ebooksI wrote earlier about how important the proper defining of terms can be when debating the complex issue of publishing today. In my earlier piece, I made a point about the distinction between a ‘publisher’ and an ‘editor,’ and how muddied the waters can get when on conflates these two very different terms.

Well, another article has been lighting up the blogs this week, and it’s about ‘students’ who prefer paper textbooks over ‘ebooks.’ Notice the scare quotes there; I am not trying to be dramatic. But I would like to point out that there are very different ways each of these terms can be interpreted, and that affects the nature of the discussion which will follow.

For example, when they say ‘student’ they are talking about a very narrow sample group—just over 500 students, overwhelmingly American, and encompassing only three majors. And even within those majors, there can be a vast difference in the nature and quality of the textbooks available. I am taking Part 1 of a Reading course this summer, and no ebook option is available. We share a message board with the people taking Part 2 of the course, and at least one of them got their course text on iBooks. And yet, we are both ‘education’ students and taking a similar program.

Now, let’s look at the eBook issue. What sort of book are we talking about here? A plain-vanilla Kindle or ePub sort of book I can read on any device I want? If so, I would strongly prefer that over almost any paper option, were it available to me (it presently, as I said before, is not). Or are we talking about something more limited? Last time I did have the eBook ‘option’ it was a PDF file that could only be read online via a web browser, expired as soon as the course was over, and was only $10 cheaper than the paper. Given those constraints, I would rather pay the extra $10 and get to keep the book. But if this has been a regular Kindle or Kobo plain old bookstore ebook, I would have been much more interested.

So to me, it’s facile to say students are ‘interested’ or ‘not interested’ when it hasn’t been made clear just what we are talking about. I am categorically not interested in customized software which can’t be read on the device of my choosing, can’t be properly searched or indexed or highlighted, and can’t be used like a regular old ebook. But if we are talking instead about digitizing paper books into the Kindle store, so that they are simply eBook versions of paper books and can comprise a part of my regular old eBook library, then I say digitize away. I have a train ride to do next weekend, and the three-hour trip would be the perfect time to catch up on my course work. If only I didn’t have to lug that giant bundle of paper with me…