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The Aesthetic Argument
Steve: Many argue that printed books are more beautiful than ebooks, and that art should be valued over mere utility. I agree that many print books are beautiful. I have many books that are quite lovely to read and that add warmth to a room when viewed en masse.
This mostly pertains to book covers. In my experience, print and ebook covers are often the same. Along with aesthetics, their goal is to help sell copies by drawing the attention of potential readers. Because many print books are sold online, a cover has to work both in person and online.
When we consider the contents, there certainly are beautiful print books. However, the whole point of good book design is to create a great experience for the reader, not art for art's sake. One of the best features of ebooks is that I can choose my own font styles and sizes, change the line length, spacing and margins. So my ebooks may look little like their printed versions, but if the whole point is readability, then ebooks have the better aesthetic.
John: There are many ugly print books, so the pure aesthetic argument only works for books that are well designed in the first place. Also, books that are truly works of art are seldom used as books! I own a rare edition of the novel News from Nowhere — with type designed, paper made and possibly hand printed by William Morris himself. It's beautiful, but I'll never cut the folios and read it. If I didn't have a paperback edition (which I do), then I would read it as an ebook. Let's not confuse seldom-read collectibles with books as a whole.
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.