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Why does it have to be a competition?

Iain Broome
Iain Broome
2 min read

Michael Grothaus, writing on The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) looks at how Apple can improve the e-reading experience on the iPad.
His main objection seems to be that, currently, reading on a screen isn’t book-like enough. My heart sank at the first sentence:

It’s no secret that I love traditional paper books, and I think e-books have a long way to go before they can even begin to compete with physical books.

Why does it have to be a competition? Why can we not have a world where sometimes we read paper-based books and sometimes we read on a screen? The experience is different, sure. But that’s a good thing. Choice is good. An e-book is not a printed book. That’s the point.

Grothaus goes on:

Right now, iBooks lets you read a book’s text against a glaring white backdrop or an unnatural sepia backdrop. You will find neither of these backdrops in a printed book.

That’s because an e-book is not a printed book.

The visual appeal of the fibers in a paper page became apparent when I imported a book I had scanned into my iBooks library.

You did what?

A year ago, I scanned all 60 pages of it into my computer and saved it as a PDF in fear of the original copy becoming lost or even more damaged.

Hmm, okay. Fine.

This French cookbook was the first scanned book I had ever read in iBooks, and I noticed immediately how much more enjoyable it was because the pages looked real.

That’s what matters? That it looks real?

Now granted, adding textured backgrounds to e-books probably would be pointless until Apple adds a Retina Display to the iPad, as lifelike backgrounds where you could see the digital “pulp” wouldn’t be achievable until our eyes can’t distinguish individual pixels on the screen. But once Apple does add a Retina Display, there’s no reason not to have e-books look more like paper books.

But they are not paper books. We already have paper books.

An accurate visual representation of the number of pages read and the number of pages left to be read on the left and right side, respectively, of the e-book would again be one of those nice little features that bring physical books and e-books closer to parity.

What’s wrong with, you know, page numbers? I’ve heard they work quite well. And again, honestly, e-books are not physical books.

When I tap on a book, I should have the option of seeing its cover full screen, as if the book were closed. I should also be able to “flip” the book over and read its back cover. And no, of course you can’t judge a book by its cover, but its still nice to be able to see the the covers as you would if you were holding an actual book.

Oh, I give up.

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I'm the author of the novel, A is for Angelica. Every week, I send Draft Mode, a newsletter full of tips and tools that help you improve your craft and promote your writing.