This is the question readers never seem to tire of discussing, so I thought I'd conduct my own personal road test. Some people get very passionate about the subject, especially the die hard traditionalists on the print book side. ('I will never, never, NEVER turn to the Dark Side and purchase one of those ... THINGS!) As I considered myself totally unbiased at the outset, I started with lists of pros and cons for both. Although I'm both a reader and an author, I've decided to write this just from the reader's point of view. The introduction of eBooks has meant huge changes for authors and publishers, (not to mention forests and the ecology) but those are subject for other reflections down the track.
1) Beautiful Covers
It may be true, when reading eBooks, I do miss the aesthetic value of being able to twist my wrist for a glimpse of a lovely cover, and being able to see the same waiting on my bedside table. I know we can click and see the cover image on some eBooks (black and white on my kindle) but it's not the same.
2) Lovely, heady smell of the pages.
I do like the printer's ink fix. Brand new, hot off the press books are the best, but even old antique books have a musty aroma of their own which I quite like. The basement of Adelaide University's Barr Smith Library is full of it, as are several second hand shops. It's the smell of fun escapes through the pages of books.
3) Far easier to lend to friends.
It's always a shame to say, 'You'll love this book, but it's on my kindle, so I can't lend it to you.'
4) It is easier to flip back to find previous references.
I know we can do this on kindle, by exploring various 'locations' but it's far more fiddly and takes about five times as long. In fact, I just bought the print version of a book I have on kindle, just because it's easier for the list of declarations and affirmations I like to keep close at hand.
5) You can treasure the handwriting of beloved previous owners in margins and inscriptions.
This is a fair point so I might as well put it forward. If you like that sort of thing, check out this post about marginalia.
6) If you're intending to rough it at some outdoor camping spot with no electricity for a long period of time, print books are a far better choice.
But I do have to say that charging the kindle isn't as big an issue as I'd expected it to be. The charge last for hours and a bar along the top always keeps us aware of how much time we have left. Then, if you're near a power point, you can read while it's charging anyway.
Okay, it's time to look at the other side.
1) You can purchase books instantly from your home and read them straight away.
I've been known to do this before even getting out of bed. To me, it's a definite advantage.
2) You can carry 1000+ books around in your handbag, all on the one light device.
This has been a huge advantage on holidays, overnight stays and even day outings. No more filling valuable space with books. No more asking myself, 'What should I take to read?' I can decide when I get there.
3) You can arrange your virtual shelves and groups neatly, to the point of putting individual books on more than one shelf.
It's impossible for a print book to be on more than one shelf at the same time. No more searching for a particular book on real shelves and fishing around to see whether it's been crammed to the back behind others.
4) You can save lots of money!
Even full priced kindle books are most often a fraction of the price of their hard copy counterparts. I've been given several freebies from book review programs, and there are always specials coming up in book groups such as Inspired Reads, Pixel of Ink, Book Bub or The Vessel Project, when excellent books are being sold for just a few dollars.
5) They are easier to read in bed.
My husband mentioned this one, so I thought I'd go with it. The kindle is easier to hold onto and turn pages with a click, all the while retaining a comfortable position. I guess we all know what it's like if we're finally settled cosily on our side, then have to move awkwardly to accommodate the turning of a page. Hey, this may seem like a minor consideration, but it's worth adding.
I considered whether on not to add the bath tub to either list. I've attempted to take my kindle in a ziplock bag to have a soak in the tub, but it doesn't feel right. As relaxing as reading in the bath is, neither a print book nor an e-book would stand the test of submerging. I decided not to add this on either side.
So those are the lists. It would appear that print books have won, six points to five. Last week, one of my rare trips down to Koorong Bookshop made me think again. I was amazed by what I saw while I was wandering around. There were hundreds of familiar titles and covers on display. They were all books I've read on kindle. As I said, several were free, while others cost me two dollars at the most. So I turned them over, just to see what I would have been paying had I bought them from Koorong at full price. The range was between $15 and $25 for each one.
There is no way in the world I could have bought them all!! In all honesty, that one point (#4 on the eBook list) clinches it for me. I am a reader. My electronic reading device has given me the opportunity to read far, far, far more books than I ever would have been able to read had I limited myself to print books. Some of them have been excellent and unmissable, yet I would have been forced to have missed most of them if not for my e-reader. I can't, in all good conscience, agree to put print books ahead of e-books. I am a reader. They enable me to read more. End of story.
Looking more closely at those lists, it strikes me that many of the points in favour of print books are merely aesthetic and sentimental anyway, while the points on the e-book list are more practical. So I've learned a few lessons through this road test.
1) Never assume that one side is a worthy winner just because of numbers. You must weigh up the value of each of the pros and cons, as some may far outweigh others. Quality over quantity wins.
2) Mr Kindle, you are a champion.