5 Reasons to Choose Traditional Books Over E-Books

by Linsey Knerl on 1 November 2012 29 comments
Photo: Garrett Gill

I love reading, and as a homeschooling family, there are usually between 12 and 15 books being consumed by our family members at any one time. While I am a huge proponent of technology, and I can appreciate the ease of carrying digital titles on my iPad for quick reading when I’m out and about, if given the choice, I’ll still pick the old-fashioned variety most every time. Here’s why. (See also: How to Never Pay for Another Book)

1. Originals Are Art

The written word is indeed an art form, but books take it even further. By looking through the pages of my 1946 special illustrated edition of "Pinocchio," for example, it’s obvious that lots of love and care went into making the pictures as vital to the story as the words. Even the cloth cover — while dingy — brings a new layer to the tale. With the exception of a few brilliant digital stories such as "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," for example, e-books lack this essential literary element.

2. Traditional Books Are Harder to Alter

Censorship and books don’t mix, in my opinion. As we see more and more titles being cataloged digitally, however, we are forced to trust the power of Google and Amazon to keep our literature in its most honest form. A dusty old book from my parent’s generation can only be changed with a pen or highlighter, and that would be pretty obvious.  Digital products, however, get changed all the time. My most recent download of Rudyard Kipling’s "Kim" was riddled with typos that were most certainly not included in the original manuscript, and it caused me to distrust “classic” digital products altogether.

Note: Print books are changed, as well, although not without more effort. A recent trip to Barnes and Nobles had me looking through a school-sanctioned version of "Pinocchio," where the words “Land of  Boobies” — used to describe a world of slacking off and never growing wiser — was changed to “Playland.” Censorship still happens on paper, especially in new editions.

3. Tangible Books Can Be Stockpiled for Difficult Times

As an online professional, my biggest fear is that the Internet as we know it could someday collapse. Whether it is through censorship, a lack of electricity, or rapidly changing technology, my job could become obsolete. The same can be said for digital books, which are only valuable in tandem with the gadgets and software needed to decode them. Traditional books, on the other hand, can be smuggled into luggage, carried through generations, and enjoyed without batteries.

4. Original Books Are Beautiful

There have been so many great tutorials on how to use books to decorate a room. Even if you never read the contents, their shape, size, and color can add charm and depth to a wall or bookshelf. Unreadable copies can even be repurposed into something magnificent! (The Tattered Cover has an inspiring Pinterest board with examples.)

5. Traditional Books Can Be Shared

Books are still popular gifts for every occasion, and some of my favorite reads have come via second-hand gestures from friends. Traditional books can be shared, resold, or rented; e-books, however, are usually restricted to one owner or one “device” per purchase. Once you are done reading a digital book, you usually cannot pass it along to bless someone else.

I use e-books and digital products in my daily life, and I won’t say that they don’t have unique advantages. They are quick to obtain, affordable, and can help those get their ideas into the marketplace in a time when traditional publishing is unattainable by most authors. For those who love everything about the written word, however, the book you can hold in your hand will never be replaced completely. I think this is a good thing indeed!

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Guest's picture

For now, it easier to resell traditional books or buy them used. That cxan save you a lot of money. Cannot be done so easily with ebooks. Also not having a ereader gives you limited options and you wont be jumping around ebooks without completing any

Linsey Knerl's picture

I admit to having several half-read ebook on my Kindle app. Somehow, once I start a traditional book, I feel committed. I think I've read fewer of them overall, but have finished every one!

Guest's picture

I'm thinking of getting an e-reader, so this is helping. I read a lot too, and many books that are given to me are printed, yet I like the idea of downloading and reading quickly, without the cumbersome laptop. Do you own an e-reader?

Linsey Knerl's picture

I do not own a e-reader (although people I know tell me that they are fabulous.) I know my habits, so I didn't think it a good investment for now. I use apps on my iPad, however, so I do own lots of ebooks.

Guest's picture

Traditional books can't be taken from you. When you buy something on Kindle, you're given a license to read it - not ownership.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Thanks for making the distinction between ownership and "usage rights." Very different animals.

Guest's picture
Walt

I agree with you that traditional books are still valuable to keep a record of the various ancient teachings. Reading personal finance books increases our mental awareness and stimulates our mind and body to act in order to become financially successful.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Books = record keeping.

What a beautiful sentiment. Yes, I think of each of my older books as mini-museums. My kids are fascinated by how they represent a time in history, as well!

Guest's picture
Noel

You missed an important point. When you buy a paper book, you own that book. When you buy an e-book, you are licensed to use that book (which can be removed by the seller any time they want. Amazon has done it) and you can not loan this book to others as many times you want.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Hi, Noel!

I did address somewhat this in my last point, as I LOVE getting 2nd hand books as gifts, and sharing books is one of the joys of owning them. You did add a good point about the ability for a seller to remove the right at any time -- which is really crummy, in my opinion. I've heard about this being done, and would hate to have that happen! Thanks for your comment.

Guest's picture
Karen

E-books make me feel like I'm still working. Books can be warm and friendly. E-books are not and it's harder to relax with an e-book. There is just something about pulling a favoritve book out to read on a rainy day that makes you feel better.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I agree about the comfort factor that traditional books provide. As someone who looks at the computer all day, I crave that "down time", as well!

Guest's picture
Guestmike

Next week I'll see a post on riding horses is better than driving a car.

Sorry for the snide and snarky remark. I really do love your website and appreciate spending time here;-)

Linsey Knerl's picture

Snark is always welcome here :)

Guest's picture
SVIIDaddy

We use both in our homeschool. Having eight children it is convenient when more of them can read the same story at one time. Also when you are on a tight budget, ebooks are a good way to get many of the classics for free. We do all agree that we prefer flipping through a hard copy. The feel and even the smell of an old book is something that will never be obsolete.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Homeschooling 8? I commend you! If I can find a well-edited ebook, it is useful to have us all reading from various copies at the same time. Many I've used, however, have been formatted incorrectly. We try to read classics that have used copies for less than $2 on Amazon. Seems to solve the problem of cost for us. Appreciate your comment, and good luck teaching!

Guest's picture
SVIIDaddy

yes we are always on the lookout for used copies and 9 times out of 10 buy them without hesitation. I have come across these infamous typos and other errors as well. Thank you for your reply :)

Guest's picture
Guest

While I, too, love the look and feel of hard-cover books, I LOVE my Kindle. It saves me space (only so much room and my 175 linear feet of bookshelves is full) and I always have something to read wherever I am (long waits in doctors' offices, airline lounges, etc).

Guest's picture
Purchase Wisely

As an avid, omnivorous book consumer, I think there is a place for both hard-copy and e-books. I have a large library and a Kindle, and I use both. I find the Kindle much more convenient for travel than lugging around half a dozen books for a one week trip. I also find the Kindle better to use in certain situations, like the gym, where a hard-copy book could be damaged (sweaty hands and paper pages don't work well together, but a neoprene cover on the Kindle takes care of that). I do agree that hard-cover can't be replaced for the books that have a tactile component ("Griffin and Sabine - an Extraordinary Correspondence" would not be the same in electronic format), or for those that are "art books".

I have to take issue with the idea that e-books are restricted to one user or device, though. Amazon allows e-book sharing if the publisher allows it; you can loan an e-book for a period of time (I believe it's 15 days, but I'm not sure of that) to another Kindle user. Also, I can read the same book on various devices - I have the same book loaded on my iPhone, desktop computer at work and Kindle all at the same time, and if I open the book on any of those applications, the reading application will ask if I want to synchronize with where I last left off reading if I'm farther along on another device. Wonderful if I'm waiting for a doctor's appointment and only have my phone with me! Also, my public library checks out e-books as they would hard copy, I just don't have to drive to the building to pick them up.

Guest's picture

I have never owned an ebook reader/nook/tablet of any kind, so I can't say for sure that they are worse than actual books- but nothing quite compares to holding an actual book in your hands. Not only do you have an endless supply of free library books, but the smell, feeling, and (like you said) authenticity of real books can't be compared to anything else. Love this post. Its scary to think that by the time I have kids almost everything will be digital.

Guest's picture
caw747

I totally agree with you. I love books! I do have books on my IPad, but they do not take the place of my books. I love the feeling of having a "mini library" in my home. There is nothing like sitting down with a stack of books to peruse, or snuggling down with a good book. Great article.

Max Wong's picture
Max Wong

Linsey, as a book scout, I feel your pain.

http://www.myromanapartment.com/book-scouts-argument-ereaders/

Guest's picture
Snowy Heron

A frugal advantage for paper books is that you can often buy used books from Amazon for less than the e-book download. I have a kindle and it is great, except for those times on the plane when you can't have them turned on.

Kindle is also good for books you will just read once. Books with info that I will need to refer to many times, and in which I might want to make notes, don't work so well on a kindle. I know they have features that you can use to highlight, but it isn't quite the same as thumbing through a book to find just what you need, and maybe seeing something else you didn't know that you needed.

Guest's picture
Guest

I used to agree with this, until I got a Kindle. Now I cannot believe I ever read paper books. My house used to be cluttered with read, half-read, and to-be-read books. I recently sold four bookshelves, having sold or donated their contents. I have breathing room, and I still read a book a week on average. I never lent books, so I don't care if I cannot loan an ebook. I never resold them, so I don't care that I can't sell them. I do reread them. I just don't store them. Happiness.

To each their own (book).

Guest's picture
Eema23

One of the easiest ways to interest our home schooled daughters in different things has been to leave books around the house. All three girls have learned new things and been exposed to their sisters' books because we are messy with books all over the place. I used to read a large percentage of the same books my husband read, now I don't because he reads electronically and I don't see his books.

I will certainly miss the "around the house " aspect of home schooling if all we read is electronic.

Guest's picture
Guest

I've been an avid reader all my life, but it never crossed my mind to use them as furniture - what a neat idea!

Very good points you made - I'm quite addicted to the convenience of e-books, but nothing compares to actually holding a real book in your hands:)

Guest's picture
Raf

And... traditional books won't break if dropped. :-)

Guest's picture
Guest

One of the good things about the Kindle is that you can get free books every day - and not just the classics. A website called Pixel of Ink has free and greatly reduced prices; they send you an email with the list and links to Amazon. Free is good - you can't beat it with a stick. And, if you like something enough, then you can make the investment to get the tangible book.

Just a thought...

Guest's picture
Guest

E-book selection is pretty much mainstream - about half the books I own are unavailable as e-books