The #1 Reason eBooks Win the Battle Over Hard Copies

Can you believe that I’m nerd enough to make an Evernote note just for myself on the case of eBooks vs. hard copy books? I mean, like, months before I started this site. Just for me. I also have this crazy cool software for keeping track of your hard copy library called Delicious Library. As you can see, when it comes to keeping track of and taking care of my books, momma didn’t raise no fool. Probably because she was an English major.

Anyway, back to ebooks vs. hard copies. Long ago I sat down for about 30 minutes to decide what my system should be for purchasing new books: should I get them all as ebooks or all hard copies? Or a mixture of both? And, for god’s sake, why?! To really satisfy myself I had to come up with solid reasoning for my answer. So that’s exactly what I did.

Let’s talk briefly review all the important arguments in the landmark case of eBooks vs. hard copies and then get down to the #1 reason eBooks win the game overall.

We all know the main points already. So I’ll only mention them briefly and put my own spin on them where applicable.

Accessibility

How many books can you access at once on an iPad? A jillion. How many books can you access in hard copy? Well, once you’ve gone to the store to get them or have gotten them in the mail, as many as you can carry.

Instant gratification ain’t such a bad thing when it has to do with reading a book, no? A positive thing, indeed.

eBooks: +1 point.
Hard copies: + no points. eBooks takes the lead.

Portability

You’ve got to have battery power on that ole e-reader, that’s for sure. But that’s a pretty weak argument to me. “What if you get stuck without power?” they say. Be honest–has that ever happened to you? I can’t think of a time in my life when I didn’t have access to a power outlet. And if you’re really that worried about it, carry a go-to hard copy as a backup just in case.

Once it’s charged up, you can carry enough books on your e-reader to last you a month-long vacation, whereas you’re limited to available suitcase space when it comes to regular old books.

eBooks: +1 point.
Hard copies: no cigar.

Visibility

If you’re about the make the “light from electronics is bad for falling asleep” argument then stop right there so I can blow your book-readin’ mind. Apple’s new Night Shift feature (currently in beta) settles your screen into an increasingly sepia tone as the sun goes down. It’s like Apple’s tenderly tucking us in for a long winter’s nap.

And if you’re saying, “But my e-reader isn’t an iPad!” then I can’t help you justify your poor life choices. Just kidding, I’m too Apple-crazy for my own good–I won’t blame that on you. But I’m guessing other e-reader companies are not far behind on addressing this blue light before bedtime issue.

The short and short of it is that with an reader you can read in the dark, and that’s a big deal if you travel often or share a bedroom with another person.

eBooks: +1 point.
Hard copies: goose egg. eBooks going strong.

Ease of Use

Since it’s inconvenient to use my fat greasy hands to hold a book open while I’m eating lunch, I prefer an e-reader that stays flat when I’m reading. No hands, ma!

Oh, but it gets better. If you don’t know what a certain word in the book you’re reading means, all you do is hold your finger on it for a second or two to look it up in the dictionary. Try that on a regular book and you’ll look pretty weird.

Highlighting passages and taking notes also works way better on an e-reader. Hard copies just can’t catch a break.

eBooks: +1 point.
Hard copies: 0 points. Hard copies are getting a bit embarrassed.

Ease of Lending

Seems like almost every single book I’ve lent to someone else has never been returned. At this point I pretty much know to say no or just kiss it goodbye forever.

Look, if you care about your books, you know this is a big deal. And it kind of hurts, to be honest. Do people not know how important books can be to us? Not to mention that that stuff, uh, COSTS MONEY. I really don’t get how people just never return things, even after asking them to. It’s super rude to me.

So while the heading here says “Ease of Lending,” really what I meant to say was no pressure to lend your shit to people when you know you’ll never see it again. There’s family sharing for some e-readers like iPads, which is great because everyone (up to a certain number) who wants to access the book can do so at once. So when you do want to share, it’s easier than lending a book and–best of all–it’s not doomed to be a goner forever. Hard copies force us keep our hearts open to sharing, and that’s just gross.

eBooks: +1 point.
Hard copies: 0 points. Get your shit together, hard copies.

Storage

Books aren’t the easiest of things to handle during a big move. Just ask the poor bastards who volunteered to help me move into my college freshman dorm. They didn’t know what they were getting in to.

Books are hard as hell to move, take up a lot of space, and collect dust like no other mother. When most of us probably read most books only once and only a handful of books more than once, why do we all insist on keeping so many of them around?

It’s a badge of honor, let’s be honest.

While e-readers are clearly better in the storage department, regular old books have that certain “look at all the cool shit I’ve read”-factor. I’ll admit it. I do this too.

But is it really worth all the extra stuff laying around? For a super tidy person like me, the answer is no. Ask yourself, really–if you’re only going to read it once, what’s the point of having it lying around forever?

Reading books only once is actually a great case for getting it in hard copy if it’s cheaper than the eBook version and you know you’ll get rid of it later. You could sell it back to a used book store, which is a great way to cycle through sets of hard copies and save a bit of money.

eBooks: +1 point.
Hard copies: +1 point. Both put up a good fight for this one.

The Romance Factor

At the risk of sounding like a bunch of sissies, we still need to address the romance factor.

You’re sitting in a cafe en France with un café crème by your side and a cigarette in your hand. (Alright, I don’t smoke either, but just roll with it.) What are you holding in your other hand? A real book or an e-reader?

You catch my drift. While I still think snuggling down with a coffee and an e-reader can make for a lovely Instagram photo, I can’t deny the magic of holding a good old fashioned book in your hands. And LIBRARIES?! Don’t even get me started on libraries. Oh my god, I’m getting all worked up just thinking about them.

Collections of books–whether in a library or on a single bookshelf, whether they’re fresh from the press or have been passed down through generations–have a richness of history behind them that an e-reader will never measure up to. I may sound a bit anti-hard copy in this post, but I promise you, I’m not. I fell in love with the magic of books through the sets of pages I held in my hands, not through an electronic. So when it comes to the romance factor and appreciating the powerfully magical presence of a stack of books, hard copies will always win this battle, forever and ’til the end of time.

eBooks: no dice. Points so far: 6.
Hard copies: +3 points, because this argument is the most significant one we’ve covered by far. Points so far: 4.

Both have undeniable advantages. But what’s my number one reason for choosing ebooks over hard copies–the thing that wins out no matter who won points where?

Ease of Reference

If you have any interest at all in writing, professional or not, e-readers will save you. Actually, it’s not even just about writing–if you like learning about anything at all, the most valuable resource you have is the writings of others. Whether it’s for your profession, your hobbies and personal interests, or self-improvement, books will always be there to help you find the way.

And if you’re a writer–especially if you’re a writer–your best reference tool is other literature. You can easily search the hundreds of books you’ve read for that one quote you love, that one line you want to emulate, that one moment in a book that made you smile and reminded you why you chose to dedicate your life to the creation of art. This is a huge deal. The search function/accessibility, I mean. Not the choice to dedicate your life to art. Which actually is pretty huge by itself, too. Congrats on that.

So as it turns out, while my love for books is a very romantic affair indeed, my reason for choosing eBooks over hard copies isn’t a romantic one at all. It’s the functionality that makes my job and my growth as a writer ten times more efficient. You can’t control+F a bookshelf, after all.

Granted, if you’re not a writer or if you’re purely a leisurely reader who doesn’t read to learn but instead is just looking for a good time, this won’t be a big deal to you. But if you like to learn and count on books from experts in your field for growth or have any interest in the creative writing world, it’s an advantage over hard copies that you can’t ignore.

Whichever you choose, just remember that you have centuries of the world’s best teachers and entertainers at your fingertips. And if that alone doesn’t remind you to love life and humanity again, I don’t know what will.


This post was originally published on the Maison with a Pen blog on February 24, 2016.