But a couple of years now after shelling out on a Kindle Paperwhite, I’ve learnt to appreciate the benefits and accept the drawbacks of digital reading.
With surveys highlighting a recent decline in ebook sales in the UK, the impact of digital reading is becoming a lot more interesting now we’re past the initial ‘new wave’ phenomenon. So now seems an appropriate time to reflect on my pros and cons of ebook and paper reading…
Ebooks – the pros
Storage: I no longer have to sweat about the prospect of squeezing yet another bookcase into the spare bedroom.
Portability: The days of allowing enough space – and weight, if flying abroad – in the suitcase for books when packing for a holiday are over.
More flexible reading experience: When lying in bed or reclining on a sun lounger, an ebook is without doubt easier to hold than a paper book that is typically twice as wide and usually requires two hands.
Cost: They’re cheaper than traditional books (although in many cases not as cheap as they used to be).
Ebooks – the cons
Imagery: They’re black and white, diluting the important pleasure of fully admiring the front cover or any images inside.
Checking back: I just need to go back a couple of chapters – or was it a few more? – to remember an incident or minor character that’s returned to the action. I use the scroller at the bottom of the page to guess where it is I need to jump back to, but it takes time – I’m hopping around only able to see one page at a time. Flicking back through physical pages seems to give me a quicker and firmer steer of a narrative’s history.
Sifting through the archives: I often delve into books I may have read months or years before just to recall a particular passage. It’s much nicer (and easier, I find) to browse the spines on the bookshelves, pluck out the book I need and skim through the pages rather than scroll through my electronic library of previous books in order of purchase. Searching through previously read books on an e-reader just feels like a more laborious, soulless process.
Progress just isn’t a percentage thing: Mmm, I’m 63% of the way through a book. Although I appreciate the mathematical accuracy, I much prefer to gauge how far I am through a story by judging the weight of the tome in my hands, or closing it with a bookmark in place and checking out the top-of-the-page edges.
Paper books – the pros
Physicality: Any paper book is an actual thing that was printed, bought and sold (perhaps many times over), and is in your possession for however long you wish. Each and every book is an artefact, with its own look, feel and smell; each mark, blotch, fade or fold making it unique. It’s also available for you to consume whenever you like, just by flipping the cover. There are no batteries to run down or technical hitches. Once my e-reader froze and wouldn’t re-start properly for a couple of days.
Screen break: Like many of us, I spend all of my working day in front of an electronic screen. Yes e-readers come with a smart light setting that can be dimmed in dark rooms to help your eyes, but there’s nothing quite like reading for pleasure while giving yourself a screen break.
Sharing: You can swap and share favourite or recommended reads when meeting up with friends and family, adding a social element to your reading experience.
Casual ownership: If you’re on the beach and fancy a dip in the sea, you feel pretty easy about leaving a paper book by your lounger while you wander out of sight. It’s difficult to take that casual approach with a £100+ device that holds much of your library.
Paper books – the cons
You need light: At night, you have to turn on a light or bedside lamp and risk disturbing your partner.
No choice on presentation: Some books just seem to come with an ugly font or a too small/large type size – and you can’t do anything about it. With ebooks, you can adjust all of that to suit your liking.
The waiting game: Unless you’re in a bookshop (and there’s obviously not many of those left), you can’t just decide to buy a book and then have it seconds later, unlike when ordering an ebook with literally just one click. When ordering a paper book online, more often than not you’re waiting a few days, or sometimes weeks, and at the mercy of the mail delivery companies.
Bad for the environment: There’s no getting away from the fact that, even in these times of sophisticated recycling schemes, the production of paper and ink for printing has a harmful effect on the environment. How this compares to the greenhouse gas emissions of e-readers, however, is up for debate.
Which side are you on? Drop me a line at @PaulJGadsby to discuss the ebook v hard copies debate.