E-books vs. print: is there really a better or worse?

Drink, Kindle and Notebook

If you’ve ever taken the time to think about (or read about) a discussion pitting e-books against print, it probably ran like this: discuss the pros and cons of print, discuss the pros and cons of e-books, discuss which outweighs the other, and then pick a side. Mostly in that order.

While it makes a great story for the press about the death of one medium (or the other), here’s a thought: why can’t the two coexist?

I mean, most times, when people try to compare print and e-books, they have a great time weighing pros and cons, considering their options, and in the end—hold that thought. Why don’t we just drop the cons and consider the pros?

That might sound stupid, but think about this: e-books and print have essentially the same content in different packaging, right? Which means that if there’s anything to debate about, it has nothing do with the content, right? Wrong.

To explain: “books” isn’t some be-all-end-all word, and as I have discovered, people read different books in different ways, in different places, and at different times. I might want to lounge in warm sunspot in a cushy chair to read the latest Jeffrey Archer, but I would never read my Physics textbook in the same place, even though the environment is incredibly comfortable. I’d much rather sit in a cold hard desk for that.

And guess what? That’s exactly why I think we should make a divide. E-books and print can live together in harmony, but honestly, I think they should occupy different niches in the market, because e-books, as I see it, are just better suited to some categories of books while print is better suited for others.

Think about it. You’ve heard about how great reading print is for things like novels, because of something to do with actually feeling the thing in your hands. And I would agree. I’ve only read a couple of books on electronic devices, and while the books were enjoyable, it felt like being cheated out of the whole experience.

On the flip side, I haven’t heard any compelling arguments for keeping print textbooks. And let’s face it. They’re clunky, heavy and cost more than two kidneys to finance. Digitising those, in my opinion, would solve those problems. And to top it all off, in technical texts, writers would be able to explain concepts and designs with more than just pictures and text. They’d have resources like interactive 3D-models and YouTube videos at their disposal to ensure that students understand the topic completely. And that, in my opinion, is bound to improve the education sector.

My basic point is that I think there are some types of books that would work better as e-books and some types of books that would work better in print. And of course, in some cases, it’s obvious. Nobody I can think of makes colouring books for Kindles. (Sorry. Enter the stylus.)

On the other hand, think about this: back in the day, short story writers had to find their way into an anthology to get published, or had to write enough short stories that when they did publish their own anthology, it wouldn’t be a two page wonder. But nowadays, publishing short stories is easy, because it doesn’t matter if an e-book is a six word story like “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” or a 650,000 word epic like Victor Hugo‘s Les Miserables, because they’ll both fit in a Kindle the same.

So honestly, if anyone approached me and asked whether print or e-books were better, my answer would be this: wrong question. Because in reality, they both trump the other—given the right situation.

One response to “E-books vs. print: is there really a better or worse?”

  1. I like ebooks as I can “carry” many on my phone. But nothing beats the feel and smell of a new book. Having said that though, I have limited space at home so I would still lean towards an ebook to save physical space around the home.


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