Since the day I planned my post about how books are romanticised by people who emphasise the sensorial experience of reading, I have been thinking about another pressing issue – mentioned as the last point in that post – which I had to write about in more detail. It’s the ultimate battle between the traditional paper books and the modern electronic counterparts, known simply as e-books.
The major news portals and web-magazines have dealt with this topic infinite times in the last years. Some sounded the alarm on the imminent death of traditional books and their publishers; others have reassured that e-books are not as big anymore as they seemed to be. Some articles are downright partial in favour of paper, while others go about it in a more balanced and scientific way.
Well, I will ignore the statistics and the research for now. As always, I will base my post on my own experience. I do not intend to promote any particular e-reader but I’ve only used an old-gen Kindle Paperwhite (excluding the e-reading on tablet and laptop, which is not good on the eyes), which I inherited from Matt.
I want to show my readers that using an e-book reader not only does not pose any threat to physical books but that it can also maximise your reading experience and increase your book possessions.
But first, let’s take a look at some basic advantages and disadvantages of having an e-reader.
+ Pros +
1. Bigger – and portable – storage space
One can have more e-books on an e-reader than physical books in a room. Right now, I have 155 e-books saved on my Cloud – much more than the books in all my apartment. You can be proud of the beauty of your book shelves (you have all the right to be; I am too), but at some point, you will have no space left. But not on an e-reader. Just imagine the myriad of possible book acquisitions that you have, without worrying about running out of storage. And what’s more: you can have this virtual library at your fingertips, wherever you go.
2. It can also be convenient price-wise
Right now you can purchase a Kindle Paperwhite at a minimum of around £50. How much does that translate into paper books? Certainly not as much as all the e-books you can have. I tend to avoid local bookshops because most often they are just not good on my purse. With e-books – many of which are cheaper than their paper counterpart – I also don’t have to worry about shipping costs, as they are delivered to my Kindle for free. And speaking of free stuff, how about all those old classics that many readers would love to read at some point in their life? They are all available for free! But they’re not the only ones.
3. Free e-books let you discover new authors and genres
Amazon also offers book-lending, as well as daily and monthly deals, with discounted or even free e-books available for a limited time. I am subscribed on BookBub, through which I receive daily newsletters with a list of cheap e-books from the genres that I like. This way, I was able to discover new, emerging authors. More often than not, the discounted e-books are a part of a series, so if you like the discounted book, you’ll be wanting to get the other ones. That’s what I did when I got Jacqueline Druga’s The Flu for free – I discovered an author whom I didn’t know, I learned that I actually like the apocalyptic genre, and the sequel was a guaranteed good read!
4. It is good for studying
As a literature university student who has a lot of reading to do (check out my latest post on this subject), I found my Kindle to be extremely convenient. I don’t have to spend money on buying the British classics, for example. Besides, with the Bookmark, Highlight and Add Note features, I find it handier to jot down notes and find again the parts that are important to study. It’s so much better than filling paper books with pencil scribbles. There is also the online dictionary, the Word Wise and the Vocabulary Builder features for difficult words. The downside? Unfortunately, too few critical texts are available as e-books.
CHECK THIS OUT: 1,000+ Open Textbooks and Learning Resources for All Subjects from Irene Fenswick at Smart.Study Blog *
– Cons –
1. Not as nice as printed books
I have already complained about readers giving too much importance to the physical aspect of books, but the truth is that paper books are not only nicer but sometimes they do make the reading experience nicer as well. Nothing will beat the feeling of a book in your hands. A book with an amazing colourful cover and an embossed title. In comparison, an electronic cover seems just like a joke. Yet, I believe this is the least of the disadvantages. What really counts is the reading material inside.
2. Some e-books still seem too expensive
To counteract the 2nd pro I listed above, I have to say that I did find some e-books that cost as much, or even more, than the paperback version. I am not going into why this is so. I would still save money on shipping but it still makes me wonder. On the other hand, once an e-book is on your device and is read, you cannot do much more other than remove it. With a physical book, when read, you can easily re-sell it, swap it for a new one or lend it to a friend.
3. Technical issues
As with any other gadgets, an e-reader will eventually have its technical issues. Mine, thankfully, still works pretty well. The only issue I ever had was forgetting to charge it and ending up with no battery life in the middle of my bus commute. Actually, a few weeks ago I had a small scare: just by chance, I saw an article on BBC warning of an essential Kindle update which had to be done immediately. If I had not seen it and if I had not used my Kindle (I don’t use it daily), I risked not being able to access my e-books. Now that’s scary! And yet, physical books are not eternal either; they are still vulnerable to fire, water and natural deterioration.
4. Problems with the formatting
This is the only issue that really annoys me. The classic e-books I am using for my studies have been made by volunteers, which I appreciate, yet their formatting is not always up to standard. At times, there is no linked index list to help me access whatever chapter I need. On other occasions, the formatting of paragraphs and the distinction from one chapter to another are not great either. Not to mention typos. It is even worse when you find all this in an e-book which was actually for sale!
So, is an e-reader better, worse or just as good as physical books?
There is no right answer because, in the end, everyone has their own opinion. Yet, I’m for the 3rd option: just as good. I don’t believe that e-books will ever completely take over from paper books. Both formats have their merits. However, the point of the whole post was to show you that since both are just as good, you don’t have to choose one or another: you can have both!
How to use e-books and physical books together
1. Explore new authors and genres, or rediscover the classics, with cheap/free e-books.
As I have already mentioned, discounted e-books are a good way to discover a new, good read. These new, good reads may lead to a long-lasting appreciation for a previously unknown writer or genre.
2. Buy the paperback/hardback of your favourite e-books.
Once you have found an e-book that you have really liked, go on and buy its physical version. That way, you will be supporting the author better, your reading experience will feel more intimate and, why not, it can be the start of a new fandom!
3. Start a select collection of physical books.
If you start purchasing the physical form of your favourite e-books, you will be starting an author or genre collection. Apart from showing your appreciation, you will be regulating your purchases of paper books, focusing on quality over quantity. By saving shelf space as well, your collection will appear more valuable than ever.
4. Keep expanding your horizons with e-books.
After buying your favourite paper books, don’t just stop there. Keep using your e-reader to discover more new e-books. As many of them are cheap, you will not feel as guilty about spending money on a book which you are not sure you will like. Who knows, you might find your future lifetime favourite among such e-books!
Did I convince you yet? It’s ok if I didn’t, I don’t have to. Yet I do hope that I will see less ‘elitism’ around. Readers of e-books are no lesser kind and they do not necessarily prefer the electronic version over the physical one. It is just another way of possessing and reading more books.