E-Books vs. Printed Books: The 21st Century Debate

By Elana Goodwin on September 12, 2014

E-book sales have skyrocketed in recent years as personal digital reading devices have steadily risen in popularity since the Amazon Kindle was released in 2007. This trend has sparked a worldwide debate of the pros and cons of e-books vs. printed books and what technological advances in reading means for the publishing industry as a whole.

Back in 2010, when Apple came out with the first generation of its tablet, the iPad, the Pew Research Center found that only 5 percent of Americans owned an e-reader and 4 percent owned a tablet. But as e-readers improved their design and debuted increasingly sleeker, more intuitive, larger memory models, e-reader ownership grew.

Photo Credit: u-publish.com

Today, those numbers have severely multiplied, with 32 percent of Americans owning an e-reader and 42 percent owning a tablet, those devices being two of the biggest ways e-books are consumed by readers.

However, though e-reader and e-book sales numbers seem to be constantly growing, a report by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) showed that in 2013, hardcover book sales in the U.S. were actually up while overall U.S. e-book sales were actually down about 5 percent.

The AAP found that hardcover book sales rose 11.5 percent to $778.6 million through August of 2013 while e-book sales were up only 4.8 percent to $647.7 million during that same time. Overall, 2013 total book sales came out to around $15 billion according to AAP, which is up around 14 percent since 2008, with e-books accounting for $3 billion of sales.

Though e-readers are becoming more and more popular, they’re not outdistancing print, and there’s no indication that they will even in the future. In 2012, Pew’s research found that of the adults questioned, only 5 percent of them read exclusively e-books.

Photo Credit: bookriot.com 

survey of 1,400 people ages 16 to 24 by Voxburner, a British marketing research company, discovered that 62 percent of the respondents actually prefer printed books to e-books, even though they’re technically the technological and digital generation.

While both modes of reading are legitimate, the e-books vs. printed books debate is still ongoing as each have their pros and cons.

Supporters of printed books cite the sentimental value “real” books hold, as well as the luxuriousness of inhaling that book-smell and the ability to amass a substantial library of bookshelves filled with childhood tales, favorite novels, and to-read stories. There’s just something about being able to hold a real book in your hands–a feeling that is invoked–that an e-reader can’t even begin to replicate or replace.

E-readers also mean reading off an LCD screen, and even with improvement in glare protection, there are still often problems with poor lighting, reflections, etc., which disrupt the reading experience. Printed books also don’t require you to research and figure out what kind of device you want to read the books on as you simply buy or check out the book and read it in its printed format. With the variety of e-readers available, choosing which one you want becomes a difficult task.

Plus, with printed books, piracy isn’t an issue for authors and publishers as copying printed books is much more tedious than “sharing” e-books online, which has become increasingly easy and common.

Lastly, you never have to charge a printed book or worry about running out of battery in a particularly good part of the book as they don’t need to be plugged in and charged to work.

Photo Credit: goodereader.com

On the other side, e-book proponents point to the convenience and practicality of digital books and e-readers. E-books are paperless, which is better for the environment as it reduces the environmental impact as well as the costs of publishing.

Plus, as opposed to printed books, e-books can be carried around with you on a slim lightweight device, from iPhones to Kindles to iPads and more, which means you literally have a library’s-worth of books at your fingertips wherever you go.

E-books also typically cost you 50-60 percent less than their hardcover versions at a bookstore and don’t come with any shipping and handling costs. Additionally, you don’t have to special order a large print version as e-readers can make the font size bigger and easier to read.

Lastly, with e-books you can also highlight and mark verses, save pages and search within the text while you read without making permanent markings on the texts like you would with paper books.

Personally, as a huge reader, I can appreciate the easy accessibility and weight advantages provided by e-books while still holding a soft spot for printed books and adding more to my shelves.

But no matter which side you’re on in the e-books vs. printed books debate, one thing is clear: neither is going anywhere, so you don’t have to choose just one mode of reading. Many book-lovers turn to e-readers and e-books for convenience and practicality while still buying printed books to join their personal libraries.

And in the scheme of things, how we read really doesn’t matter, as long as we all keep on reading.

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