There has been a lot of discussion lately about the e-book “revolution,” and how many publishers are moving to digital-only formats for many new titles. Some people might have you believe that traditional print materials are out of date, and no longer necessary. While the ability to access books digitally theoretically has quite a bit of promise for the increased ease of access to books and other knowledge, there are, however, many ways in which print is still superior to digital media, and why the library continues to purchase and maintain print resources. Here are a few:
- Compatibility: For many e-books, one needs software that works only with a specific provider. You may need to purchase a special device (such as a Kindle or a Nook) to be able to read a book under each platform. Often these are not sharable between each other, due to Digital Rights Management software or DRM. Sure, this can be removed, however under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), to do so is illegal. These problems are not an issue with a traditional print book. It can be read anywhere there is a light source, and requires no special software or other purchases.
- Accessibility: The vast majority of the written word has never been digitized. Print is still the only place where one can find a good deal of work. This is especially true for academic books and articles.
- Robustness: If you drop a print book, it does not break. If you spill water on it, it just needs to be dried out. If there is a power failure (or you find yourself with no batteries), you can still read it in the sun or by candlelight.
- Expense: Often digital materials are more expensive than print. Even if the price is less for the digital copy, it still requires that one purchase an expensive device to be able to read it, and if one wants to read all material that is available digitally, you may need more than one of these.
- Ownership: If you purchase a traditional book, it is yours to do what you please with it. You can choose to reread it, share it with someone else, or resell it at a used book store. Most digital books are generally not “purchased;” they are rented. Even if you do purchase a “license” to endless use, typically you cannot transfer a book to another device, share it with someone else (without loaning your entire device), much less resell it.
There is much to be said about the advantages of being able to access items digitally, however it cannot, at least at this time, completely replace print.