Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Books versus Ereaders.

The Library File does not own an ereader. Among the benefits outlined by ereader owners are the low price of ebooks and the solution to the never-ending problem of storage.


The Library File's household moves location every six months to a year and boxes of books make up quite a large volume of the removal. The idea of storing 1,400 books on a slimline tablet weighing less than 170g is the most attractive element of an ereader for me.


Based on the books I read last year I decided to do a price comparison between print books and ereaders. To purchase all the books I read last year in print versions I would have paid £272.10 (does not include transport costs to visit a bookshop as during most of last year I lived within walking distance of three bookshops).

To start using an ereader and buy ebooks would have cost £308.46. This extra cost is mainly accrued through the requirement to purchase an ereader (if I wanted an ereader I would buy a £69 Kindle), but even without the Kindle the total cost was not as cheap as I was expecting. On investigation, it turns out that many of the non-fiction titles I read are really not that much cheaper as an ebook. Furthermore, I would still have bought some print books as many of the books I read are not currently available in digital versions. The total price does not take into account electricity costs for charging the reader, but I don't think this outgoing would be particularly noticeable in today's gadget filled homes.

Environmental Concerns

Book publishing is a resource-hungry and polluting industry. By the time the latest bestseller reaches the bookshelves of your local bookshop trees have been cut down to make the paper, inks have been made and energy used to print and bind the books, fuel has been burnt to transport the books from the distributor to the shops and, if unsuccessful in the marketplace, more fuel will be burnt in returning the books to the publisher and then pulping them.

That doesn't sound very good, but are ereaders more eco-friendly than books?

Like all electronic gadgets, ereaders are constructed, in part, from non-renewable rare earth elements (REEs) which must be mined, there are also energy costs associated with use (electricity required for charging) and issues regarding e-waste management. 
Most of the articles I have read about the environmental impact of ereaders neglect to mention data storage  as an issue (although Cloud computing has many advantages, I do take issue with the nomenclature. To have data stored 'in the Cloud' makes it sound like an ethereal fairy which weighs nothing and leaves no trace). Data (including Amazon's ebooks) is ultimately stored at a server farm, some of which use as much power as a small city. A Greenpeace report released last year savaged both Amazon and Apple for using coal-fired power to feed their energy-hungry server farms.

For the time being I will continue borrowing books from the library: I don't have to spend hundreds of pounds a year feeding my reading habit, I don't have to worry about lack of storage and a library book is possibly the most environmentally friendly way to read.

Long live the library!

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