Editor's note: Since 2009, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) has surveyed consumers who have purchased ebooks, in an attempt to understand their behavior, and to predict the path of the ebook trend. The resulting study1 has led to many conversations about the future role of print. The subject has also spawned some spirited prose on the matter, including a recent blog, "Why Printed Books Will Never Die," by Josh Catone on Mashable.2 This particular piece prompted the BISG study authors, Steve Paxhia and John Parsons, to publish their own more or less friendly debate.
When the subject of ebooks versus print — EVP, if you will — is discussed, one sees passionate loyalty on both sides. This is good news for the art, science and business of publishing. Such passion shows that this long established format of encoding and exchanging knowledge has captured the hearts of millions who view books as essential to their lives. What it also does, unfortunately, is cloud the real issues. Partisan loyalty to old or new book formats can blind us to what makes a book valuable in the first place.
Remember, all recent books are "born digital." In the vast majority of cases, they are written on computers. Their content is organized and structured using industry standard applications and formats — whether the author knows it or not. They are often designed and produced offshore, using editing and design software, rather than by designers and typesetting craftsmen working in the U.S. Increasingly, these books are being manufactured on demand, using digital presses (print) or highly automated file conversion (ebook). Frequently the print and digital versions of a specific title are produced using the very same content files. Millions of older books have been digitized from scans or PDF archives.