In short, the only substantial difference between printed books and ebooks is the output media format selected. They are all books. The real questions for this debate are whether either format is intrinsically more valuable than the other and whether the rise or fall of either — or their continuation in a partnership of some kind — is in the best interests of the reading public.
The authors are lovers of the written word, reading many books and owning personal book collections — printed and digital — numbering in the thousands. Between them, they have access to at least 12 different e-reading devices, plus the usual number of current and recently retired laptops. Through exposure to consumer data collected by BISG (with comparable data from Library Journal and elsewhere), they have developed an appreciation for the dilemmas now facing publishers. The EVP issue is not a simple pro and con matter; it is nuanced and difficult. Nevertheless, the following is an attempt to speak for the two "sides."
Is It a War?
Steve: I've read articles, blogs and comments describing the growing popularity of ebooks as some sort of warfare against the printed book. One said he found it depressing to see content displayed in a printed bound format being displaced by content displayed in a variety of digital formats on multiple mobile devices. I fail to see how offering consumers more reading choices can be considered war — or even be considered depressing.
John: The term "warfare" infers an absolute winner and loser. That's nonsense; it's not an either/or proposition. The BISG survey shows that — for individuals of certain ages and incomes — the ebook format is rapidly displacing print. However, print still has intrinsic value that digital has not yet replicated. For one thing, printed books are physical products, not software. Once sold, they are not subject to the whims of any publisher or reseller. I agree that format choice is cause for consumer celebration, not depression. If there is a war, it's not about formats, per se, but about who will control book distribution. Software-savvy e-distributors may indeed overthrow the old physical product regime. However, this is only cause for depression if the new order limits consumer choice for commercial gain.
John Parsons (firstname.lastname@example.org), former Editorial Director of The Seybold Report, is an independent writer, ghostwriter, and editor. He is the co-author of the interactive printed textbook, Introduction to Graphic Communication, on the art, science and business of print, which has been adopted by Ryerson, Arizona State, the University of Houston, and many other schools and vocational training centers. Custom editions of the book are under consideration by major printing companies and franchises for internal training purposes.