While there are many advantages to ebooks, e-editions do have disadvantages. Many readers are aware of these disadvantages, so they prefer print books. If you only offer e-editions, you loose a segment of the book-buying public.
The disadvantages of ebooks include a loss of reader privacy. One of the largest ebook retailers, for example, uses its devices to track everything about ebook readers—the readers’ identities, what they purchase, what pages they read, how long they spend reading a page, whether they finish reading the book, what parts of the book they highlight, etc.
While retailers can use e-reader software to keeps an amazingly close eye on a readers’ preferences and reading activities, people near the reader often can’t see what he or she is reading. There’s no visible cover for bystanders to recognize. This eliminates an important role books traditional play as conversation openers in social settings and relationships. Ebooks tend to go unobserved, because they are hidden away on electronic devices.
Printed books have physical presence. People often fall in love with great books and they want to share the experience with others. Books can be observed and noticed in people’s hands, on tables, and on bookshelves. This has value because books that are seen are picked up and seen in ways that ebooks are not. This value goes beyond the mere value of a books texture, smell, and visible symbolic significance on a bookshelf, especially if you are an author that uses books as a form of self-promotion for your work, ideas, or business brand. The book design and printing quality can be especially important in the relationship between the reader and the book.
Some research suggests that reading physical books also leads to greater retention and comprehension than occurs with ebook. This is due to both the greater difficulty navigating the texts and the distractions of multi-purpose screens. A stream of texts on an device is just that, a stream. It lacks what some refer to as the “landmarks of a printed page.” These factors matter because readers—at least the ones who have experienced physical books—want to be transported and immersed in what they are reading. This is true for readers who read fiction or who really want to understand and get value from a textbook or “how-to” book. In some ways ebooks are more attractive to readers who just want content quickly and in small amounts. This is good to know if you are using ebooks for marketing purposes, which I’ll discuss in a later post.
Another problem with some ebooks (ePubs and Mobis), is the dependence on devices. Both the device and the ebook software are comparatively difficult to use. Opening a printed book requires no instructions. Ebooks involve an installation process that can be troublesome, stressful, and not always successful. There are also other issues, such as the need to keep the device charged, software upgrades, and the difficulty of ebooks functioning differently on different devices and with different software versions. Some people can patiently overcome these hurdles, but others prefer the simplicity of the printed edition.
Even readers who like both print and ebook editions, often prefer ebooks that first exist as printed books. The reason for this preference is that it is possible for most anyone to create very poorly written and badly designed ebooks. A publisher is more likely to invest in the vetting process, the editing, and the design, if the publisher is going to commit to having a book printed. Readers know this. They have discovered that books that only exist as ebooks are often disappointing. For this reason, offering both print and ebook editions helps influence the purchase decision.
Thankfully, we don’t have to choose between printed books and ebooks. In different situations, ebooks or printed books will offer unique advantages and many readers are happy to have both options.