Convenience vs Experience

Vinyl lovers hate the sound of condensed MP3s. Film lovers hate the sight of poorly digitized trasnfers. Book lovers hate the feeling of an ebook reader; this electronic imposter that presents every file with its own idea of a typeface. Book lovers, like vinyl and film lovers, enjoy the analogue, the real textures that come from manufactured real things. They don’t want their experience to be in any way an avatar of an experience, reagardless of technological advantages.

The nice thing about this debate is that the two worlds can (and do) happily live side by side. Defenders of analogue technology are absolutely right: digital media doesn’t feel as nice, and some of the compromises are absolutely limiting. Conversely, defenders of digital technology are absolutely right: it’s really great to hold hundreds of books, thousands of songs, and dozens of movies on tiny things that fit in a shoulder bag.

There are many more arguments on either side, but I feel the argument comes down to experience vs convenience. Analogue media is more enjoyable, and digital media is more practical. Depending on one’s own mix of finances, time, and standards, we all fall somewhere along the line between the two.

Newsweek has a fun boxing-style comparison of 2010’s print vs digital breakdown. If these data points are still true today (and there’s no real reason to believe they aren’t) then there’s evidence of a couple of optimistic things:

Only 15% of ebook buyers stop buying print books, which means they co-exist with customers.

Quality hardcover books are still easier on the eyes (and likely will be for years), but the same isn’t true for trade paperback, which is the majority of print sales.

Authors make less money from ebooks, but everyone does, because they’re cheaper. But they’re not making so much less that, I believe, their percentage actually goes up.

My personal opinion and practice skews digital, because convenience is often more important to me than experience. It’s weird to type that out loud, but I can’t deny it. I listen to way more mp3s (which I enjoy) than my vinyl collection (which I love). I watch more movies at home, often streaming from Netflix (which I tolerate) than I do at the theatre (which I almost always enjoy). And I read triple the amount of ebooks as I did print books. I get the multitude of caveats, but they’re never enough to get me to switch back.

This is the beginning of a conversation regarding the digitization of media and how that affects our enjoyment of books.


October 21, 2011