The Case for E-Books
Most articles comparing e-books with paper-books focus on the benefits of paper-books: The new-book smell, the weight in our hands, the sensation of turning pages.
They're generally right, but they do e-books a great disservice.
I don't mean to completely trash paper-books. I don't have a problem with them. I actually quite like them.
Well, okay, I do have a problem: I own too many. Any book unread for too long quickly disappears under a stack of other books. Some of my less-sturdy shelves have collapsed under their weight. Between missing manuscripts and falling furniture, I've developed a fondness for e-books, which stay organised and have never suddenly fallen on my head.
Aside from the obvious, e-books have several other advantages over paper-books.
Benefit #1: E-books can be searched.
Every regular non-fiction reader knows the agony of owning a wonderful reference book with a less-than-wonderful index. E-readers have a built-in search feature, allowing you to find what you want more easily. This can be useful for fiction books as well. Want to re-read the scene where Katniss shoots an arrow at the Gamemakers, or Halloran explains the Shine to Danny? Do a search and you'll find your favourite scene far more quickly than if you needed to page through the book.
Benefit #2: E-book notes are far more convenient.
Notes can be made in e-books just as they can in paper-books (minus the sometimes-illegible margin-scribbles), and can be accessed more easily. The Kindle's 'go to' menu, for example, lists all bookmarks, highlights, and notes in one easy spot. Even better, on the Amazon website you can access the notes and highlights for all your Kindle books without even needing to bring up the book itself. It's like a DIY study guide, allowing you to pull the important parts for later. If you really want to go all-out in your digital note-taking, you can even copy your Kindle notes into a program like Evernote.
Benefit #3: You can always have a dictionary handy.
Even the most well-read among us has come across the occasional word where, no matter what the context, we're not certain what it means. In some e-readers, simply pressing the word will bring up a dictionary definition. For e-readers without such a feature, it's still possible to download a dictionary to keep a few clicks away. Of all the people who carry a book absolutely everywhere with them, how many also have a dictionary at all times?
Benefit #4: E-readers are small and portable.
Regardless of what device you read your e-books on, you can keep hundreds of books in far less space than their paperback equivalents. Even a laptop computer is smaller than a shelf full of books. Install an e-reader app on your phone or iPod, and you can stash a small library in your pocket. Plenty of people have suggested 'carrying a book everywhere' as a method to make better use of dull moments waiting in line – now you can carry a book, and its sequel, and your all-time favourite book you'll happily re-read a few dozen times, all in less space than a single paper-book.
Benefit #5: The customisation options are excellent.
Okay, maybe the e-book itself isn't customisable. And you can always decorate the cover of a paper-book. The options for e-reader covers, though, are vast. From single colours to custom cases with your own photos, you can find anything you want to cover your e-reader. The structure of cases also varies. You can get a simple sleeve, or a version with a kickstand which props up your e-reader for hands-free reading. Some even include pockets for cash or cards, allowing them to double as wallets (albeit large ones). If you want the e-book benefits with an old-school look, you can get cases designed to look like hardcover books.
One of the downsides of e-readers is starting them up. Sure, the start time is quick – less than a second or two. But compared to opening a book, there's a notable lag to opening a case, pushing a button, and letting the e-reader wake up. The right cover will diminish this problem: "smart" covers wake your reader the moment they're opened.
Reaping the Benefits of E-Books
Obviously, to read e-books, you need some kind of e-reader. This doesn't need to be an expensive physical tablet: free Kindle, Nook, and other e-reading apps are available for plenty of devices, including phones, iPods, and computers. The Kindle even has a cloud version, allowing you to read your books online.
Then come the actual books. One other big benefit of e-books is their cost - at worst, they cost the same as their paper-book alternative, and in many cases they're cheaper. Public domain books are also available on sites like Project Gutenberg and ManyBooks for free; the same books cost at least enough to cover printing if you buy them in a bookshop.
Next you'll want to learn the features of your preferred e-reader. Simply reading books is great, and many bells and whistles are just a distraction, but most users will at least want to know how to bookmark pages and make the e-book version of margin notes. Other useful features include searching, changing the font size, subscribing to magazines or newspapers, and getting dictionary definitions.
Paper-books do indeed have a place in the world, but e-books can as well. With the right e-reader, you can get a great new book the moment you learn about it, find exactly what you want in an instant, and compile your notes on any subject easily and efficiently - all advantages paper-books are lacking.