Are electronic books real books?

I just read an article where Stephen King says that in June his new book Joyland will be released in paper version only. The article stated that even though King was one of the forerunners in the electronic publishing format he is nostalgic for the paper version of books he grew up reading as a kid. The article quotes him as saying “Book-readers don’t regard electronic books as real books.”

Since December I have been reading more books on my kindle including the entire Hunger Games trilogy. I certainly enjoyed the Hunger Games books and did not regard them as any less book like just because I opted to read them electronically.

I have read the debates around self-publishing directly to e-book format versus going the traditional route. In all that time I never thought of one of the issues of doing that being the fact that readers do not consider electronic books to be books. I have always thought of books by heavy hitting authors like King classified as real books no matter what format they were read in but reading this article makes me wonder if others feel them to be less of a book. Take away the sensory and tactile differences surely the content is the same therefore they should be regarded as equals.

One other thought and it is one I shudder to think of but is King’s decision more to do with sales? The article states:

“King, a prolific author with a string of bestsellers to his name, released Riding the Bullet online in 2000, declaring: “I’m curious to see what sort of response there is and whether or not this is the future”.

But the publishers’ websites, which were offering the novel for $2.50, crashed due to high demand – and within hours the book was being offered around the web for free.”

I would think 12 years on the electronic publishing options are much improved and the site crashing is not an issue but does piracy still reign?

What do you think? Are electronic books as good as the real deal? Would fear of the book taking a sales hit due to being offered for free elsewhere make you think twice about electronic publishing?

You can read the entire article from BBC News:

Stephen King opts to only offer novel in book form


About Billie Jo Schinnerer

Born and raised on the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment in eastern New York. Formerly a primary and middle school teacher. Moved to the North West area of England in 2003. Now a mother of three and a wannabe author.
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21 Responses to Are electronic books real books?

  1. Shadlyn says:

    The eBook industry faces the same challenge as the video games industry – in many cases, even if you ignore *price* – piracy is MORE CONVENIENT than buying a legitimate eBook.

    I have bought eBooks, only to find that the DRM placed on them made them nearly unusuable. Rather than complain, I resorted to the “gray” option of “stealing” a pirated copy that I could easily read.

    Technically, I already owned the rights to the book, so the legal and moral issues are fuzzy and depend on whether you feel that you are purchasing the content or the format. But I am sure that most people, upon learning that the eBook is so heavily DRM’d, might just steal a copy *without* buying one legitimately…even if it was worth the money for them.

    It’s a messy situation. I think a big part of why the Kindle is so successful is because Amazon is doing everything in their power to make it MORE convenient to buy things than to hunt them down illegally. I’m part of the camp that advocates serving the customers who are willing to buy and making life as easy for them as possible.

    The dedicated thieves are virtually impossible to stop, but the people trying keep driving those who *want* to do the right thing over the fence into theft anyway!

  2. I agree with Kindle being more convenient. I love that if the mood strikes me I can read something by downloading it to my Kindle at any time of the day and do not have to wait for a book store to open to get it. I was not always a fan of electronic books and was slow to warm to them but now I do love them.

    I also think piracy will always exist. I am not sure if it is a reason to not make electronic books though. After all how many people swap paper books once they are done reading them. Those authors lose out on sales too.

    • Shadlyn says:

      Absolutely! I don’t really buy physical books anymore, and if a book isn’t available digitally…well, there are plenty of other books that are.

      Some one like Stephen King is well known enough that many of his fans will probably buy HOWEVER he releases the book…but I’ve got better things to do with my shelf space these days, and a to-read queue that is far too long.

      For me, paper books are for the MOST beloved/precious books only, or a few old friends that I haven’t been able to find digital copies of yet. (Mostly manga. I have a lot of manga I still re-read sometimes, and legal options for replacing it all digitally are hard/expensive.)

  3. Erik Gustafson says:

    I think ebooks are just as real as paper books. I love my kindle fire and before that I was a very slow reader with paper, all my life. Now on the kindle I can read thought books very quickly

    • Thanks for commenting Erik. I think that is interesting. I am a former reading teacher and I found some students could read faster on the computer than they could a paper book. I never thought of that possibly transferring to a kindle too.

  4. Pete Denton says:

    Like you say they are still books. I bought a kindle to read ebooks that weren’t for sale in paper format. I’ve now started buying and reading books by mainstream authors on my kindle too. The purchasing is so easy, the books are easier to read (IMHO) so I would prefer the ebook over paper book. King might miss out by taking this approach. He probably won’t care.

  5. After reading the above comments I guess I am the only die hard (did I hear someone mutter curmudgeon?) paper book reader here. I haven’t ever liked the e-books I’ve read, though admittedly, they have all been low quality, self published and given to me in the hope of a review. But I also think it had to do with the entire experience just not being as pleasurable for me.

    Also…there’s something about spending my cash on a thing that is only a computer file that bugs the crap outta me. I would feel like I just bought acreage on the moon. But if it’s only 99 cents, maybe it doesn’t matter that I’m not really getting anything but a temporary thing? I mean, that’s cheap, for a book, right?! But then I think, hey, I can buy as many 99 cent paper books as I can carry down at the local used book store. So that STILL spoils it for me. Because I’d still really rather read/have that paper book. And seriously, would anybody buy an e-book if they were priced the same as brand new paper books? Like $10 – $15? I doubt it. The only reason everyone likes them so much is because the ‘get to’ read them on an electronic device. (we do so LOVE our electronics) AND they are cheap as a candy bar. (Well, after you get over the sticker shock of purchasing a Kindle.)

    Whatever, when I publish it will be to all forms available. Who wants to lose even one sale? Not me. It’s just silly, and bad marketing too, to limit your sales to only paper books OR e-books. Whatever form the reader wants will be fine by me.

    • I was e-book reluctant for so long but now I am a convert. I agree if you are just reading poorly proofread books on a kindle it does not make it an enjoyable experience. I have read a few of those myself. I love real books. I collect old ones that are no longer being printed and could never bare to get rid of them but for most books that I read I like the kindle. I do not hang on to most books once I read them so that format suits me. My husband has the house heaving with books he hates e-readers and will never convert. I like the fact we both have the choice to do what suits us best.

      I think you are right though. I would release my book written on rubber bands if that was a format readers liked. I think it is foolish to limit audiences but in the case of King, I think he can afford to if he wishes.

    • Shadlyn says:

      I will point out that books by popular authors usually AREN’T 99 cents – they’re often almost (or equally) as expensive as the original. It’s only smaller authors and promotions that usually drop prices so low.

      As for the price being an issue – when it comes to that, I could still go to the library and get my books free. So money isn’t the top concern.

      It’s not actually the toy factor that made me a convert – though I’ll admit I like my toys. I live in an 865 sq ft house with two OTHER adults, and four cats. Storage is tight, and digital storage is effectively unlimited. As a minimalist at heart anyway, I found it was a no brainer. I’m already used to buying games (MUCH higher priced items) digitally, so if I’m going to be doing backups anyway…

  6. Strangely enough, I just bought his last book as an ebook, for like $16 or so.

    He says they’re holding off “for now” and releasing it to paperback instead of hardcover is unusual. I think he’s just trying a new marketing tactic. Look at all the free press he will get for doing something different. And here we are all talking about it.

    I’m going to release my next book written in blue food dye, on a series of duck eggs. For now.

  7. Jody Moller says:

    From my experience readers who have bought e-readers and us them regularly have made the jump to thinking of them as books (like you I recently purchased and read the whole hunger games trilogy and then did exactly what I would have done if I bought the hard copy – leant it to my sister so she could read them too). My sister was adamant that she wouldn’t like the Kindle that it wasn’t a ‘REAL BOOK’ but you know what? After she used the Kindle she realised that there is really no difference it is still the same content – its still a book. I find that most of the people that have objections to it are those that haven’t tried it yet. I do get sad though when I think that the hard copy book might one day disappear.

  8. K. C. Mead says:

    Well, I would say that I’m kind of a weird fuddy-duddy because I’m a college student who refuses to buy an e-reader even though both of my parents have converted. I need to take marginal notes when I read. I need to know my “book” won’t run out of battery or run out of space. I need to know my book has been filtered and edited by someone so that I’m not reading what someone zipped out the night before — I dedicate a great deal of time to the books I read and I am incredibly picky. I find that e-books, given how easy it is to publish them for free now on Amazon and Smashwords etc., are often not as well written as other book-books simply because there is no deliberation or editing that goes into them.

    I know I’m a fuddy-duddy and nostalgic, but I have to go with King on this one. Besides, if sites do crash and people do begin stealing the books via piracy online, how are we ever to have another author like Steven King? After all, I’m not saying you have to want to make money to write, but when you come from a background like King’s (where poverty may keep you from writing eventually and those little paychecks are what can keep you in balance, or at least keep you encouraged), does writing for no pay remain an option for long?

    My book will be coming out with some hard copies and some e-book copies (I didn’t have a say but I do think it’s a wise decision) but I’m still in there with King, wanting the pages and the libraries and the books that can have pages torn out and mailed to friends as love notes.

    • Shadlyn says:

      I have no problem with people preferring paper books, but I did want to respond to a couple of your specific points. *smile*

      If you’re worried about the quality and editing of eBooks, then only buy eBooks that were released by major publishers. It’s easy enough to just never read a self-published author if it is a major concern.

      The marginal notes I will give you; I never write in my books (not even textbooks) so that isn’t an issue for me.

      Piracy is a concern…but not releasing an eBook doesn’t protect you from piracy. There are plenty of pirates out there with digital scanners who are quite happy to convert your paper book into a digital file. The only protection from piracy is never to write…and I’m not willing to do that.

      Battery life can be an issue, especially if you get caught somewhere without a charger. For me, it works out – a couple of days of battery and several hundred books on hand outweighs perpetual availability but a limited collection. Others might find the balance tips in the other direction – particularly if they have large homes or dedicated libraries.

    • I am all for paper books, I love them but I adore my Kindle now too! I think it is smart that authors sell in both formats because it will appeal to a wider audience. I find it interesting that King was a pioneer of e-books and now is back tracking a little.

  9. Ebooks are real books – it’s surely the content that makes a book a book, not the packaging. A pizza is still a pizza, even if you take it out of its box and put it in a bucket instead.

    I am thinking of getting a Kindle, but only very reluctantly. I don’t have room for any more books (I don’t have room for the ones I’ve got, to be honest), so being able to have another hundred/thousand without taking up any more space appeals to me. But as soon as I have my own house with the space to put physical books, I’ll say goodbye to the Kindle. The convenience and all that doesn’t really bother me. For me, you can’t beat the feel of a real book (new book smell, anyone?), something that ebooks will never be able to replicate.

    • I agree e-books are real books based on the argument that the content is the same. The analogy to pizza is a touchy one for me though because American pizza (particularly New York pizza) is real pizza and British pizza is not quite the same thing (at least none I have had have reached that standard yet). Then again, I once had a pasty at a deli in New York and it did not compare to the ones here in the UK. 🙂

      I have had my Kindle for six months now and although I was reluctant to get one I admit to really loving it and using it more often recently. I collect antique books and unique editions or signed copies of real books too. I think there is room for that kind of balance in my life.

  10. Evelyn says:

    How fortuitous. I just finished the last Dark Tower book and started the new Dark Tower novel, all on the Kindle app on my Blackberry. And why do you ask? Because my purse is small and Stephen King’s book are heavy!!
    That being said, I completely agree with Mr. King. I own the hard covers of both of the above books. A book doesnt feel real to me unless it is on paper.
    And the other hand, you have different fingers. If there are books I’d like to read, but not deal with storage of after read, I would totally use the kindle app. I have it on my PC as well and I am really happy with it. I dont even need to buy a stupid Kindle.
    I think its wise, if you are going to publish and can AFFORD TO, you should do both, the book and the e-book. That’s what I would prefer to do.

    • I have my kindle in sync with my computer and my mobile phone so I do not have to lose my place in a book or worry about bringing a gadget with me wherever I go because I usually have one of those three things with me at all times but yes, the computer is a great way to enjoy the kindle without purchasing a kindle. I would certainly publish to all formats.

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