Books vs. eBooks?

I found this nifty infographic (click on the image to check out the giant-sized version), which is opportunity enough to think about some aspects of the relation of books and ebooks. The title pretty much says it all: does one have to win? Must the books and ebooks question be a zero-sum game there-can-be-only-one? Why not both? They both have their individual virtues, depending upon what you want out of your choice of book —

Books: higher author royalty; more use for used paperback than used ebook; easier to impress passersby with Infinite Jest book cover

eBooks: lower cost of production per book; lighter and transportable; easier to hide embarrassing copy of the World of Warcraft Guide to Picking Up Chicks from passersby

(also keep in mind that the sales data is from August 2010, and that marketshare of books vs. ebooks is changing rapidly right now; but the general points are obviously still relevant)

For whatever it’s worth, Mashable held an interesting reader poll: “Reading Faceoff: E-books vs. Print Books” — from the 2000-plus responses, printed books were still the favorite (42%) over ebooks (23%) with the rest favoring formats about the same (34% — and I’d probably have put myself in this category as well).

As this CNET anecdote shares (“Old, real book vs. Kindle alternative: Which wins?”), in that moment of decision when it comes to buy or not to buy, price is going to be the tipping factor for many of us. Come to think of it, lately most of my newer book purchases have been in ebook form, but there’s no ebook equivalent of the pleasure of browsing through old bookstores.

For another example of books vs. ebooks in infographic: Huffington Post, “E-books vs. Traditional Books” — “Are low-overhead e-books better for authors or publishers than their print counterparts?”

The two most interesting data points might be: 1) how little money is spent on marketing; 2) the retailer profit cut on ebooks vs. printed books


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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