Amazon’s November 2007 release of the Kindle changed everything. While ebooks and e-readers had been available in varying forms since the 1970s (Project Gutenberg began in 1971 and the first handheld e-reader, the Rocket eBook, was released in 1998), the dawn of the Kindle created questions surrounding the act of reading itself, gripping the fearful imagination of the publishing world. Though trends and headlines alike spelled doom and gloom for print books, they did so preemptively—as one can see in 2020, print books are still here and thriving.
When it comes down to it, how important is it when the traditional form of the book and its content are divorced? While book purists might argue that the rend is of the upmost importance and that e-books differ from print books in many negative ways (most of them reducing to the subjectivity associated with personal taste), they also possess a good number of positive traits despite their non-traditional form.
Ease of Access
Unlike print books, newer eBook models often come equipped with tools for the visually-challenged reader. For example, some e-readers are waterproof, allow one to adjust text size, offer audiobook capabilities, or even include a stylus so one can write notes when reading. Most e-readers also have light settings that can ameliorate glare or, alternately, can allow one to read in the dark with lesser eye strain. In short: there are various e-reader models that exist that can revolutionize the interaction a reader has with their chosen (digital) text. Additionally, during times when libraries are shuttered (such as during, say, global pandemics) eBooks can help those who may not have extensive home libraries check-out books from the public library for no cost, albeit in a digital format or via an app.
Unlike print books that can be quite cumbersome, e-readers often weigh in at under a pound. During travel (when many find it most essential to have a book, no matter the form) and when weight must be taken into consideration when packing, e-readers allow one to transport as many titles as one pleases, all in one lightweight device. For the indecisive reader, this ability is a boon as one can navigate between titles quite seamlessly.
Though the up-front costs of most e-readers seem staggering when compared to the price of individual print books, the price can be offset by the cost of the eBooks themselves depending on how much one reads, what book format one would otherwise buy (e.g. paperback vs. hardback), and how recently a book has been published. While Amazon first sought to sell newly published fiction in eBook form at a set price of $9.99, it currently prices eBooks according to the price negotiated with publishers. Apart from traditionally-published books, indie authors who self-publish can set the price for their eBooks as they choose, a factor that has led to the expansion of the indie market. In other cases, eBooks can be cheaper because of special, “lump sum” deals–Amazon offers a $9.99 Kindle Unlimited Plan that allows one to read from a number of titles for the set price.
E-readers have opened the floodgates of literature, so to speak, allowing independent—or “indie”—authors to self-publish their books online with little cost, little-to-no regulation, and lots of success. While eBooks can help the voices of underrepresented authors be heard, it can also give various, hurtful “-ists” a platform to voice their opinion–the filtering done by traditional publishing houses does have its merits. That being said, there are such cases of books gaining rapid success after having been published online, most famously in the romance/erotica sector (e.g. Anna Todd’s After and E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey). The popularity that these two novels attained continues to inspire budding authors to publish online for a chance of discovery, of success. Without the existence of electronic routes to self-publish or publish online at low cost, the range of literature available to the public would be significantly lessened.