Paper books vs ebooks

The other day I read an article (in Dutch) where someone contested the idea of the continuous existence of actual books made out of paper and a cover. He argued that eBooks will soon take over. Many newspapers and magazines are already disappearing and he claimed that it was just a matter of time until real books follow suit. Call me a puritan, a romantic or plain stupid, but I don’t think regular books will fade into oblivion any time soon. Let’s make a comparison between a real book and an eBook and find out why.

Let’s first have a look at the eBook. The eBook is light weight and easy to carry around. You can easily download your books onto the device and it will carry multiple books at the same time. If books predate 1900 you can get them for free and it apparently provides a similar reading experience overall to a regular book.

Regular books, with real pages to turn, have many qualities going for them though. First of all: the smell of books. If you like books you’ll know what you mean. Whether it’s new, second hand, a text book for your studies or a novel you pick up for fun: real books have this smell to them that your Kindle or w/e eBook reader you use will never have. Of course if you don’t like a bookish smell then eBooks are the way to go.

A paper book will give you a direct indication of how much you still have to read until you finish it. The weight and thickness of the book make for a certain anticipation, at least to me, as to how much time it will take to read and this adds to the excitement (or not if it’s an 800 page book and you have to read it within one week). It’s the thrill of turning a page and you know the book is good if you can’t stop reading want to go faster and faster.

I usually always browse through a book before reading it, and even continue to do so as I’m reading it, to see how the chapters are divided up or how many pages I have left before the chapter finishes. I’m sure you can do the same thing with an eBook, but I highly expect it to be less convenient. It’s again, the thrill, the anticipation, the excitement of coming closer to your goal: finishing the book and the satisfaction when you actually do so.

Another thing real books have going for them is the fact that they are printed on paper. I’m reading texts from a screen all day long already. I am hardly convinced that reading books from a screen is a good thing to do. I, for one, find reading from actual paper easier to do (especially with text books) as it is less tiring and makes for easy note taking and highlighting. I know eBook readers have a special lay out that makes it easier to read from a screen, but I still think that after a long day or purely for relaxation, your best bet is to pick up an actual book.

Finally I really like holding on to the things I pay for. When I use cold hard cash to buy something I also want to be able to hold it in my hands. That’s how you know you got your money’s worth in my opinion. One reason why I don’t like paying for any digital contents just yet, is because you’re not given anything tangible in return and lose all rights to the content even when you lose it due to a computer crash. When I buy a real book or a CD I will at least know it is still there unless my house burns down. The chance of a house burning down over a computer crash is slightly less likely to happen though.

Now, I don’t have any experience with eBooks on eReaders as I don’t have one. They look very convenient and I think if you are one of those people who reads multiple books at the same time it may be something to try out. I stick to one book at the time though and love all of the above about reading books in general. I guess it depends on how you read a book whether eBooks are for you. I have been tempted to look into eReaders and eBooks, but I have found it inconvenient, expensive (eBooks are sometimes more expensive than paper editions) and it is yet another device I would have to carry around that uses batteries and needs power. At least you can still read an actual book when there’s a power outage and that’s why I think real books are here to stay.

Which do you prefer? Real books or eBooks? Why?

7 responses to “Paper books vs ebooks”

  1. There only one possible answer to this question: real books! The more the better… but you know what my study looks like, books can take up quite some space. For those who don’t know my study: four walls, three of them hidden behind bookcases (nine of them, all 2.26 m high en 80 cm wide) topped with an out-of-control hat collection. The fourth wall isn’t covered in bookshelves simply because I had to put my windows somewhere to get some light in.
    I also read texts from a screen for work, almost exclusively about work, on line newspapers, magazines etcetera. To relax I also want to touch, feel, smell a book, to see what someone else has done with it. So I agree with on the division between professional texts en private material. Another thing for the real bibliofilia’s among us, a book is also a work of art. A cover whether or not on paper is designed by someone, the lettering and tokens on the back, the pictures especially made for them lose their appeal on screen. At least in my perception.
    Oh and one last thing… my paper books will never have a ‘battery almost empty’ warning.

  2. For me, this is becoming much like CDs vs. digital-only music purchases: It depends entirely on the material, and the circumstances.

    With music, I’ve come to accept digital in many ways. I don’t generally want album-length material, but when I do, I have rarely gone digital… I prefer that booklet. The notes. The insights. But for singles? Especially in the dance music realm where so few album-length projects exist to start with? Digital is fine.

    I’m not a book junkie like you. I don’t read that much, and thus don’t have any particular lust for paper, the romance of paper, its smell, or anything similar. I’m ambivalent really. Is there something intangible about the feel of holding a real book? I suppose so. And there’s a lot to dislike about the experience of e-reading—most of which revolves around issues of user interface and user experience design—which are both poor with most (or all) e-readers. But that’s largely a correctable problem.

    For me, much like a good CD, I want both. I want the digital material to put on my iPhone, or iPod, or whatever. And I want to hold that CD.

    If I had my way, the entire, unabridged, unedited, and complete Prisma Engels/Nederlands woordenboek would reside on my iPad where I can refer to it anywhere, anytime, which fits nicely in my carry-on for use when traveling. Search it by keywords. Enlarge the type when my eyes are tired. Go back to the previous place I was with a click (or touch). AND I would have that hefty printed volume nearby when I’m actively studying, with all 20 or 30 of its bookmarks in various spots, along with other books scattered all over the table, notebooks open, pens and Post-it notes all over, engaging in the material the old-fashioned way.

    Alas, it doesn’t work that way. Most things I want or need aren’t available digitally. Those that are, are abridged (I’m referring to woordenboeken here), nowhere near complete, of questionable value, and I’m constantly reminded that the only reason I have them is because an iPad is a better form factor on an aircraft or in the passenger seat of a car than hefting 10 kilo of paper around with me (compromises—and there are many—or none).

    Finally, having just discovered the fact I can buy e-books in Dutch from and save both the exorbitant shipping costs to the United States as well as the 2 to 3 weeks (or more) it takes for them to get here and get through customs… Well, I only wish I could get EVERYTHING I want that way. Alas, I can’t, so most of my kids books… My woordenboeken (the real ones; the complete ones)… My Dutch movies (yes, my first one arrived yesterday afternoon)… They come the old fashioned way.

    I’ve rambled enough. The bottom line: I want all my books BOTH WAYS. Alas, I largely can’t, and even when I can, it means buying it twice.

    • The buying it twice is a good argument! I have some of my favorite books sitting on my shelf in a paper edition and I don’t want to have to buy it again in digital form just so I can put it on an e-reader. And I’m like that with albums/ CDs too. When I really like something I just want to be able to HOLD it, have the booklet, the artwork etc. I’m just a hopeless romantic lol.

  3. Ik heb hier toevallig van de week naar gekeken. Ik lees veel ‘paper books’ onderweg naar mijn werk en loop altijd te slepen met die dingen. Ik leen altijd boeken uit de bieb dus dat is heel erg goedkoop in verhouding met het aantal boeken ik per jaar lees (ik lees zeker 30 boeken per jaar). Als ik die boeken allemaal los moet kopen voor een e-reader kost dat me dat super veel geld! + het geld dat je kwijt bent voor de e-reader zelf.

    Ik zou wel over een e-reader nadenken op het moment dat je net als bij de normale bieb een abo af kan sluiten en kan lenen wat je wil. Want dat ze een hoop gesjouw schelen.

    Op dit moment ga ik absoluut voor echte boeken!

  4. Well – the ONLY positive thing for me with an ereader is the portability – much lighter when on holiday than taking 3-4 books. That being said, I don’t actually own a physical ereader – I do however have Kindle for PC (which is free) – which I use for classics or modern classics as these are free or much cheaper – even so the classics that I am really interested in, and think I’ll enjoy I’ll usually get on paperback anyway.
    The other thing I get on Kindle PC is indie authors – their books tend to be quite cheap and of course it’s easier and cheaper for them to release an ebook, rather than a paperback, so that’s the other thing I use it for.

    Other than that paper books all the way. Like you I spend a fair bit of time looking at a screen, and although I don’t mind reading the few exceptions above as ebooks as they are cheaper or free (yes most normal books are the same price or more than a paperback) I definitely prefer a real book. The smell of the pages,- new or old, I can sit much more comfortably with a book, there’s just something about a real book that will never go away for me.

    Plus ebooks are subject to VAT, real books aren’t. 😛

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