Print vs E-book: ‘an endless debate, but a simple one’


Tim Waterstone said that ‘until technology becomes as satisfying to the physical senses as the text is to the cognitive self, there’s still a need for shiny, gorgeous, satisfying books.’ This is true. Every Christmas I receive a Folio Society book from my family. The vibrant colours and beautiful illustrations of these books have converted my bookshelf into a piece of art which tempts me regularly to read and appreciate literature.

Last year, the Guardian highlighted that sales of print books had increased by 8% and e-book sales had dropped by 17%. Having reached a climax in sales in 2014, reading on e-books has dramatically decreased in popularity.

Your bookshelf is a diary of your life.

E-books have their benefits. A university friend found that books were too heavy for her whilst struggling with a back issue. Distraction from the pain through reading could not have been achieved for her without the e-book. My brother struggles with dyslexia and the Kindle was a godsend. Now able to look up words he was unsure of, reading became an easier and more enjoyable experience for him.

The ability to download many books onto one device is certainly valuable. Whilst travelling around South America last year, owning a Kindle ensured that I could keep my backpack light and distract myself whilst confined to precariously unstable and unpleasant-smelling buses for 12 hours. However, I did pack two print books and I left them in hostel bookshelves once finished. I felt satisfied in knowing that another weary traveller would become enraptured by the gripping pages of Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman, or absorbed in the romantic and exotic tale of Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.

looking at words on a page can provide much-needed relief from the technological world.

The Publishers Association 2017 report stated that ‘readers take a pleasure in a physical book that does not translate well on to digital.’ Reading is a tactile experience and how you feel about the book depends on your physical relationship with it. Seeing words from a screen keeps you detached. You can’t flick the pages of an e-book. You can’t recall the position of an important moment as being on the right or left hand page. You can’t drop a Kindle in a bath or pour coffee on it. Practically, you might be able to store hundreds of book on a Kindle, but what happens if the battery is on 3% and you’ve forgotten your charger? When absorbed in Austen’s world of wit or a Lee Child’s page-turner, nothing can be worse.

Your bookshelf is a diary of your life. The Roman Mysteries series is emblematic of my hormonal, reclusive 13-year-old and the Jilly Cooper books will forever remind me of the traumatic A-Level revision during which her frivolous comedy gave me a mental break. Print books are emotionally-connective. Passing on books allows you to share your enjoyment with others. I gave The Girl On The Train to my school-friend and it went around our whole friendship group.

Undoubtedly, e-books have their advantages and provide access to books for more people

Print books are also a personal history. The sentimentality you feel when re-discovering a book that was a gift and the loving message inscribed on the inside cover is poignant. Scribbles in the margins, old train tickets as bookmarks, tear stains and thumb marks all prove to you that the book must be good. Today, with all the pings and rings buzzing around us, settling down and looking at words on a page can provide much-needed relief from the technological world.

Undoubtedly, e-books have their advantages and provide access to books for more people. However, if you can, buy print. Not only do you create a memory for yourself which can be passed on, discussed and treasured, but you also support authors. The Observer in 2015 highlighted research by the Authors Guild that the writer of a book often earns less from the sale of an e-book than paper copy. Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See earnt him $4.04 in hardcover and $2.09 as an e-book. The debate is endless, but in our harsh society of media, screens and impersonality, a print book is invaluable.

Photograph: Tiomax80 via Flickr Creative Commons

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