Paper or plastic?
Lately I’ve been thinking of publication formats. Riveting, I know…
But seriously, over the past year or two, I’ve noticed a definite change in how and what I purchase. Since I bought my tablet, I’d estimate (with great accuracy and not a drop of hyperbole…) that my paper book purchases have dropped on the order of eleventy-thousand percent. When my wife brought a second tablet home that more or less cinched the deal. We’ve basically become a digital household.
Now, that isn’t to say that we don’t buy any paper books, but we’ve definitely transitioned many of our book purchases to digital formats. And while I’m pretty happy with that decision, I am a bit torn. Read below the fold to find out why (and my laundry list of exceptions).
First, I shall extoll the virtues of my digital library.
Chief among them, from my perspective, is portability. Like, the huge portion of my library that I choose to carry on my tablet weighs about a pound and a half, plus the fraction of a microgram that studies have shown data to impart (we’re talking serious bulk here). And by estimation (because I’m too lazy to get the damn thing from the other room and check), that includes several hundred books, comics and graphic novels. We’re talking about hundreds of pounds of paper, reduced to something I can hold in one hand, or spin on the end of my finger (not that I would…)
I’ll be honest I don’t miss carrying all that shit around. As a gamer, I remember stuffing my backpack full of hardcovers to the point that the zipper would threaten to break. Now all I need is my iPad and a dice bag. Even non-gamers have had the experience of a backpack full of textbooks… I used to carry a novel with me everywhere. Now my phone syncs to the last page I read on my tablet, so I’m never without a book, and I never lose my place.
While I haven’t transitioned my entire library to digital formats yet, I’ve certain whacked out a good chunk. But I still love having books on the shelf. I’ve still got so many books that I don’t know what to do with them all. Graphic novels, paperbacks, academic and professional references, a still somewhat ginormic pile of gaming books, all of which I haven’t seen fit to buy again, are unavailable digitally, or that I prefer to own physical copies of (really, I prefer to have core rule books in paper as well as digital, and I’m a sucker for the gorgeous Warhammer 40K RPG books… They just look so pretty on a shelf, sigh). Still, the next we move, my back is going to be so grateful for the books we’ve managed to ditch (ironically, mostly for used book credit, so there is still a bit of the ‘out with the old, in with the slightly less old’ going on).
So what gets me down about my digital library? The first is easy: muddahfuggin batteries. Despite living on one of the most tech-forward patches of dirt on this mudball, if it rains, or there’s a stiff wind, someone sneezes, or a cat farts, my power goes out. I haven’t straight up run out of batteries yet, but I’ve had some close ones (first world problems, I know). But seriously, there are real, practical reasons why I will never be without a paper copy of “How Things Work” and the SAS Field Manual…
Then there is just the physical experience of interacting with a paper book. The smells, the textures—those just can’t be transmitted through a PDF or ePub (I want a full Augmented Reality reading experience, damnit). I mentioned the big, pretty, WH40K books, but there is even something about a worn in paperback from the used bookshop that is appealing. That browning, kinda… crispy (srsly, why?) paper… That anonymous stain… Some less anonymous stains (seriously, Cheetos prints? Wash your damn hands)…
Okay, so some experiences are more appealing than others. Still, I miss it from time to time.
Then there are the more troubling things that crop up as a digital library enthusiast. For me, a biggie is the fragmenting of my attention. I used to be a diligent reader. I’d plow through a book, and then I’d pick up another. Now, I’ve got something like ten books going at once. And some of them will never be finished (I’m gonna spill some for my forgotten homies). But seriously, digital books have enabled my flightiness in a bad way.
My other concern is for the booksellers that I frequent less often. I owe a lot to the institution of the comic shop and the FLGS. One of my earliest jobs was working at a shop that carried comics and games, and I understand the challenges of running a small business (as practically all FLGS/FLCS are). Now that I’m in the Bay Area, I’m blessed with an abundance of places to get my geek on, but I find that I purchase most of my preferred content from e-tailers in digital formats. Of course, most of online stores I frequent (like drivethrustuff) are themselves small business, but I value the institution of the brick and mortar store as a meeting place and locus of activity in the community. For all my digital collecting, I find that I’m more likely to go to the game shop and throw down for a board game then ever before—as if I’m paying a penance for taking my book purchases elsewhere…
Anyway, I’m still reconciling myself to an increasingly digital life. I’m curious if anyone else is struggling with the same challenges. Let us know in the comments!
I’ve started making the move over to digital as well. We’ve gotten rid of our regular paperbacks almost entirely, as they were mostly just gathering dust. I’m 6’5″, and my big meat mitts just aren’t comfortable with the tiny paperbacks. Trade paperbacks are better, and I’ve kept most of those. For now.
One genre I love is the old pulp reprints. I discovered Doc Savage as a kid, and the Shadow radio series, and then reprints of The Spider. I’m still hanging onto the Doc Savage books for now, because there’s no affordable eBook alternative. But radioarchives.com has been releasing The Spider eBooks for a while now, around 50 so far, for $3 each. SOLD. They don’t have the interior illustrations or backup stories, but they have the main attraction. If I want the whole thing, I just need to get rich so I can afford the Girasol reproductions for $35 a pop.
The other thing I’ve done is get rid of most of my floppy comics in favor of digital versions. Those comics stayed boxed up through two moves, for YEARS. Now, I may never again feel the need to re-read the Moench/Sienkiewicz “Moon Knight” or Grant Morrison’s “Doom Patrol”, but if I DO want to, I can, easily. And I don’t have to move boxes to get to them.
So, with my book and comic spending way down, what am I doing with all that extra cash? Well, I have a family, and that eats a lot of it. But I’m also backing games and graphic novels on Kickstarter. I’m BUYING more graphic novels and collections, but I’m buying either stuff I know I LOVE (because the stuff I only LIKE is available digitally), or I take chances on indie titles. And games. A lot of games. Our family recently got back into board/card gaming in a big way, and we’ve been catching up on all the good stuff. So, really, the money’s spent either way. 🙂
I’ve started to transition over to digital, as well. I love my books but I have just about literally run out of room, and you can’t beat the portability.
I absolutely love Comixology but the only issue I have is the price for newer comics . . . I can still get paper copies more cheaply at a discount from an online subscription service. I take advantage of the 99 cents sales when they come up, but I do kind of take issue (pun intended) with paying more for data than I do for an actual hardcopy.
Everytime I sort of miss going to a comics shop I end up swinging into one and I end up encountering that fanboy — you know the one, thinks because he shops there he can hang out for hours chatting up the clerk (the only person who will sit and listen to him because he can’t actually leave), loudly spout his wisdom on what sucks and what doesn’t, knows everything about everything and at least twice as much as everyone else running the industry, generally makes statements that make me be embarassed to be a) a male, b) a comics fan, and c) of the same speices as him. I can’t count the times I’ve gone into a shop with my girlfriend and just left a small stack of comics I would’ve purchased had the clerk (which is often the owner) realized this is a place of business and some stuff is just a little too off-color to be discussed out loud.
No such problems shopping online for digital (at least if you stay clear of comments sections . . .)
So, here’s an ethical question for you:
How do you feel about using torrented/downloaded (i.e. “pirated”) digital comics or books to replace physical copies that you’re eliminating? My own opinion is that if I paid for it, then I can “convert” it to a digital format guilt-free. While it was nice to get a (very) little bit of money for those comics and books (which mostly went towards other books and comics), I don’t think it necessarily cancels that out.
I’m slowly making the transition to digital for books. Over the past two years I’ve increasingly been using my laptop and PDF copies of the books i use in the various games i play. I don’t think I’ve brought a physical copy of a book to a game for months now. But the switch from paper to kindle when reading for pleasure has been slower. I still prefer a real book in my hands but digital copies really do make things easier. Physically turning a page feels better than clicking a button though.