The Ebook vs. Paperbook Fight Rages On: Will There – Or Should There – Ever be a Winner?

It’s 2014, and the ebook still hasn’t won the war with the traditional book.

Although it has most certainly won all recent battles, the ebook hasn’t quite lived up to its potential for killing off its paper rival.

It’s only been four years since Apple unveiled the iPad, which made switching from paper to digital a sweet temptation for even the most stubborn paper supporters. Many of those traditional book advocates have embraced the ebook and “gone to the dark side” (as they often refer to their digital disloyalty), but despite overwhelming evidence to support the virtues of paperless there are countless people who won’t give up on pulp.

Not sure about where you stand on this ebook vs. paper debate, but for me, as soon as I got an iPad it was game over. The iPad, which bested Amazon’s Kindle and Indigo’s Kobo by being a whole lot more than an e-reader, made books easier to read. The pages turn effortlessly, you can adjust the font size and screen brightness, and it can hold hundreds (or even thousands) of books. And now with the iPad Air, holding the device is more natural and extremely light. What more could a book lover want? Not only that, but a new book costs significantly less in digital form.

Screeeeech… stop right there, you say. Aren’t ebook prices still too high? Why yes, yes they are.

Publishers have been accused of—and taken to court for—participating in collusive practices in an effort to keep ebook prices rather high, as their profit margins from traditional books decline. In the US, there have ben several court cases forcing the big houses into lowering prices. And finally, here in Canada, a recent competition bureau decision will help ease the burden on Canadians’ wallets as we load up our Kobos and iPads with digital offerings from our favourite authors.

The ebook marketplace is drastically different from that of the digital music download, as the gap in ebook prices is far too wide. Some novels are 99 cents and some are almost 20 dollars. Hopefully, these recent developments will mean that someday ebooks will come down in price to a point where a virtual trip to Amazon or the iBooks store won’t be as costly.

Anyway, back to the battlefield. For those on the traditional side of the battle lines, one of their heaviest pieces of theoretical artillery is that they want a tangible and physical representation of their purchase. Team ebook, on the other hand, will counter with the argument that you’re not really “buying” anything concrete. Traditional book lovers will add that they want to “own” something they could keep on their bookshelf. Ok, but when you finish the book, what happens? You move on to the next book, and put the book away somewhere.

Smartphones, iPods, iPads, and other digital devices have transformed the music, movie and book industries and turned them upside down. Digitizing songs, videos and books is either the work of the devil or the best thing ever, depending on whose team you’re playing on. Team digital wants easy access to all their media, and appreciates the convenience it brings to their lives. Team traditional wants to “own” something and have a collection; they also believe that the digital reproduction of what they’re buying is of questionable quality, and therefore not up to snuff. I believe this latter view is the main reason why physical video discs, CDs, and books haven’t died yet.

As mentioned earlier, books actually look and read better in digital form than their traditional counterpart. It’s all just words, anyway, with the exception of books with illustrations, children’s books, some textbooks, and the recent novel ‘S’ from the mind of J. J. Abrams (a book that does not translate well to digital).

I for one am surprised that the traditional book is holding on as long as it has. If someone like my mother-in-law—a voracious reader—who has yet to learn how to surf the Internet, can completely ditch books for the ebook form on her Kobo, why hasn’t the ebook crushed it?

The big ebook vs. paper debate will undoubtedly go on, but we can’t lose sight of one thing: great art is still great art whether it’s in paper or digital form.

Reading a great novel that takes you away to another world, or a business book that improves your personal skill set is just as awesome regardless of how you choose to devour the words. Listening to a great song or album that instantly improves your mood or helps you get through that tough time is just as sweet no matter how you listen to it. Reliving all the great scenes from your favourite film brings about just as much pleasure from watching through your iTunes library than it does your Blu-ray player.

As long as the musicians keep making music, filmmakers keep making movies, and authors keep writing books, it shouldn’t matter how we consume it. Art is beautiful. The way it’s presented to us is going to change, and the industries are still adapting.

Embracing digital, especially for books, just makes sense to me. Where do you stand?