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!