It’s not unusual to refer to a hardcover or a paperback as a real book. Typically, that is done vis-à-vis ebooks. However, I don’t agree with the reference to real books in that context. In fact, it irks me every time I hear someone speak so flippantly about real books because in my opinion, it’s a blatant dismissal of the reality of ebooks.
In a way, ebooks are the opposite of printed books. These two mediums fit perfectly into the dichotomy of the digital versus the physical. If printed/physical books are real books, the inference is that ebooks aren’t. Accepting that would mean that ebooks are unreal books. Unreal books to me, are the same as non-books. In other words, things that simply aren’t books. That is definitely not the case. Ebooks are books too.
The word ebook is derived from the term electronic book, which means as much as digital book. Book, in ebook, has been retained for a reason. A book is a long composition that contains stories, ideas and knowledge. It hardly matters if the content is printed on sheets of paper or displayed on a screen. The words that have been written are what matter. If an author writes a story, they have the option of putting a pen to paper or typing everything out. Neither method can be discounted and the choice of how to write is up to the author.
Similarly, the reader can choose if s/he wants to read words printed on paper or displayed on the screen. Neither option is wrong. Neither option is less real. The objective is communication. Regardless of whether communication is done via paper or screens, as long as the content reaches the audience, then the author’s duty to the reader has been fulfilled. The medium is a secondary consideration.
I like the feel of paper in bound books as much as the next bibliophile. Yet for all the tangibility that printed books offer, the words rest on the pages. When it comes to ebooks, the words rest on a screen. Hold an ebook reader in your hand, and you’re still holding something that allows you to words for you to read. Reading isn’t undermined or hampered because ebooks are digital. In fact, before everything is printed onto sheets of paper that are later bound, the contact comes straight from a computer, ergo there is a digital source. That is something that needs to be acknowledged alongside the reality of ebooks. Like I said, ebooks are real books too.