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Ebooks vs. Paper Books: The Pros and Cons - 2012

Updated on June 19, 2013

Ebooks vs Paper Books - The 2012 Edition

My earlier hub "Ebooks Vs. Paper Books: The Pros and Cons" explores the advantages and disadvantages of ebooks and paper books, and did so at a time when ebook readers were just beginning to become popular. In the meantime, the hub has garnered many views and many calls for an update. The points I made there are still mostly up-to-date, however, and I encourage you to have a look at it.

This hub will take a slightly different approach to the argument. It will give you a little background on the topic, and will then discuss the different types of readers (the humans, not the devices), and who would benefit from which option.

Something to consider is the rise of smart phones with large screens (such as the iPhone). These phones usually support some version of the Kindle software, and books can be read here as well.

Are Books Dead?

The rise of the ebook readers has caused the media to say that books are dying or are already dead. This, of course, is not really the case - it is a shining example of media hyperbole. If books were dead, what would be the use of book stores?

What is happening is that book sales are shifting. Many more books are being purchased as ebooks because they are more useful and less costly. However, many books are still being purchased on paper, and bookstores are still making profits (albeit smaller ones).

For many types of books, the printed option is still the better one, notwithstanding advances in the realm of iPad and Kindle. The categories with little comparative digital advantage (except possibly price) are:

  • Books where typography is important (eg. design books, hardcover gifts, 'coffee table' books).
  • Books with many pictures (eg. cookbooks, atlases, photo books)
  • Books where durability is important (eg. cookbooks again, children's books)
  • Any book where owning the printed 'artifact' is more important than the printed word (eg. limited edition books, signed books)

These types of books are currently irreplaceable digitally (though there are other cool things happening in that world). This leaves us mostly with paperbacks and hardcover books, both of which, according to a Guardian article, are suffering 'dramatically' (I don't see a 6% decline in paperback sales during a recession as dramatic, but that may just be me).


What is a Book?

Ultimately, though, a book is a way to transfer information, and fundamentally is about the written word. This can be read on an ebook reader, such as a Kindle or an iPad, just as well as it can be read on the printed page. The font is relatively unimportant, as is the presentation - you just want to read the words.

And ebook readers are very good at presenting those to you in whatever way you like - whatever font size you like, whatever platform you like (at least for the Kindle), and so on. This is perfectly all right for the majority of paperbacks you'll find in your average bookstore. Oh, and at a lower cost, of course.


Types of Readers

You probably came here to see if it's worth it to buy an ebook reader or not. The question is easily answered: look at the categories below, see where you fit in, and decide based on that.

Casual Reader

The casual reader will read between 0 and 3 books a year, and tends towards bestsellers during holiday seasons (when they have time to read). This is where publishers make most of their profits, and these are the people who will usually buy paperback. If you're in this category, it makes little sense to get a dedicated device (eg. a Kindle) for reading. In fact, since you usually read on holiday, you are best off with printed books, due to the robustness.


Intermediate Reader

As an intermediate reader, you read between 4 and 10 books a year, and occasionally venture away from the bestsellers into something a bit more off-beat. Based on the types of books you prefer, it may make sense to get one of the cheaper ebook readers (Kindles are currently going cheap), as many of the books you purchase will be cheaper on that platform.

This price saving, however, may not make itself felt for a few years, so unless you intend to keep reading at your current pace, you might want to think twice before taking the leap.

Voracious Reader

A voracious reader is anyone who reads over 10 books per year. You tend to read (for example) anything your favorite authors publish, and have well-liked categories of books (eg. science fiction, romance) where you will spend quite a bit of money. In your case, an ebook reader makes very much sense, despite the high initial cost. You'll probably have the cost of purchase back within the same year.


Books are still objects to be treasured, and this, in my opinion, is precisely as it should be. As digital catalogs are growing, and publishers are finally moving away from DRM, the digital book is starting to resemble the online book more and more. I don't believe books will ever truly die - I think their use cases are changing, and that publishers should be embracing this. Furthermore, digital books are great for publishers as well as consumers when it comes to price - distribution is basically free at this point.


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    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 

      2 years ago from The High Seas

      This is a topic that pulls me in two directions. I live on a boat so space is a BIG issue for me and the eReader (Kindle in my case) is a wonderful help for how many books it can store in such a small space. But I LOVE paper books and an unreasonable portion of my storage space is literally CRAMMED with those traditional type books. In my case I guess it's a matter pf practicality versus romance. Good article. Keep them coming.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am the owner of a Kindle and an Author on the Kindle as well. When it comes to newer books I get them on the Kindle but when it comes to the classics that I know I will read again and again over the years I still find myself adding them to a bookshelf.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 

      7 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I love both ebooks and paperbacks, but tend to buy more ebooks lately. I love reading as many as I can. Great post.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Let's face it. Bookstores are closing left and right and being replaced by horrible clothing stores with sizes too small. Meanwhile, ebooks can be accessed on many devices: Kindles, iPads, cell phones, laptops, Smart TV's... I'm not sure how anyone in 2012-2013 can call an ebook reader a fad or a novelty. On a similar article, I believe someone mentioned that the TV was still hanging around in it's "simpilest form", claiming it, too, was a fad. TV's are too smart for their own good these days. I also wonder the ages of the commenters in all these articles. Our generations are so different. Reading is reading, but you can't stop progress. I guess we should be grateful humans are still reading books at all. Personally, I don't think paper books were mean to stay around forever, but I'll always save a few for sentimental reasons. I definitely agree with the smell thing though. :)

    • LoisRyan13903 profile image

      Lois Ryan 

      8 years ago from Upstate NY originally from Long Island

      I do find out that when I am reading a book on my tablet, I am not concentrating on the length of the book because I do not know what page I am on. Therefore, I am reading more than I normally do

    • johnsonrallen profile image

      Robert Allen Johnson 

      8 years ago from Fort Wayne, IN

      I promised myself I would never buy or use an eReader. It seemed like sacrilege to me. This past Christmas, my brother got me a Kindle and I have to say I love it. The number of books I read per month has actually gone up since I got it. Now the only thing they need to change with eReaders is incorporating a "book smell" feature and I'll be 100% happy.

    • parrster profile image

      Richard Parr 

      8 years ago from Australia

      I recently purchased a Kobo Glo, and love it. Several advantages stand out for me. I can read in low or no light. When reading while laying down I can turn a page with a simple tap of the finger. My book(s) open automatically to the last page I read (cool). Kobo monitors my reading habits and suggest other authors I may enjoy. All my book purchased are stored online. I can't lose anything.

    • LoisRyan13903 profile image

      Lois Ryan 

      8 years ago from Upstate NY originally from Long Island

      I prefer both. I have an off-brand Internet Tablet where I use several different sites to get books. I did notice that cookbooks are not really ideal for a reader, since it is hard to browse recipes. Plus ebooks cost almost as much as real books, you are not really saving money on books when you buy an ebooks-unless if you go to the Pirate sites

    • Radical Rog profile image

      Peter Rogers 

      8 years ago from Plymouth

      Some good points made but its this either or situation that I don't get. E-book versus paper book, why. E-book readers offer a number of benefits, I won't bother listing them, but there is also an element of fad in their use with the new ones taking on a kind of pocket computer image. Real books don't break down, get a flat battery but its still not either one or the other. Why not both. Most mainstream publishers are now publishing using both and a number of Indie publishers are doing the same. It's just a different publishing format, like hardback and paperback. Nor does e-publishing need to be limited to one e-book format, despite Kindles preference for exclusivity. E-publishing is just another format by which the same material can be brought to market, and here's the key. As someone who worked for a major publishing house in book marketing and promotion, it's all about the market, the only question being, which format offers the most profitable avenue for production, and the answer isn't limited to one answer. Which formats offer the most profitable avenues, plural. E-book versus paperbook, no contest.


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