paper vs pixelsI bought a cookbook this week—in paper—and the Beloved’s first words reaction was a smirk, followed by ‘I’m telling on you!’ This misguided response—the notion that paper vs pixels is an either/or scenario—is a surprisingly common one, and I have encountered it again and again. It always surprises me. Who says it has to be one or the other? Might some books be better in e-form, while others, like the big, glossy cookbook, be better in paper, and a book fan like me can buy them both?

The latest piece by Mike Shatzkin both shares my question and attempts to answer it—affirmatively. Shatzkin points out that narrative reading (fiction and non-fiction) HAS taken hold in e-form and HAS transformed that market. But he also asserts (as I often do in response to remarks like that of the Beloved) that other forms of book have yet to prove themselves in the ebook arena. From the article:

What this means is that the digital future for narrative reading — fiction and non-fiction — is much clearer than it is for any other kind of book. Publishers of novels can apparently count on their sales shifting from print to digital and from in-store to online without losing a lot of readers. And with not much in the way of conversion costs, publishers of these books can proceed with their development with some confidence that the changes in publishing’s landscape and ecosystem won’t throw the calculations they are making for future profits on today’s acquisitions into a cocked hat. But publishers of everything else have no basis for similar confidence.

So what does this mean for the future book market? I think that depends on how you define ‘market.’ Personally, I would like to see authors begin to define themselves less as an amorphous group in this fashion. Each author should treat their book like its own entity, and market it in the most appropriate way. For a glossy cookbook author, that way might be paper. For a fiction novelist, it might be ebook.

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. The problem with this is there are in fact many jobs being lost due to the changes. Bookstores close, publishers consolidate and fire people, the changes brought about by progress can be harsh. Yes paper and digital can live together for awhile but the disruptions caused by digital redistribute wealth away from one sector to another. I lit a candle yesterday and thought to myself how far fewer candles are now used due to the lightbulb. I don’t like the war underway either but it does feel like a war to me. Old media will not review e-originals because apparently to be a book it must be paper. Book Expo looks like it did in 1986 with very few West Coast innovators in attendance and actively scorned. Much of this I feel is because it once was ABA and the loss of bookstores is sad, but also inevitable. We need to constructively move past denial in both our personal and business lives to be healthy again.

  2. @publerati, that is one of the best summations of all this i have ever read. very well said. write more on this. does publerati have a blog and website? i agree, should not be a war, but at times, feel like it. the candle analogy is good. and yet we still use candles for birthday and emergencies power outages, so print shall survive. but yes, the financial distrupt is traumatic for some in the industry, re jobs.

  3. In the academic situation paper book publication is very little disturbed by simultaneous enthusiasm for digital humanist and new media studies. It is useful to recognize that in environments such as a university English department the newly opening zones of media production, delivery and receptions are always approached by COMPARATIVE research.

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