I suspect the answer to this conundrum will be The New Media Project.

Ebooks v paper

By Julian Baggini

Which do our brains prefer? Research is forcing us to rethink how we respond to the written word

Choosing books to take on holiday has got more difficult in recent years. Now it is a question not just of what to read but how – on paper, tablet, e-reader, or perhaps even a phone – and people have strong opinions on which is best. But is there any more to the decision than cost and convenience? On this question, the answer suggested by numerous studies into the neuroscience and psychology of reading in different formats is an emphatic yes.

There is no shortage of people warning of the risks attendant on the rise of “screen culture”, as the neuroscientist Susan Greenfield calls it. Greenfield has repeatedly expressed concern that, as technology takes us into unknown territory, “the brain may be adapting in unprecedented ways”. Though she tends to stress that these changes might be good or bad, that hasn’t stopped her more negative speculations being picked up in the media and amplified in far more strident terms.

On the other side of the two cultures divide, the novelist and critic Will Self recently argued that the connectivity of the digital world was fatal for the serious novel, which requires all the reader’s attention. Looking ahead 20 years, he posed a question: “If you accept that by then the vast majority of text will be read in digital form on devices linked to the web, do you also believe that those readers will voluntarily choose to disable that connectivity? If your answer to this is no, then the death of the novel is sealed out of your own mouth…”


  1. Cool thoughts. My one argument is with Self’s assumption that reading a novel requires the reader’s full attention. That may well have been the thought process in the 19th century and up through at least the advent of the computer in the later half of the 20th century. However, who’s to determine for us today, what reading a novel “requires”? That suggests an absolute, whereas I’d argue that the readers experience is subjective, as is the entire process of experiencing all art. I have slowly been immersing myself in the digital fiction. I’m finding it adequate, and convenient. Will I ever give up in printed books? Nope. But that is more a product of my generation. I still need a printed book more than I desire an ebook and I always will. But, my Kindle app is getting pretty full. And, Will Self, I’d argue that the embedded glossary, thesaurus, and Wiki linked encyclopedic feature of my free Kindle for Android app actually ENRICHES my reading experience BECAUSE it takes my attentiom, albeit momentarily, off of the novel I’m reading.

    It boils down to price for me in the end, if I have to choose between print or ebook. Trade paperbacks have gone in a few years from $9.99 to $14.99 and now they’re $16.99 and ate creeping toward an awfully suspicious $19.99. (Figure that one out, Sherlock.) Mass market paperbacks (mpbs) have gone from $3.99 to $5.99 to $9.99! What’s more, I’ve recently noticed that the “bestselling” mpbs have jumped to $9.99 now o Kindle! So… $9.99 in your Barnes & Noble OR (more like AND) $9.99 for the same .mobi file at Amazon. What a deal. For an idealist, driven by socialist, far-left philosophies, a profit-driven market is one thing…however, a “scalping gluttonous greed-centric conjob operation” masking itself as a “fair profit-driven market” is disgusting. And embarrassing. And irritating. And, frankly, an irony, in that it’s occurring in what used to be, and well still should be, a serious artistic field. This plain-out taking advantage of readers to support a robust GPM is devastating to an avid reader on a budget…or even an avid well-to-do reader standing on principal. It is also devastating to an author of the serious novel, which I assume Will Self is referring to here (irrational generalist premise: rich people dont read serious artistic novels). Ebooks most often are a bargain. And there’s the “green element” to ebooking, although some argue it cancels out with the carbon footprint left behind by the manufacture of the devices required to actually purchase, download, store, and read written digital media. Bottom line (pun intended): Business never care about their customers. Never. Never EVER. They will go to great lengths to adorn a lovely and purposeful façade (this is not a crime) to disguise that they are feeding the monster of Profit (this is not a crime; but it is shitty nonetheless) and the investors and Board members…until they are fat as the proverbial calf. They aren’t happy with your table scraps, Dear Avid Reader of the Artistic Novel. No. They want your leg bone. And how about that juicy thigh bone. And that flank, those glutes, spareribs. Anyone got any BBQ sauce?


I Look Forward to Your Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s