The Usability Post
Thoughts on design and user experience by Dmitry Fadeyev

E-books are Books

Today everybody is still using a misleading term: the e-book. What’s an e-book? An e-book is an electronic book. But what does it really mean? Essentially all it means is: “a digital book”. A book that’s not made from paper, ink and glue, but from bits and bytes. This is misleading.

It’s misleading because the term ‘book’ doesn’t really refer to the type of materials used to realize written work – it refers to the format of such work. It’s all about distinguishing and categorizing a piece of writing so that readers know what to expect in terms of length and structure.

Every book these days begins life on a computer. It doesn’t make it an ‘e-book’ though. It’s just a book that hasn’t yet been published. When such books are published (read: printed) they become knows as ‘books’. When these books are published in electronic formats, e.g. as .PDF files, they seem to take on the title of ‘e-books’.

But the term ‘e-book’ carries with it a bad association. A quick way of making money online is to release these things known as ‘e-books’ that teach people how to do something specific (lose weight, make money online, and so on). These books are produced for the sole purpose of making money and as such are generally not very well written. They also tend to advertise doing something without much effort – again, for the sake of being sold. It’s a cheap and dirty genre that dominates the perception of what an ‘e-book’ is.

The thing is, books are migrating. They’re migrating from printed pages to pixels on reading devices. They’re the same books, and yet many people refer to devices like Kindle as e-book readers, and the books published on them as e-books. They shouldn’t. Books on the Kindle are books, whether they are also printed or not. Books published only in .PDF formats on the Web are also books. E-books are… books.

Why is this terminology important? It’s important because it underlines the perception people have of this separation of content – as if the printed content is somehow different to the content we consume using digital media. It’s not – it’s the same thing, and more and more of it is going to be consumed primarily through electronic devices.

I think it’s time to stop using this misleading term and just call books by their proper name. Paper and ink isn’t that which makes a book – it’s what’s written in it that does.

“For even falsehood, uttered by the tongue of man, seemed like truth and light before this hopelessly-deaf and unresponsive silence.”

My new book: a translation of selected short stories by Leonid Andreyev, the father of Russian Expressionism from the Silver Age of Russian literature. A piercing, pitiless glance into the heart of the human condition.

☛ Read online

Further Reading

Proust wrote that the true voyage of discovery is not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes, to behold a hundred universes that each of them beholds. Thus, in the words of Ruskin, what good books give us is not mere knowledge, but sight.

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