I recently got a physical book in the mail. It cost me twice as much as the Kindle version and took three weeks longer to arrive (I live in Sri Lanka), but I bought it anyways. Why?
Well, some things are better in print. This particular book is called Plotto: The Master Book Of All Plots. It is a rather detailed manual for stitching together outline plots (1,462 to be exact, with more variations in character and conflict). I actually bought the book on my Kindle and found it incomprehensible. It’s not like Game Of Thrones, you can’t just read it through, you have to flip around, mark pages, get a visceral feel of where stuff is. So, I returned the Kindle edition (which took like 10 seconds) and ordered the print. It just arrived today, and it’s worth it.
Why? It’s beautiful for one thing, but I’ve never been that attached to books on a fetish level. What’s more important to me is the function. This book uses a not simple annotation, so I have to keep referring back to indexes and glossaries. On a Kindle this is exceedingly painful, but with a book it’s natural. The annotation for any one conflict scenario has multiple references going back and forward, which I can manage in book form. Since the Kindle edition isn’t hyperlinked, this is effectively impossible. Even if it was, it’s confusing and not fun.
So, that’s one aspect where print wins. Reference books (of a certain kind). I still think school textbooks should be electronic, largely for cost reasons.
Another book I ordered in print was Religion In Human Evolution, simply because it’s huge. Also, because it’s something I like referring to for writing blog posts. On my Kindle (an old version) moving around is very annoying. You can’t really flip through, or jump back, not with any natural sense of where you are. Yes you can jump to reference numbers, but they’re like 0-12,000, which I find baffling. I’m perfectly happy with the Kindle for fiction and shorter non-fiction, but for anything more dense or interactive I prefer a physical book.
So is print dead? No. When humans evolved away from apes it’s not like apes disappeared, our cousins the chimpanzees now occupy a similar niche. In the same way, books have their own niche. eBooks are getting more advanced all the time and they have huge advantages, namely time and money. The interfaces will undoubtably improve. For me, however, I’m quite happy to live in an ecosystem with both eBooks and print, ordering both as best suits the occasion.