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September 12, 2011

The Eternal E-Book Debate - a New Sign of the Electronic Coming

Do you remember the Billy? That really basic, kind of ugly bookcase from Ikea that is the mainstay in small apartments everywhere?

The Swedish giant has now contributed to the ongoing debate between e-books and "real" books, by announcing that the Billy is being reformed.

Via TechCrunch (h/t: The awesome Rob Long on Ricochet):
If you needed any more proof that the age of dead-tree books is over take a look at these alarming style changes at Ikea: the furniture manufacturer’s iconic BILLY bookcase – the bookcase that everyone put together when they got their first apartment and, inevitably, pounded the nails wrong into – is becoming deeper and more of a curio cabinet. Why? Because Ikea is noticing that customers no longer buy them for books.
Just what the world needs: more room for more dust collectors! Sure, books collect dust too, but at they least they have something interesting inside.

The thread on Ricochet that I link to above has a great debate in the comments section (you can read the comments, but can't comment yourself unless you join) about this debate, too.

Honestly, I'm sympathetic to both sides of the debate, and I've never really been able to decide exactly where I fall on the spectrum.

I understand the space limitations of having shelves and shelves of books. In fact, we have that problem right now, and it was even worse before. If you're travelling, it's nice to have a large number of books at your disposal without having to worry about packing them.

I also see the other side. I love the feel of a book in my hands, of turning the pages and seeing the print on the page. I love looking over at the bookshelves and seeing all of the works that we have there.

A number of commenters mention how perishable e-books can be, especially if there is no standardization of format. You don't have to have a compatible reader (other than actually being literate) in order to read either a paperback, hardcover, or coffee table book. Fifty years from now, will you still have all those Kindle books? Will the new readers be able to read them or convert them? We have relics from 2000 years ago, papyrus scrolls and other books from even Roman times. In 1000 years, will archaeologists be able to discover what we were reading?

It's all a tough question.

I admit that I can't give up "dead tree" books right now. I review books for Curled Up With a Good Book, so I get hard copies of books all the time. Plus, I want to support our local SF bookstore, White Dwarf, so I buy paperbacks from them. It's mostly Star Trek books, whose digital distribution can be spotty at times (or at least so I've heard), but I also buy some other paperbacks as well.

Thus, I'm stuck in the dead tree world even though I do also enjoy reading books on my Kindle. I alternate between them sometimes, depending on what's on my to-read list. I don't think I'll ever go fully one way or the other, unless I stop doing reviews.

Ultimately, our choice may be made for us. The Economist says:
In the first five months of this year sales of consumer e-books in America overtook those from adult hardback books. Just a year earlier hardbacks had been worth more than three times as much as e-books, according to the Association of American Publishers. Amazon now sells more copies of e-books than paper books. The drift to digits will speed up as bookshops close. Borders, once a retail behemoth, is liquidating all of its American stores.
I remember just a few years ago, people were talking about the e-book phenomenon as a "fad", stating how minuscule e-book sales were versus print sales.

Now this.

Is going down this road inevitable? Will "real" books be treated as a rare gift in just a few years, like Spock's gift to Kirk in Star Trek II of the book Great Expectations? Somebody searching out a hardbound copy of something because it's a collectible.

I hope not.

I hope that each type of reader gets to have their choice for years to come.

Because right now, I don't want to make that decision.

I want the best of both worlds. And to not have that decision made for me.

Of course, if it happens, we'll adapt. We always do.

Even as we miss the old days.


  1. I spent 600$ last year at Ikea on Billy bookcases to I could finally make my "bookcase wall." I'm NEVER selling my books!

  2. You got in before the redesign. Good for you!

    We've got a bookcase wall too. I do like seeing it, even though it does inhibit us from getting things through our door sometimes.

  3. You probably already know this - I'm firmly in the dead tree book category, and I will remain there. I have no desire to sit and read a book on an electronic device. I am chained to a laptop a vast majority of the day. When I finally get time away from computer screens, the last thing in the world that I want to do it pick another LCD screened device up to read a book or magazine! It promotes even more eye fatigue, for one thing, and it drains the whole experience for me. I continue to feel that I'm in work mode and that defeats the purpose for me.

    A real book in my hands is the goal and the intention for me when I read. I won't stray from that preference. If corporeal books become so expensive that they match a mortgage payment, I will still find a way to read in that format. Most certainly, I'll have my own personal library to draw from, because I, too, have a house full of the books I have read and kept. Which reminds me - I've been needing to get more bookcases for ages now. Not the IKEA brand, but something similar and at least 4 of them. For now. And eventually I'll have to move to a bigger place that has more wall space for the bookcases to fit. I don't mind that part at all. :)

    *This would be a mid-level Dawnie rant.*

  4. Even mid-level Dawnie rants are a-ok in my book. :)

    Oooo a pun!

    Anyway, it doesn't surprise me a bit that you're like that, Dawn. I definitely have one foot in your world, that's for sure.

    There's the other part of me that would probably embrace the e-book, though, if I wasn't already so established in the dead tree world, though. The convenience factor is definitely one of them.

    Never change, Dawnie. Don't know what I would do. :)


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