In defense of digital books

In this blog post I want to explore the aspect of digital books. In a previous post I analyzed how they relate to paper books. But this time I want to look closer at them and show how they are not only digital copies of books, but more than that. Since this isn’t a top type of article like last time, I don’t necessarily need to use a general approach and will express some of my own experiences.

One first special aspect of digital books, is in fact, but not surprisingly, the digital medium. The e-book or mobi formats allow the user to change fonts, colors, sizes, paragraph spacing and more. There are no limitation, the books isn’t cast forever still in paper. The paper book is something with which the reader will need to accommodate: find a place in a bookshelf, pay attention to it so that it doesn’t get in bad state, get used to the format (though sometimes the reader has the choice between normal, pocket and deluxe editions). Paper books are like little treasures that need to be pampered. E-books however are totally subservient. The reader is king, the book will adapt itself to the reader’s preferences. It will go on command to X chapter, to X bookmark, to X page and even to X word. It will scroll the book for you, it will read the book aloud for you.

But it is not only the versatility and comfort of e-books that make them special. It’s their content too. First of all their scalability: you can zoom infinitely into them. Which is goo for accessibility reasons, but also allow the possibility to admire the details of the artworks that are published in them.

Pdf’s also can contain gifs, videos, audio files, links and interactive elements. All these integrated features are impossible to reproduce into books.

This was also a problem to which I was confronted recently (written like this it sounds quite dramatic haha). As a bit fan of the art genre, I wanted to get the three volumes of The Master of Pixel Art artbooks. I had the choice between the paper version, with nice gold foiled hardcovers, or the digital pdf versions. Want makes the digital versions a good option compared to the deluxe paper version? Well, as mentioned previously the possibility to zoom to admire the clever pixel placements, but also the fact that these artworks are produced in and for a digital format. The digital book is then the best way to experience the artworks in the way the artists intended it. This even more true for the pixel art artworks that are animated, which is impossible to convey in the printed version.

What would you choose?

In this case there are two versions available. However there are books that only exist in a digital format. This is often the case with books by small authors that can’t take the financial risk of producing paper books (which also needs some expertise, time, and logistics to store, sell and ship them). Some paper books also aren’t available, they are out of print or can’t be shipped to your country. There are always options, like second hand books and proxy shipping, but these can be quite pricey, and digital books are a way easier option in these circumstances.

The authors can also embrace the digital publishing platform, it isn’t only a cheap alternative to paper books. 

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My last point it the community aspect of digital books. They are often published in smaller parts, on a monthly, a weekly or sometimes a daily basis. The readers have thus an imposed reading rhythm, which can be inconvenient if you want to read it in one bunch, but this allows the readers to be at the same page. They will share their thoughts, emotions and speculations in forums, social media or discord servers dedicated to the novel in question. The platforms where the text is posted often already has features to comment paragraphs and chapters. for example also supports reaction emoticons and gifs. It is always interesting to hear the opinions of other readers, often they add jokes or explain obscure references or nuances that were lost with the translation, it’s an amicable and enriching way to read. 

 The authors and translators can also be active in these sphere, that go from digital book clubs to forums of debate. This is an experience that paper books can’t always offer to the same degree, especially for niche novels. And when you get used to it, and go back to reading a paper book, it feels quite lonely with the lack comments.