NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Book showdown: Print vs Digital

By Courtney Hanson, Correspondent

23-year-old college student Ariana Stevenson wraps herself in a blanket, snuggling up in the warmth and comforts of her bed with her hands wrapped around the folded and worn cover of an old book. As she reads, she basks in the faint, musky telltale scent of a long-loved book. The light crinkle and rustle of the paper as she turns a page is music to her ears.

Looking across her bedroom, she sees her old Nook, gathering dust in its original packaging on her bookshelf. After a brief trial run of reading from her e-reader, Stevenson has put aside the technology and returned to the love and physical comforts of printed books.

After receiving her Nook brand e-reader as a gift in 2013, Stevenson, like many, saw vast advantages in the lightweight and portable aspects of the e-reader. After a brief stint, though, she realized the technology was not all it was cracked up to be.

“After about three months it stopped working, and Nook ended up recalling it and sending me a new one; I haven’t even bothered to re-open it,” says Stevenson.

“That’s not something that happens with books. You can trust that a physical book won’t short out or malfunction. Books are simply more trustworthy.”

With the advantages of technology, there can often be a litany of issues such as having to charge your device, the device malfunctioning and resulting in a sudden loss of books and data, or not being able to transfer or share your property.

“With a printed book, I don’t have to constantly be hoping the batteries will be charged. I can always just pick it up and read it,” says Stevenson, who says she will continue buying physical books rather than contribute to the sales of e-readers.

Stevenson finds joy in her frequent trips to her local Barnes and Noble retailer. As she walks among the vast shelves of books, she reaches out and touches the spines, feels the weight of the books in her hand, loads up her cart, and proudly displays the books on her shelves when she returns home.

For Stevenson, there is no joy or pride in downloading a book and storing it unseen in a digital archive replete with complex technology, and veiled by a set of terms and conditions which often seem longer than the books themselves.

Feelings such as these — the joys in the ritual buying and hoarding of printed books — may contribute to the sales of physical books, which are beginning to rise as e-book sales level off, and in some cases, decline.

Since the book world was seized by e-readers in 2010, avid readers all over believed the end to print was inevitable, yet a surprising turn of sales may depict an alternative future, where print is not entirely cannibalized by technology.

According to Publishers Weekly, “the 2014 figures are further evidence that print books are selling better than they have since sales of eBooks exploded in 2010.”

While these recent sales figures may ignite optimism in the print lover, it is not a guarantee that the book world will not be commandeered by e-readers in the technology based future of this world.

“Online vendors like Amazon have already conquered the book market. However, I think hard copies of books will still be sold online. People stare at screens all day and like how reading a real book is easy on the eyes. Though there are a lot of smart features that come with electronic books, there is still a niche market that prefers a physical book,” says 23-year-old college graduate, Shaylyn Wadsworth.

Wadsworth is an avid reader and frequent user of the Amazon Kindle e-reader. While she relies on the convenience of the e-reader during her daily commute through Boston, she still procures physical books for herself, basking in the nostalgia and joy of holding and reading a book as she did in her youth.

As with Wadsworth’s experience, many see a symbiotic relationship between printed books and e-readers and will incorporate both to feed their reading habits.

A way to view the ongoing competition between print and technology is not as a conquering of one medium over the other, but as a coexistence between the two. No matter what format people are reading in, they are reading, and that is good enough. The increasing sales of e-books doesn’t have to be seen as a take over in the book world, considering that people with e-readers in general, consume more books—both printed and electronic—than people without.

According to a Pew Research Study, people with e-readers read an average of 24 books in the past year (in both formats), and people without e-readers only read an average of nine books. “In fact, of those who read e-books in the past 12 months, 88 percent also read printed books,” the study said.

As Stevenson and Wadsworth frequent their local Barnes and Noble book store, they often pass by a section which seems out of place, almost treacherous in its surroundings — the Nook sales kiosk. The presence of this section in the book retailer does however, prove that rather than a competition between the formats, a mutually beneficial relationship between the two may be on the horizons.

Considering the demise of the 40-year-old book retailer Borders, which declared bankruptcy and shut down its 400 store chain back in 2011, introducing the e-reader to the public may have been Barnes and Noble’s saving grace.

According to a transcript from NPR News, “Not too long ago, company officials and industry observers alike were predicting that the Nook would save Barnes & Noble from meeting the same fate as its biggest rival, Borders, which is now out of business. The Nook gave Barnes & Noble a seat at the digital table.”

Rather than disregarding the quickly advancing e-reading software, Barnes and Noble jumped on the digital bandwagon to keep itself breathing.

Meanwhile, Borders didn’t take the internet and e-readers seriously and quickly caved in on itself in crushing debt, serving as a warning to large scale book vendors all over, that if they didn’t adapt they would likely be met with a fate similar to that of Borders’.

Barnes and Noble proudly pushes sales of their Nook e-reader to their customers while maintaining the sales of physical books. Barnes and Noble Book Seller, Kendra Jones, finds that even though there has been a plateau in e-reader sales, there has been no massive decline in the sales of the Nook in her store.

“Just working in the store, I help more people put physical books in their hands,” Jones said. We have the people who take the time to purchase the e-book in the store so we get the credit from that as well.”

She went on to describe how sales in the location she works in revolve heavily around the sales of books and e-readers in both formats.

Retailers such as this allow us the freedom to incorporate books into our lives in any format we would like, without having to choose a side.

Perhaps buying and using an e-reader doesn’t have to be viewed as treachery to the print world, but as a means of adapting to the coexisting relationship between the two.

During a trip to the bookstore, Stevenson can enjoy the sensory input brought forth by physical books; she can weave in and out of the shelves, touching, smelling and holding her books, return home and proudly display them.

Meanwhile, Wadsworth can take a trip to the same retailer and purchase an e-reader to entertain herself during the long work commutes, as well as buy a physical book or two to satisfy her nostalgia and past-time love of childhood literature.​

Related Articles