Saturday, May 27, 2017

How paper-bound books slow our productivity growth. (ie: Why I hate reading books on paper.)

My New Year's resolution for 2017 was to not buy any more books until I'd read and reviewed all of the accumulated unread hard copy books on my shelves, and keep those books at the front of the reading line. This is not an easy task, due almost entirely to the cumbersome nature of reading hard copy. Given how much more time it takes me to read a hard copy book than on an e-reading app I'm convinced that people's reluctance to move away from hard copy is slowing world productivity growth.

1. Doing anything else while reading is almost impossible with a physical book. With an e-reader, I can keep both hands free, except when I want to turn a page. I can enjoy a cup of tea, lunch, or type while I e-read. But just to keep a physical book open to free up your hands, it has to be weighted by something against the binding. Observe, I have to use chip clips and such to do this job:

When it comes time to turn the page, I have to use both hands to re-clip your place. Then, I can go back to eating and reading. 

2. Looking up references is much harder on a physical book. Kindle books are hyperlinked so you tap the citation or reference and it immediately takes you to that page, then you go back in one tap. With hard copy, you have to hold your place and find the reference, it takes ten times as long.

3. Highlighting and note-taking are much harder on a physical book than an e-reader. You just drag your finger across the screen and highlight, or type a note without having to carry a pen. Google automatically saves your notes in a Google Doc, and Amazon saves your highlights for easy reference or copying into Evernote later using a browser tool. You can easily search these by keyword, tag them, etc.

The ease of making highlights, taking notes, changing font size and color, and turning the page on an e-reader. 
With a book, if you highlight or write in it you've ruined it. Odds are extremely high you will never look at your book or highlights again, why keep the book in the first place when you can sell or donate it? Plus, you have to do the time-consuming task of finding the highlight you wanted.

This is how I have to handle note-taking in hard copy. Either by snapping a picture of the page or putting in a post-it note to mark the page, and jotting down my note on the post-it:

This takes much more than ten times as long to study and be useful as it does with an e-reader.

4. You can't adjust the font, the size, the color, or read in low light with a hard copy book. This is just a no-brainer. Why not modify the book to maximize your utility from reading it?

5. You can't easily look up a quote in a hard-copy book. It's as simple as searching on an e-reader.

6. You can't carry hundreds of books with you wherever you go. The brilliance of e-reading is that I can sit at the gate in the airport and keep reading a book on my Android phone that I started reading on my iPad at the breakfast table. If that book reminds me of a previous book, I can easily look that up on the same device.

7. You can't automatically buy an option for an audio version of a hard copy book. Many Kindle books have audio versions available for a small percentage of the purchase price. I rarely listen to a book via this route, but it's an option I like.

We're all worse off by reading physically bound books for the reasons above. Most of the books on my shelf are all unavailable in e-reader format (I've checked), and others were really cheap deals $2 at Goodwill versus $9.99 for a Kindle (and unavailable through the local library's e-reading selection). While there are a few exceptions, there are not many. What do you think? If you're one of those people who is eagerly cheering on paper books to make a comeback, why are you doing so?

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