This is a debate which has been ventured into many times in the past: which is better, the physical book or the eBook? Ever since the increase in popularity of services such as Kindle books and iBooks, we’ve been arguing about whether print books or digital books are the way forward. I fancy putting my views on the subject out there here and now, so I’m going to list the pros and cons of each, before concluding exactly how I feel about both print books and eBooks.
The Pros of the Physical Book
- Feeling like you actually own the book – Being able to hold the book and turn the pages is actually something I love about having a physical copy of a book; part of the reading experience for me has always been physically having that book in front of me, and that sensation cannot be gained from reading an eBook. Also, if I am paying money for something, I like to have a physical item in exchange for my cash. With an eBook, you do not get an actual object for your money, so I feel kind of like I have paid for nothing.
- Having books on display – I don’t know how many people agree with me, but I love full bookshelves. I adore having a prettily organised display of the books that I have read or want to read. As I keep the majority of books that I read, this results in bookshelves which are a good reflection of my reading tastes, and of what I have previously read.
- The joys of bookshops and libraries – There is something glorious about entering a room with such a vast quantity of books to peruse, be it with the intentions of buying one, borrowing one or just taking a look. Personally, I would add the joys of the book section of charity shops – you can find gems that you never really knew existed, or that were not top of your ‘to buy’ list, for tiny prices.
- The covers – I don’t (often!) buy books for their covers, but it has to be said that there are some gorgeous book covers out there. Looking at said covers on the backlit screen of an electronic device doesn’t do them the justice that a physical cover would.
- Being able to borrow and lend books – If you’re on a tight budget, there’s always the option to borrow a book from the library or a friend. Very few people would be keen to lend out their e-readers, and digital book-borrowing services such as Kindle Unlimited often require a monthly/up-front fee, so if you’re borrowing books, print copies are the way to go.
The Pros of the eBook
- Cheaper prices instantly – In the majority of cases, eBooks are cheaper than print copies, which is great if you’re on a budget. Even if you buy a book cheaper than retail price on Amazon or eBay, you have to wait for delivery, whereas eBooks can be updated onto your device instantly, so eBooks are the best solution for cheap and instant books.
- Portable – The biggest selling point for eBooks are their portability. Avid readers such as myself (and presumably you) know of the issues of wanting to take many books on a trip, but having to suffer with the bag heaviness/extra baggage fees/lack of room that physical books provide. The e-reader can hold hundreds of books on one small device, solving all of the above issues.
- Having everything in one place – It is very inconvenient when you reach for a physical book from a shelf to find that this is not the shelf containing said book, and so you have to search every nook and cranny where you store your books to find the right one. With a digital library, you know that the book you want will be in the same place as everything else, so no searching different locations is necessary.
- Don’t have to move to acquire them – The most conventional way of buying a physical book is through a trip to the shops/library. Even if you place an Amazon order you will have to go to the door to collect it (several days after you bought the book). EBooks are convenient as you can buy them whilst lying in bed/on the sofa, on the device in which you intend to read it, and so do not have to set your foot down (providing that your device is within reach), therefore suiting the lazy bookworm such as myself.
- More comfortable to hold – We all know the struggle when you are reading in bed with a physical book, and cannot find the perfect position to lie in and read without damaging the book. With an e-reader it is easier, as you simply hold it in one hand and do not have to worry about cracking spines and ripping covers as it is less likely to damage (within reason).
The Cons of the Physical Book
- Not portable – If you’re going on holiday and want to take a collection of books, so be it, but you have to make room for them, carry the heavy bag and pay the fee when your luggage goes over the weight limit at the airport.
- Often more expensive – If you buy a new book from a bookshop, it is often its recommended retail price (between £6.99 and £9.99 for paperbacks and often in the region of £17.99 to £20.99 for hardcovers). This is less if you buy them from Amazon or eBay, but if you don’t like secondhand/used books then eBooks are a cheaper option than buying physical copies.
- Easily damaged – Paperbacks (which are the main method of publication in the UK; I know most books are hardcover in the US) are very easily damaged: the spines crack, the covers tear, the pages crinkle, and if water gets near it, God forbid! E-readers are obviously delicate as they are electronic, but the books within do not suffer from broken spines and torn pages just from reading it.
The Cons of the eBook
- Not physical – It sounds silly but I hate how eBooks are not a physical possession that you can hold. Whenever I get an eBook, I don’t get that excitement of having a new book. I miss the conventionality of flicking through and turning the pages and placing it on the shelf afterwards. There’s just something that doesn’t feel quite right.
- Questionable longevity – Physical books may be easily damaged, but there’s nothing wrong with a tatty, waterlogged copy as long as you can still read the words, right? With an e-reader, once the electronic device undergoes a certain level of destruction – be it from water or being dropped – then it’s not going to work again; you cannot continue reading it as if it were a tatty paperback, the damage renders the device useless. Linking perfectly into my next point, it’s so much more expensive to replace your e-reader than your paperback…
- Price of the e-reader – Yes, the eBooks are cheaper than a paperback, but that’s without taking into account the e-reader you require to read them on. If you have an Apple device, fine, you have iBooks, but if you’re not fortunate enough to have one of those you’d need to shell out for an e-reader or tablet, and they aren’t cheap. If you own enough eBooks to make the savings cover the initial device price, or if you’re lucky enough to have a compatible gadget anyway, then fine, but if you’d have to buy a specific Kindle or Nook, then the cost of that may well render the ‘cheaper book price’ issue irrelevant.
- Risks of technical faults – We place a lot of trust in digital devices not to go wrong, but one little technical fault could wipe your account of all of your stored books. If you lose your physical books, it is more often than not your own fault, but the loss of digital copies feels completely out of your hands, and I’m not 100% comfortable with that. On a more basic level, the device can break or wear and need expensive replacement, the screen gets filthy and can break, there’s the fact that it needs constant charging, the cable can break, you need to remember passwords…
- I read them slower – I swear that I read eBooks slower than physical books. I hate not being able to visualise how many pages I have left, I dislike looking at a screen for long periods of time and I am never as motivated to read eBooks. This means that it is probably an absolute age until I read my eBooks.
My Verdict: PHYSICAL BOOKS
This is an easy one for me; physical books will always win the day! I do own a Nook tablet, and when it is logical to buy a book in digital form I do dig the e-reader out and download it, but if I can find a cheap copy secondhand online or in a charity shop, or if the Kindle eBook price is over £2.99, then I buy it physically. I take great pride in my physical book collection, so having everything digitally wouldn’t be the same. Some of my favourites I own both physically and on my Nook, and I read eBooks a lot when I went into hospital for hip surgery last year, but on the whole, physical books will always rule for me, and I hate how reliant we are becoming on technology that eBooks are now on a par with the physical equivalent. Libraries are a thing of the past in my local area, and the times are undeniably changing with the digital age; I’m pretty sure I don’t like that.