Friday, June 24, 2011

Not all eBooks are created equal. James McCoy, director of the University of Iowa Press, knows that some books, such as poetry, photography, or field guides, are not the best candidates for digitizing. Other books are conceived and produced as digital publications. ‘Born digital’ books can provide a more satisfying experience, with imbedded video, charts, audio, and other touchscreen features.

Book of Hours Valencia, c. 1460 from the Collection of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek

Book of Hours Valencia, c. 1460 from the Collection of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek

A similar debate can be traced to Plato, who argued against the value of writing. Writing, he said, is an inferior substitute for the dynamics of spoken dialog.

Despite Plato, the idea of books has gelled over the centuries and is here to stay. But are eBooks doomed as pale imitations? While some may agree that discourse trumps written exchange, most consumers today would opt for a book over a debate.

Perhaps that bodes well for eBooks, but not so well for Plato.

Then there are the in-between books – not born digital, not ill-suited for the eBook treatment. These are often converted directly from print to text files, and some do not fare well. 

Digitized text may be hard to navigate, since page breaks may disrupt reading flow or visual format. This can make for difficult e-reading of some texts, such as cookbooks. Depending on the device, photos and graphics may lose quality.

Critics say that eBooks lack connection with other senses—the aroma of paper, the feel of the binding, the sensation of folding the corner of a page, the heft of the volume itself. Some readers find that the eBook experience pales in comparison with feel of a hardcopy book. Books come with built-in multimedia, because books have pages for turning and margins for note-taking. All features of the printed book are available off-grid and without the need to upgrade.

Even so, readers report that eBooks offer rich reading experiences. eBooks can successfully transport them to different worlds through a novel, relay wisdom, recount history, and aid learning.

So which is better: the printed book or the eBook?





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