Are you ready to rumble? No? You’re just here because you like reading? Okay, well, fine. But this might get a little sparky. Just warning you.
Actually, no, I’m kidding. While this list is certainly somewhat provacative by nature, let me say at the outset, that despite the title, this isn’t meant to be an objective, all-angles-covered end to the debate on Print Books vs. Kindle. These are just my opinions. And while I certainly have a preference, I do read books in both formats.
Anytime you read is a win in my book, whether it’s digital or in print. Your experiences may line up with mine, they may not. My goal here isn’t really to persuade you to switch from one to the other if you’re happy reading where you’re at.
Just, whatever you do, don’t stop reading. Because whether they’re on the printed page or a screen, words matter. When you’re hunting for treasure, you dig where the map tells you. And, as Walt Disney said, “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.”
Print Book Pros
Let’s start off with all of the wonderful things about reading a printed book. Fasten your seatbelts. There are quite a few.
You know where you are in the book
I don’t mean finding your place. I mean, while you’re reading, you can check the thickness of the book and know whether the heroine is really going to die in this chapter or if you’ve still got half the book to go and she’ll probably pull through.
Some might see this as a con, but I like to know where I’m at in the story. Sometimes it works to a story’s advantage. So much has happened up to this point, what could there possibly be left in the last hundred pages? You must read on to find out!
But wait, you say, doesn’t Kindle show your progress at the bottom of the screen as well?
Yes, and no. I know it’s saying something, but I can never get it to say the page number. And it randomly seems to switch between telling me either: how many minutes I have left in the chapter (which is always wrong), what location I’m on (and 1304/12890 is pretty meaningless), or it gives you an estimate of the book page number, which also is usually inaccurate and, since I’m not reading a book, a little frustrating.
You read a Kindle “page” (swiping with your finger) and somehow you’re still on the same “book” page. It feels like a dirty trick. I thought I was making progress! You mean I have to read seven pages on Kindle just to tick over to the next one in the book? Am I getting the short end of the stick here? Is Kindle sucking my time away into some evil Dark Crystal machine? Was this thing invented by Skeksis?
Better for underlining
Okay, that first one took way too long. I’m going to have to pick up the pace or I’ll never get through these.
I know you can highlight in Kindle, but it’s not the same. I can’t see the notes in the margins. I can’t write little asterisks to indicate which passages were the really important ones. And somehow the act of writing something burns it into my brain much deeper than dragging my finger across a piece of plastic.
Better reading experience
The feel of the paper. The smell of the paper. The slowness of it all. The faded yellow tinge of an old book. The notes in the margins from when you read it ten years ago. That worn, tattered cover of a book well-loved.
These and a thousand other things make reading on paper such an ever more enchanting experience than reading pixels on a screen.
Doesn’t need power
Kindle battery life is great. But nothing beats INFINITY. You never have to plug in a book.
So, print books win this one running away. Not even a contest.
You never have to plug in a book.
Books just look nice. Print book covers feel more organic, more natural, than hard plastic. They come in glossy, matte, hardbound, and even leather (for those, extra special books). Some covers have embossed or shiny parts which I love.
The pages give a subtle pleasure to the fingers as you turn them. The typesetting and illustrations and maps can enhance the overall aesthetic experience of a book as well. In short, there is a beauty and an elegance to books which technology, even when it incorporates things like fancy fonts and pictures, just can’t match. The screen just makes things a little more artificial and detracts from the overall presentation that exists in printed books.
The personal nature of the experience of reading a print book is just not matched on a Kindle. This is my copy, not some file churned out indifferently over the invisible information highway.
Not to mention, if it’s a book I love, own, and plan to keep and bequeath to my great-great-great grandchildren, I’ll want to display it proudly on my bookshelf.
Books can become a part of your home in a way that your Kindle just never will.
Given that most print books are more expensive than their Kindle versions, how can I call this a win for print books? Well, there’s several factors, and I’ll discuss more of them below, but for now I’ll just say that it’s because I feel like I’m getting a better deal with print. I’m getting something actual. Tree pulp. Ink. Weight. Heft. It’s something somebody had to craft. I feel like I get my money’s worth more when I plunk down those hard-earned greenbacks for something I can hold in my hand.
I don’t feel like I truly own the Kindle books I buy. Call me old fashioned, antiquated, but the physical copy just holds significantly more value for me.
Going to the library
Yes, you can check out books from the library on a Kindle. But the selection isn’t very good at my library at least and invariably, the book I’m looking for is checked out, which just feels weird. I know financially it has to work that way, but it feels like an arbitrary rule inflicted on readers. You ran out of digital copies? Did the internet just have a bad day? Did somebody in Cleveland step on a fiber optic cable or something. It just is so arbitrary as a reader.
That aside, the experience of going to a library and running your finger along the spines and discovering some wondrous tome you didn’t know exist is unmatched in the digital world. The hushed silence. The palpable energy of people thinking and using their imaginations all around you is such a wonderful experience. I feel like every time I go there I’m coming back with a haul of secret treasure, unearthed from some forgotten ruin.
With Kindle, I’m just downloading a file. It is magical in its own, I-have-no-idea-how-his-even-works sort of way, but just not enchanting.
Better as gifts
Books make better gifts. I’m not even sure how to give someone a Kindle book, but it certainly wouldn’t be as exciting for them to receive it.
You can’t wrap a Kindle book. You can’t send it in a package. You can’t stick it in a stocking. You can’t bring it to your friend in the hospital.
For a book-lover, there really is nothing more special than opening up a gift with a book inside.
If you’re reading a book, or even if it’s just sitting on the kitchen table, it’s quite possible someone might ask you about it. They’ll see the cover, or possibly how enrapt you are with your nose in its pages and wonder just what’s inside. Or maybe they’ll have already read it and the conversation can start from that angle. Either way, an open book is an open door to new conversations, possibly even new friends.
It’s hard to imagine someone looking at your dull, gray, Kindle screen and saying, “ooo, what’s that one about?” Because it looks like every other Kindle book.
Speaking of people noticing the book you’re reading, the cover of a book also offers accountability. For some people, sadly, this won’t be a pro. They like the anonymity of reading something that caters to their baser desires. The rise in immature, salacious, unrestrained, and perverse themes in books seems to have coincided with the advent of ebook reading. When covers no longer gave people away, readers unleashed their inner demons to feed.
Now, many years later, the embarrassment they might have felt in an age of print books has largely gone away as readers eagerly clamor for the next titillating title. Sin seekers are just another demographic that publishers and authors eagerly market to.
But for those who understand the damaging, awful consequences of pouring moral drek into our minds, physical books offer a way of curbing those appetites. We’re less likely to pick up the latest trashy bestseller if the cover won’t let everyone know.
You can get an autographed copy
This one’s kind of a minor one for me. That’s why I saved it for last. I don’t think I actually own any autographed copies of books. But at least the potential’s there. I guess you could have an author autograph your Kindle. But it’s just not the same. It’s like having them autograph your laptop or phone. Pretty impersonal since it’s not their actual book that they’re autographing.
Print Book Cons
As wonderful as reading in print can be, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows in the land of ink and vellum. Print books are not perfect (gasp!). And there are a few downsides worth noting.
So, yes, you can drop your Kindle and potentially it’s game over (they’re pretty rugged, though), but there are many more ways that a book can succumb to the hostile nature of life in a fallen world.
Books and water are the worst. Forget oil and water. Books and water are the real combination that does not mix. A few drops will ruin a page. A light rain will do worse. Leave a book outside overnight and you are inviting disaster.
Paper is a fragile thing. Pages get torn and permanently bent. Spines come unglued and covers fall off. There are so many ways a book can be undone. Alas, print books, unlike the ideas inside them, are not invincible.
Books weigh a lot. Anyone who’s ever had to move boxes full of them knows that few other items are as dense as print books.
And the bulky nature of books applies not just to collections, but individual books as well. I can easily read a Kindle book with one hand. It’s slender and sleek in a way most books can never be.
This is not a huge factor, but it is a slight knock on print books that they are so stinking heavy.
Easier to lose your place
Losing your place in a book stinks. Sure we have bookmarks, but they can fall out. Or you can stick them in the wrong place and close the book when you get a phone call and forget where you were.
Some will say this rarely happens, but it happens more than you think. Most of the time, it’s a minor inconvenience. You flip back to where you were reading before. But what if it’s been a few days? A few weeks? I once put my bookmark in the wrong place and ended up skipping about eighty pages and the story made no sense because I’d missed key events that had happened.
With Kindle, you always pick right back up where you are. This one, like most of these points, isn’t a deal-breaker, but in this case, the nod has to go to the digital world for always keeping track of where you are.
So what are the great things about Kindle? If there weren’t advantages, they wouldn’t have exploded into the marketplace in the early 2000’s. I’ve mentioned a few key ones already. But here are some more wonderful things that keep readers coming back for digital helpings.
Classics are free
This, to me, is the number one advantage of owning a Kindle. You can get classic books for free. Since classics are my favorite thing to read, this one soars above the other features on this list of Kindle pros.
I’ve read Robinson Crusoe, Little Women, Around the World in Eighty Days, and Princess of Mars, and many others, all on Kindle. What a delight. For free! Yes, all these books can be found at the library, but they might be checked out and it’s certainly more convenient to download them with a few clicks.
For those who do not share my love of the classics, this will be a nonstarter. But if you, like me, have partaken of the nearly endless well from which flow these enduring treasures, you’ll love the convenience of having a library of the greatest books of all time at your fingertips.
Eat while you read
Can’t put that book down, but don’t want to pass out from lack of sustenance? The Kindle’s got you covered.
Sure, you can eat while reading a printed book, but eventually you will have to turn the page and that will mean using both hands. And it’s just hard to balance that ocean-liner copy of War and Peace in your dainty little spaghetti string fingers while continuing to shovel more Cocoa Captain Sugar Crunch cereal into your mouth.
So by all means read. By all means eat. Just don’t try to do them together without a Kindle.
Built-in night light
If you do a lot of reading at night, illumination can be an issue. Maybe you can’t resort to a lamp because it would distract your spouse. Or maybe you have a nice book light, but you misplaced it, or it keeps falling off.
It’s certainly not a huge hassle to find a light to read by in most situations, but on those occasions when you need one, you’ll be glad your Kindle can light itself in the dark.
The night light feature is so nice, it’s one of the reasons I held off on buying a Kindle for so long. The earlier models didn’t have them. So I waited until that feature came out. And I’m glad I did. Never having to worry about finding a light is an extremely nice plus to having a Kindle.
I’m a writer. I love words. I love learning new words. I love it when books throw words at me I’ve never seen before. If I find one on the first page, I say to myself, “Yes! This is going to be a good book.”
Maybe I’m odd in that way, but I hope at least a few of you reading this can relate. It’s nice not to have to haul my Websters Unabridged, three-story high mammoth of a dictionary with me wherever I go. Having the definition at the touch of a finger is oh so helpful.
I love highlighting passages (see above) and going back to them. And while I find it easier to highlight them in print books, it’s vastly easier to search for passages and quotes on a Kindle. And sometimes I even search for things I didn’t highlight, which is an extremely dodgy prospect in a print book.
Searching is just one of those things computers do better than people. In most things, the human mind far outpaces the digital imitators, but searching for words in documents isn’t one of them.
Tracking your reads
This one kind of dovetails nicely with the previous point. If you like keeping a list of everything you read, Kindle makes this dead simple. Just sign up for a Goodreads account, link it with your Kindle and, boom, you’re set. The minute you finish a book, it adds it to your list of books read and prompts you for what you’d like to read next.
It even makes it easier to leave a review right after you finish the book. You are leaving reviews, aren’t you? For every book you read, right? Because if you’re not, you should know that careers will die, authors will fall, and characters will suffer. Oh, the humanity!
Seriously, please consider leaving reviews for the books you read. It helps authors gain visibility and helps other readers discover a book you enjoyed. So, feed an author, leave a review.
This will probably be high up in most people’s lists for what makes Kindle great. Having hundreds, if not thousands fo books in your backpack is really amazing. I mean so amazing. I don’t think most of us have stopped to realize how amazingly blessed we are. We have an abundance of riches. Most people throughout history never even saw a single book in their lifetimes. Before Roman times, books didn’t even exist. Everything was written on scrolls or other formats.
Yet here we are, sitting on an embarrassment of literary riches and no one bats an eye.
Let me break it down for you.
Books = good.
More books = better.
Got it? And having them with you at all times really is one of the best things about owning a Kindle.
Being able to download and read a book the minute you decide to is quite nice. Books for me are rarely impulse buys. I don’t mind waiting for two-day shipping (or even longer, really). But on occasion, I do need to read a book as soon as possible. And on those occasions, the instant download capability of the Kindle is a lifesaver.
Others might rate this a bit higher than I do, though, especially if you’re one of those…
High volume readers
I aspire to be a high volume reader. But I got put in the slow reading group in first grade and never recovered. I’ve actually been trying to increase my reading speed of late with mixed results, but if I ever get there, the Kindle might have more of a pull on me.
For people who read a book a day, or even a book a week, the cost savings, space savings, and instant access make for a perfect trifecta of book deluge goodness. Unless you can afford to just bankroll the entire Library of Congress being shipped to your door in daily, one box increments, or want to spend your every waking moment at the local library, if you read a zillion books, you probably should think about going the Kindle route.
The list of Kindle cons I came up with may only be two points long, but each one of these can be pretty significant, especially the first one.
No power = no read
Kindle has one major, kryptonite-sized hole in its armor. As great as the battery life is on it, when it dies, so does your reading. As someone who reads infrequently on the Kindle, this is sadly more common for me than it might be for most. It seems that lately, whenever I want to read on the Kindle, the thing is deader than a sports season in a pandemic. And then I have to find the cable, which invariably has gone missing, and, because it uses a different one from other devices, I can never find it.
So, yeah, this one is a big con for me.
I sort of covered this one before, but let me expand a little on it here. Depending on how much you read, this one might not be a factor for you. But, unless you want to read on a Kindle Fire (which I’ve not heard great things about), you’re looking at plopping down the cost of several books just to get into the Kindle game.
And though Kindle books on average go for less than their printed counterparts, there’s no guarantee the kind of books you like will be the cheap ones. Many mainstream publishers price their books in the $10+ range. I’ve seen many books where the paperback version is actually cheaper than the Kindle. Go figure.
Also, no secondhand Kindle bookstores to help you out either. So, for many people, they won’t justify reading enough to bother with a dedicated reading device. And I know the Kindle has an app for phones, but that’s such an awful format, I don’t even think it deserves consideration.
And the winner is…
So who’s the winner of this battle royale? If it’s not obvious by now, print books are the clear choice for this reader. The personal nature, the experience of it in the hand, the way it looks on a shelf, and many other factors push print books over Kindle.
This is a very subjective list. Maybe studies have been or will be done to show one method trumps the other, but until I find out about them, I’d have to say that it really is a matter of personal preference.
I hope you enjoyed this look into the pros and cons of print books vs. Kindle. Did you agree with any of my pros and cons? What ones would you add? And which format do you prefer? Whichever way you choose, I wish you many wonderful hours of reading great and many great and wonderful books ahead.