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Michael A. Stackpole Headshot

Will Ebooks Kill The Joy of Reading?

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The most often heard complaint about ebooks runs like this: "There is no way I will ever cuddle up in bed with some machine to read. I like my books." The body language and tone accompanying the comment is that generally reserved for someone in mourning. As far as these folks are concerned, the rise of the ebook is the death of pleasurable reading.

I completely understand the sentiment. There is no denying the aesthetics of a well-made, well-loved book. The smell, the feel, the weight, the way they look on our shelves (and eventually bow them), the crisp whisper of a turned page―all of these things are part of the pleasures of a book. And curling up with one in bed on a cold winter night, or soaking up sun while reading on a beach, are some of the finer pleasures we can know.

It's a fact of life, however, that not every story is that enjoyable. Not every story is a keeper. Few and far between are the books you'll cherish, returning to them time and again, to revisit old friends, relive old happiness, and recapture the magic of that first read. Some stories are just bad―really bad. Not even worth the cheap pulp paper they're written on.

Stories so bad that even a warm bed, candlelight and soft music couldn't make them better.

And this is the thing about the ebook lament. It's only really valid if the person delivering it never reads anything but great books while curled up in bed, or on a beach, or in the bath. I'll allow as how there may be a few folks for whom this is true. For the rest of us, there's the reality of reading on planes, in line at the post office, on the subway, in a cubicle over a bag lunch or at a coffee shop just trying to relax or escape. We're the same folks who usually have at least one battered paperback within arm's reach at all time, and we've read things that can easily be sorted as the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

How and where we read has been changing, and changing quickly. It has been aptly noted that web-browsers are less Internet navigation tools than they are ebooks with highly diverse content. The vast majority of people already read a great deal of content on a machine―just as you are doing now. And yet because this content is not defined as a "book," people classify the act of consuming it as something other than reading. So we have this curious paradox where many folks who think they could never read off a machine, already do so on a daily basis.

I've read books on a variety of devices, beginning with an Apple Newton, and moving on up through Palm PDAs, notebook computers, Sony E-readers and my iPod Touch. I realized, very early on, the great joy of these devices was that most of them allowed me to carry a whole library in my pocket; and with wireless connections, I can purchase books instantly. No more being stuck in an airport wanting another book in a series the bookshops just aren't carrying. Because of this insight I worked with a software developer and was the first author to have his work for sale through the Apple Appstore.

And I've already preordered my iPad. (Need it for work. Really.)

The advent of ebooks is no more going to kill the pleasure of reading, than the introduction of the internal combustion engine made horses extinct. What that did do was to change transportation forever. Ebooks will and are changing publishing in ways that terrify publishers and will turn out to be better for authors and readers than ever could have been imagined. And we won't have to murder trees to print up the really bad books―we'll just download, read as much as we can, and hit DELETE.

And here's the silver lining for Luddites: The very same technological advances that make digital and print-on-demand books possible, will make those wonderful and very special editions of cherished book exceedingly economical to print―even in limited runs. Because of digital technology, you'll have even more of those very special books with which you like to curl up. You'll have them to stack up on your shelves as souvenirs of a delightful reading experience, and you'll have your ebooks to read while you hunt for even more stories to treasure.