Printed books versus e-books! Which side are you on? Take your positions and draw your weapons because it’s a bloody, gory, paper-shreddy, gadget-smashy fight to the death! Or is it?
I honestly don’t think it is. I shall now provide you with Laurie’s Definitive List of Pros and Cons with regards to both printed books and e-books, which should explain why I don’t have a particular preference. (Disclaimer: It’s probably not definitive.)
My e-book pros and cons were written with the Kindle in mind, because I have a Kindle. I’m not keen on the idea of reading on a back-lit tablet screen because of the eye strain, and I prefer the Kindle because of its longer battery life and single function (no internet distractions!) but I know that plenty of people are perfectly happy with the tablet as a reading device. To each her own!
Laurie’s ‘Definitive’ List of Pros and Cons
Printed books are physically wonderful things. The texture of the paper, the cover, the size and the weight, the way that time affects the object, making it softer, yellower, more lovely in many ways… They are great to look at, great to hold, great to page or flip through, great to stroke, stroke, stroke. You can stack them up or put them in a bookshelf and they are beautiful.
Libraries and bookshops and the magic of browsing through them wouldn’t exist as they do without the physical wonderfulness of books.
Printed books are transferable. You can lend them out, trade them, give them away, wrap them in paper as a gift, hand them down through generations or donate them to charity book shops. They get battle-worn and marked and stained… and it gives them character.
You can use bookmarks in printed books. Bookmarks are practical and and they’re also just nice, especially when they’re old ticket stubs or receipts or other things attached to happy memories.
You can get printed books signed by the author, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Book smell. Mmm.
Printed books take up space. This is not always practical, especially when you have to travel light or you only have a small bookshelf.
Trees have to die for printed books to be made and the production process is usually dirty and bad for the environment.
Some printed books are very big and heavy, which can make them awkward to read in various situations and inconvenient to transport. I wouldn’t want to carry À la recherche du temps perdu around all day just so I can read it on the tube, for example.
Precipitation. Paper and precipitation are not friends. Another weather-related issue is the difficulty of turning pages with gloves on or when your fingers are so cold that they cease to function.
I’ve included the aging process of books as a ‘pro’, but it can also be a ‘con’. When books start shedding pages and coming undone at the spine, it’s just horrible. Replacing a book can be sad, expensive or even impossible.
Printed books can get damaged; scratched, bent, buckled, creased too deeply along the spine… Of course this isn’t necessarily a problem, but many books sit gathering dust in bookshops and publishing houses, shunned because customers don’t like to pay for imperfect specimens. Tragic.
Portability. A nifty little e-reader can be slipped snugly into a backpack or handbag and follow you around all day without breaking your back or getting itself crumpled or ripped by your keys or irreversibly tainted by the fermenting banana lurking beneath.
There’s a button for page turning. This is a massive pro for anyone who uses public transport that requires standing and a free hand for clinging onto straps and poles in order to prevent grave injury or death. The ability to turn pages with a subtle flick of the thumb also allows one to read while wearing inconveniently fluffy gloves, or while finding oneself pressed uncomfortably into the armpit of a fellow commuter. As long as you can achieve a line of sight with the words on the page, you can read anywhere, in any situation, and in some of the less desirable situations, the ability to read might be the only thing preventing you from committing homicide. Breathe in, breathe out, get lost in the literature.
An e-reader is easy to prop up and you can put it flat in front of you and read it without even touching it, until you need to ‘turn the page’. Most printed books need to be held open, and this can be a bit uncomfortable or inconvenient. I like reading in bed. Everyone who does this knows the difficulties and dangers of reading a heavy book while horizontal: developing dead arms and twinging wrists, accidentally losing your place, damaging the book or even dropping the book on your face and suffering a concussion.
You can change the font size. You can look up words without hauling out a massive dictionary or having access to the internet. You can make notes.
Some books are rare or difficult to find as hard copies, but are easily purchasable as e-books.
If you can’t get to the library or the book store for whatever reason, you can stock up on e-books without leaving the house. This is not something that means much to me, but I imagine that there are many housebound people who benefit enormously from this.
E-readers have batteries, and batteries need to be charged. The battery on my Kindle lasts at least a month, so it’s not as if this is a big problem, but because I need to charge it so infrequently, I tend to forget that I need to charge it at all and I’ve almost had it die on me in the middle of a tube-read a few times. Almost. Thankfully it does give a bit of warning before refusing to give you your literary fix, so in most situations you can get it some life juice before disaster strikes… but being told repeatedly that your battery is low is distracting and a bit stressful!
Flipping through an e-book to remind yourself about something or to find an amusing passage to share with someone is not as nice or convenient as flipping through a printed book. Yes, you can make use of virtual bookmarks, but often you don’t know that you’ll need to refer back to something until you actually do, so that doesn’t really help much. It’s a surmountable obstacle, but I find the surmounting to be a tad arduous.
The percentage bar doesn’t give the same tangible sense of progress as a growing section of paper on the left side and a shrinking one on the right. It might seem like a silly complaint, but I do miss this feeling when I read e-books. I miss thumbing the edges of the paper and thinking about how far I’ve come and how I feel far I still have to go. It’s a journey.
E-readers are more likely to get stolen than printed books, and you have to worry about them in the same way that you worry about other gadgety things.
E-books aren’t as cheap you’d think, and it can feel like a punch in the face (A pen through the heart? A falling dictionary to the side of the head?) when you spend almost as much money as you would on a printed book for a version that has no physical form. Oof.
And that’s my (definitely not definitive) list. For me, there isn’t a winner. It’s a matter of preference depending on the situation. In the end, it’s all about the wonderful words, not about the means of getting them into your brain. Like eating; the cutlery and crockery are far less relevant than the digestible stuff that keeps you alive. You’re not going to tell people about your cereal bowl when they ask you what you had for breakfast. The most important thing is that you eat stuff and read stuff, preferably at the same time… preferably chocolate and David Mitchell.