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Will e-books replace Paper books?

Here’s an experience of a friend of mine who loves reading literature. She enjoys having conversations about literature with some members of her book club. Recently, she noticed that technology devices disrupt her hobby. As a result of the advent of new reading materials, the landscape of book clubs has changed. Members are divided into two groups: iPad people and non-iPad people.


Popular digital reading devices bring iPad users another kind of experience that paper books provided. With these devices, readers can mark their favorite passages by hand and write comments on them. Those who own the device also share the author’s comments as they read the book. Most remarkably, there’s no need to carry bulky books.
One book club member who owns an iPad2 said, “In the past, members’ feelings were sometimes hurt when their books weren’t chosen. With electronic books, it became less personal and members just throw out titles of books. Then, we choose the book that we want to read.”


It was just several years ago that technology companies introduced electronic book readers, which revolutionizes the way people read. It seems like their draw to e-books is more powerful than they expected thanks to successful sales of smart phones and tablet PCs.


The government plans to have electronic devices replace books and blackboards in schools. According to the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, the government has spent 300 billion won to install digital blackboards and interactive monitors in 256 middle and high schools. They plan to publish all digital textbooks and replace paper textbooks with digital ones gradually by 2015.


Universities establish infrastructures by themselves and publish their books in a digital way. In the case of Dongguk University, many Buddhist stories and collections are in the process of going digital, which will preserve them permanently. While walking though the Central Library of Dongguk University, you might see a big digital e-book device that can read digital “Dongguk 100 Prestigious Poets” and “Prajnaparamita”, which is a central concept of Buddhism and its practices. It is no surprise that the Central Library has converted some old books into digital format and discarded them.


Surprised by how fast this new phenomenon is spreading, some doubt why many around them are so crazy about e-books. For e-book users, it has come to this. In general, the prices of e-books are lower than most paper books. The more appealing thing is that e-books can simply be downloaded, so you don’t have to carry heavy, old-fashioned books. On top of that, some e-books satisfy people’s sense of hearing and touch, giving readers another reason to read them.


For young writers and book publishers, the advent of e-books is a revolution. Typically, authors need a literary agent to publish their own book. As writers send their manuscripts, publishers look at their work and pick them among many scripts. It takes at least a month after writers send their scripts and cover designs and illustrations are chosen. However, e-books offer a simple and free way to get young author’s names out. Young writers can simply upload their writing to get feedback, and some of them are published in as e-books.


However, it appears that e-books do not satisfy all users, especially in Korea. As legal conflicts involving copyrights have lasted longer than many expected, the e-book market has shrunk. Uncertainties over the future of e-books have let down content providers, resulting in a lack of contents in the Korean e-book ecosystem. Still, some book publishers hesitate to publish their content in e-book format.
The issue of technology unification has also disrupted the e-book market. Various e-readers have their own platforms and programs, often not compatible with the catalog of printed books. Due to this inconvenience, consumer sentiment is far from overjoyed.


Also, e-books do not provide the sensibility that “physical books” provide. Many middle-aged and elderly people still prefer holding books, enjoying the scent of old books, and displaying books in their homes and offices.
Despite these disadvantages, the e-book trend is still massive and booming. Then, will e-books eventually replace paper books? Nobody knows at this time, but you might be able to guess the answer after reading about the phenomenon below.


Every month, Kyobo bookstore, one of the country’s largest bookstores, selects the best-selling books, both printed versions and e-books. When comparing these lists, you might guess the items are totally different even though they are sold in the same bookstore. The best-selling e-books are dominated by short books, which means that users prefer to read easy and light content through e-book devices. This shows that e-book providers target readers who mostly have little time to read and have to move regularly when reading.


On the day of publishing The Biography of Steve Jobs, the e-book version had already been published one day before. Nevertheless, no one was envious. Many people wanted to own the ‘physical book’ and share the spirit of Jobs. E-books cannot give readers a sense of ownership.


If you really want to read a book, then what kind of book are you going to read? A paper book or an e-book? The choice is yours. This can help you answer the prior question: Will e-books replace paper books in the future?

Lee Jong-seok  bigbell414@dongguk.edu

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