When is an Ebook Not an Ebook?

When it’s printed.

I just got back from a trip to the office “superstore,” Staples. I needed a printout of the next book I’m supposed to revise.


When I write books that are printed — and most of them are books that are printed — I get a bunch of author copies. I keep at least one copy for my archives. Then, when it’s time to revise the book, I have a handy reference to the current edition, which I use as my starting point, keeping it at my side as I work, paging through it to see how or where I covered topics I’ve written about in the past.

But when I write books that are destined not to be printed — in other words, ebooks — I don’t get a copy of the book in print because it’s never printed. Instead, I get the same thing as everyone else: a PDF file containing the laid out pages in ebook format. As a result, the only current edition I have to refer to when working on the new edition is a PDF.

I can’t work with PDFs this way. I need to have a book, on paper, that I can leave open to a particular page and consult while I’m working. I can’t be switching back and forth from Microsoft Word (which I’ll use to revise the book) to Adobe Reader (which I’d use to see the book onscreen). That just doesn’t work for me.

So I had to get the book printed. All 605 pages of it.

I took the PDF to Staples on a CD that contained only the PDF. I told them to print it on 3-hole punch paper. I wanted them to print it double-sided, but since the book starts on an odd page — as all books do — I knew they’d screw it up and put the odd numbered pages on the right side when the book lay open. I couldn’t deal with that. So I had them print it single-sided.

It cost me $49.

The 3-inch binder I had to buy to fit it in cost another $15.

Oh, the Irony!

This is ironic on so many levels.

First is the cost: I spent $64 for a printed copy of my own book. A book that all users of the software it’s about get for free on the software disc. (At this point, I’m thinking I should be calling it a software manual, but my name is on the cover and there aren’t many software manuals you can say that about.) I’m willing to bet that I’m the only person idiotic enough to have printed the whole damn thing and stuck it in a binder.

Next is the fact that the book’s been out for a whole year and I never bothered to print it. Hell, I’ve got enough books on my shelf. Yet when it’s time to revise it — in other words, make it obsolete — that’s when I print it.

But the kicker is this: just the other day, I wrote a blog post rejoicing the fact that, for the first time, I’d finished a book without an exchange of any paper between me and my editors. No printouts, no inked markups, no printed galleys. Electronic all the way.

And now this.

This is so ironic that it could be given as an example of irony in a dictionary.

I Had to Do It

Now those of you who are ebook lovers and paper book haters — and you know who you are — might get the idea that I really didn’t have to print the book. I could have worked with the PDF. It would have saved so much paper. It would have been worth it.

I have three things to say to that:

  • I didn’t use any paper on my last book, so the paper monitors owe me some.
  • The book wasn’t printed for its readers. Think how much paper that saved.
  • It’s definitely worth it to me not to have to switch applications and lose my train of thought while working. The printout will enable me to work more efficiently and effectively. I’ll get the job done quicker. (And then I can turn off my computer and save some energy.)

But no, the irony is not lost on me. Guess I’ll get some more scratch pads made when the new book is done.

What do you think?