Geek Girls Rule! #353 – Gaming Books: Ebooks versus Physical Copies

Ok, seriously, guys.  I am really torn on this one.  I love ebooks.  I can carry a library worth of books on my phone and or tablet, so if I get all weird and persnickety partway through a story, I can switch to another book without carrying eleventy-million pounds of them in my bag.  Granted, I also like the way old books smell, and there’s something satisfying about the weight of a book in your hands when you’re bundled up on a cold night and sipping boozy hot chocolate next to a window.

I’m even more torn when it comes to gaming books.  So I’m going to list the pros and cons of each as I see them.  They both have strengths and weaknesses.

  1. Cost.  Ebooks often cost at least a little less.  Unless you haunt used gaming shops like we do, in which case it is perfectly normal to find a somewhat battered copy of a beloved game for under $5.  But for new games, yes, ebooks typically cost less.  New physical gaming books can run anywhere from $15 to $50.  And while ebooks are not necessarily cheap, they are frequently cheaper than their physical counterparts.
    Point ebooks.
  2. Weight.  Yup, ebooks win this one hands down.  How many of  you have run a GURPS campaign and had to drag the two core books, the Magic book and various others depending on the setting of your game?  You could throw your back out carrying all that.  Ebooks all fit on your laptop, tablet or phone.
    Point ebooks.
  3. Marginalia. I like to make notes on rules in my gaming books, particularly if I’m house rule-ing something that is otherwise impossible to understand.  Now, there are programs you can buy that will let you make notes in pdfs and such, but that is an added expense and you have to be using something that supports that to save them.
    Point physical books.
  4. Ease of sharing.  This goes two ways.  Not all gaming ebooks are DRM protected.  The ones that are, are difficult to share sometimes, as this requires handing someone you may have varying levels of trust with, a sometimes expensive piece of equipment.  And by varying levels of trust, I mean, “Do I trust them with my life? Yes.  With anything breakable? No.”  We had a friend who was not allowed to use glass glasses in my in-laws’ house for years.  Yeah, shit can happen with a book, but it’s not a laptop or tablet.  Now if the gaming books are not DRM-ed, then sharing is as easy as emailing or Google drive.
    Tie.
  5. Indexes.  Until more gaming book companies get better with indexes in their ebooks, I’m just going to award this one to physical books.  There is in fact a way to index in pdfs and other electronic formats, but most game publishers aren’t particularly good at it.  At least not in the ebooks I’ve used.  I find it easier to thumb through than gauge where I am with a scroll bar. Granted that may change.
    Point physical books.
  6. Art.  Unless you have a great monitor, art just looks better in print, IMHO.  I now have a better monitor than I did and I’m kind of amazed at the difference between this laptop and my old one.  But still, I think I’m more of an art on paper kind of girl.  This one is largely down to personal preference, but I’m awarding the point to physical books.
    Point physical books.
  7. Space.  Ebooks win this one hands down.  Our gaming bookshelf is a 6 by 6 foot shelving unit and we cannot fit all our gaming books on it.  However, much as with what I posted about weight, I can carry my entire electronic gaming library on a laptop, tablet, or external memory drive.
    Point ebooks.
  8. Ease of reading.  You might think I’d say “hands down ebooks,” but that isn’t always true.  Yes, you can adjust things like zoom and brightness on a laptop or tablet, but zoom isn’t going to help much if the file doesn’t support it and the bigger you get the more pixelated it gets.  I’ve seen this happen with older ebooks, probably less of a worry now.  But because of the adjustability when it works, I will award this one to ebooks.
    Point ebooks.
  9. Resalability.  Yup.  This one goes to physical books, because as far as I can tell there is no secondary market for ebooks.  Now, I rarely sell back my game books, but I know a fair number of people who don’t think you can really judge a game until you’ve run or played it awhile, who do sell back books.  Or who sell off gaming collections to subsidize rent when times get tough.  Plus, I really love the used games section of gaming stores.  You can find some awesome and bizarre shit there.
    Point physical books.

So, ebooks do come out just slightly ahead of physical books for me.  This doesn’t mean I’ll be burning all my copies of In Nomine and GURPS, I worked hard to amass those.  But it does mean that unless I find the art in a project really compelling, I’m likely to save a little  money and buy the ebook.  Also, especially if you’re shopping online, there’s the instant gratification factor of ebooks.

Your mileage very well may vary on this topic.  I known some folks are strictly physical books now, while others have dived in wholeheartedly to convert as much of their gaming library to ebooks as they can.  Regardless of how many pros and cons I present here, it really does come down to personal preference, and availability.  Had I written this post years ago, that might have been another point in favor of physical books, because it was still fairly rare to find gaming books electronically.  But now, I can’t personally think of a game I play that doesn’t have both formats.

Thank you to all my patrons.  If you want in on convincing me to keep doing this, please feel free to sign on for my Patreon.

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