A Great Debate: E-Book or Paperback–Which Do You Prefer?

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ebook-vs-printI used to work with a girl who never bought books–NEVER bought books.

Before you light your torches and sharpen your pitchforks I should probably mention she does READ books–she reads all the time; however, she only reads e-books, and only if they are free.

I’ve known people on both sides of the spectrum: those who only read e-books (old coworker) and those who only read paperbacks (my mother).

I’m sure most of you, like me, fall somewhere in the middle.

My personal philosophy: It doesn’t matter as long as you read.

Let me make a confession: I was once one of those people who used to touch, dust, and eye-caress my paperbacks, swearing to them I’d never betray them by downloading an e-book. Yeah, well I also swore I’d never join Facebook and twitter, so . . . (cough, cough)

Life changes and so do we. Granted, I didn’t buy my first e-book until last year. The invention of the e-book was an ancient time long ago when cell phones were first climbing out of the primordial ooze so to speak. Downloading an e-book required a fancy expensive reader or your computer. I just didn’t like reading books on my computer–still don’t. Everything changed when I got my iPhone and my tech/phone savvy coworker (who only reads e-books) showed me how to download them.

I was hooked.

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Downloading e-books has certainly taken a load off of my bookshelf, which is struggling to hold 50-100 paperbacks. I now have roughly a dozen books to read on my phone. This does not mean I will be snubbing the traditional format, however.

So how do I decide what format to buy? How do you decide?

When to Purchase Paperback

  • If I own part of a series in paperback, I’m going to purchase the remaining books in that format or else it looks like I have a (gasp) incomplete set. I’m sure Terry Brooks fans get this.
  • If it’s a really, really, really gorgeous cover. ‘Nuff said.
  • If it’s a classic. Sure, you can read “The Hobbit” or “Pride and Prejudice” on your Kindle, but to me, that just feels wrong. It’s a personal hangup. Personally I love to read the old books in a velvet tufted Victorian high-back chair–which I used to have until my cat destroyed it, so now I just read them in bed.
  • If you want it signed, I really recommend the paperback. I don’t even know if signing an e-book is an option. Does anyone have the answer to that? For instance, I really wanted to get a signature from James Alexander Thom on my copy of “Panther in the Sky,” but I had to work that day.
  • When the book is your own, you’ve got to have a paperback copy. Am I right?

When to Buy an E-book

  • When your bookshelf looks like this . . .

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  • Ugly cover. ‘Nuff said.
  • So you can read where you aren’t supposed to e.g., work. It’s much easier to hide your phone during a meeting than an entire book.
  • If you want your book to be more portable. It’s easier to carry your phone or tablet than a book. Think of it, you can carry hundreds of books instead of one. If you forget your book at home, chances are, you did not forget your phone.
  • To save money. It’s not always but it’s often cheaper to get an e-book.
  • For the instant gratification. You want to read that book now? You can. Click download and the book is yours within 60 seconds. From your couch! At any hour! If you wake up at midnight hankering for a book, you can have a book. If you wake up hankering for McDonalds–ignore it, that is an unhealthy food craving. You’re just wanty. Get a book instead.

Well, those are my reasons. What are yours? How do you choose?

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83 thoughts on “A Great Debate: E-Book or Paperback–Which Do You Prefer?

  1. Great post! I tend to buy ebooks if it’s an author I’ve never read before. The price point and convenience of ebooks has allowed me to read more new authors in the past year than I have before. I’m not afraid to take risks because if I don’t like something, it has cost me little. With paperbacks, I need to know I’m likely to enjoy what I’ve bought, so I stick to authors I’ve read and liked previously.

  2. Although I’m a millennial, I prefer paperback books. I love the feel of turning the page and folding down the corner when I’m at a stopping point. Oooh, it just gives me goosebumps! With paperbacks, I’m deeply immersed in the story. Not so much with e-books. I get distracted easily when I read e-books for some reason. That being said, I do have several books downloaded on my Amazon Kindle app on my phone. Most of them are free classics and authors I’ve never read before. But honestly, I’ve probably only read three of my 50 or so downloaded books! What can I say? I’m a paperback kinda girl! Oh, and I completely agree with you. If it’s part of a series, I NEED the paperback copy!

    • I get distracted reading e-books too, but it’s only because I have them on my phone. I’m tempted to check twitter or my text. Nothing like an incoming text to interrupt you while you’re reading.

  3. I have had an e-reader (started with a Nook, then added a Kindle) ever since they came out. I just love reading like that. But I still love to hang out in libraries and bookstores and I have my old stand by books on the shelves. Plus my author friends who I want to support, I purchase (and get signed) their paper books.

    E-Reader Pros
    1. light weight
    2. you can’t lose your place if you fall asleep reading
    3. I ALWAYS have it with me so I read a lot more
    4. I never run out of books to read
    5. Some indie authors do not publish paper books
    6. I just find it easier to read on my Kindle

    E-Reader Cons
    1. *crickets*

  4. My iPad has a Kindle and it’s getting filled up with titles. I have about 3000 paper books and am still on the fence about which I prefer. Each has positive points. Lots of my books I haven’t read yet, even as I keep adding more I want to read. Adding more to my Kindle isn’t helping matters.
    🙂 🙂

  5. I never used to read e-books. Thought I would hate them. About twenty pages into my first e-book a few years ago…well, let’s just say I was a convert (something along the lines of ‘I never have to move books again!’ and ‘wait, this means I can take ALL my books with me wherever I go!’). It is to the point where if a book isn’t available as an e-book, I just don’t buy it – and there aren’t really exceptions (though if someone ever agrees to publish my book, I will probably make one). Even my ‘I need something to read on the first 10 minutes of a flight’ reason no longer exists.

  6. Interesting look at books and e-books. A good read. 🙂

    As for the young lady you mentioned, I’d like to point out to her that all of those books she reads (for free) were written by someone. When a reader hears ‘free’, a writer hears ‘I don’t get paid’.

    BTW, another type of person who reads only paper books is the person who CAN’T read e-books. For some reason, my mom gets a very, very bad headache from reading on any type of screen, (even e-paper)

    • Thanks. I really wanted to point that out in this post that it’s very important to buy books in addition to downloading them for free. I just didn’t want to go off on a rant. haha. I have a combination of free e-books and ones I’ve paid for. Likewise, I have library books and purchased paperbacks on my shelf. I think I may need to blog about this subject. I’m glad you said it. People seem to think that authors who want money are greedy. Doctors get paid. They don’t just do it to save lives, and they shouldn’t. Likewise, writing books is not free. The cost are higher than I could have imagined when I started writing.

      • I can understand that.

        I also read some free e-books, but mostly ones from Project Gutenberg. In the year I’ve been writing as a amateur self-published author, I cringe whenever I think about ‘free books’. It’s SO much work to be just giving away like that…

        Exactly! One has to make a living somehow. I really can’t think of another career in that requires so much time before getting a finished product. You have to eat in the interim.

    • I’m one of those Can’t Read E-books persons. It has to do with the combination of visual disabilities I have. If I end up with an e-book (say, something I got from Project Gutenberg, for research), I put it through a text-to-speech converter. Sometimes I can do that with web pages and blogs, because they’re not in a disability-friendly format. TTS isn’t a perfect solution. Paper is still easier on the eye.

  7. Charles Lominec

    For novels, I prefer a physical book, but I’m totally comfortable with an ebook. I like e-books for my RPG sessions because of how easy it is to transport them and access certain pages I need. I’ll be reading physical novels for a while. I have a pile of need-to-reads to get through before I can entertain reading an e-novel.

  8. I’m very partial to physical books. It adds something to the experience for me – makes it more purposeful or tangible or something. I prefer listening to music on vinyl for the same reasons. Of course, I listen to cds and mp3s all the time and have been known to read ebooks, but given the time and option, give me a dusty paperback that smells like an old library any day.

  9. If I had space and money, I’d have a library stretching from floor to ceiling; but I don’t. I love the feel of real books, they are like treasures to me. But life changes… I can now pack virtually all of my worldly possessions in my car (I have no ‘home’ anymore and live with my daughter’s family) and I carry my library on my Kindle. I am so grateful for ebooks… without them, the loss of my ‘real’ books would burn a hole in my soul, But one day – one sweet and wonderful day – I want a house with a fully stocked, floor to ceiling library!

  10. As a writer and publisher, I like eBooks because of how easy it is to produce and then for what is produced to be shared.

    But as a reader, I am definitely more likely to read a real book 🙂

  11. I got a Nook 3 1/2 years ago and never looked back. Now I can’t hardly stand to read a printed book.

    I like to do things like knitting and exercising while I read. Both of those things are 100times harder with a printed book. I used to have to carry this whole rig that consisted of a wire book stand, and a plexiglas holder, plus a pillow so I could read while exercising or knitting. Now I don’t need any of that.

    I have a disgraceful number of books in both print and electronic, including many of the classics. I still like to have copies of my very favorite books in print, because I find them decorative, But I’ll never read them. I have dups on my Nook, and it’s so much easier to read on that.

    People often talk about the smell of books, but my sense of smell stinks, so I’ve never found that to appeal to me.

    I’m just an all around e-book junkie.

  12. I like reading physical books, but since my bookshelf looks exactly like yours I’m starting to really appreciate e-books for simplifying my cluttered life. 🙂 Great post!

  13. I always liked to curl up with a good paperback book before I lost my sight, and still like to do the same with the odd braille book, but I think even if I could still see I’d be one of those who likes to read both. For me though, ebooks are the best thing that could have happened… They’re a lot less bulky than braille books, and much cheaper than audiobooks. However, I do still read the odd braille book, and listen to audiobooks regularly.

    I’m also one of those people who likes to have the whole set in a certain format: if I start collecting it as audiobooks, I want the whole thing in audiobooks. Plus, I prefer reference books to be in braille, because it’s easier to scan through paper books than ebooks (for me it is, anyway).

    I’m glad they’ve made Kindles so accessable to the visually impaired now, and that I have ebooks I can read. But I do miss paperback books… The feel of them in your hands, the smell of them; be it the musty smell of an old book, or that smell a new book has… No other format can duplicate it!

    My own books are only available as ebooks though, because it’s easier for me with formatting, etc. I mean, as it is there’s a lot more involved in cover creation than there would otherwise be.

  14. As for e-book signing, there used to be a way for authors to sign their e-books, but I never used it or even figured out how to do it; don’t know if authors still use it. As for how I decide? My mother has a Kindle & she reads both e-books AND paperbacks voraciously. I agree with Claire.Luana e-books for travel and paperback for home. However, since I have not broken down and bought a Kindle (I tried to read my mom’s) yet, if ever (never say never), I don’t want it to be like my MP3 player: I wanted one so badly and now I have two and I never listen to them. Maybe on a plane but I’m usually medicated out of my mind when I fly. I usually read e-books on my desktop or read paperbacks though I have nothing against e-books. My first novels were e-books yet you’re right, if you’re an author–GOTS to have those paperbacks in hand! Since I began writing I rarely read anything in any format or genre other than non-fiction history textbooks whereas my entire life I read everything I could get my hands on–even cereal boxes and telephone books if I was desperate (no joke).
    So what’s the answer to this (I predict going to be age-old discussion, lol) debate? I always kind of pictured e-books and print books existing side by side happily. I also think that as reader generations pass, e-book format may become the only format available since those near future generations know only e-book technology and print books may fade into memories or artifacts in museums…kind of like rotary dial stationary phones and typewriters. But that’s just me…

  15. “She only reads e-books, and only if they are free”, pretty much says it all these days. More and more people have that attitude towards e-books. Why pay for it? It’s not as if it is a real book?
    Well I hate to burst their bubble, but whether you read a novel in paperback, hardback or in one of the many e-book formats, is immaterial. If you didn’t purchase your copy, you are cheating the author of the book out of the pittance he or she gets back from his/her publisher from sales of his/her book(s).
    People like that make me sick. She should seriously rethink her attitude towards e-books!

    • If people love books, they should find a way to support the author. If you got it for free, at least review it. Writing cost more than money, but time–time authors won’t have because they have to work multiple jobs because writing doesn’t pay the bills. Such a shame. I think everyone should be paid to do what they love.

  16. I tend to prefer reading paperbacks, but the fact that I can hop from a Kindle to the Kindle app on my tablet or phone, picking up the book where I left it each time, means that my e-books are accessible to me on the tram, in queues, and in waiting rooms. Accessibility is a big thing, but for the sheer love of reading, I’d rather be in a chair with a good book.

    Having said that, if I’m reading something light and pleasurably guilty, you can’t beat the old digital 😉

  17. The majority of my book purchases are still print versions but any books I review I get an e-copy… that way if I’m not partial to it after I’ve read it, I can just hit delete and never have to think of that book again! My Kobo came with 100 classic books… but it was a gift and I rarely ever use it. I stole my husband’s Kindle (a door prize from a golf tournament) and tend to use that for my e-reading. I fully plan to purchase a good dozen or more Indie Author books for my Kindle but at this time I have two shelves of “to be read” print books to get through before I can justify ‘buying’ e-books. I like the mobility and flexibility e-reading offers but as long as a print book doesn’t make my arms fall asleep holding it for hours at a time, I will always prefer the feel of paper and the physical turn of a page 🙂

  18. Jon

    Bit late to the party, but … I have over a thousand books in dead-tree format, the oldest being a Penguin paperback my dad bought in 1962, and as many again on the Kindle (with quite a lot of overlap). The Kindle is great, it is light and portable and contains a 1,000 books, but you can’t read it in the bath (well, you could, but not going to risk it) and I have many specialist titles and out of print books that are never going to be e-books. So, yay for both! I wish I’d had a Kindle when reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The hardback weighs a ton.

  19. Reblogged this on Brainfluff and commented:
    And we were having this discussion last night… I do enjoy reading on my Kindle – but if pushed probably still prefer a brand new book – I’m addicted to the smell of new pages… What about you?

      • Nothing to beat that smell of new pages is there? I’d wear it as perfume if it were on the shelves… However, I would recommend the Kindle – their electronic print is far kinder on the eyes than a phone screen.

  20. The list was absolutely true in my case. I definitely will go out and buy the paperback (or even hardback) if it is classic, completes my pre-ebook purchased set, or if I love the story so much that I don’t want to risk anyone or anything accidentally or intentionally altering the contents or availability of the book from my shelves.

  21. Oh, you definitely need to get the paperback if it’s your own book, and also if you did the cover art or were a beta reader, etc. (I get print versions of the books I’ve edited, if a print version is available.)

    An important but seldom-discussed fact: Many cats don’t like to sit on Kindles (or other e-readers, I assume), and as everyone knows, cats read with their backsides, so e-books are not the way to go if you’re trying to instill an appreciation of literature in your feline overlord. 🙂

  22. My husband bought me the very first kindle to ever come out for Christmas many years ago. He said he was afraid I was squeezing him out with so many books. I’ve been hooked on the kindle and ebooks ever since. It is a great money and space saver. I have no problems paying for an ebook I want. If I really like the book or the author, I will go buy the actual book. I still have two rooms in my house full of books, ceiling to floor. I still go to the bookstore and buy the physical books if they strike my fancy. I see it as a merging of two worlds. There is room for all three, paperbacks, hardbacks, and ebooks. I completely wore out my first kindle and am now on my second one. I do read the classics, but I feel they should be read in leather bound editions. Just a personal preference and an excuse to buy them in that format. Hee Hee!

  23. I have about 200 books, more or less, on my bookshelves, desk, floor. I have probably close to 400 on my Kindle. At almost 68 years old, I probably don’t have enough time left to read all of the books on my book wish list. I prefer real books over e-books, but there is only so many I can fit in my small office. E-books are great for travel. stashing in your purse for down time, such as waiting in the dentist’s office, etc., and there is no guilty feeling about deleting them when you’ve finished reading them (unlike real books which are painfully difficult to part with).

    • I know what you mean. I’m not yet thirty, but I know I’ll never read all the books I want before my eyes are either too bad or . . . well, you know. And yes, real books are so hard to part with. Not sure why.

  24. I prefer paperback, but after getting a Kindle I honestly don’t mind ebooks anymore. I buy books usually based on the author or if it is something that really grabs me. My wife never buys a book, but goes to the local library all the time. Great way to read a lot without breaking the bank and if your book shelves are full they take donations.

    • That’s what my mom does. She doesn’t have any extra income for books. We get her a gift card to the book store once in a while. She’s like me though. She has a hard time finding something she really wants to read.

  25. I’m very new to e-books (I got my Kobo only a few months ago) and I find it so handy. I read e-book on it, but also files I used to have only in PDF and was forced to read on my PC, which I hate. That’s actually the reason why I bought the Kobo.

    When come to decide which format I’ll buy, it comes down to how badly I want the book. If it’s an author I like, I’ll get he paperback (best of all is the hardback, if I can find it at a reasonable price), if it’s a new author I don’t know or an odd story I’d just like to try out, I’ll get the e-book. Sometime this doesn’t save money, but it does save space.

    Oh… and I’ll never resist buying an old book. That’s a completely different story 🙂

  26. I just started reading e-books a couple of months ago with a Kindle app on my computer. I agree it’s convenient, but for me, it will never take the place of a real paper and ink book that I can hold in my hand. If I had the choice, I’d pick the paperback every time. Love your bookshelves, by the way.

  27. Seems like an ongoing debate. I love the ease of my kindle to tote many books with me when I travel. But the books I buy in paper are all books pertaining to the craft of writing because it’s so much easier to dogear ad flip back and forth for reference than doing so electronically. 🙂

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