Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Electronic versus print books - which are better?

This is the question readers never seem to tire of discussing, so I thought I'd conduct my own personal road test. Some people get very passionate about the subject, especially the die hard traditionalists on the print book side. ('I will never, never, NEVER turn to the Dark Side and purchase one of those ... THINGS!) As I considered myself totally unbiased at the outset, I started with lists of pros and cons for both. Although I'm both a reader and an author, I've decided to write this just from the reader's point of view. The introduction of eBooks has meant huge changes for authors and publishers, (not to mention forests and the ecology) but those are subject for other reflections down the track.


1) Beautiful Covers
It may be true, when reading eBooks, I do miss the aesthetic value of being able to twist my wrist for a glimpse of a lovely cover, and being able to see the same waiting on my bedside table. I know we can click and see the cover image on some eBooks (black and white on my kindle) but it's not the same.

2) Lovely, heady smell of the pages.
I do like the printer's ink fix. Brand new, hot off the press books are the best, but even old antique books have a musty aroma of their own which I quite like. The basement of Adelaide University's Barr Smith Library is full of it, as are several second hand shops. It's the smell of fun escapes through the pages of books.

3) Far easier to lend to friends.
It's always a shame to say, 'You'll love this book, but it's on my kindle, so I can't lend it to you.'

4) It is easier to flip back to find previous references.
I know we can do this on kindle, by exploring various 'locations' but it's far more fiddly and takes about five times as long. In fact, I just bought the print version of a book I have on kindle, just because it's easier for the list of declarations and affirmations I like to keep close at hand.

5) You can treasure the handwriting of beloved previous owners in margins and inscriptions.
This is a fair point so I might as well put it forward. If you like that sort of thing, check out this post about marginalia.

6) If you're intending to rough it at some outdoor camping spot with no electricity for a long period of time, print books are a far better choice.
But I do have to say that charging the kindle isn't as big an issue as I'd expected it to be. The charge last for hours and a bar along the top always keeps us aware of how much time we have left. Then, if you're near a power point, you can read while it's charging anyway.

Okay, it's time to look at the other side.

1) You can purchase books instantly from your home and read them straight away.
I've been known to do this before even getting out of bed. To me, it's a definite advantage.

2) You can carry 1000+ books around in your handbag, all on the one light device.
 This has been a huge advantage on holidays, overnight stays and even day outings. No more filling valuable space with books. No more asking myself, 'What should I take to read?' I can decide when I get there.

3) You can arrange your virtual shelves and groups neatly, to the point of putting individual books on more than one shelf.
It's impossible for a print book to be on more than one shelf at the same time. No more searching for a particular book on real shelves and fishing around to see whether it's been crammed to the back behind others.

4) You can save lots of money! 
Even full priced kindle books are most often a fraction of the price of their hard copy counterparts. I've been given several freebies from book review programs, and there are always specials coming up in book groups such as Inspired Reads, Pixel of Ink, Book Bub or The Vessel Project, when excellent books are being sold for just a few dollars.

5) They are easier to read in bed.
My husband mentioned this one, so I thought I'd go with it. The kindle is easier to hold onto and turn pages with a click, all the while retaining a comfortable position. I guess we all know what it's like if we're finally settled cosily on our side, then have to move awkwardly to accommodate the turning of a page. Hey, this may seem like a minor consideration, but it's worth adding.

I considered whether on not to add the bath tub to either list. I've attempted to take my kindle in a ziplock bag to have a soak in the tub, but it doesn't feel right. As relaxing as reading in the bath is, neither a print book nor an e-book would stand the test of submerging. I decided not to add this on either side.

So those are the lists. It would appear that print books have won, six points to five. Last week, one of my rare trips down to Koorong Bookshop made me think again. I was amazed by what I saw while I was wandering around. There were hundreds of familiar titles and covers on display. They were all books I've read on kindle. As I said, several were free, while others cost me two dollars at the most. So I turned them over, just to see what I would have been paying had I bought them from Koorong at full price. The range was between $15 and $25 for each one.

There is no way in the world I could have bought them all!! In all honesty, that one point (#4 on the eBook list) clinches it for me. I am a reader. My electronic reading device has given me the opportunity to read far, far, far more books than I ever would have been able to read had I limited myself to print books. Some of them have been excellent and unmissable, yet I would have been forced to have missed most of them if not for my e-reader. I can't, in all good conscience, agree to put print books ahead of e-books. I am a reader. They enable me to read more. End of story.

Looking more closely at those lists, it strikes me that many of the points in favour of print books are merely aesthetic and sentimental anyway, while the points on the e-book list are more practical.  So I've learned a few lessons through this road test.

1) Never assume that one side is a worthy winner just because of numbers. You must weigh up the value of each of the pros and cons, as some may far outweigh others. Quality over quantity wins.
 2) Mr Kindle, you are a champion.



  1. Love your lists Paula.

    I use both print and kindle :) There is something about holding a book in one's hands but then reading the kindle version of War and Peace in bed would be much more comfortable than reading the print version. Some books are very heavy!

    I was just thinking about Number 1 on your list. Maybe kindle could invent an electronic cover that takes on the cover image of the e-book you currently have open. That way you could still get the enjoyment of looking at the cover. With some books that is definitely a plus - for instance I absolutely love the cover of Marrying Ameera - it is so rich and sensual.

    I do like your conclusion though - and the other thing in favour of e-books is that I won't have to buy more bookcases or potentially build another room on the side of the house to house my books :)

    1. Hi Jenny, Wouldn't that be wonderful if they would? I'm imagining a kindle with coloured, changing covers depending on the book you are reading. It doesn't sound so 'out there' in these days of technology.
      And I agree that the cover of 'Marrying Ameera' is very striking and sensual with just the right shade of colour.

    2. I think they could do it if they wanted to :) Might add to the price of the reader though.

  2. And at this stage, the extra graphics required would result in more frequent charging up times, probably more like an IPad.

  3. Great lists Paula. I haven't gone over to the dark side yet, but I'm thinking about it. Even to the point of hinting to hubbie that it would make a nice gift. I think I would use a Kindle for novels that I'm likely to read only once. And as you say, they're certainly a lot cheaper and easier to take with you if travelling. However, the flip back point you mentioned is an issue for me. It's a lot easier to flip back in a print book and find the last reference to that character who's just turned up again in Ch 10. I also prefer print for reference books, like writing books. Thanks for the lowdown :)

  4. Hi Nola,
    I don't think you'll regret it if you do turn to the Dark Side :) The good thing is that we don't have to discard our print books. I think that flipping back drawback is the worst. There are bookmark features built in to reading devices, but they still seem a bit fiddly. Still, as I said, the financial benefit outweighs this IMHO.

  5. I agree with everything you've said, Paula. I love print books and looking at their covers, but I can read so much more since I got my Kindle because the books are cheaper. I have a policy now of only buying print books if a friend has written them or if I've read them on my Kindle and loved them so much I want a copy on my shelf.

    1. Hi Lynne,
      Those are the reasons I buy print books too, along with the sort which I want to flip back through easily. Loving the ebook revolution.

  6. I was thinking you also don't waste a lot of money on books you are glad you didn't get in print. I have deleted books once i have read them if they are no good or even before then.
    Though kindles are good i do wish mine was backlit so using at night wouldn't require a light

    1. Hi Melanie,
      Yes, I've been known to say, 'Phew, I'm glad I didn't get that as a print version,' and with one click, it's off where it belongs.
      However if we change our minds, it's easy to recover them in archived items. I've regretted my hastiness once or twice and done this.

  7. Hi Melanie - I have a cover for my kindle that has a built in reading light. It connects to the battery of the kindle and you just pull it out when you need to read at night. It works a treat.

    1. Thanks for the info, Jenny. I've never heard of these. Now I might add it to my Christmas wish list.

  8. As well as a kindle I've downloaded a free app on my Surface 22 (IPad equivalent) so I can read from that device if I prefer a back light. I'm pretty sure you could do the same with a smart phone, only I haven't tried. As long as you have access to internet when you first boot up, the page on the Surface will sync with where you were up to in kindle.

    1. Hi Susanne,
      I've downloaded something similar for my Ipad Mini, but by the time I got this, I was used to the way the kindle works, with it's paper-like b/g and no back light. But it just goes to show that there are e-readers available for every taste. In fact, some of the new models I've seen recently in Dick Smith's look even more light and streamlined than ever.

  9. What a great topic! I know if I had to choose, I love print books. I love the feel of books, I love turning the pages, the smell of the pages-all of it. A couple years ago, I was very anti-kindle, until I found a paperback that I had just read for free on Amazon. A college student doesn't ignore free. lol

    I feel like I can't live without my kindle. Because of the kindle, I've read books I wouldn't normally have tried because their cheap or free (or indie) and I have found some authors I really love. And if I find myself bored on a Friday night when the library is closed, I can just scroll through ebooks until I find something. But I'll tell you what I miss, bookstores. They're closing left and right here.

  10. Hi Embassie,
    The same thing has been happening here and it's sad to see. We've had some big chain bookstores in the city which have just folded in and closed down because they went broke, and we would never have believed it could happen.
    But like you, I agree that e-books have made it more likely to stumble across great new authors I would not normally have heard of.