Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What is a "Real" Book?

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

It was a fine day, just like any other day, right up until I read this blog post from Nathan Bransford on the results of his (admittedly unscientific) poll on buying ebooks.

Bransford found that, for the first time, the percentage of people who said you'd have to pry paper books out of their "cold, dead hands" stayed the same. The percentage of people who professed to embrace ebooks also stayed the same.

Okay, so a pretty non-controversial post, right?

Then I made the mistake of reading the comments. And boy oh boy did I feel my blood pressure start to go up.

Again, you had the usual distribution of people who like ebooks and people who don't. Then I got to the comment of a gentleman who referred to RFBs - or real f*-in books. And that's where I lost it.

Okay, I get it - not everybody likes ebooks. And that's cool because hey, everybody's different and who am I to criticize someone's reading preference? It would be like criticizing genre preference. I understand. I'm a converted digital reading person myself because I never thought I'd like reading on a screen until I tried it.

But seriously, some snobs need to get off of their high horses.

Yes, you heard me right - I said "snobs." Because when you get down to it, that's what they are.

So a book isn't "real" unless it's printed on paper, huh? So, my recent ebook release of Power Play isn't a real book because it's digital only?

What about audio books? Are they real?

The three novellas and the novel I wrote aren't "real books" because they currently only exist in digital format on my computer?

The novel that my friend Amy wrote as part of NaNoWriMo, her first, isn't a "real book" because it doesn't exist on paper yet?

I call shenanigans.

News flash: the dead tree matter, leather and glue you hold in your hand is indeed a physical object, a noun, called a "book." But that's not the important part. The important part, the thing that reaches out, grabs you by the throat, and keeps you up at night long past your bedtime isn't the form factor. It's the story conveyed by the words on the page.

In other words, it's something as virtual as anything digital. It can't been seen, smelled, tasted, or touched. Not by your eyes, nose, tongue or skin. All those things are experienced in the depths of your mind.

And when you think of all of the people for whom digital books have made reading a joy again - because their eyesight has deteriorated to the point where they can't see the print, even with glasses, or their arthritis is so bad they can't even hold a trade paperback - are you going to tell those people that they haven't been reading "real" books?

It's time for this to stop. Books are books, whether physical or virtual.

To say they aren't is insulting to readers - and authors - everywhere.

All images used under Creative Commons. Photo of e-readers courtesy of  PiAir. Photo of stacked books courtesy of LollyKnit.


  1. You know, it's still a book even if it's a manual. I've written tons of them. It's a book. Some paper, some not. Really bad books? Yeah, they're still books.