Why we still need print books and mass market paperbacks

First of all, writer Richard Parks takes on the eternal issue of e-book pricing. Basically, he believes that “professional” e-books will remain expensive, because publishers have expenses.

Fantasy writer Seanan McGuire addresses an issue that is all too often forgotten in the debate about print versus e-books and the “death of the print book”, namely that e-books and e-readers are inaccessible for most poor people yet print books, whether second hand or via the library, are not.

The MIT’s Technology Review, surely not a tech-skeptical venue, makes a similar point.

This is also part of the reason why the sheer glee with which some e-publishing advocate seem to greet the impending death of print or the impending death of the mass market paperback disturbs me. Because not only do I like print books, we also need print books for poor people in western countries who cannot afford e-readers and for people in developing countries where e-readers might be unaffordable (never mind unavailable) for a large part of the population.

This is also why we need to keep the mass market paperback format. Because mass market paperbacks are the cheapest format and therefore the format most likely to be read by poor people, including kids and teenagers who are strapped for cash.

I don’t come from a poor family – my parents are middle class and comfortably well off. Yet my reading, particularly once I switched to English books, was entirely mass market paperbacks to the point that I did not know there actually were fiction hardcovers in the US. And every single one of those mass market paperbacks was a significant investment for me due to import and exchange rate costs. I could never have afforded hardcovers at the time.

Finally – and this is something else that is easily forgotten – mass market paperbacks are often the only not to mention the cheapest format in which English language books are available outside the USA and UK, because mass market paperbacks are the lightest and cheapest to transport where physical books still have to be shipped. Of course, e-books will eliminate the need to physically ship a book to a distant location (or not, as the Amazon surcharge illustrates). But e-readers are still unaffordable or even complete unavailable in many countries around the world.

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5 Responses to Why we still need print books and mass market paperbacks

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  2. It’s not just poor people, really – eReaders still sort of feel like a luxury item, and with the kindle at 114 dollars, it’s still a bit cheap for the average college student, burgeoning families and couples. I have an e-reader myself, but it hasn’t replaced print books for me, and I’m pretty sure it never will.

    Although, I am glad they are bringing reading to a wider audience.

    • Cora says:

      I don’t have an e-reader myself at the moment, because the price tag is a bit steep for me compared to the price of books. Instead, I use Kindle for PC and Adobe Digital Editions, if I want to read an e-book or check the formatting of my own. I may eventually get one, but for now there are other things I’d rather buy.

      Never mind that e-readers are almost unknown in my country, even though they are available. I think I have seen two or three in the wild.

  3. camille says:

    I would respectfully disagree that paper books are for poor people. I’m sorry, but those places where ereaders are completely unavailable? Books are incredibly expensive luxury items there.

    Books are NOT cheap. Never have been. What they are is durable, which means they can easily have multiple users. (It’s unfortunate that the publishing industry doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the only way they’ve been able to survive with such high prices is because a book can be shared out among many. They are cutting their own throats when they use DRM and price the books high as well.)

    When it comes to providing reading material to the poor, those efforts to provide phones are more cost effective. They don’t provide one book, they provide a universe of books, and a whole lot more.

    Which isn’t to say I’m cheering the demise of paper books. I love paper books. And yes, as long as there are paper books to discard, there will be books for the poor. But that’s an afterthought. It’s like saying that rich people should buy lots of clothes so there will be hand-me-downs for the poor. That’s only a short term solution.

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