eBooks vs Print Books


My eReading platform of choice: Kobo

I’m going to be a tech nerd for a post here. A while ago, fellow MennoNerd Paul asked in our vlog about eBooks vs print books. Here’s how I would summarize the difference, and why for my priorities I tend to go with eBooks.

Pro: Physical Space

Paul mentions how he first had to downside his bookshelf to move. I’ve done the same. Within a little over 2 years, I/we moved from Kingston to Guelph to Toronto to Hamilton to Kitchener. We unloaded a lot of books along the way because we had to.

Con: Harder to Show Off

If you walk into somebody’s library and see hundreds of books, it’s impressive. If you look at the same number of books on a 7″ screen, it doesn’t quite have the same effect. Of course, as an Anabaptist, I’m not going to encourage this as a motivation, but there’s something to be said even for that effect on yourself.

Pro: Easy to Carry

If I have my BlackBerry, which I do unless some serious disaster has occurred, I have my entire eBook library with me. I just pop open the app and there they are. I remember the days of going to classes and carrying 7 or 8 books in a backpack, or going to the school library to write an essay with 20 books in the backpack. No need for that anymore! I can even easily change my mind if I feel like reading something else, without having to plan ahead for it.

Pro: Library Lending

Before you buy a book, see if your library carries it – printed or electronic. Many have good electronic lending programs, so you can browse on your device, sign it out, and it automatically returns without risk of late fees or having to go to the library (which is a whopping half a block away in my case).

Con: Friends and Family Lending

Kobo, my platform of choice, does not have any form of lending books. Kindle does, but it is limited to books where the publisher has agreed to it. There are other social elements – Kobo in particular does that well – but it is a big hit against it that you can’t actually share the book. The best you can do (legally) is recommend they buy their own when there isn’t a library with it. For somebody who values a community of goods, sharing of information, learning together, all that kind of stuff, physical books get a big perk.

Pro: Backups

If you buy an eBook from an eBook store, you always have that book. If my tablet breaks, I can just download the book again. Even if we had a fire or theft that took out every single one of my electronics, all of my eBooks are still in at least one of Kobo, Kindle, and my OneDrive accounts. We have one of each print book so if it is lost or stolen or burned down, that’s it.

Con: Catalogue

Most of what I read aren’t mainstream books. Kobo is probably up to about 80% of books I consider buying now, but when I was in seminary, I could not get many of what I needed there. A classmate with a Kindle could get some, but still not nearly all. I think both have improved since then, but I definitely can still get a lot more of obscure theology books in print.

Con: Backlight Bad for Eyes

The dedicated eBook readers using eInk are different, but for those reading on tablets or computers, it’s not as healthy for your eyes.

Pro: Backlight Keeps Me Awake

As I talked about in my post Narcoleptic Spirituality, I actually prefer reading on a tablet screen because the backlight keeps me awake.

Con: Different Ways of Reading

Eye scan studies have shown that we read differently on screens than on paper. On paper, we generally read every word, or at least close to it. On screens, we typically read the first paragraph and then scan down the left of the page reading the first line of ensuing paragraphs, occasionally stopping to read the entire paragraph if it seems interesting. To be fair, this is exactly how we were taught to read academic papers in university, but it does tend to give us a more shallow reading. I’m not sure exactly how eBooks fall, but I’m guessing somewhere between the way we read websites and the way we read paper books – I think that’s true for me at least.

Con: Nostalgia

When people say they like print books, they usually cite purely-emotional reasons about liking the feel and sometimes even the smell of books. That’s fair. It doesn’t apply to me, but I wouldn’t want to rob anybody of that who it does apply to.

My Verdict: eBooks Win

For me, the pro’s of eBooks win out. I love the convenience, simplicity, portability, and safety. The negatives aren’t a big deal to me, plus I know many of them will be minimized over time as the technology develops. For others, they are big negatives and it doesn’t really surprise me that most people still prefer print books – I suspect that it will be a slow shift over another generation or so.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.