The Ebook vs. Printed Book Debate

photo of kindle e-reader, bookmark and paperback book

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, an author named S.M. Stevens decided to weigh in on an age-old debate: Which is better — a traditional hardcover or paperback book; or an e-book accessed on an e-reader like the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble NOOK, or the newer Kobo? Here is her story.

First, I lied. It’s not an age-old debate. But it has been a favorite topic of debate among bibliophiles and bookworms since the first modern-day e-readers were introduced more than ten years ago.

In my humble opinion, a printed book offers many advantages over an ebook:

Why Books Are Better

1. Books are more tactile. A digital device can’t compete with the pleasing heft of a book in your hand, and the satisfaction of turning over page after page. If you’re one of those people who always pulls the dust jacket off a hardcover to see and feel the actual front cover and binding, then you know what I’m talking about.

2. You can fold down the corner of a real book’s page to hold your place. And yes, I do that on a regular basis, as long as the book isn’t high-quality or sentimental enough to stop me.

homemade bookmark birthday gift

3. Reading actual books provides the opportunity to enjoy your favorite bookmark. For me, that’s the one pictured — a homemade birthday gift from my daughter. And if I’m reading more than one book? See #2 above.

4. When you’re done with a book, you can position it proudly on your bookshelf — a trophy of sorts for your reading accomplishments. An ebook, on the other hand, simply disappears back into the black digital hole from whence it came.

5. Hard copy books even smell good. The musty, fusty odor of an older book always takes me back to my youth, when I would curl up in the attic with a story and an apple, escaping the world around me. 

6. And let’s not forget the sound of reading: the subtle whir as you turn a paperback page; or the crisper whoosh of a larger-format children’s book read to your son, daughter, niece or nephew.

7. I like looking at the cover and title of a book every time I prepare to jump into its pages. I like seeing the title and the author’s name at the top of every page spread. With ebooks, I admit I often can’t remember the name of the book I’m reading! 

8. Finally, your printed book will never run out of battery life, leaving you stranded at the climax.

Why Ebooks Are Better

I listed a lot of reasons to prefer actual books to ebooks. But that doesn’t mean I am anti-ebook. In fact, I love my Kindle for reasons including these:

photo of kindle open to show book cover

1. First, mine is very dear to me because it was a gift from my sister when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She presented me with my first Kindle while I was in the hospital, recovering from my surgery. It helped me through that tough first week, and the five months of chemotherapy treatment that followed.

2. My second Kindle’s ability to adjust the light for indoor, outdoor, bright and dim settings, was a game-changer for me. Beach reading? No problem.

3. Reading in bed is much easier with an e-reader, especially if you have a light-sensitive partner who objects to the use of a bedside lamp after hours. Now you can read to your heart’s content while he/she/they slumbers beside you. It feels a bit like reading under the covers with a flashlight after Mom demanded you go to bed.

4. And of course ebooks have to top regular books when it comes to convenience. You can “carry” hundreds of books with you while traveling. When transporting paperbacks on a trip (or even hardcovers for hard-core book fans!), you have to pick and choose between the five books you want to read on vacation, because only two will fit in your suitcase. 

5. Finally, sneaking a read of a sensitive or taboo story is easier with an e-reader. No one needs to know what book you’re perusing. It’s much easier to conceal your choice with an e-reader than tucking a book (or magazine!) inside another to hide your true interest.

The End

In the end, it doesn’t matter which format you prefer: actual book or ebook. The sensory superiority of printed books is matched by the game-changing convenience of ebooks. Whatever gets you reading is the right choice.

Both formats are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. When my novel Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is released by TouchPoint Press in September, you can be sure both options will be available.

However, I do believe that when reading to children, real books are better. Cuddling up to share a story is not the same with an ebook. This will likely change as technology improves. But for now, as this meme from Leading Steps Paediatric Clinic puts it so wonderfully, There is no app to replace your lap.

Meme of rabbit parent reading to young rabbit, lap better than app