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I can't understand why people still bother with physical books anymore, other than not having a good enough device or the book isn't available digitally.

We spend a lot of our time reading long-form content online already; there's no reason books should be any different. People come up with reasoning based on the feel of pages turning and the like, but I don't buy it.

This move feels like a gimmick to me.

I imagine physical books will become completely obsolete and go out of style within the next decade or two.

There are (at least) three things that physical books will always do better than e-books:

1. Be single-purpose. There are no notifications, no distractions, no temptations to tab over to something else. It's a classic "less is more".

2. Never run out of battery. It's super-cool that e-ink readers last for weeks or more; but if I throw a paperback in a travel bag, I don't have to worry about a charger at all.

3. Sit on a shelf, as a living artifact. This seems silly, and there's certainly something laudable about a minimalist lifestyle that eschews shelves. Nonetheless, there's something beautiful about creating a space (shrine?) to showcase one's beloved books. I also adore perusing the bookshelves of someone I've just met, to learn what they're interested in, and it makes a great conversation-starter. The good news is, electronic media is invisible; the bad news is, electronic media is invisible.

All that said, it's good that we don't have to choose, I enjoy reading in both formats! :)

I read books on an eBook reader most of the time but one thing that's really lacking is ease of skipping around to different sections, reference pages etc.

Having said that, there's a lot of obvious effort in the software to help get around that limitation (footnotes appearing in a popup window, searching the book for any text, bookmarks, etc).

I also read in both formats and agree with all of the above. Two additional benefits of physical books:

1. Marginalia. While you can note-take on e-readers, I vastly prefer to do so in physical form. (I'm not entirely sure why, but I know I'm not alone - when I was in college a few years ago, people would print out the lecture slides to take notes on when they easily could have done so on their computers.)

2. Signaling. How else are you going to show people on the subway, in coffeeshops, etc. that you aren't just browsing Instagram and are instead a Very Serious Reader? :)

Re: 1, many people find the physical act of writing to improve their ability to remember information.

I wonder if anyone has done studies on writing vs typing vs listening/reading-only baseline.

I read enough books in public transport. No one cares. Even myself I had perhaps one 5 sec encounter like a glance on a book cover I known

1. get an e-ink reader. No distractions.

2. charge it up before you travel. It'll last the whole trip!

3. as someone with thousands of books, the shelf system is more of a liability

Reading technical literature (think mathmatics etc.) is painful on a 2 dimensional medium like an e-book reader or computer screen. You'll often go back and forth between non-continous pages in your book using your left hand as you're writing stuff down with your right. Can't do that comfortably or fast using a laptop or e-book reader.

Being able to show a lot of dense information on a small area also really helps comprehensibility. Computer screens can't do that while still being comfortably readable and e-book reader screen resolution just isn't there yet.

That's my thoughts on digital books as a student of mathematics. When reading fiction in my spare time, my Kobo Aura HD/H2O can't be beaten by conventional books though.

Math major here. When in school, I almost exclusively used PDFs of my textbooks. My desktop at home had three monitors: a 21x9 ultrawide on the bottom and two 16x9 monitors above. This meant I could have LaTeX, a web browser, and three or four windows with different pages of my book open at once. Well done digital books can quickly be navigated via a sidebar table of contents, or simply using ctrl-f. It all made for a much nicer work flow than sticking different fingers/pencils/etc between pages and constantly switching my attention between a book and a notebook, and a screen. Admittedly this was much trickier on a single laptop screen, but with a few virtual desktops I still preferred it to the analog approach. I think that the real hold on textbook ebooks is the horrendous web based formats that most come in. The above approach would admittedly have been impossible if I were acquiring my textbooks legally.

Down sides to e-books:

- Reading them sucks except on e-ink screens, for a variety of reasons, including that screens shut off while you're using them, the glow and eye strain, battery life of such devices, distractions, and more.

- E-ink devices aren't great at: footnotes, keeping a finger in an index/end-notes page (generally, bouncing between multiple reference pages), and so on. They're fine for contemporary fiction and that's about it. [edit] big example: only one page visible at a time. Two-page layouts can be practically necessary for many (mostly non-fiction) books, but even in fiction having more text available to look back at can be really nice.

- Physical books are a memory aid—I often forget the title and author of e-books I'm reading because I don't see the cover or spine or top-of-page notations, and spatial memory kicks in for certain things as far as depth-into-book and location-on-page. An edge case, but sometimes I have to locate a book by size and spine color.

- Personal effort that's probably not common, but most of my books are arranged chronologically by (often approximate) date of author's first major work, making the shelves themselves a learning tool. I've not seen a digital equivalent to a book shelf that does anything like this effectively, and certainly it wouldn't be there all the time in the room for passive absorption when you're not actively engaged in browsing.

- They're also often cheaper than ebooks if you're not just pirating those. Used books are pretty cheap, and you can recover (usually only a little, admittedly) money from them if you get rid of them. Used fiction paperbacks can be so cheap they're effectively disposable.

In ebooks favor, they're incredibly space and weight saving and they're searchable, and those are definitely big points in their favor. But if I'm going to go to the trouble of reading anything other than contemporary fiction or very skimmable/low-value non fiction (think: popular business books) I'm going to want a real book, so I can take advantage of the features of real books, not for smell or feel or whatever.

[another edit] oh and you can leave several currently-reading books around the house without having to buy several $100-200 devices (wait why isn't my book on this one anymore? Oh one of the kids picked it up and changed it to Wind in the Willows, hold on, gotta go to the menu...) or go grab your e-reader from the other room or whatever. Ebooks may win for overall convenience, but they don't take it without giving up a couple goals to physical books.

I find that the way of reading that gives me least eyestrain, is using a phone or a tablet with an OLED (important for "perfect blacks") screen, setting it to some warm color (e.g. orangeish yellow) on black, and dialing the brightness level down to exactly the point where it's readable without straining for a given background light level, but no brighter.

The benefit of this arrangement is that it works in a wide variety of lighting conditions. When I read at night in bed, there's practically no light around at all, and so I dial the brightness all the way down - and read without losing night vision.

Between the ability to do that, and the ability to adjust font size, I find e-books to be light years ahead of anything on paper, in terms of ergonomics.

I'm also in favour of e-books but you do have some notes wrong.

- You can arrange your books chronologically, by author, and other ways on e-book readers, at least the Kindle you can.

- Switching the book on your reader doesn't remove your reading history of the previous book. You can always switch back to a different book and it will be at the same location you left it.

- You have it the wrong way around for price. E-books are majority of the time cheaper than regular books. Also, almost all classic books are available for free through e-books.

- While reading the book on a Kindle, you can click the menu button and it says the Title and Author of the book.

> - You can arrange your books chronologically, by author, and other ways on e-book readers, at least the Kindle you can.

I'm aware of "sort by" but it does not achieve the same effect at all. My "screen" is the size of all my shelves and all the books are on that display at the same time. I can realistically take in the layout of maybe two hundred books at a time in one "view" (without physically moving) and I can engage spatial memory for recall. Not limited to six covers or a list of a dozen titles at a time whatever a given digital interface shows, with no fixed physical layout in space for any of it. The word "effectively" in my original post was intended to qualify out a simple "sort by" and limited digital view of a list or tiled covers, which is barely related to what I'm talking about as far as what it accomplishes.

> - Switching the book on your reader doesn't remove your reading history of the previous book. You can always switch back to a different book and it will be at the same location you left it.

Did I write that this wasn't the case? Though I do dislike using the OK-by-ereader-standards menus on my Nook enough that I try not to touch them more than necessary.

> - You have it the wrong way around for price. E-books are majority of the time cheaper than regular books. Also, almost all classic books are available for free through e-books.

Has not been my experience. Cheaper than new, yes. Cheaper than used? Rarely. Used popular fiction paperbacks or pop-business books (again, only ones that aren't badly crippled on an e-ink interface) are really, really cheap.

Free public domain classics are great and I've read a few, but books old enough to be free usually benefit strongly from additional, newer material—introductions, footnotes, and so on, often still covered by copyright. If in translation, the best translation(s) are often not yet out of copyright, and besides, the presence of additional, recent scholarship is even more useful for works in translation. If I'm gonna bother to read War and Peace I'm going to read the version (in English) that strikes me as best, even if I have to pay $6-7 for a used copy or something, because I'm going to be putting a lot of hours into it and may well never read a different version, ever. Project Gutenberg doesn't always (often does not) cut it, as much as I appreciate them.

- While reading the book on a Kindle, you can click the menu button and it says the Title and Author of the book.

I know I can look it up. This is about starting to talk about what I'm reading then realizing I can't remember who wrote it because I'm not seeing their name in large print every time I pick it up, every time I look at the table it's sitting on even if I'm not reading it just then, and maybe also at the top of every other page. It's automatic—almost unavoidable—with a paper book.

Two additions:

* Another comment mentioned fiction and historical books that contain maps not having good-enough resolution.

* There're some books out there that straight up can't be rendered on e-readers, such as House of Leaves.

You forgot one big point in favor of ebooks: large fonts for people with poor eyesight.

Good point, and the thing that might finally convert me (and just keep me from reading whole categories of books at all, as a consequence) in (hopefully very) old age.

[EDIT] to be clear, I'd love for e-readers to actually achieve enough of the important features of physical books that I could mostly switch over. I'd probably hold on to a few real books but I'd happily ditch 90+% of them if they weren't a better interface for their particular content, in ways that really do matter, than ebooks. Color, higher resolution, and probably at least two screens per device (or one foldable screen I guess) would be required to even take a realistic stab at that, though.

Then again there's no way I'd pay new-ebook (only kind) prices for all the books I have. I could slowly start converting, though, if they were good enough. It's a features thing, not (entirely) a nostalgia thing.

You can change the text justification too. Every printed book I've seen is full-justified, which is is IMO the worst option. You get uneven spacing between words, no visual cues for vertical position along the right edge, and words unnecessarily split up with hyphens. I much prefer left-justified text.

People have been saying that about paper and books for at least 50 years, and we still have them and still use them just as much if not more. It's also a popular dismissive canard here on HN, which I suppose is to be expected in a site with this userbase.

The book will probably never become obsolete or go out of style as long as humans exist as we do now. I imagine we'll print and sell fewer of them, but that's not the same as becoming obsolete. The book could only truly be replaced by something absolutely better than it in every way, which an eBook isn't -- it has as many advantages and disadvantages as a paper book.

I see two largest cases for paper books.

* Art albums. You can't expect a handheld device to have both the same size and same pixel density. This is niche, of course.

* Kids books! Those need to be large, lightweight, durable, damage-tolerant, and expendable. Yes, at 10 a kid may prefer to read a book from screen. At 4, physical kids books are indispensable.

Just like vinyl albums have, I'm sure.

I'm not a vinyl collector, but I understand those who are. I read a lot of ebooks, but I do love paper books. It's an aesthetic thing, I think. Much like the look and feel of wood vs plastic.

I like to take notes and highlight and write all over my books when I read and I have yet to find an e-book software that fits my use case. However -- if any one has any recommendations please let me know. I greatly prefer the convenience of my phone.

> We spend a lot of our time reading long-form content online already

That's exactly the point. There are things I do on paper for no other reason than I'm tired of looking at a screen all day.


I read your 2-month old post for front end developer at Atlantic Media in the DC area while job searching here on hackernews. Well, I checked out the Atlantic media site and they have a opening available listed on there for a Back-end Python Developer.

So, I see that you work for Atlantic Media. Don't know if that still holds up but I wanted to check if the Back-end Python Developer job is still available?

I'm a guy who has been going the self-taught route where I enjoy using and working with Python as far as learning purposes go. And after quickly reading your post here I figured to reach out and try a somewhat different approach than the old cover letter and resume email method and contact you if you may have any info to this current opening at your company?

So with that said, here I am..and I wanted to inquire to find out if this opening is still available? If so, do you have a contact email to learn more about this position and the things you require in regards to the nature of the job? My apologies in advance that this may not be the response to your post that you were looking for but I figured why not take a chance and try something different to reach out and learn what I can do to improve my chances to be part of the Atlantic media team.

Any help in this matter will be greatly appreciated. Thanks


Also, coffeefirst... please feel free to contact me at pydeveloper22@gmail.com


There's a couple of developer positions open. Please throw your hat in the usual way--those forms go straight to the lead developers and we really do read everything.

Good luck!

Hi there, thanks for the prompt reply. That's very encouraging news to hear that there are a couple openings available and that the applications to straight to the lead devs rather than HR. I appreciate all the help and will go ahead and apply and send it what I have. Once again, thanks for all your help.


I can read a book in the bathroom and leave it on top of the toilet if I want, and know it’ll be there and it’ll be readable when I come back. I can’t do that with a tablet.

You can't leave a tablet in your own bathroom?

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