Guest Post: The Future of a Book Collection

by Kim on July 16, 2010 · 21 comments

Post image for Guest Post: The Future of a Book Collection

This is a guest post from Amanda Ochsner, a good English nerd friend from college, future roommate, and avid gamer and journalist. This fall, Amanda will be starting a graduate program here in Madison where she’ll be studying video games and learning. In this post, Amanda is talking about a recent conundrum she came across related to her book future. Enjoy!

Last Saturday morning I groggily stumbled into a bit of a mini-crisis concerning books. I had decided to buy two books — Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell and Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do by Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson.

I discovered that in a coincidence of bargain pricing, these two books purchased in their hardcover or Kindle editions would come out to be almost exactly the same price. This gave me pause. Soon my mind had blown this seemingly simple Saturday morning book decision into a philosophical self-discussion about my future with books.

This rare case of similar pricing — usually the electronic editions of books are cheaper — led me to consider, if all other things are equal, in what format do I prefer to own books?

It turned out that answering this question was not easy. What I needed was my friend, future roommate, and creator of this amazing blog, Kim, but she was up at her family’s cabin having a “totally unplugged weekend.”

I decided to make a list. In it I outlined the advantages of choosing the electronic versions versus the argument for hardcovers. Among the benefits of choosing electronic version were being able to do a word search of the text, having instant access to definitions, being able to access the text from my computer or phone, and of course never having to carry around those heavy hardcovers or pack them in moving boxes. August will bring my seventh year in a row of moving, and as someone who owns a ridiculous number of books, this is a task I look upon with a bit more displeasure each year.

Next was the argument for hardcovers. I’ll admit that one of the biggest reasons to lean in this direction was that I already own quite a few books on video games and they look quite pretty together on my bookshelves. The thought of adding a few more was not unwelcome. Also, I still find that it is more time effective for me to flip through hard copies of books to find sections that I have highlighted as opposed to searching my digital highlights. I still struggle with getting a spatial grasp of digital texts and I miss having page numbers sometimes.

However, the most compelling argument for getting the hardcovers was a lingering sense of uncertainty about the future of my book collection. I know that in ten years I will have kept at least portions of my hard copy book collection, and since these particular books are related to my professional life, I have no doubt that these titles will be among those that I will have kept. I am also quite certain that in ten years I will have a substantial digital book collection. But what I don’t know is how that collection will be organized and if I will be able to have my digital library in one place or on one device. The e-book space is new, and while I am currently a Kindle owner, I cannot profess a lasting loyalty to Amazon so early in the life of e-books.

I ultimately purchased the hardcovers. This decision did not come easy to me and even after I decided how to buy these two books that were seemingly symbolic of a much greater issue, I do not feel that I have come close to solving said issue for myself. I held one of those hardcovers in hand last night with a yellow highlighter and found that I was still questioning my choice.

While the hard copy vs. digital book issue is one that may lead to these little mini-crises, I find that I am actually quite excited to see where all of these new reading technologies are headed. I love my Kindle. I love being able to read news feeds and online articles on my phone even more. And I am quite certain that there are technologies coming out in the future that I’m going to positively adore. So bring it on, technology. The hard copies may have won this time, but I’m sure you’ve got something coming that will make me change my mind.

Thanks to Amanda for an awesome guest post! What do you think is the future of your book collection?

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan via Flickr

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeanne July 16, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I’m more of a luddite, generally; I can’t imagine not owning paper copies of books. I think of electronic books as something more like a magazine or newspaper–good, especially when you’re traveling, but not something to keep forever. Part of this has to do with margins, which I think need some notes before a book really feels like mine.

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Kim July 19, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Jeanne: I agree with at comparison — I really love my books, and just don’t think of ebooks the same way. They feel more disposable, for some reason.

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Trisha July 16, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I’m a physical book person myself. I had never thought about switching from one eReader to another and the question of whether the books will transfer or not; but what a great reason to buy print books. :)

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Kim July 19, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Trisha: I hadn’t really thought a lot about the file formats thing either. I just assumed there’d always be a way to read the books I purchased for the nook, but it’s a consideration.

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Jenny July 16, 2010 at 6:42 pm

I was thinking about this the other day. I wish the booksellers would manage it the way CDs and DVDs sometimes do, to where you would buy the physical book and get a little download code with it to get the eBook too. I suppose that would be too complicated?

I think there are probably some books I’d prefer to have as e-books, particularly nonfiction. I find I am rarely so attached to the physical copies of my nonfiction books as I am to the fiction ones, for some reason. To save on shelf space, I think I’d probably lean towards e-books for nonfiction; and actually, I think I would buy more nonfiction if I had an e-reader and could get nonfiction e-books.

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Kim July 19, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Jenny: That’s my biggest wish for ebooks too. Buy the paperback or hardcover and pay a little more for the ebook version of it. That way it’s available in multiple formats if you want it that way.

I think I’m just the opposite — I’m more inclined to read nonfiction as physical books and fiction as ebooks :)

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Gwen July 16, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Hi Amanda, really great guest post!You brought up two of my major reasons for sticking predominately with tree books.

One, that I remember things visually. When trying to find a quote later on, I can almost always remember about where it was in a book. That doesn’t happen with e-books. Sure, if I can remember enough of the phrase, I could find it in a reader, but I seldom remember things like that.

Two, permanence. I am a bit older than you and Kim are and I have seen technology come & go and crash & burn so many times. I was a bit young, but can vaguely remember BetaMax for example. I am one of those freaks that still buys most of my music on CD because I want a permanent record of it. None of this itunes, my hard drive crashed mumbo jumbo. I want, no I crave, things that I know are and will always be there. It isn’t just a question of the actual e-reader going out of fashion, it is of the format of the individual books going kapoof over time.

Therefore, when buying for work, reference or if I know that it is a “forever” book, I buy hardcover. If it is a quick read that I will probably never even remember 6 months from now, I go for the e-reader.

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Amanda July 19, 2010 at 12:31 pm

You’re absolutely right about file types, Gwen. I’ve been thinking about that recently. We have these huge databases of information and data and assume that they’re preserved, but with new file types and devices all the time, knowing that you’ll be able to retrieve files in the future is an important issue.

And as someone who has lost music to a hard drive crash, I completely understand your desire for CDs. I wish it was easier to re-download digital music purchases, but not all retailers and services will let you do that at this point.

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Ash July 17, 2010 at 8:40 am

I think this is something a lot of us are struggling with right now. Personally it depends on the book for me. I prefer to read YA or romance etc. on my e reader, and just about everything else I prefer to have hard copies of. I will pay more for a book to have a physical copy, although usually it’s about the same.

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Kim July 19, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Ash: I think it depends for me too. The more I think about it, I think I want book as real copies when it’s something I think I’ll want to recommend to people. If I’m less sure about it, then an ebook seems like a good option for me. But we’ll see, I haven’t bought many ebooks yet.

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charley July 17, 2010 at 8:45 pm

For the time being, my book collection will continue to be in hard copy. I work at a small, independent bookstore, and I like to support my place of employment. Otherwise, the majority of my books come from the libary’s sale closet, their annual sale, or from church rummage sales around town. I understand the appeal of the e-reader, and if my lifestyle involved more travel or commuting, perhaps I would consider owning one. For now, though, I prefer to give my business to local shops and institutions where I can see – to some extent – where my money is going. I also just love the conversations that can arise when I am at the coffee shop or walking down the street with a book in my hand.

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Amanda July 19, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Great point, Charley. I definitely support your decision to stick with local bookstores. This is something that I didn’t address in my post, but you’re right — at this point, owning an e-reader typically means you’re supporting the massive retailers and companies.

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Andi July 19, 2010 at 1:14 pm

That is a fantastic guest post! I would’ve probably sided with the hardcovers. I tend to live by a couple of printed-book rules:

I keep them if I’ll re-read them.
I keep them if I’ll use them for work/school.

Obviously, being an English professor, this means I have a ton of friggin’ books because I will re-read or teach from a large selection of books.

Very interesting to think about.

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Kim July 19, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Andi: Those a good rules for books. I think I’ve been informally following something like that as I work on culling down my book collection. I want the ones I keep to mean something important to me.

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tolmsted (BookSexy) July 20, 2010 at 10:38 am

Several years ago a friend gave me a Christie’s Auction House catalog of one man’s library that was being sold for a few million dollars. I flipped through it and was pretty amazed. You’d think he’d have first editions of books by Dickens, or Steinbeck or Faulkner…maybe Moby Dick? But all the books were actually pretty mundane – carefully selected books that had been published during his lifetime that he’d just taken care of. Which I thought was awesome.

I’ve developed my criteria of choosing traditional vs. digital books based on that experience. If it’s a book I want to make an investment in – then I buy the paper version. If it’s something I’m planning to read purely for enjoyment – e-reader. I’ve found that the only impact that’s been made on my book buying habits is that when I do purchase books, more often than before I will purchase a hardcover.

I guess I’m getting old – because I just can’t wrap my mind around the idea that digital books are permanent or something that can be “collected”.

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Kim July 22, 2010 at 9:21 pm

tolmsted: That’s a great way of looking at how to chose a book collection. I’ve been trying to purge books before I move and that’s part of the decisions — if it a book I want to invest in, or recommend, I’m more likely to keep it.

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Carrie July 22, 2010 at 8:56 pm

i see the bulk of my book collection going digital. my whole family is full of book lovers and my parents have reached the point that even with shoving bookshelves in every available space in their house (including lining the halls) they still have too many books and have to keep some boxed up in the garage. the beauty of a digital collection is you can have as many books as you want and still have easy access to all of them.

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Kim July 22, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Carrie: There are some huge benefits to a digital collection — not having to pack or move them, as I’m discovering! I think there are a lot of books I’ll end up as electronic copies, but I’m not sure I’m ready to go all digital. I still have visions of an entire wall of books in the house I’ll have someday :)

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Jennifer July 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Amazing guest post and one that is so relevant to me. I just bought my iPad and while I already love it and all the amazing things it can do for me, I still love buying books and having that amazing collection that I have. And when it comes to book, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely switch over to the electronic copies. I purchased all my school books in their hardcover format because I need desperately to have that tactile effect when studying. But still, the future of the electronic book market is a mystery and as technology advances, I just might end up liking the weightlessness of my ipad a little more than the heavy pull of a bag full of books.

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Kim July 23, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Jennifer: I have most of my school book in hardcover (or good paperback) too because I plan to keep them, and I hope have a job where I might want to reference them. I’m still debating all of these options though, too. I do love being able to just carry one book and my nook, but knowing I have a lot of options at my fingertips.

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