Skip to main content

Do We Really Need a New Term for eBook?

There’s a new post over on Slate today that has me scratching my head, and I wanted to see what you thought. The post is a little wordy and IMO entirely on the wrong track, but I wanted to see what my readers thought.

The post is by the director and research coordinator at ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, and these guys are arguing in favor of adopting a new term in place of the word ebook. Why? Because reading an ebook is not like any other reading experience:

Neurological effects, different types of media, totally new reading habits—just a few reasons why e-reading is a fundamentally different experience than curling up with a dead-tree book. Print books are a highly refined technology that isn’t going anywhere soon, but there are ways in which the digital is superior to the old-fangled, and vice versa: They’re horses of different colors.

And yet publishers keep trying to re-create the print experience online, with the faux wood of the iOS bookstore and the fake page-turning animations on many e-readers. It’s time for that to end. We need to embrace digital reading as its own medium, not just a book under glass. That means imagining a new language for reading as an experience, starting with a new word to use instead of book.

They propose that we replace all instances of the word ebook with the word codex:

Rather than grope forward, we decided to look back. With some trepidation, we would like to nominate codex, a word with a rich history that most of us don’t know anything about. Codex, derived from the Latin caudex (meaning “trunk of a tree”) even happens to contain the English word code, which will be central to the future of reading in a variety of ways.

I think this idea is a load of hooey, and I also think that they over-thought the idea. Check out their justification:

The things we’ll be reading in the future will not only involve a lot of programming; they’ll also require readers to decode complex, multilayered experiences and encode their own ideas as contributions in a variety of creative ways.

I don’t see any value gained from trying to swap out one term for another and I also don’t see how it could be accomplished in any practical way, but I wanted to hear other opinion.  That post on Slate doesn’t have a comment section, and I would like to see this issue debated.

What do you think?

Similar Articles


The Rodent October 17, 2013 um 6:26 pm

I roll my eyeballs. The word "codex" already has a well-established range of technical meanings, and the suggestion to replace "ebook" with "codex" is unhelpful. We (users of English) already have a word for ebook, we’re just unsure whether it has a hyphen or not. In the future, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the next generation dropped the "e" from "ebook" and just called them books — using "paper books" to distinguish the pre-electronic variety our ancestors used to read.

Elaine October 17, 2013 um 6:50 pm

There have been programmed books (aka hypertext) for at least two decades, and they have significantly failed to catch on. (I know, because I bought my husband a volume on Mark Twain soon after we had a computer that could read CD’s, and I dust it off every once in a while every time I dust out that set of shelves.) I don’t need hypertext when I read an ebook, because I have an Internet connected device called a tablet nearby my ereader, and when all else fails I can go downstairs and look things up on the desktop. I’ve been reading more long form stuff on the tablet recently, and although the 2013 Nexus 7 isn’t quite as clear as my E-ink Kindle, it’s not painful to read on at all.

Calling an ebook something besides an ebook is a solution in search of problem.

(Edited to add: I know hypertext, at least the concept, has been around for a lot longer than two decades, but I am talking about commercially available at a reasonable price.)

Al the Great and Powerful October 17, 2013 um 7:09 pm

The core of the experience is reading a body of text. Reading. A book. On paper, pages pasted on signboards, on a tablet, its all reading a book.

If I have to delineate a difference it should be minimally described only where it differs from the standard, thusly; a book, an ebook, 'whatever you’d call a book posted up on billboards', and so on. Because the core is THE BOOK.

Al the Great and Powerful October 17, 2013 um 7:13 pm

The core of the experience is reading a body of text. Reading. A book. On paper, pages pasted on signboards, on a tablet, it is all reading a book, different only in the medium the book is provided in.

So why should I need a totally different word, when ebook so clearly relates that (a) it is a book, and (b) it is in electronic format.

FSM protect us from needless chrome, and from wankademics.

CandyDragon October 17, 2013 um 8:34 pm

I think when I’m in pompous mode I shall call them my e-scrolls, as the way the text is divided up is more like a long scroll than the bound pages of a codex.

When I’m in non-pompous mode I’ll call them books, like I already do.

Matt Blind October 17, 2013 um 10:32 pm

Book – novel – tome – work – narrative – genre story – roman à clef – treatise – biography – memoir – encyclopedia – journal – paperback – pocket book – pulp – bestseller – mass market – trade

The Hard Work remains the same, I think it’s only the marketing department (slackers) that demands new words for it.

Thomas October 18, 2013 um 6:30 am

That article made me thing the Onion is expanding to putting satire on other people’s websites. CodeX???

Anthony October 18, 2013 um 7:35 am

For the past few years, publishers are focusing on converting books into electronic format, which is basically transferring the text from a print book into an epub or mobi. However, there are a lot more potential in "ebook" because there are so much more we can add in an "ebook" since it is on an electroinc device which could add multimedia experiences to a book by understanding the context in the book via AI to make the content even richer. I think ebook is just a transitional term. We should see new terms e.g. m-book (multimedia book) in the next two years.

Bill October 18, 2013 um 10:39 am

Codex? Someone over at Slate has too much time on their hands.

How could you be any more descriptive than 'ebook'? (e)lectronic book. ebook. Its says it all. An electronic book.

Those familiar with radio technology will remember years ago when frequency was measured in descriptive terms, as in 'kilocycles', or 1000 cycles. Then someone came up with the bright idea to name it 'Hertz', after the discoverer. As in 1000 Hertz. Everybody went, 'huh'? Same idea, sort of.

Stay with ebook.


Chuck October 18, 2013 um 4:55 pm

E-no to codex.

Dlbroox October 18, 2013 um 10:42 pm

How can an ebook be a codex? That writer must not know what a codex is.

From Wikipedia because they said it pretty succinctly in the first sentence: A codex (Latin caudex for "trunk of a tree" or block of wood, book; plural codices) is a book made up of a number of sheets of paper, vellum, papyrus, or similar, with hand-written content,[1] usually stacked and bound by fixing one edge and with covers thicker than the sheets, but sometimes continuous and folded concertina-style.

Marcelo October 19, 2013 um 10:58 am

Some people seem intent on turning books into another thing, now that they “can”. I suspect these were not the most avid readers, that would jump to a movie, instead of the novel, as soon as they found out one was released. And now computer devices allow them to turn books into some kind of “game” they can “interact” with. Isn’t it the so-called “gamification” I hear about from time to time? Surely the author of this other article would like the bizarre idea of “CodeX”:

BruceMcF October 19, 2013 um 1:51 pm

Basically, their argument is "ebooks evoke this reaction to me, and the experience is sufficiently difference that that reaction is not entirely accurate".

The way that mismatch is actually handled in the real world is that people who do not already understand "ebook" to include all those differences in reading experience will come to understand "ebook" in that way over the coming decade.

So not only does the notion that they can introduce "codex" reflect a complete misunderstanding of how languages evolve, but its also solving a problem that only exists in their imagination.

Why Does Everyone Keep Trying to Reinvent the Book? – The Digital Reader October 19, 2013 um 9:37 pm

[…] you liked the discussion over a new effort to rename ebooks as codeXes then you’ll love this […]

Write a Comment