Ebooks vs physical books: Which is best for you?

Are ereaders and ebooks really worth it?
Woman reading an ebook over a physical book

About 10 years ago, I was having a discussion with a mate about ereaders and ebooks vs physical books. They argued that their ereader was smaller, lighter and more convenient than my weighty tomes, but to me, there was simply nothing better than that feeling of skin on paper, the smell of old books and the satisfaction of turning a real, physical page.

Well, about a year ago, curiosity got the better of me. After a handful of holidays wherein my partner simply had to pack his slim, lightweight Kobo while I lugged around a half-kilo hardback, I finally bit the bullet and got my first ever ereader – the Kindle Paperwhite. From the first page, I was hooked. Sure, it wasn’t quite the same as turning a printed page, and my Paperwhite smelled more of plastic than old paper and ink, but still, it won me over. Here’s why.

What we love about ebooks (and what’s missing from physical books)

Portability

There’s no denying it – of the two, ereaders and ebooks are by far the most portable. They can fit thousands of books and documents into a tiny device that fits right into the palm of your hand. Their slim form factor and light weight (most weigh less than 200 grams) mean they can easily fit in your handbag, backpack or suitcase without taking up much space at all.

Backlight

In the days before ereaders, we were stuck with crappy clip-on night lights and inventions like these weird reading glasses if we wanted to read in bed at night without incurring the wrath of our light-sensitive partners. Thanks to the backlight found in modern ereaders, those ineffective and annoying reading aids are no longer needed, and you can stay up till the wee hours of the morning sucked into that thriller you simply can’t put down.

Storage and book shopping

Unless you have a dedicated library in your house (in which case I am incredibly jealous of you), most people can’t house thousands of books without looking a little hoarder-ish. For those who read a book a week (or more), an ereader is generally the best solution. It’s also incredibly handy to be able to instantly download new ebooks straight onto your device, rather than waiting for an online order or having to pop into a brick-and-mortar store every time you need something new to read.

Man reading a Kindle ereader on the grass

What’s we love about physical books (and what’s missing from ebooks)

The smell and feel

There’s something about turning a real page that’s so much more pleasing than simply tapping a screen. Reaching the end of a book and being able to close it firmly is just so satisfying – especially when you get a whiff of that beautiful old book smell (which scientists have narrowed down to a combination of grassy notes with a hint of vanilla). The same can’t quite be said for the aroma of a Kobo, sadly.

Sales and second-hand gems

While buying ebooks straight from your ereader is certainly convenient, unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a second-hand ebook, and buying ebooks is usually no cheaper than purchasing the real deal. Sure, there are regular sales that allow you to nab a new title for as little as $3, but it’s not the same as getting a 50c bargain from your local Vinnies or community markets.

Books as heirlooms

Some of my favourite books are the ones my parents, grandparents and friends have passed down to me – some of which are generations old. Remember getting paperbacks with a little personalised message on the inside of a cover? Call me sentimental, but a Sharpie scrawl on the back of a Kindle just isn’t the same.

Two old books on a bed

Ebooks vs physical books: The verdict

Unlike Windows vs Mac users and iPhone vs Android owners, most bookworms aren’t firmly in one camp or another when it comes to ebooks vs physical books. Should you stop buying physical books altogether? Of course not. But does that mean it’s not worth getting an ereader? No, because they serve different purposes.

If you do most of your reading at home, curled up with a cuppa and a cosy blanket, there’s no real reason why you should opt for an ereader over the real thing. But if you like reading on the go – even only occasionally – there’s simply no beating the convenience of an ereader.

Don’t get me wrong – I still love physical books. I can’t pass up a good deal at the markets or an op-shop, and I still have a pile of unread paperbacks taking up precious space on my tiny bookshelf. But that’s the thing about this dilemma – you don’t have to choose one or the other. You can experience the best of both worlds.