I finally bought a Kindle two weeks ago to take with me on vacation. Have I betrayed authors, the history of print, and my own values? Something inside me still feels that way, but I've come to some recent conclusions to ease my conscience.
1. A story is still a story even if it isn't a book.
Yes, turning pages and the smell of paper is part of the reading experience, but a good story should make you forget about those things anyway by taking you outside of yourself and placing you in the action.
2. Classics and books in the public domain are more accessible.
People who don't usually read classics because they are intimidatingly thick, dusty, and boring-looking may be more likely to try them out in electronic form, if for no other reason than they are free! I, myself, downloaded several that I've been meaning to read.
3. Less financial risk for publishers means more authors are likely to debut electronically.
E-books may make it easier for beginning authors to break into the industry. Perhaps their first book isn't great, but they grow through the experience!
4. The best books will still be printed.
There will always be a demand for physical books. For one, readers are simply too sentimental to allow their children to grow up in a house without them. For another, there is something special about physical books. Fenando Báez writes in A Universal History of the Destruction of Books, "It is unlikely that anyone has heard of a sacred computer or automobile, but we all know of sacred books" (14). The experience--the ritual, even--of reading a physical book is profound.
5. E-books have become the new paperback.
They are cheaper, so most of them will be crappy romances for reading on the beach. The demand for the will be driven by people looking to save money on their emotional thrills, not caring, necessarily, for quality. However, as the contents of the book become more valuable, the price of an electronic copy draws closer to the price of a physical copy, making the purchase of an e-book over a physical book less worthwhile, just as it is with paperbacks.
I am no longer worried that e-books threaten the existence of physical books and the publishing industry. It does disrupt the demand for paperbacks and stores selling exclusively new books have found their profits cut into. My only remaining concern is people attempting to save money by illegal downloading. Obtaining a free copy of a book without permission was much more difficult with physical books and really does harm the industry.