Monday, November 7, 2011

3 Reasons Books Beat Out E-Readers

We are an e-reader friendly household. When our favorite books are massive, multi-volume tomes like the Game of Thrones series, of course the Harry Potter series and wonderful one-offs like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, carting them around is just plain impractical. So the iPad is a handy addition to any of our travels. Not only do we have our wonderful library close at hand, but I can continue plugging away at my NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words in one month, we can buy tickets to the National Aquarium in Baltimore while we're on the PA Turnpike, not to mention the entertaining games when our oldest is awake and the other two are napping peacefully.

But I still love books. The ones with real pages, hardbound or paperback doesn't matter. The smell of the ink and that first crack in the spine are sensory indulgences for me.

I'm working my way towards publishing my first e-books. I'm thrilled, and concerned. I'm excited that so many decent authors will get the chance to place their writing before the masses and be judged, worthy or not.

E-Readers aren't that great for for
"Book Helper" on the job chart.
I'm worried because I hope e-books don't edge out printed, tangible kid-lit. Children need the chance to wander the bookstore and pull a book of the shelf and flip through the pages and point at something they love. You can't really do that when you're using an e-reader. But I have three pretty decent reasons we won't go all the way with e-readers.

1. Endless content is a double-edged sword.
My oldest loves to get his sports-stats-fix. He recently reported to me how many touchdowns Mo-Jo (Maurice Jones-Drew) collected in his first three seasons thanks to Scholastic's Ultimate Guide to Football. I can't stand the dead-tree aspect of the newspaper but worried I was preventing him from becoming one of those weird kids that recall incredible details about professional athletes' careers but forget where he put his retainer. But I also knew that if I revealed the endless access to sports data via an iPad he wouldn't be able to tear himself away to eat or sleep, let alone go to school. We use the parental controls to limit his time on the desktop, but the iPad doesn't have that feature currently. So I will continue to buy him new versions of football and sports stats books. The books have a defined beginning and an end.

2. All those apps are exciting but distracting.
 My middle son is just learning to read. It would seem that the read-along features of many e-books would be perfect for him, but he is also at the stage with low impulse control. Put an iPad in front of him and ask him to focus on reading and that will last about 3 minutes. Soon he'll be playing Angry Birds or using his favorite app, Garage Band. Giving him a book, and only a book, is the best way to get him to focus.

3. They are still expensive.
My youngest loves looking at pictures of horses, but he also still picks his nose and chews on his fingers. When we read books together, bodily fluids are constantly transferred to the surface of the board books. But they are also really easily wiped off. I'm not so thrilled about him jabbing the glass of our iPad with boogie-fingers. Additionally, if you tell him it's bedtime, he likes to express his frustration by throwing the book across the room. So he'll get printed books for a long time.

Imagine all the readers, living in harmony! (Sorry John Lennon.) You won't see me turning my nose up at e-books anytime soon, but you'll also see me at local book stores, libraries, discount book stores and even those big box book sellers for years to come. I'm just not interested in trading in the traditional print world for the brave new e-world. I envision a future where we co-exist peacefully, adjusting the font size and buying books on the go with our e-readers as well as writing a personal message inside a hardcover book that we present to our children on graduation day.