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“Ebooks Are Actually Not Books.” Web log post. Digital Book World. N.p., 18 Mar. 2013. Web. 19 Mar. 2013.

Ebooks are actually not books
By Beth Bacon

Books are objects

Books are objects.  They are limited by their physicality. Only one person can sit comfortably and read a book. So when a classroom or a school or a whole district wants their students to read a book, school district purchasing departments have no choice but to purchase one of them for each student. Granted, teachers can use the same books year after year until they wear out (and many districts frugally use them well beyond their intended lifecycle) but what districts are paying for when they buy a book is both the content and the “thing” that is a book.

Ebooks are software

Ebooks have practically no physical limitations. Once the “master” is finalized, all that is needed is to replicate it onto hundreds, thousands, even millions or billions of devices. This master doesn’t need to be located at the school, or outside the publisher’s own walls, or even in the same continent as the school that’s downloading it.

The replication of this master is not limited by time (an ebook can be downloaded today, tomorrow, or next year). Nor is it limited by space (an ebook that’s sitting on a server in Sidney, Australia can just as easily be downloaded in a classroom in Bombay, India as in Omaha, Nebraska.)

Ebooks can be accessed by thousand devices simultaneously without ever being “permanently” transferred to an individual device, as is the case when titles are distributed via the cloud or a website.

So an ebook differs from a book in that it is content only, not content-plus-object, as in the case of a paper book.

Even ebook content is not the same as book content

But let’s think f or a moment a bit more about content. Even when we look at content, an ebook can be very different from a paper book. Even though the only property an ebook shares with a regular book is the content—that element is changing. The ebook versions of many textbooks are being enhanced with audio, interactivity, and multimedia.

Once all of their attributes are listed this way, it’s pretty clear that ebooks are software, not books. So why, then, are publishers still trying to sell ebooks the same way they sell paper books?

Ebooks should be sold the way software is sold

It’s the conundrum that schools are f acing today. Ebooks are not books at all—they are software and they should be sold the way software is sold.

Why do some publishers and distributors require schools to pay f or a separate version of every ebook they want every child to see? Why can’t ebooks be distributed in bundles, with user agreements and tiered pricing levels that change based on the number of “seats” served?

Why aren’t more ebooks being served up in cloud-based computers, with password-protected access based on subscription payment models? Why are ebooks still being sold individually, as if their “thingness” was their primary attribute, when they are not, in f act “things” at all?

To be f air, some publishers are looking at ebooks this way. Certainly publishers that have incorporated in recent years are doing so.

Ebooks don’t have any of the physical attributes of paper books—and they shouldn’t have paper books’ pricing and distribution models, either.

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  1. 14 Comment(s)

  2.   By Summer on Feb 17, 2016 | Reply

    I agree that ebooks are not books. I liked the point about books being physical.

  3.   By Ali McCarron on Feb 17, 2016 | Reply

    I agree that ebooks are not physical thing and they should not be priced as a physical thing but i disagreee with the school district purchasing ebooks because many students do not like ebooks because holding a book in your hands and not staring at a brain cell melting screen is a refreshing expirience. If we want to look at a screen we will watch tv.

  4.   By Librarian on Feb 25, 2016 | Reply

    “A brain cell melting screen” definitely detracts from the entire eBook experience. I read on a Kindle Paperwhite without fear of destroying any of my brain. What it allows me to do is take my current reading and old favorites on-the-road in one small, powerful, secure package instead of lugging around a stack of heavy, easily damaged books. I even read on this at home when I can’t use a lamp; the light from the paperwhite is gentle and adjustable, and it doesn’t disturb a person’s sleep like a computer monitor can. I can also pick a book from the Kindle store (many are free) and download it in a flash anywhere I have a 3G signal. With all that said, I still prefer a paper book when it is readily available and convenient.

  5.   By Dexter Lowe on Feb 18, 2016 | Reply

    I think that eBooks should be sold in bulk but personally i don’t think the school should purchaseeBooks because i prefer to hold something in my hands.

  6.   By Iris Aviq Downey on Feb 22, 2017 | Reply

    but they do not have the limatations of an acctual book you can carry 7+
    books in your pocket with an ebook but with a real book you can only carry around 3-4

  7.   By Librarian on Feb 23, 2017 | Reply

    This is a huge benefit of ebooks. Your phone or iPod Touch can hold several titles, and an e-reade such as a Kindle or Nook holds hundreds. Any time you travel, you can take an entire library with you. Did you know you can also send documents to an e-reader? Send an article, and read it later. Very handy.

  8.   By Kelli on Feb 22, 2017 | Reply

    EBooks are more accessible, you won’t have as much fear of losing a copy if it’s on a device that you take care of. I agree that it’s not an object to buy like a paper-back book, but isn’t it better that things are becoming more advanced and easier to experience books.

  9.   By Librarian on Feb 23, 2017 | Reply

    Kelli, you made a good point. You can actually lose your device or a moose could eat it, and all your “books” would still be available to download again on your next device.

  10.   By Karmyn on Feb 22, 2017 | Reply

    i disagree. ebooks are books on a device. you can fit many books on your phone alone. it makes it much easier to read on the go. also when it is darkout you can still read off the phone.

  11.   By Librarian on Feb 23, 2017 | Reply

    I understand what you are saying. I think the author was focusing on how ebooks are not limited in the way that a paper book is. One ebook can be in the hands of millions of people simultaneously, while a paper book is in one person’s possession. It sure is nice to have so many “books” at the tips of your fingers on a smart phone, e-reader, iPod Touch, etc.

  12.   By Alese on Feb 22, 2017 | Reply

    I agree that eBooks should not be considered as real books. Many people would prefer to read a book they can hold in their hands rather than stare at a screen.

  13.   By Librarian on Feb 23, 2017 | Reply

    After being on computers for school or work, reading on a real, paper book is a nice break.

  14.   By Chad Morris on Feb 22, 2017 | Reply

    I like reading a physical book, not an eBook. Looking at the light of a screen for long periods of time strains my eyes. I would rather read a physical copy of a book.

  15.   By Librarian on Feb 23, 2017 | Reply

    Chad, I prefer a paper book, too, even though I have a Kindle Paperwhite which I take with me on trips (over a hundred books in one little package). The light of a Paperwhite is easy on the eyes, and I can adjust the print size and the brightness of the screen. If I don’t know the definitin of a word, I can hold my finger on the word, and a definition pops up. But, I still like to read from a real, physical book.

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