Do you have the paperback or the hardcover?

Earlier today I posted a link to Marco Arment’s “iBook and iAd pluralization” post. In my link post I said:

With this method (as I read it) this statement would not be correct: “I own the Steve Jobs iBook.” Instead it seems the correct statement would be: “I own the Steve Jobs book, from the iBookstore.” That’s far more clumsy in my mind.

You could, technically, leave out the “from the iBookstore” bit, but in doing so you would have no way of indicating that you purchased a digital version instead of a dead tree version.

Apparently that was odd(?) to many (judging from email and Tweets), but Tim Ricchuiti sums up the counterpoint in his blog:

But why would anyone care to go to the trouble of specifying what version they bought? No one says “I bought the new Snow Patrol album from the iTunes Music Store.” And no one who heard “I bought the new Snow Patrol album” would assume you did so from Tower Records.

In other words here’s the arguments that I have been hearing as to why defining a book as an ebook, iBook, or physical book is irrelevant:

  1. Things are changing so much that it is assumed all books are digital — or so Apple wants that to be the assumption.
  2. People never say: “I bought the paperback”, or “I bought the hardcover.”
  3. A book is a book — there’s no difference what kind you bought, just that you bought (and presumable read) the book.


I think this argument is clearly what Apple wants, but also is very clearly not where we are currently at in the book market. Not enough people buy books in digital form to make the assumption that all books are digital — yet.


It is true that people don’t usually clarify which version of the dead-tree book they purchased. But it is equally true that a paperback is a different book than the hardcover and thus the distinction is sometimes made. Perhaps the content isn’t different, but saying “there’s a great quote on page 51″ will yield very different results depending on the version you buy.

That’s why the differentiation is important. An iBook versus paper or Kindle book is a very different thing than the others. They will visually look different and that’s why it isn’t fair to lump the different types of book all into one category.

These types of books are simply different.


I agree that reading the book is the most important part in owning a book. But as I said above there are very real differences between the books.

Perhaps the most important of which is that digital books can be (and are) updated.

The Steve Jobs biography was my example because I own the following versions:

  • Hardcover
  • Kindle
  • iBookstore book

I can tell you from first hand experience that the reading experience is very different on each of the different mediums and that’s why the distinction matters to me. I don’t care which version you bought because it changes what you read, but I do care because it may not be the same as the book I read (sometimes in the minor content differences, but always in experience and layout).

Originally posted for members on: January 29, 2012
Follow along on RSS,, or Twitter.
~I would appreciate it if you considered becoming a member.~