versus Richard MacManus at ReadWriteWeb has written a pair of articles considering the advantages that e-books and printed books have over each other. E-books get the nod for social highlighting, notes, look-up of words, ability to tweet and Facebook quotes, and search; paper books get it for feel, packaging, sharing, keeping, and second-hand books.

I can’t help but find both of these lists a little lame.

The e-books list seems to place an undue emphasis on social networking (the ability to tweet and Facebook quotes? Really? Something that only the Kindle has, and even it only got in April?) and leaves out such huge advantages as the ability to carry dozens or hundreds of books in one pocket-sized device, the instant gratification of having a book in your hand immediately after you decide to purchase it, or the way any e-book can be large-print with a simple font setting tweak.

Furthermore, despite the claim in the paper books list that they can’t, e-books can be “lent” in some cases more easily than printed ones. The Nook allows you to “lend” an e-book to a friend, for instance (though the feature does come up a bit lacking in the actual execution)—and needless to say, any book without DRM can be “lent” by e-mail.

As for the paper books list: again, why should “feel” even be in the running as an advantage? It’s nice and all, but I don’t consider the tactile experience to be a factor in any purchasing decision. And as for “keeping”, e-books can be copied, backed up, and stored in ways that paper books can’t. (And what about the days when books were printed on acidic paper that slowly crumbled away into dust? How “keepable” were those books?)

Still, I do agree with MacManus’s conclusion:

In summary, there are pros and cons for both paper books and eBooks. The eBook market is ripe for innovation and breakthroughs in how we read, so eBooks will only improve over the coming years.

In the final analysis though, the real value of any book – whether read via paper or electronically – is in the words.


  1. And why are we even having this argument? If you like to read, who cares how as long as it’s comfortable for you? People are reading again thanks to EBooks, so why the argument at all? My wife gave in and bought the Nook because it’s better for her on the subway, I use my iPhone because I don’t carry a bag to hold a larger device, our kids prefer old-fashioned paper still. The point is we are all reading, and isn’t that what we should be encouraging? Give up these ridiculous comparisons, and start promoting the benefits to us all from so many choices finally.

  2. Ridiculous! I hate these either/or arguments. Some books work better in paper. Other books, it doesn’t really matter. Why does there have to be a winner? For books where it doesn’t matter, I can use ebooks and have a large library I could never have the space to store in paper. For books where it does matter, I can have the paper. There is no ‘winner’ or ‘loser’ needed.

  3. The issues that really matter right now are not the eBook or pBook experience really imho. We are at such an early stage of the whole eBook development path that the big issue is really about eReaders, their comfort of use, their UI and their cost. The cost will continue to dramatically drop over the next 24 months and imho will be offered as part of a package similar to mobile phones in 2011. The UI, weight and usability will also improve a lot over the this period. At that stage the real comparison of reading experience will begin in earnest ! At that stage eReaders will be ubiquitous and cheap and light and easy to use.
    But for now the either or question is really not ready to be asked.

  4. About the sharing argument Stanza for iPod/iPhone/iPad has the Share button, the normal Kindle besides Kindle for iPod/iPhone/iPad BB and Android also has the Share Button, so in real terms at least 6 different e-readers have the Share advantages.

    As a reader, I don’t really understand why to put books (ebooks or printbooks) to compete, I’ve always said what really matters is the content. I actuall read in both spaces.

  5. For me, one of the biggest advantages is customization most e-readers allow. Just the fact that the e-reader lets me change the font size to suit my needs was enough for me to move to ebooks almost 100% for books in English.

    Yes, it is the content that matters, I agree. But when I am ready to make a purchase, I find myself purchasing the book that is available as ebook. This year I haven’t purchased one single print book. So in a way, ebooks and printbooks do compete — a publisher insisting on print-only will simply not get my money. There is now large enough selection of ebooks available to last a lifetime, and so far I haven’t found a print-only book that I HAD TO have.

  6. Print Attributes in a Context of Their Screen Delivery

    Navigation: This is the attribute of haptic communication in which the manipulation of the mechanical format conveys additional meaning without distracting comprehension of content. Primate dexterity and a deeply embedded capacity for hands to prompt the mind are fully optimized by the codex mechanism.

    Legibility: There is nothing more illegible than a black screen. Network loading and interruption, application, device and platform incompatibilities, battery drain and power requirements impair screen legibility. Browser default line length and justification distortions reach extremes of illegibility. The printed page is immediately legible.

    Persistence: Print is passively persistent and provides both storage and display functions for a single, one-time cost Screen persistence is not assured due to content decay and mutability, provider interventions or demise and multiple media, software and hardware obsolescence’s. Fail-safe eye legibility is an exclusive print attribute.

    Authentication: Print is self-authenticating with a capacity to sustain continued forensic and bibliographic investigation. The overt nature of print content assures a positive or negative result for queries. Print content and its material presence is inherently immutable.

    Constraint: The constraints of print are attributes. The material constraint eases economies of authorship and production, and packages research and creative investment. Constraints of book design, typography, papermaking, printing and binding assure direct delivery to readers. Assured re-reading across time and cultures provide research validity and organization.

    Overt content: with a print book you can confirm what is there and you can confirm what is not there. And those findings are repeatable and stable as multiple works are compared. This is a particularly useful attribute as the reader extends perspective and knowledge.

    Space: Print requires physical space. Such a prerequisite is not different from prerequisites of screen reading for electricity, device display and connectivity. Comparative costing frequently factors such prerequisites, but they are also somewhat shared by both print and screen reading activities. How can space be an attribute? It is not unless print books are placed in classified order.

  7. The tactile experience is a massive part of purchasing decisions and basically any decision humans make due to our nature. Purchasing clothes for example, if we like the smooth feeling of the silk we are likely to purchase it. Books have an ability to draw from us another experience other than the one we get from reading the story itself
    Also you didn’t revise the previous list of benefits of the printed book. You only revised the e-books list of positives.
    I’m 21 and highly involved with technology and social networking yet I hope the printed books is never replaced by the impersonal e-book.

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