Books vs ebooks: Which one is right for you?

Books vs ebooks: Which one is right for you?


Here’s a surprisingly touchy subject for a lot of avid readers: when it comes to books vs ebooks, which is better? 

I feel pretty strongly about physical books offering an entirely different experience compared to ebooks…at least for me. I grew up being drawn to libraries and bookshops – with a neverending stack of reading -– in a time when literature was my only form of entertainment. The town I lived in until I was nine years old had maybe three other children my age, so books were my best friend.

But I think the real question when it comes to books vs ebooks is actually this: which one is better for you?

I originally wrote this post about five years ago. As I was packing up my gear for six months of travel starting in Greece, I was suddenly very aware of how much space my books occupied in my backpack. I had encountered the same issue on other trips (never mind the addition of journals and notebooks), but this was my first real extended trip. I’m a bibliophile through and through – the book/reading experience is just as important to me as its contents. (Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but you get it.)

Back then, as I disregarded extra pairs of underwear in favour of more literature, for the first time ever I found myself thinking, I wish I had an e-reader.

Spoiler alert: I got one.

I brought up the topic on Facebook and Twitter, and I’ve found people are extremely divided and passionate about their reading choices. As quick as I am to defend physical books, the pro e-book readers are equally quick to jump down my throat about it. On the other hand, some of us on the pro-book side are insufferable about defending the need for “real” books. The experience is just entirely different. 

Bottom line: the contents are the same. As long as you’re reading, I don’t care what your method is. (Except speed reading bullshit. That’s no way to enjoy the written word.)

Anyway, it’s a fun topic to write about because people are so opinionated on the matter. I seriously love discussing it.

So if you’re tossing around the merits of books vs ebooks and are considering picking up an e-reader, here are some things to consider.  

The pros for sticking to books

Settle in.

1. Our lives are already consumed with gadgets

Does anyone else feel completely tapped out when it comes to technology? I’m pretty sure I spend at least three hours a day on my phone. Ok, it’s more like six, but it’s embarrassing to admit that.

And then I’m forever working on my laptop. And then in the evenings, I veg with a good Netflix or Prime movie.

Do you really need another electronic in your hand when you’re trying to juggle an iPhone, laptop, or camera? I love reading early in the morning before my phone and inbox and social media start lighting up.

2. Reading a book is in itself an experience

My morning routine starts out with a cup of coffee and an hour of reading. As I said, my mornings are my favourite time to sit down with a good book; my mind is clutter-free, it’s quiet, and there are no anxieties niggling away at me. A book is a perfect complement to this peace. It’s part of the experience. 

Candice reading in the Oasis at Terra Nova National Park

An ebook has none of that same experience. Where’s the new book smell? Or the musty old book smell? Or the pure joy of thumbing through pages and seeing how much you have left to read? There’s just something rewarding and tangible about closing a book when you’re done with it. 

3. Supporting independent bookstores is one of the nicest ways to support local

Bibliophiles agree there’s something wonderful about wandering into a small independently owned bookshop filled with quirkiness and other book-loving people. My favourite bookstore when I lived in Montreal used to be littered with stacks of books and magazines, chipped coffee mugs, and professors and teenagers crowded around tables with pages spread out around them. It was totally pretentious. I miss it.

At my bookstore in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, I’d never ask the owner if they had my book available; I had too much fun just trying to find it myself, and then sinking into one of the big armchairs and reading the first chapter before buying it. I think I read my books even faster just so I had an excuse to get back to the bookstore.

The cons of books

There are none. Truly. But:

1. They’re not so practical for travel

Like I said, if you’re a serial reader, filling a suitcase with books just isn’t a viable option when you’re on the road. You could always just bring one book and leave it behind wherever you are, with the hopes of someone else picking it up and falling in love, but if you’re like me you’ll find it hard to part with something you’ve really connected with.

There are also some pretty obvious impacts on the environment when it comes to book production. It’s not easy to find recent studies on the issue, but the process from fiber supply to transport is a long one. On the other hand, the same could be said of our constant production and use of new devices — you won’t have your hands on a Kindle too long before there’s a newer and “better” version. 

The pros of reading ebooks

Here’s where a lot of my opinions about ebooks have changed over the years.

1. You’ll save so much space in your luggage when you’re travelling

An e-reader gives you the option of carrying hundreds of ebooks with you while you’re on the road. Even the 800-page copy of A Little Life (which I’m currently reading) is reduced to a thin, lightweight e-reader. It takes up no space at all.

And if you like to travel carry-on, like me, this is a big deal.

2. You won’t end up reading shitty books on your travels (or in general)

This is probably my biggest plus for ebooks point. If you’re travelling and you run out of books, there’s a good chance your hostel will have a free bookshelf. Or there’s a free library somewhere. But have you ever seen what kind of books are on loan there? There must be billions of Dan Brown books floating around the world, and most of them are firmly anchored to a free library.

2019 reading challenge

Ultimately, this is why I ended up buying an e-reader. I don’t want to read shit material just because I love my books.

While in Cambodia last year, I had a full day on Koh Rong without any reading material. I checked to see what sales were on, and found a deal for The Dutch Wife for $3. That’s pretty significant since it’s a fairly new release book, and a popular one. I downloaded it and read it all in one day — I haven’t done that in years. 

(Dudes, I just checked. It’s still only $3 in the Kindle store!)

An ebook totally enhanced my reading experience in this case. Nothing beats hanging out in a hammock near the ocean devouring an excellent book all in one day. Not a care in the world. 

3. You’ll save money

Like I mentioned above, ebooks are always cheaper than paperbacks or hardcovers! It’s worth checking out the price online before purchasing the physical version.

There’s also a whole section of “Kindle Books Free Today.” And, finally, classic books are usually significantly cheaper in ebook form — often even free. There’s no excuse for reading shitty books.

The cons of ebooks

1. You can’t see what others are reading

I love being that creepy asshole on the bus who asks an unsuspecting stranger how they’re enjoying A Moveable Feast. I did exactly that in an airport once. I did not get dude’s phone number.

Similarly, I love browsing people’s bookshelves and connecting over shared literary loves. If they’ve got any Twilight on their shelves our friendship is instantly over. (Just kidding. I know my friends are into Twilight. It’s a good thing I love them.)

In a similar theme, I LOVE swapping books with good friends. I love sharing my reads. (Only when my friend is reliable enough to return the book, of course.) You can’t really do that with ebooks. 

2. You can’t build a cozy library

I mean. That’s all I actually want in life. Ceiling to floor bookshelves…which are not so impressive in my house with 6-foot ceilings, admittedly.

So should you get an e-reader?

I have completely changed my tune on e-readers since this was first published in 2014.

An e-reader is a perfect complement to your reading regime. So, yes, you should get an e-reader. You don’t have to be dependent on it — use it to make your life a little easier, whether that means travelling lighter, saving money, or reading what you actually want to read.

I’ll never stop visiting bookstores and supporting small independent publishers, and you shouldn’t either. And yes, I’m aware there are Amazon links in this post, but if I can make your reading life better and more enhanced…that’s equally as important to me.

What kind of e-reader should I get?

I’m all about my Kindle. Ages ago, I bought my first Kindle for less than $100. It was super simple with very little functionality other than reading books, and I loved that about it.

Kindles have changed a lot over the years, but a basic one works just fine. Even the most basic and affordable Kindle nowadays has a built-in light (mine doesn’t). But if you want something with all the bells and whistles, really, it’s not much more expensive. You’ll need to weigh the costs against how often you’ll actually use it, and whether it’s worth the money.

Your other option is to use a tablet…which, personally, I’m not a fan of doing. It’s too much like using a laptop or phone, and I want an experience that’s different from that. There’s not much evidence out there that suggests tablet eyestrain is any different from e-reader eyestrain, but I personally find e-readers easier on the eyes.


I don’t think I’ve picked up my Kindle in over a year, but I’m still so very happy I have it. I will always favour a print book over an e-book, and I still think they’re a superior option…but if I have to pick between a Harlequin at a free library or a free classic novel, there’s no contest who wins.

  • January 10 2014
    Melissa Shearer

    I absolutely love the feel, the look, the smell of real books. Not to mention I absolutely love my ‘library’. That being said though – I received a Kindle last Christmas and since starting up at the gym – I have started to really love it. I can put it on the elliptical and watch an hour fly by as I get lost in a good read. I have the Kindle Paperwhite (the one with a back light) – so I can also read it in bed and not disturb my boyfriend. From a travelling perspective – the battery life is very good on the Kindle, and it’s definitely convenient to be able to bring 1, 2, 3, 1000 books with you and it doesn’t take up precious room in your bag and weighs less than a pound.

    It’s difficult. Every time I buy a book for my kindle, I feel like I’m cheating on my real books.

    • January 14 2014

      Thanks, Melissa! You guys made me decide to go with a Paperwhite. Not sure if I can afford it just yet, but when the time comes. I’ve actually started listening to audiobooks while on the treadmill, which I rather like as well.

  • January 10 2014
    Mario Octavio Jimenez

    Well, I read a lot mainly because I need to learn about need technologies as part of my work as software developer, having a digital book makes easier to add notes, search and carrying 3 or 5 books with 600 pages into the office whenever I need it.

    On the other side when it comes to read for pleasure, thing that I also enjoy a lot, I prefer printed books! No doubt as you mention it’s all about the feeling, passing pages and holding the book itself, reading comes to us in many senses not only our sight to interpret the contents, to me it’s also about where am I sited, if it’s a big or small book, if it smell to new or if it’s an old one.

    Maybe that’s why books remain strong in this digital time, some of us still find them enjoyable!

    • January 14 2014

      Ah, yikes, definitely a factor when a book has over 600 pages! Lol. Yes, I don’t expect physical books to ever go out of style. At least, I hope not.

  • January 10 2014

    I’m glad this turned into a blog post! I agree with all the reasons you stated for preferring real books. A lot. I would have never gotten an e-reader if my parents hadn’t given me on as a birthday gift shortly before I moved to Korea. It was a lifesaver living abroad in a country where English language books are expensive and while on the road it was nice not to carry around a million paperbacks. Space and weight wise, it is invaluable for longtime travel. I would still occasionally pick up “real books” on the road, just to change it up, and now that I’m living in England I buy paperbacks often because I prefer reading actual books. But for traveling, I wouldn’t trade a Kindle for anything.

    • January 14 2014

      Awesome, Amanda, thanks! The verdict so far has definitely been Kindle.

  • January 10 2014

    Number 3 is an excellent point! One of my favorite parts of travelling is creeping what books other people are reading (and then developing a theory on who they are based on their book choice). I worked in a second hand bookstore for years and am a huge fan of REAL books. However, the convenience of an e-reader (or in my case, my ipad mini) y rules, especially for travel. You can take 10, 15, 20, or even 30 books with you if you aren’t sure what you want to read (or how much you are going to read).

    I did have a Kobo Touch but it stopped working for no apparent reason. If you google this, it is a pretty common problem. So, I definitely would not recommend a Kobo.

    • January 14 2014

      Thanks, Katie! Noted on the Kindle. And I TOTALLY judge people based on their reading choices. ;) Lol.

    • January 14 2014
      Melissa Shearer

      I had a Kobo (one of the first generation ones) – and on my first tour through Africa someone on my tour stepped on it (it was sitting on the empty seat next to me) and crushed the screen. I’d heard of people breaking their Kindles and Amazon replacing them free of charge – so when I finished my tour and returned to my then-home in New Zealand, I contacted Kobo to see if they had the same sort of deal. The email I received back was very rude and essentially told me they’re not Amazon, they don’t do replacements and that I can buy a new one myself.

      I made sure my next ebook was a Kindle.

  • January 10 2014

    I almost only read digitally now. I used to have a Sony Reader, but now I read on an iPad mini (and increasingly on my iPhone). It’s just way easier to carry around a ton of books when they’re digital, and you can always get what you want because pretty much everything is available.

    I’m actually at the point now where I find physical books rather annoying. They’re heavy, I have to physically turn the pages, I need light to read, etc. I know it sounds whiny, but it makes a big difference.

    When I’m in Canada I go into bookstores to look around, and if I see anything I like I make a note to buy it later on iBooks or add it to my list on Goodreads.

    • January 14 2014

      Hahahaha, see, I LOVE all those small annoyances. Even the sound of a page turning. Music to my ears.

      • January 14 2014

        Maybe we can find you an ereader that makes a page turn noise? Just kidding! :)

  • January 10 2014
    Melissa Hogan

    You can buy a Kobo mini now for $50 so it’s not a big investment. I like real books at home and my Kobo for travel. There’s no other way I could fit hundreds of books in my purse (and have them weigh less than my iPhone).

    Sure, with physical books you can support an independent bookstore. With an eReader you can support independent writers since it’s much easier to have a book distributed digitally.

    I don’t think it has to be one or the other decision. There’s no reason you can’t keep buying real books and also have an eReader for times when it’s more convenient.

    • January 14 2014

      That cheap?! NICE. Everything I’ve looked at has been over $100.

  • January 10 2014
    Maggie BB

    I love books. Love love love. Love their smell, love their feel, love being able to easily flip back a couple pages when I realize I’ve spaced out, or flip back to remind myself of something that I already read that’s being referred to later in the book…

    …but I carry too much stuff in my purse. I have back and shoulder problems and I know a million pound purse is not actually helpful. So I like how very very lightweight my kobo is.

    I have had the kobo for almost 5 years. I have read maybe 5 books on it. I do not like it for sitting around the house. I find it difficult to read comfortably in bed (which is actually, ridiculous, because I hurt my wrists with some books the way I read in bed… but it’s a familiar and accepted pain. The books always half hold themselves up. The kobo may be light, but I have to support it 100% when reading in bed. )

    I *do* like it for being in my purse all of the time. Unexpected hour long wait at the doctor’s office? Not a problem. Waiting for my car to get fixed? Easy peasy. My ride is held up by traffic? Lemme just pull out my book…. I never remove my kobo from my purse to cut down on weight. It’s lighter than my dayplanner. (which I would never take out of my purse either, but still.. I have finally started using google calendar, so if I HAD to leave my dayplanner out of my purse, I could..)

    The kobo was a gift, because my stepmum thought it was insane I had 7 books in my suitcase :P She found it amazing for travel because of it’s lightness. I still buy a book in the airport every time I travel (because otherwise my plane will crash. but I am not at all superstitious), but I have the kobo for if the book I bought doesn’t last the whole trip. There’s over 100 books on my kobo, and it’s super easy to buy a new one if I don’t wanna read any of the books already on it.

    (that being said, I still packed a book on my last trip. and bought 2 at the airport.)

    Anyhow, indication of how often I pick up my kobo: been reading the same book on my kobo for over a year now.
    (granted, it is Anna Karenina and it got reeeaaaalllllyyyyy boring so I had no motivation to pick it up except when stuck waiting somewhere)

    • January 14 2014

      LOL. NO desire to read that one! As I was reading this, an idea struck me: buy a Paperwhite for travel, but carry one book as well in case I find something worth swapping for.

  • January 10 2014
    Maggie BB

    (oh, and my kobo is ancient at 5 years of age. it is not touch screen, i cannot search, and it takes very noticeable seconds for a page to load every time i “turn the page”, which makes me less inclined to read it when a real book is handy… I hear the new fangled technology is much improved on this..)

  • January 10 2014

    I guess I join the throng when saying I have a Sony ereader for travel but never touch the thing at home. I prefer real books by far and am always reading – but cannot bear the thought of hauling books with me anymore. The exception being guide books – I have gotten really hooked on the DK Eyewitness Top 10 books – small and packable with loads of info – but guess that’s another post!

    • January 14 2014

      Yeah, I definitely like having guidebooks in paper form! I love tagging them and putting notes in them, etc. And the maps. But there seems to be a lot of you in the travellers club.

  • January 10 2014

    I always thought I wouldn’t like eReaders and it turns out I was right. I’ve been reading books on my Kindle for Mac lately and I’m so frustrated by it. It doesn’t feel like a real book. I hate that I’m staring at a screen even more often. And it’s too easy to get distracted. Hate it.

    • January 14 2014

      I wanna try one out. I suspect I’ll feel the same as you but it could also be due to my own stubbornness…but there’s also a difference in bibliophiles and avid readers (I’m both)

  • January 10 2014

    love books, specially hard cover!!! but, travelling, you just can’t beat the e reader.. also, cold night in bed, it is a LOT easier to keep one hand warm, and still read, flip pages etc with my e reader!!!! BUT.. I still love books!!! :(

  • January 10 2014

    I want an e-reader pretty bad. I used to like books, but they take up a lot of space, and down here in the Caribbean the pages actually MOLD. Gross. Also, with all the power outages we have, I like to read books to pass the time but after it gets dark (6pm) you’re shit outta luck.

    • January 14 2014

      LOL, that’s hilarious. Mouldy books make me sad. :(

  • January 11 2014
    Sally Thelen

    I was a big e-reader hold-out. I love everything about paper books.. In fact, I love everything about paper — just the feel and physicality of it is just so much MORE than digital. I’m that person who prints out EVERYTHING rather than read it on my computer. Trees hate me.
    But after almost 4 years in Asia of reading whatever-I-could-get-my-hands-on-in-English (including a lot of selections I’m really not proud of…) I finally caved and bought one right before I moved to China. Yeah, an e-reader is nowhere near as pleasurable as a paper book, but I could order books I actually wanted to read and get them instantly rather than resorting to the Nicholas Sparks book I found on the hostel free books shelf. (Or worse! And trust me there is worse…)

    • January 14 2014

      Hahaha, I’m the same way. I write mostly web content these days and yet I NEVER read online. Not even blogs anymore, usually.

  • January 11 2014
    donna morang

    As an author I can tell you that readers have changed in the last year. One year ago, most of my sales were book/books. This past year, my sales are 85% more Kindle books than book/books.Because I live out of the US, I’m an E-reader, but still if given the opportunity to read a new book/book, I grab it and love every moment of holding that gem in my hands, turning pages back when I don’t remember who is who, and just gazing on the cover Oh yes, I miss real books, but thank heaven for an e-reader.

    • January 14 2014

      Wow, that’s a CRAZY statistic! Interesting to read it from an author’s POV.

  • January 11 2014

    I love books and resisted e-readers for a long time, but now my kindle paperwhite is literally the most prized possession in my backpack. I can read so many books! Which, when it comes down to it, is all I really care about

  • January 12 2014

    I really didn’t want an e-reader. Like you I love the feel of a book in my hands and turning the page and the fact that you can immediately pass it along to someone else. But last year while I was traveling, I was carrying around some 10 pounds in books. Eventually I read them all and I was still traveling. So I took to trading the few I had left in book swaps at hostels or at used book stores and I always ended up with something I didn’t even want to read. At most of the hostels I was lucky if I could find a book in English, nevermind one that sounded like something I wanted to read.

    • January 14 2014

      Yeah, I think that could work both ways. You might come across something you wouldn’t normally read but discover you LOVE it, or you just end up reading a great deal of shit.

  • January 13 2014

    About four years ago I really thought about e-readers for the first time during my Spanish class in Argentina. I didn’t understand why people buy them. They are quite expensive (at least they were back then) and the books you buy aren’t often cheaper. So wtf are people thinking? Well, my opinion has changed. A year ago I got my kindle paperwhite for Christmas. I’m still reading some proper books as I haven’t read all of my bookshelf. But I can tell you that I avoid carrying books with me during my travels.I spent 7 months in Australia and always swapped books in Hostels. I don’t know if I was unlucky but it was quite hard to find readable books sometimes. So I just read anything just for reading. If I had an e-reader I could have read something of my interest.
    I get all your points, I was against e-readers a long time but there are just so practical. For example I prefer laying on the side and it’s quite to read a proper book like this but with my kindle it’s totally fine. I can read in the dark and do not disturb anyone in my hostel dorm. And of course the simple fact of the weight. But yeah it’s annoying during take-off and landing that’s true. I think you could write a whole book about the pro and cons of e-books and paper books :)

    • January 14 2014

      Thank god for airline magazines! What’s the Paperwhite like? How is it different from the normal one? I’ve been hearing that one come up a lot

      • January 14 2014

        I’m really glad that I decided to get the paperwhite cause the light is an extreme advantage especially in hostel dorms. It also has a touchscreen which the first one doesn’t have so it’s quite handy in that way. The light doesn’t hurt your eyes at all. I thought it might be like watching TV but it’s still like reading a book somehow and I really recommend this kindle. keep us updated how you end up with your book vs. e-book “conflict” :)

  • January 13 2014

    I love real physical books and I never thought I’d get into using a kindle but when I got one for my birthday I totally converted (at least 50% of the time I still like the feel of books and to support my local library/bookshop the other 50%). I love the instant downloads, the ease of traveling with it, the instantly being able to read reviews. Oh and the samples, I LOVE the samples!! Oh and I’m pretty sure there is a way of sharing kindle books with friends but I haven’t tried it yet. Apparently you can just email each other the links and then return it (obviously only with others who have kindles/e readers tho). Remember it never has to be totally e reader only, books will always (hopefully) be around when you get the urge to hold one again :)

    • January 14 2014

      Yeah, I’m trying to figure out which books to bring to Europe that won’t take up so much space + I wouldn’t mind ditching if need be. But damn, nothing like sticking to a bookmark in a good book.

  • January 15 2014

    A lot of old school readers will stick to real books to the death. I get it, I love my collection of books. Looking at them makes me happy. But at the same time I can definitely see the appeal of an e-reader. It’s portable, it’s light, perfect for reading on the go or even in bed so on and so forth. This was my major gripe with e-readers and I’ve noticed nobody else has mentioned……some of the book versions are incomplete or missing words!
    I noticed this when I downloaded the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series by: George R. Martin. I was so excited to have all five books in the palm of my hand! As I worked my way through the book I noticed a lot of the sentences didn’t make sense almost as if there were words missing. And sometimes instead of saying someone’s name it would say something completely random like Lord “Throne” etc. I looked it up on good old internet and apparently this is a major issue for the series which is why many just passed on the e-reader versions and purchased the physical books. Mind you I was not using a traditional e-reader, but a Blackberry Playbook (don’t judge me, it was free and not being used. Decided to give it a life by turning into an e-reader).
    Anyways, have you heard of this issue before? The whole experience has turned me off of e-readers for the time being. But I’m sure I will be turned on again sometime soon.

    • January 16 2014

      Interesting! No, haven’t heard of that happening at all. That’s disappointing. Did you get a refund? I finally ordered a Kindle. We’ll see how much I love/hate it. :)

    • April 03 2020

      When I’m choosing a format, it’s not about which one is right for /me/, but which one right right for the type of book I’m reading.

      I read fiction in e-book format. They’re easier to read lying in bed, easier to read in the dark, and easy to get & store new ones while I’m on the go.

      I read non-fiction in paper book format. I’m a little more engagement with the material (better for when I’m trying to learn something), it’s a lot easier to make highlights & notes, and when I’m done, it’s a lot easier to flip back and forth to the sections I need or review my highlights. E-books are better suited for reading from beginning to end and then putting it away, not flipping back and forth for review.

  • January 16 2014

    I love books when traveling! I love when I am about to finish a book and can trade it with a traveler, a small shop(while I hunt down a new one), trudge up a hill after a day traveling to a new hostel eager to check out the used book shelf. I like deciding what stays out of my pack because the book has to go!I like writing in the margins where I found and where |I left it(been doping that for 20 years)I love looking at book covers, wondering what is inside!I love the smell, the dog eared pages and worn cover almost telling me it is a goods read!I love talking to people about the book in their hand,,,ask someone with an electronic device, well the grunt is the usual reply….lol…fred

    • January 16 2014

      Your entire comment makes me suddenly regret buying the Kindle, Lol.

  • July 13 2014
    Peggy Carlaw

    I resisted an e-reader but finally caved. I now read about 4 times more than I did before. I use the Kindle app on my iPhone and iPad. I can read on either device and my position syncs. It also save pounds when travelling not having to lug around yet more technology. Plus, my vocabulary has improved. I was reading a real book the other day and was annoyed when I tapped a word and a dictionary refused to pop up. I’m sold!

    • July 14 2014

      I took my Kindle with me to Europe for six months and I read maybe three books on it the entire time. :( Sigh. The e-reader was not built for me.

  • April 04 2020

    I love the way a shelf looks with organized books, I love to organize them by size and colour! it’s so neat, however, since I was like 8, I have been reading 200+ pages books, which is not very convenient to travel with. Whenever I am on the go now, I use my Kobo, which holds hundreds of books while needing a tiny space in my luggage. I used to be the girl against eReader though…
    Audrey recently posted…How to Budget for Disney: transportation, special events and merchandise

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