The debate over what’s better, the electronic books or the printed ones, seems never-ending. For a long time, everyone believed it was going to be a fight to the death: as early as 2008, some people predicted the end of the paper book. But today, almost fifteen years later, the affair remains in suspense. In fact, there even seems to be something resembling a balance. For the last couple of years, e-books have represented 15—25% of the total number of books read, a number that, of course, varies depending on the country and the year (2020, largely thanks to the quarantines, saw a boom in the sales of e-books).
It’s clear that each format has its advantages and disadvantages. Reading on paper is not the same as reading in a Kindle-type e-book; however, that might be a good thing. That’s why, in Palabra, we decided to assess all the differences between paper and digital books.
What Is an E-book?
The universe of e-books can be a little confusing. Mostly, because there’re too many words that seem to mean the same thing. After all, what is a Kindle? What is an e-book? Are they the same? And what about digital books?
The answer is actually quite simple. E-books, electronic books, and digital books are all the same, and they refer, in principle, to an electronic file. A Kindle, on the other hand, is a type of e-reader, that is, a special device designed for reading those types of files. Kindle, designed by Amazon, is the most popular device on the market, but by no means the only one.
Pros and cons of electronic books
E-books and paper books can be compared in many ways. To a large extent, the result of the comparison depends on the preferences of the reader. However, there are certain variables that are useful to keep in mind.
1. Value for money
This calculation is well-known. An e-book reader is a technological device, so it’s obviously more expensive than a single printed book. However, the price of an electronic book is much lower than that of a paper one; besides, it’s not difficult to find free ebooks on the Internet. You should do this estimation for the medium term. Some people suggest that the best way of doing it is by adding up the price of all the books you’d normally read in a year: if that sum is more than what a Kindle costs, then it’s a good investment!
This point is definitely won by the Kindle—it’s lighter and smaller. It fits easily in any pocket, and you can lie down on your back in bed to read a bulky book (maybe War and Peace or the latest by George R. R. Martin) without your arms getting tired. Also, the ebook works with different types of lighting. The only disadvantage is that you need to charge it. However, they tend to have a lot of autonomy (in some cases, up to two weeks!) so that’s not really a problem.
What’s easier? Finding the digital or the paper version of a book? The answer, as in many other cases, is: it depends. If you are looking for a book in another language or published in a foreign country, you are more likely to find it online before you see it in a bookstore. But at the same time, it’s not easy to find digital versions of local novelties and books from independent publishers. We leave this item to the preference of the reader.
Until recently, e-readers barely allowed you to make simple marks, but lately, they have expanded their functionalities a lot. Now you can underline, quote, comment and copy—you have even more possibilities than with printed books! However, several studies have been conducted comparing the effects on comprehension of reading digital vs. paper books. The results are conclusive: we read better on paper. There are several hypotheses as to why this happens, from habit (most of the study subjects had grown up reading printed texts) to multisensory stimulation (a book is much more than a visual stimulus: it is also a tactile register), but, for now, there aren’t many doubts about it.
At first glance, it would seem that having a Kindle is more environmentally friendly than buying printed books. We are talking about a single device versus a lot of paper (there are libraries that look like forests). However, several organizations devoted to the environment argue that this is not the case. It happens that the «technological waste» produced by an e-reader is much more harmful than paper, which is a renewable resource. The pulp of paper is generally produced from plantations grown especially for this purpose. These are not related to the massive deforestation associated with timber, agriculture, and grazing industries. Besides, paper is recyclable, of course. The same cannot be said for e-readers, which usually end up in technological dumps in Third World countries, where they are incinerated, releasing harmful fumes.
Kindle and paper books: Incompatible or complementary?
For a long time, it was said that the ebook would replace the paper book. However, in recent years, the trends seem to have changed. Nowadays, everything indicates that electronic and printed books can co-exist peacefully. It happens that, after a certain volume of reading, having an e-reader is a great investment. And yet, despite that, many people prefer to have some books in their physical format to go over them, to lend them, and to collect them. It seems, after all, that there’s no need to choose: we can have them both.
Translated by @florabosch