The death of print books has been predicted for at least 20 years. In my classes where we discuss writing and technology a hot debate, and hot since I was taking these classes in the late 90s, is whether digital technology will be the end of print books, as discussed for instance by Coover in this NY Times 1992 article.

The development of e-books and e-book readers have changed the debate, giving people a portable and increasing readable and usable alternative to print books. While the e-books still do not resolve two issues my students always give me when arguing that books will not die (books can be taken in the bathtub and books have a certain enjoyable smell and texture), e-books have myriad other advantages.

Yet, it is almost always seen as a battle with only one winner, which is why I enjoyed this short, highly visual “back story” article in Newsweek that asks if there has to be a winner between e-books and books.

Here are a few interesting facts that grabbed my eye:

  • Production costs are much lower for e-books: $0.50 for a $9.99 download compared to $4.05 for a $26 hardcover. This is probably surprising to no one. There is no need to print these e-books out. Publishers can just take the print-ready file, convert it to an e-book and produce it. Done.
  • Author royalties are almost 50% less for e-books: $2.12 for e-books instead of $3.90 for print. I found this surprising. I wonder why this is. This should change.
  • E-readers do not stop people from buying print books: Interesting and also not surprising. Yet this seems to be a concern in the battle.
  • Print books have lower carbon emissions: It takes 40-50 print books to equal the emissions of one e-reader. However, what are the carbon emissions for an e-book? How many books on average do people buy for their e-readers? If the carbon emissions for e-books are minimum and people tend to buy more than 50 books, then the e-readers are more carbon friendly over time. The article does note that walking to the library is the most ecofriendly way to read, which is a great point.
  • Hardcovers in good light are still the most readable (and best for the eyes): Anyone who has read alot on screen vs. books knows this. Readability and eyestrain have always been big issues with e-books and reading on screens in general. While this is improving, the fundamental difference in light being reflected (print books) and light being produced (screens) leads to print books being easier on the eyes.

I’ve just touched on a few of the differences. Check out the single page article for more!

Link & Source: “Books vs E-Books: Does one Have to win?” Newsweek, August 9, 2010:

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