In the last four years, I have lived in four countries on three continents, and purchased physical books in each one. My hard-copy library is scattered through several houses, apartments, and storage facilities; some were even tossed by family members who thought I didn't need them anymore, or friends who'd been housing them and now didn't have room. The weight restrictions for suitcases on international flights is extremely prohibitive.
Thus, I adore ebooks. I love the convenience; I love knowing that if the airplane book I bought turns out to be terrible, I'm not stuck with nothing to do on a thirteen-hour flight; I love being able to switch from fantasy to historical fiction to biography to non-fiction if I don't know what mood I'll be in when I'm packing up to go somewhere. I also love the search feature, as while my memory for what happens where in a book is good, it's not eidetic. I love being able to read at night without waking up anyone else, including my cat, who sleeps under the blankets. I love that I can change the font, if the size isn't right or the style just bugs me.
On the other hand, I love print books. I live in Japan, currently, and patronized my local foreign bookstore with a vengeance. I had to police myself from going too often, as I never left with less than 一万円's worth. I love holding books in my hand; turning the pages; feeling the weight. I love looking at my bookshelves, and in fact browse Bookshelf Porn (http://bookshelfporn.com/) more than most people view traditional erotica. I dream about what my future permanent house's bookcases will look like. I love curling up on the bed or couch or cushions and reading directly from the page.
As such, I don't get the false dichotomy between ebooks and hard copies. So many people I've met say that they want to get an ereader, but don't want to give up print books. As if the Book Police will detect the presence of a digital device in their homes and show up to repossess all their printed materials. Other people look to ebooks as horse-and-carriage manufacturers must have looked at Henry Ford, killing a centuries-old industry for the sake of modernism and convenience. Others, on the opposite side of the fence, crow about ebooks and boast about them ending the reign of physical books, like books are a petty tyrant overdue for a coup.
There's been a kerfuffle recently since Amazon announced that their Kindle sales outrank their hardcover sales (160 ebooks for every 100 hardcovers), with "pundits" (loosely used) across the board declaring the death of print, either in fear or rapture. There's also a statistic floating around about how ebooks will make up 50% of the book market in x years (Gina Centrello of Random House guesses 5). The panic surrounding this is ridiculous. You'd think someone had told the Internet that reading was about to become illegal.
Physical book sales are not dropping because of ebooks. If ebooks make up 50% of the book market in the future, it is because they will be providing an additional fifty percent of revenue, not because they'll be erasing print copies. The book market is not a college admissions board, and ebooks are not that slacker with high SATs or that rich kid with a parent on the school council who are taking the place of someone who really wants to be there. There is not, as my friend Chris said, a Law of Conservation of Literature.
Let's say I own a fruit stand and sell apples. I sell 100 apples a week — it's a small roadside stand, so cut me some slack here. Later, I hear that oranges (u c wut i did thar?) are popular, so extend my stand and I add some of those. Soon I'm selling 105 oranges for every 100 apples. Apples no longer make up 100% of my fruit market — but I'm still selling 100 apples a week.
This isn't a perfect analogy, of course, because the choice between two different fruits is not the same as two versions of the same book, but my point still stands when it comes to market share. Digital and print copies are not in direct competition like people believe, because people can — and do — buy both. Once you've selected "ebook" at checkout, the aforementioned Book Police don't ban you from buying the paper copy. Many people I know buy the online version to check it out, and if they enjoy it, buy the print copy to add to their library; others, or foreign ex-pats like me, buy e-copies when a long-awaited book by a beloved author comes out so that we can read it instantly while the hardcopy makes its trek across the globe, or until we make it back to our home country and don't have to add it to our luggage.
What amuses me about the "print books are holding us back from the future" people, on the other hand, is that, really, ebooks are further in the dark ages than print books. Ebook pricing from traditional publishers can be ridiculously expensive. Ebook retailers can take our books away, deleting them remotely from our devices; they can limit how many times we download them, or refuse to reinstate them if we accidentally delete them; they can put a limit on how many times a library can loan out an e-copy (26, thanks to HarperCollins). Publishers place geographic restrictions on ebooks that don't exist for physical ones — here in Japan I can happily purchase physical books from Amazon, Chapters, Barnes & Noble, or any third-party used book sites like AbeBooks without issue, but can't download a free (free!) copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales from BN.com because my credit card address is outside the US. I can't buy the 6th Temeraire book from ereader.com because the publisher recently shifted to restrict by IP address. Until this gets solved, print books still win, hands down.
With a system where both sides so clearly have merits and demerits, I don't understand where the competition and furor comes from. People who didn't read before are reading now; people who did read already now have another option that they can choose to use or ignore. What's the problem?
(Note: this does NOT apply to pirated ebooks, which are an entirely different kettle of fish.)