Microsoft is deleting books off of its customers’s devices. It’s a harsh reminder that most ebooks can be remotely wiped by the seller, so you’re forever at their mercy. That’s just one reason you should own your favourite books as hard paper copies.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t own ebooks. They’re portable, they’re searchable, they come with reading stats. Hell, I buy Kindle books for my phone all the time. It’s the main reason that I can read 52 books a year. But if I especially love a book, if I want to keep it in my permanent library, I buy a paper copy.
You can’t remotely delete a paper book
This April, Microsoft announced it would shut down its unsuccessful ebook store, and last week it started deleting all the books people bought from that store, right off their devices. Buyers will get refunds, but they can’t choose to keep their books.
And while Amazon isn’t likely to shut down the Kindle store any time soon, they’ve deleted customers’ books for other reasons: In 2009 they infamously deleted Kindle copies of 1984. Ten years later, most Kindle books are still protected with DRM, so Amazon could take them back at any time.
DRM-protected ebooks only belong to you until the seller says otherwise. They could wipe your book when they close up shop, stop supporting the current file format or for any reason they like.
You could find non-DRM-protected books, but Amazon Even a DRM-free ebook can become useless if it’s encoded in an outdated format.
You can lend a paper book
Amazon lets you lend a Kindle book. Once. For fourteen days. To call that “limited” would be generous. Amazon doesn’t want to let you treat your books like your books.
I’ve lent dozens of books over the years, some to multiple people, some for a year at a time. I’ve given away books, which I can’t do on Kindle. (Sometimes I thought I was lending a book but it turns out I was giving it away forever. Still worth it.)
You can show off a paper book
We put books on shelves, not in boxes, for a good reason. There’s pleasure in having your books out on display for yourself and for guests. You can glance at your books and remember the time you spent reading them and the things you learned from them. You can pull one off the shelf and find a favourite line.
You can, of course, browse your Kindle archive or your Goodreads feed. But that takes some intentionality. You won’t happen upon your old ebooks every time you walk through your living room. And unless you hand them your phone, no one else will ever idly look over your finished ebooks and ask you to recommend one.
Most importantly, when you keep physical books around, the people who live with you can browse and try them out too. Without my parents’ bookshelf, I don’t think I ever would have come across John Berger’s classic Ways of Seeing, which changed the way I look at art and advertisements.
I wouldn’t have learned science facts way ahead of my high school curriculum with Jearl Walker’s Flying Circus of Physics. There were plenty of kids’ books too, and stacks of library books, but I cherish these books that I picked up just because my parents had them around. I hope that my own daughter grows up browsing our shelves and discovering her own favourites.
Paper books are (eventually) cheap
You don’t have to run out and buy a second copy of a book as soon as you finish the ebook. That would be ridiculously expensive. Better to keep a list of the books you really like, and whenever you’re out at a bookstore, check for used copies of the books you’ve already read. You can also check Amazon and eBay for cheap copies.
Or do what I do: For your first read, borrow an ebook or audiobook from the library. Then if you love it, grab a used copy at a local bookstore. You get all the convenience of digital reading and the pleasures of owning a physical book, and you pay much less.
Paper books can fall apart, they can burn, they can get lost. But Amazon can’t come into your house and take them back. Not yet, anyway.