The Ebook Dilemma

Nope, I’m not referring to the fear that the ebook will kill all the bookstores, and then the publishers, and finally the authors. I’m talking about a much more urgent, pressing problem: the dilemma we book collectors turned e-reader owners face whenever we want to buy a book we know we’ll love. Do we buy the Kindle version (in my case: proud Kindle owner here), a hard copy, or both? My old friend Chris raised this question on his blog earlier today, and after his evil blog deleted my long, thoughtful comment, I decided to discuss my feelings here.

In deciding how to buy a book, I consider several things:

How much do I love the book? This is the most important consideration. The book that sparked the dilemma for me is Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear. I own a paperback copy of the first book in this (so far) wonderful trilogy, and I had a really difficult time deciding whether to buy a Kindle version or a hardback copy. The Kindle version would mean instant gratification (no waiting to get the hardcover book in the mail), but the hard copy would mean a beautiful (and huge) physical book sitting in my personal library. I could also get the book signed.

On the other hand, it might be nice to own the portable Kindle copy and a lovely, signed, physical copy. I’m not a huge fan of reading 1000 page hardcover books that weigh half as much as I do.

Books I REALLY love, like A. S. Byatt’s Possession, and probably The Wise Man’s Fear, I would be perfectly happy to own in both formats. I own a Jane Austen anthology, but I’ve also collected all six novels on my Kindle. Of course, those books were free, which brings me to…

How much do the various formats cost? This one is quite prosaic. If I’ve never read it, and one version is $10 and the other is $5, well, I’m buying the $5 version.

Is it the first book in a series I’ve never read? If the series is unfamiliar, I start with the Kindle. This is to prevent me from owning a gazillion books that I’m so-so about. And to be totally honest, I hate owning a series of books in different formats. I enjoy, say, Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, but I don’t LOVE them. These would be Kindle candidates, if I didn’t already own hard copies of the first 11 books. For the rest of the series, I’ll be purchasing hard copies, even though it’s not my favorite series. This is a personal OCD thing, which I don’t expect you all to understand.

Exceptions: Say I just read the first book in a series I love, in physical format. For instance, I just finished J. V. Jones’s A Cavern of Black Ice. I loved the book, couldn’t wait to read the next, so I promptly bought the second book on my Kindle because I live out in the middle of nowhere, an hour away from the nearest decent bookstore.

Classics are another exception. Books that have sentimental value (like the copy of Jane Eyre my dad bought me as a kid), I’ll keep, but I’ll also obtain Kindle versions, just because Kindle versions are freakin’ easy to read. Classics which have little sentimental value (like Kate Chopin’s The Awakening) I may actually replace with free Kindle versions, just to save shelf space.

But, the most important exception: I love books. I love turning pages, I love holding books, I love having them clutter up my home, I even love the smell. I love my beat-up copy of Gone with the Wind that sheds its ink on my fingers every time I read it. I collect old copies of Wordsworth’s poetry. As a writer, I dream of holding a physical copy of my book in my hands, seeing it in Barnes and Noble, maybe even signing someone’s hard copy.

So, to sum up, I have no idea how to answer this question. I’ll buy some books twice, replace others with Kindle versions, and muddle along hoping that I continue to have both options. How will you all buy your books in the future?

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One thought on “The Ebook Dilemma

  1. I’m facing the same issue, having just received a Kindle as a gift. Right now, I’m loading up on the classics that I’ve been wanting read, but haven’t saved up enough money to buy a sufficiently beautiful copy of (my own special brand or Reader’s OCD – I like my classics to look like classics, so I save up to by the leather-bound looking editions).

    With regards to more modern books, the kind that I usually wait til they come out as a paperback to buy, it really does depend on how many times I’ll re-read them. I figure, if I like a book enough that I’ll want to take it on vacations and to various and sundry places, I’ll buy a hard copy and a Kindle version.

    When it comes to textbooks, however, forget the hard copy! I’ll go Kindle all the way – if I can.

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