Print Books vs eBooks


I’m a book lover. I like the look and heft and smell of them. I like them neatly arranged on shelves and piled haphazardly on tables. Books are great. But I don’t primarily love books because of their feel and appearance. I love what’s inside them — you know, words and ideas and stories. That’s why I also like digital books.

I find the print book vs. eBook debate amusing, but I wonder at the vehemence of it all. Real book lovers seem to have the upper hand, generally. I’ve heard many proudly proclaim their loyalty to the paper and ink tradition and scorn the very idea of digital literature. EBook fans, on the other hand, tend to be defensive, almost apologetic, about their iPads and Kindles.

Let’s stop the silliness. I love them both and can’t imagine why any genuine literary person would feel the need to take sides.

Print Books

In my mind, no decor beats a a wall of books. I just turned off the latest episode of Downton Abbey, having once again coveted the library. I like cracking open new books and I like musty, yellowed, old books. As much as anyone, I appreciate the feel of a genuine book in my hand or a dog-eared paperback in a coat pocket. I find old leather-bound books particularly beautiful things. Count me in with all the multi-sensory lovers of real books.

I also appreciate the ease of lending and borrowing books. Books make excellent gifts–both to give and to get.  They are inexpensive but personal and thoughtful.

I enjoy marking up books and writing notes in the margins. I like coming back to them later and rediscovering what I previously had to say.

It is an advantage that a real book never needs to be recharged or powered on or off. Not an enormous advantage, but an advantage. Especially when one considers the possibility of being stranded on a desert-island.

For all these reasons, I can’t imagine that digital books will ever completely replace the traditionally printed book.

Digital Books

It is a never-ending wonder to me that I have, at this very moment, literally hundreds of books in my pocket. Why would any true lover of reading have the slightest opposition to that? I use the Kindle app on my iPhone and have downloaded scores and scores of books over the past few years. I can read whenever I’m unexpectedly waiting. At the dentist. In a grocery store line. While I’m sipping a Starbuck’s caramel macchiato. Just like that. Awesome.

I can highlight and take notes. I like doing this by hand in a real book better, but it’s still possible, and it’s super easy to instantly share quotes with friends via email, text, or social media. That’s a nice feature.

When I read print books and come across a word I’m unfamiliar with or unsure of, I circle it. If I have time, I’ll go back and look it up and write the definition in the margin. At least I used to do that. Now, when I read a digital book, I just rest my finger on the word for a second and the definition appears instantly! That. Is. Awesome.

Here’s something else I love about digital books. I can’t tell you how many times someone has recommended an intriguing book that I almost immediately forget about entirely. Now, when someone tells me of a book I should read, I open my Amazon app and immediately download the free sample (usually the first chapter). Then I can read the first bit and decide whether or not it’s worthwhile to buy the whole thing. Wonderful.

I can read eBooks with one hand. This is a little thing, but I like that I can hold an eBook with one hand while reclining or walking. I can read it while horizontal with greater ease.

Now that my eyes are getting older, I like being able to make the typeface bigger on a digital reader.

And finally, I like being able to read in bed without a light. It lets my wife sleep while I read.


Face it, folks. If you love books, there’s no reason why you can’t love both print and digital books. I’ve got a Kindle, two iPads, and an iPhone loaded with books. I’ve also got shelves and shelves of hard and paperbacks. We don’t have to take sides!


I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comments in the Reply section below.

About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Wendy

    My main issue with ebooks is the price of them. I realize that authors, editors, publishers, etc. all need to be paid, but I’ve seen ebooks that were even more expensive than the print versions. There’s no cost of paper or printing, no shipping (OK, there’s some cost incurred from the servers), little storage. It just seems to me that the pricing structure (barring sales and $1.99 items, of course) is unacceptable, especially when you consider issues like ownership vs licensing. How do companies justify charging just as much for a digital magazine subscription as they do for a paper one delivered to your door?

    That said, I love my nook, and keep my eyes open for freebies (which are often worth what you pay for them, but no harm, no foul) and special sales.

  2. Jos

    Alright, here are the articles, as promised. The first is a small example from a customer of the account deletion/ebook retention issue, and the next two are both regarding the same store. If toy can get past the ridiculous introductory statements, the first of the pair is particularly illustrative of an issue not likely to occur to the native English-speaking world, that of the so-called “open market” of English texts outside native speaking regions, and the second is a report on the same incident dealing more with the specifics written by a reputable source.
    This next link is a forum thread on a slightly different, but still relevant, topic: the policing of online marketplaces and self-published ebooks and the question of censorship that inevitably arises when the supplier of the technology and the provider of the content are one and the same:
    I would be remiss, of course, were I not to remind you of the debacle a few years back when books to help children cope with GLBT parents were labeled as “adult content not for children” by one employee, which I think we can agree regardless of one’s beliefs regarding homosexuality was an certainly not acceptable, and note that a similar issue with ebooks could be far worse, as the book itself could effectively be erased from existence.
    This last link goes again to the issue of the unity of technology provider and content provider, in this case dealing with the mater of setting prices and monopoly control:

    Again, my point is not that ebooks are bad; it is merely that with no support structures in place prior to the emergence of ebooks, we have no idea what we’re doing and are making it up as we go along, which doesn’t always work out, and while it would be great to be able to discuss the various merits of the nature of the things themselves, in reality there are more things at pay than that when discussing any new technology or distribution model that is so for outside the blinds of prior experience.

  3. Jos

    Two words: user agreements.
    I know that sounds like paranoia and needless scaremongering, but I suspect you haven’t actually read the terms of service for the various platforms, which all to my knowledge state that you are not purchasing the book as such but merely a license to use it which may be revoked at any time with no recompense – just ask the guy who lost his thousands of books permanently when Amazon accused him of stealing, wrongly as it turns out, and banned his account and deleted all his purchases. I will get you the full article in a moment; my phone doesn’t like it when I stop and come back to something I’m writing.

    The other issue is related, but has less to do with legal issues and human error, and more to do with software flaws. I don’t purchase ebooks myself as I have a light sensitivity that makes it exceeding difficult to look at a bright screen for more than a few minutes at a time, and because quite frankly I don’t feel like I own something unless I can touch it, but that’s just a personal hang-up and I understand many don’t feel that way, so I cannot speak from personal experience regarding ebooks specifically, but back when I was dipping my toes into digital content, I purchased some music from iTunes for my iPod, all of which play perfectly well–as long as I’m on my laptop. If I play then on my mp3 player, they stop halfway through for no apparent reason, and absolutely nothing can fix them. I realize that this is somewhat different from the situation with ebooks, if only because Amazon does not appear to be a fan of planned obsolescence, but the matter of backwards compatibility and software issues still stands. If you’ve got old flees that won’t work on the new version, will they let you update the books to a newer version? Probably, since Amazon isn’t in the habit of taking advantage of ours customers, but what about third-party files? Out third-party devices? And what happens when a group like Apple does get into the game, with proprietary file types and encrypted devices that don’t allow you to manage books impresses it’s through their interface?

    Which is not to say ebooks aren’t great, especially for authors who can get as much as 90 cents on the dollar in dispirited and don’t have to worry about convincing stores to carry their book, and merchandising layouts, and distribution, allowing some authors who are not at best-seller level in terms of popularity nut still have a moderate following to actually make a living off their work at a level of sales that would not have been sufficient with the traditional publishing model.

    Ask the pluses you mentioned are of course true as well, although my light instructor does render illuminated screens an issue and my constant need for kinetic stimulation, usually satisfied by the turning of the pages of the book and the Ferrell of the paper and the spine, does get problematic with the smooth surfaces and simple and unintrusive interface, but I know and gladly recognize that I am in the minuscule minority who actually possess issues with the media that are not purely a mature of taste (though in fairness to all sides, I should also add that many newer books, with their bright white pages and smooth, perfect paper also cause issues).

    But there still remains the advanced nature of the technology and what could be fixed with some tape to reattach a cover, or an exchange if the book is missing pages become problems that require a tech to fix or a massive snowball of issues as the flawed file sold has to be fixed at the source and then redistributed to the entire readership as one book can be misprinted in a batch of thousands but one broken file downloaded is copied each and every time it is sold.

    And there still remains this new legal frontier where a purchase does not confer ownership, and a human error or a false accusation can destroy thousands of books and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in the blink of an eye, with no recompense and no recourse but to sit and stew and shell out the cash to revive your collection, if you can get your account back and you are not permanently blackballed as a pirate and a thief.

    Although, truth be told, there is a secret upside in this ability to remotely detonate a users’s flees. If you have not heard of the San Antonio Bibliotech public library, I urge you to look it up. It’s an all-digital that takes ebook rentals to a new and amazing extreme.

    The point of this dreadfully long comment, then, is this: this is a new technology, and we don’t have all the issues–be they technological, social, or legal–worked out yet, our even identified, and we can hardly pads judgment while it’s still in its early stages, and while the potential to revolutionize the world is there, you cannot just look at that potential and its ease of use; you have to look to the future in terms of not just social possibilities, but also the practical issues of the technology, as well as profit-driven advances like the above mentioned planned obsolescence, and the legal status of digital purchases as license and bit ownership.

    And for the sake of your library and your peace of mind, READ THE TERMS OF SERVICE AND THE USER AGREEMENTS.

  4. Vaneetha Demski
    Vaneetha Demski02-19-2014

    I love both too! I don’t mind waiting in the car anymore because I always have something great to read. But I find it easier to thumb through a print book to find things I’ve highlighted. So for books I want to refer back to frequently, I still like print. Great article!

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko02-19-2014

      Thanks, Vaneetha. (Hey everybody–go read Vaneetha’s blog. It’s wonderful.)

  5. Lois

    I love this! You nailed the way I feel about it too. I’ll never give up books, but now I can hide many, many, many books on my kindle and save valuable shelf space.

    I also love my frequent trips to the library, perusing the shelves for books. So many books, so little time! I find myself reading library books (with a due date) because I can always read my kindle. That would explain why I have so many books saved on the e-reader that I haven’t read. Also, I ended up with TWO downloads of Heart of Darkness! (How did THAT happen?)

  6. Grammar Nut
    Grammar Nut02-17-2014

    Digital books are great…. Until you break your kindle. (Or, when your battery dies, you can’t read anything else.) 😀 But then there’s always the debate of what happens when technology shuts down. What if the technology satelites are knocked out of orbit and all of our computers go blank? Then every form of digital publishing will be gone….All that said, I still prefer print books.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko02-17-2014

      I think you’ve been reading too much science fiction. 🙂

  7. Amy Nelson
    Amy Nelson02-17-2014

    I couldn’t agree more! We have hundreds of books in storage because we have nowhere to put them. My daughter alone has over 400 in her little room. We finally switched to digital for practical reasons and find we are reading even more. I wish I had a library room, but I don’t. So, digital is the solution until I can have my dream home. Also, let’s not forget the oppotunities that have been opened to new and younger authors thanks to the ease and low cost of digital publishing. Great article!

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