still seems like a better choice for me given that I go through a lot of books and am fairly adventurous (I try things I don’t know for sure that I’ll like). The alternative is to have a bunch of electronic books I don’t like and for which I paid nearly as much as and sometimes more than I would have paid for the paper copy. If electronic books were significantly cheaper (say they cost $5), I’d buy a lot more of them. At the current price of electronic books, the trade value and the risk mitigation of buying paper books that I can at least get some money back for makes electronic books a bad choice for me.

I also still just generally prefer the tactile experience of reading a paper book. Call me a Luddite. The financial angle and the personal pleasure angle combine to keep me still firmly in the paper books camp.

3 thoughts on “Paper or Plastic

  1. dllh says:

    Ah, yeah, I’ve tried that a time or two. Something about the system my library uses is super painful. You basically sign up to check the book out, but you don’t get it right away, even if it’s displaying as available. It can sometimes take a couple of weeks before the book becomes available, and even then I think I recall that you have to just sort of check in and notice that it’s ready. So it’s a terrible experience. I’m not sure why it’s so bad.

    • Digital book lending is a terrible experience for the same reason it took the music and the movie industry so long to accept that the Internet wasn’t a fad that would blow over.

      The last time I looked it up, I think I read that around 25% of the American book buying market was libraries. Physical books wear out and then libraries have to buy new ones. Physical books take up physical space, which is necessarily finite in its availability. Physical books can only be borrowed by a single person at a time, which means if demand is high enough you have to own multiple copies of the same thing. None of these facts apply to digital works, which means there is incentive for publishers to stay out of digital lending as much as possible and to make it as unattractive as possible.

      What you said in your post about keeping a digital copy forever and it not having any limitations in regards to the amount of available bookshelf space? That is bad news for publishers in regards to library buying habits. There’s a lot of feet dragging about digital lending on the part of publishing houses, and they are the ones who own the rights to the books.

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