Paper vs pixels revisited


As y’all know, I tend to get a lot of books in the mail. You know this, in part, because I mention it here and on Twitter (which I hope is not seen as bragging—I’m just genuinely excited when I get mail!). While I love reading a good physical book… but I’m also pretty comfortable reading eBooks, too. In fact, more often than not, when I purchase a book it’s a digital copy (at least initially). I also research using my Logos library, which is super-convenient.

And, a lot of review programs—such as Crossway’s Beyond the Page and Cruciform Press’ review program—are shifting to digital offerings in lieu of physical books. This makes complete sense, especially from a business perspective, because:

  1. Mailing costs are super-expensive (especially when you’re sending books to places like Canada)
  2. It reduces risk, since you can’t always guarantee a reviewer is going to actually read or write about the book being sent (as many who have sent me books know).

My Internet friend Mike Leake (who I look forward to hanging out with at T4G in a couple weeks) reminded me of all this yesterday when he shared four reasons why he still prefers paper to digital. And since it’s been a couple of years since I last shared anything about my personal experience with pixels vs. paper, I thought I’d revisit the subject. So here are four things I’ve found in my experience:

My engagement level is generally about the same. Whether it’s paper or pixels, I tend to give the same consideration to the content—which is to say, careful. I make lots of notes in both formats, underline and highlight many passages, occasionally cross out redundant (or flat-out wrong) passages… How I do it just looks a bit different.

Writing notes is easier in a paper book, definitely (all I need is a pen!). Writing notes in a digital edition sometimes helps me think through my response a little more carefully, in part because of the familiarity of the environment. It comes closer to engaging the way I would in a blog post than when I just scribble in the margins.

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian
Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

My retention is different. At the same time, I have noticed that I don’t retain the content I read in an eBook quite the same way I do with a physical one. This is due to “landmarks”—when I’m reading a paper book, I tend to keep an eye on the page number and the paragraph position. I don’t really have those firm landmarks in an eBook, though. The paragraph breaks always remain static, but their position depends on the font size and orientation of my iPad. As a result, I tend to remember where something is, as well as why I thought it was important a little easier with a paper book.

My wife is happier with my digital books. Now, to be clear: my wife actually prefers reading physical books in general. But she prefers me having more digital ones. The reason? It keeps the clutter to a minimum. Our poor bookshelves tend to be double-stacked most of the time, which isn’t terribly helpful to me since I can’t see what’s all there. Now, I know the solution is buy more bookshelves,  but we don’t have space. As a result, I tend to take a lot of books to my office to give away. In the last couple of months alone, I’ve brought in over 50, which my coworkers seem to appreciate. My wife does, too. But with my digital books, there’s nothing to stack or give away. The files are sitting in the cloud or on my iPad, and this is a good thing for my wife’s stress levels.

Physical books feels more special. Now, receiving a book is always great, but I’ll be honest: it feels more special when I receive a physical book. When I come home from work and see Janni or another publicist have sent me something they think I’m going to like, it’s exciting. I realize that’s probably silly, but there you go.

So in the end, where do I find myself in the ongoing paper vs pixels saga?

Paper is more fun, but pixels are more convenient. But in the end end, as long as the content is great, the format doesn’t bother me too much. How about you?

6 thoughts on “Paper vs pixels revisited”

  1. Pingback: Paper vs pixels: the return of the great ebook debate

  2. Pingback: Today in Blogworld 03.28.14 - Borrowed Light

  3. Thanks for the shout out, Aaron. For me the retention thing is huge. I just don’t remember books that I read in electronic format nearly as well. I agree with the clutter issue–there are a ton of paper books that I wish I had on my Kindle so I could just delete them or store them away somewhere. But I also have some on my iPad that I just wish that I had on my shelf.

  4. I love all my ebooks, most notably because of the clutter – we had 10 bookshelves full of books in a small house. I also read several books at once, and having them all with me to carry in my purse to read as the whim takes me is a strong draw. You can also get very good books for a lot less money if you wait for them to hit a Kindle sale. I recently bought a book I really wanted for $30 less then the print price.

    That being said, I do prefer my study books or Bible to be in a traditional book format. You just can’t write in the margins or star good passages in an ebook. Also, it’s difficult to flip around in an ebook. I’m not sure if they will come up with a good solution to that anytime soon.

  5. I agree with all your points and especially the point about making the wife happy. In fact my wife bought me my Kindle and made me promise to buy more digital then paper. Given that I had until recently nearly 5000 books in our home (A recent move forced me to cull many) I realized I needed to do something. Still I love the feel of a real book and if I had my way I would always buy my books in that form.

    1. I have to agree with both you and Aaron about the ‘happy wife’ effect. That alone is a wonderful thing. However, I just can’t get over the tactile sensation and genuine feeling of ownership that comes from the paper version.

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