I had a discussion last night with my husband and his best friend, who was visiting for the weekend, about the advent of digital media. We were particularly focused on books, because music and movies and other types of media seem to be more easily adaptable, and often have already been adapted, to digital formats. I don't know that I learned anything that I didn't already know through this discussion, but it did confirm for me that I'm not the only one with mixed feelings about books moving more and more to a digital format.
I do not currently own an e-reader, but I admit that both the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle have piqued my interest in the last few years. I have my generation's love of tech gadgets, and I also travel several times each year on lengthy trips during which I polish off two to five books. In case you haven't had the opportunity to travel with two weeks' worth of reading material, books can be kind of heavy to tote around in your luggage! There are plenty of other good reasons for moving to digital books as well, not the least of which is the positive impact it could have on the environment - making paper is still widely a pretty toxic experience for our environment, and most inks used in printing are not something you want running off into your water supply. Shipping books and displaying them in a retail store is also not particularly eco-friendly.
I still haven't taken the plunge, though. For one thing, I really don't know if I can get past holding a machine and not a paper book, or pushing a button instead of turning a page. For another, as our friend pointed out last night, human nature seems to have an innate collector mentality that makes it hard for me to imagine my many, many bookshelves filled with beautiful books replaced with just a gadget. While I decidedly do NOT love packing up and moving all of those books, I have an equally hard time imagining buying them all again digitally. Reading e-books also makes it a lot harder to lend a book you loved to a friend for their enjoyment, or to trade a book that you read and don't really want any more for another one (as with sites like Book Mooch and Paperback Swap).
Honestly, I think all of those reasons are fairly universal concerns among book lovers, and if the publishing industry decides (as many industries before them already have) that digital is the way to go, they are going to have a serious fight on their hands to get most readers to switch over. Current e-book prices are only very slightly lower than prices for hard copy books, and that's going to have to change in order to gain more digital fans. They're going to have to make the price point of the digital format appealing enough to offset readers' other concerns. In addition, they're going to have a heck of a struggle with retail book stores, which will have nothing to sell without paper books. I suppose that, theoretically, they could package up DVDs of electronic books to sell in stores, but that just seems to defeat the best parts of digital media, which are not needing to leave your house to buy something and the immediacy of the download - you can shop in your pajamas and not have to wait for something to be shipped to you.
Primarily because of book stores, I have a hard time believing that paper books will be going away entirely any time in the near future. I do believe that my great-great-great grandchildren may live in a world when retail stores in general are a thing of the past and 99% of all types of shopping is done electronically. But until that day, retail stores are going to fight their hardest to prevent widespread digital book sales unless they themselves can get on the train to sell e-books through their websites.
So, I guess I'm curious. I want to know what other readers think about e-readers versus their beloved paper books. Do you buy digital books now? If so, what convinced you that was the way to go? If not, would you be willing to move to digital reading if the cost of e-books comes down? Or are your paper copies just too asthetically valuable to you? Are we all just Luddites, holding onto the past for no good reason?