Print vs ebook: Time to end the wars?

Being a twenty-seven-year-old living in a bustling city like Lagos and working a solid eight-to-eight (weighing in hours spent in traffic), reading for kicks quickly makes its way into the luxury basket. Throw in how expensive books have become in Nigeria due to the impact of foreign currency challenges on book imports (a Stephen King hardcover cost me the Naira equivalent of 21GBP in 2015, as opposed to 9GBP on Amazon), and you’d see why the number of pleasure readers are expected to dwindle.

As a writer, I can’t afford to have reading be a luxury. Therefore, I have to both wring out time and money to get that reading train going. For buying books, I try to purchase the e-versions of those the bookshops here don’t stock and are too expensive to ship. Try being the operative word here, since American and European booksellers love to copy and paste This service is not available in your country.

The reading time is actually the bigger challenge, and this is where the choice between eBooks and prints actually helps in bolstering my reading life.

My average working day goes like this: I drive the twenty-seven-kilometre route to work, but since I can’t read while driving (and audiobooks are even more expensive), I opt to take ride-shares once in a while. (Reading a 21GBP hardcover in a packed and sweaty danfo is not advisable; three days in, and your precious book could easily house stains ranging from elbow sweat to okra soup--it happens, don’t ask). So, most often, I go with my eBooks whenever I’m reading on-the-go.

Sometimes, I get to work real early, say 7:00am, so I have between thirty minutes and an hour to spare before starting up the day’s calendar. I sometimes read, and an ebook doesn’t do well for my eyes under the office’s harsh lighting, so I actually prefer prints in this case. Therefore, I pack a print with me each day, whether I’m driving or otherwise.

I run through feeds, pocket articles and do some reading during my one-hour lunch breaks as well. Sometimes, I leave my second reading session for after closing. If I’m commuting back, the print comes out while daylight’s still there, but the minute seven-thirty clocks, out comes the eBook. If I’m driving back, I actually don’t get to read at all, so most times, I stay back in the office and read for about an hour or so, and the print does better for relaxation in this case.

Seeing how I juggle between both, I’m often amused when I’m at a gathering of writers and suddenly someone starts to sneer at the ebook; or when I'm asked to take a stand in the print vs eBook wars. While the arguments on both sides are salient (tangibility and aesthetic value in the print corner, portability and cost in the eBook corner) I have never really seen them that way. Instead, I see them as devices for different seasons, having different uses that can be tailored to each user’s specifics. Pemi displays such dexterity comfortably in this interview with Afoma.

I have a problem with sleeping with the lights on, so I don’t have a reading light. I therefore almost always read eBooks at nights, as opposed to print. When I’m in line at the Dentist’s or waiting for a friend at the Filmhouse on weekends, I go with either print or ebook. I read prints on the plane and the interstate bus, but once that’s done, I switch to eBooks since I can travel with thousands, as opposed to one print at a time. I read many novels in print, but mostly shorts and collections as eBooks.

Endless, endless possibilities.

In the end, I think maybe the wars are founded on the usual human need to demarcate, to make sense of things by boxing and tagging them. There’s no particular reason to have eBook readers or print readers. Maybe what we need is an understanding of ourselves, of our preferences based on factors only we know, and make our choices between eBook and print based on that.

Maybe it’s time to shelve the wars for good.

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