Books Vs. E-Books

Gadgets such as the Kindle and Nook have changed the way we think about books to a great degree. It’s been said that less and less people are reading books as the result of the content-rich environment we live in courtesy of sites like YouTube and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. To a degree, these assumptions are absolutely correct. Our lives have become busier and we’re constantly being bombarded by content both online and off. Television, even now, has a firm grasp on a great deal of our time here in the US. So, will the proliferation of e-books save the publishing industry?

I’m still on the fence about this one. While e-books are generally very useful, the advantages of physical books are still very clear. Traditional books never have to be charged, can be used at any time during flight, and last practically forever. On the other hand, e-books can be read in the dark thanks to backlit screens, are quickly searched via software, and can be carried virtually anywhere.

I started reading e-books when I owned a Palm Handspring back in the early 2000s. This little device took several months of savings and had very little to offer in terms of processing power or storage capacity. It did, however, work very well as a handheld e-book reader. Granted, most of the titles available at the time were typically pirated, but it did work. I remember turning on auto-scrolling and kicking back with the e-book scrolling by at the same pace as my eyes, a convenience I miss even now with the simple page turning offered by the Kindle. Do you know of a good iOS reader app that does autoscrolling and works with Kindle books?

Either way, the advantages and disadvantages of each medium should be weighed carefully before dropping your money for one or the other. As explained in a recent LockerGnome article, e-books aren’t always a better deal than a physical book. Likewise, you can often find a better price for an electronic version of a new release.

Portability

Winner: E-books
E-books are by far the most portable between the two. You can carry 1,000 works of literature in your pocket, rather than having to strain your back lugging around what could amount to an impossible several thousand pounds of paper and binding.

If you’ve ever changed addresses with even a moderate book collection, you’re probably acutely aware of just how impossible it can be to move boxes of books in and out of your home. One or two is fine, but a dozen books can be a backbreaker.

Cost

Winner: Tie
Cost is one area up for intense debate. While new releases are generally cheaper in electronic form, you can find older books at a very reasonable price. In addition, used book stores can still be found all over the place and these books can commonly be found at half the original price.

Traditional books can be traded, bought, and sold. You’re capable of making some, if not most of your original investment back as you pass the book on to the next owner.

E-books are less flexible. You’re usually bound by DRM and unable to share the book unless you hand someone your e-book reader or user name and password. Even then, you may be breaking terms and conditions. Books predate the modern notion of licensing, allowing you to “own” the item. You don’t have to ask permission or purchase a special license to resell it.

Battery Life

Winner: Books
“What is the battery life of a book?” This question was asked by one of my close friends after I attempted to explain my reasoning behind keeping some important reference books on the iPad in PDF form. The discussion revolved around why someone would even need to use an iPad. My point about its usefulness as an e-book reader was easily lost in the reality that books don’t fail on you because you’re not able to plug it in once in a while. As long as you have some lighting in the room, you’re good to go.

Experience

Winner: Tie
Experience is one area that is different for each individual. E-books are great in that they can be easily searched via the e-book reader software, can sync across multiple Wed-enabled devices, and can be displayed with user-defined fonts, background colors, and more. An e-book reader is typically fairly light, and can be installed on everything from a smartphone to a desktop computer. Tablets are the most popular reading devices, and the Nook and Kindle have made reading electronic books a cost-efficient pastime. For less than $100, you can read electronic books in a way that is actually easier on the eyes than some traditional print.

On the other hand, books come in a variety of shapes and sizes specific to the content. The feel and almost spiritual satisfaction some get out of actually owning or simply holding a physical book in their hands can’t be replaced by 1s and 0s. The printed word has been around (and even responsible for) some of the most significant revelations in the history of mankind. Imagine where we would be if we didn’t have books from hundreds of years ago? A single book detailing the struggles of our ancestors is important, and to many, having a physical reminder available should we one day lose our precious 1s and 0s is very important.

E-books may be here to stay, but there will be a place in this world for physical printed media for generations to come..

Navigation

Winner: Books
Reference books, especially, are typically easier to navigate as they can be bookmarked with important content made readily accessible without load times or lockups so common with large PDF files on mobile devices. All it takes is a turn of a page and you can be where you need to be in the book. Even with modern processors in portable devices, e-books can take a heavy toll and really drag down the experience.

One example of this would be role-playing rulebooks. If you’ve ever tried navigating through a Dungeons & Dragons rulebook to find various bits and pieces of information that aren’t located in the same section, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s a pain, to say the least. Perhaps this will get better as processing speeds increase along with RAM.

Final Thoughts

Books and e-books are strikingly similar. Both of them have a fair share of pros and cons. What works great for you might not do so for the next person. Ultimately, the choice comes down to personal preference and needs. Many still prefer mixing the two in their own personal libraries depending on what each book is intended for.

Bottom line: There can be no clear winner in this battle of the literary mediums. Depending on the reader, the book, or the device, either side is equally capable of winning preference. What do you think? Are you more inclined to purchase an e-book or something more physical?

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • http://Smallbiztechnology.com Ramon Ray

    I really like them both – really depends on the situation. Books are great to go to the park all day long with – but you can only carry so many. ebooks are great when travelling a lot and wanting to read…

  • http://twitter.com/inbalancebydsn in balance by design

    I moved with 14 boxes of books before. Not fun! I love traditional books but am also open to getting e-books in the future. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/JohnWatt7 John Watt

    I am by no means a book worm, I only read the odd book hear and there, but between a Kindle and paperback, my vote lies with the Kindle. Simply because it is much lighter than paperbacks and allows for more books to be stored in a smaller space.

  • Carl Burks

    As far as works of fiction go it doesn’t get any better than my Kindle DX. As far as trying to game master a nice session of D&D, Pathfinder or GURPS actual paper wins hands down. Although the D20 SRD is great for looking up basic rules.

  • http://twitter.com/noahv Noah Van Loen

    I just finished reading Cryptonomicon, and (at 1139 pages) I was kinda wishing for the eBook version by the time I was done.  Also would have liked eReader capabilities to notate/bookmark sections for follow-up / review…

  • Karl Entner

    Personally I prefer books due to the facts most of my technical stuff for computer repairs and programming are on the old paperback or hard covered books. Or even going through a machinist book for references for things. I have not had a chance to use something like the kindle or other similar devices. Since it is not the same as holding. Since I don’t think they can cover technical manuals for something like that Science fiction and bios maybe. But not like what I need for as a computer technician or programmer. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrianESharp Brian Sharp

    I’m all about ebooks because I can carry a lot of content with me at once, and for me, it’s all about content, not paper.  I am interested and concerned with the words themselves, not how they’re delivered to me, therefore the more convenient delivery method wins for me.

  • MrVulcan

    I just found “wed-enabled” in this article, which I do believe should be “web-enabled”.

  • Electricbug

    I used to carry all kinds of books with me, but found they would get worn and torn quickly.  I got my first pocket pc many years ago and started finding e-books – a lot can be found for free from Project Gutenburg and other sources including Baen publishing which offers a free library – usually of the first couple of books in a series, then once you,re hooked, you have to buy the rest, but the prices are reasonable, comparable to a paperback version.  I recently migrated the thousands of ebooks I have to my Android smart phone and tried several readers before settling with the Cool Reader app.

  • http://gislikarl.com Gísli Karl Gíslason

    I don’t understand why books win over ebooks for navigation; with ebooks you can bookmark multible pages, search for keywords or even save a small note from the book. And while it may take some time to process your query you still don’t have to do nearly as much as finding what you’re looking for yourself with a traditional book.

  • Jignacio9999

    As an old man who was born in 1946 I grew with a feeling of respect and great estimation of books. I hold hundreds of every size. II respect the new tecnology and portability of e-books. But ¿have you tried to read a book of art, or with lots of images in a kindle?

  • Menevets

    PDFs may be slow to navigate, but I find the using the Kindle app on an iPad easy and fast to navigate with bookmarks and notes. 

    I would much rather read an academic or technical textbook on a fast tablet with a a good reader app than be constantly flipping pages on a print book. I can share my notes and bookmarks across devices too. 

    You can’t touch a word on a print book and get a definition. With a print book, you have to grab a dictionary.

    You lose your print textbook, you lose all your notes and post-it flags that you took weeks to make. You lose your ereader, you replace it and your notes and bookmarks are right there after a sync.Navigating on an eink ereader, like a Kindle or Nook, now that is a world of pain.

  • Ladysatel

    I agree that reference books are best as printed media. It is hard jumping back and forth in an e-book.

    However for casual reading and some of that naughty reading you don’t want people to see the cover of – eBooks are best.

  • http://twitter.com/jenharvey Jen Harvey

    I was a skeptic…book lover from childhood…addicted to the feel of a book in my hands.  Then came the Kindle.  I was immediately hooked.  I love the portability and the overall experience.  Some complain about the reference books, but the annotation ability and search on the Kindle made me retire my highlighters and sticky flags!

  • http://www.digitalcupcake.net Digital Cupcake

    I’ve been reading a lot more recently on my iPad/Kindle Fire as opposed to a physical book, primarily because of the ease of downloading them from iBooks or Kindle Store. Also I like the fact that I could simply take my iPad on the run, instead of choosing which books to carry with me for travels.
    I enjoy reading an eBook but my enjoyment goes as far as casual reading. When it comes to textbook-like materials, a physical book is an absolute must-have for me. Sure I’m able to annotate and highlight on the eBook but the lack of the ability to flip through the pages freely and skim through materials kills my appeal for using an eBook for learning materials. If I were in college, I’d absolutely prefer a real textbook over a digital book…the learning experience attainable from a physical book is second to none, at least for me.

    Thanks for a great article!! ;)

  • http://www.digitalcupcake.net Digital Cupcake

    I’ve been reading a lot more recently on my iPad/Kindle Fire as opposed to a physical book, primarily because of the ease of downloading them from iBooks or Kindle Store. Also I like the fact that I could simply take my iPad on the run, instead of choosing which books to carry with me for travels.
    I enjoy reading an eBook but my enjoyment goes as far as casual reading. When it comes to textbook-like materials, a physical book is an absolute must-have for me. Sure I’m able to annotate and highlight on the eBook but the lack of the ability to flip through the pages freely and skim through materials kills my appeal for using an eBook for learning materials. If I were in college, I’d absolutely prefer a real textbook over a digital book…the learning experience attainable from a physical book is second to none, at least for me.

    Thanks for a great article!! ;)

  • http://twitter.com/VitalyGrab Vitaly Grab

    Ebooks, but I am looking forward to buy ebooks by pages or chapters.

  • http://twitter.com/JackWestMD H. Jack West, MD

      It’s much easier to have a visceral attachment to a book, but I’m with Brian — it’s really about the content, not paper.  As illustrated by Amazon’s and Google’s moves towards storing content in a cloud and having them be available on a device anywhere, access to the content will become the key, beyond the platform — whether it’s a physical book or CD, or the flavor of the month gadget.  

       And as “in balance” mentioned, storage is a HUGE factor.  As I overcome my emotional reluctance to part with books, old cassette tapes, and vinyl albums, I find that huge amounts of my home’s storage space are newly open.  In fact, about 2/3 of what I used to cram into an old Toyota to go back and forth to college would now be replaced by a small device or two that can also make video calls, keep up with every person I like and a few I don’t, and even play Angry Birds.  No book can do that.