#ESSADebate - Books vs. eBooks

#ESSADebate - Books vs. eBooks


Amy Pereira

In defence of print (real) books…

Print books are back. You heard it here first. The once promising e-book has reached its peak, and now stands in a large line of other has-beens, along with Jesse McCartney, MySpace and the quiff (to name a few).


E-book sales are estimated to comprise around 20% of the Australian book market, with the prevailing view that this has now plateaued. [1] E-book sales aren’t reliably tracked in Australia, however Nielsen BookScan found that printed book sales rose by $41 million in 2016. [1] E-books are inferior to their dead-tree cousins, and here’s why…


First, e- books have not lived up to  expectations. When they first launched, the ability to carry hundreds of books in a few hundred grams seemed practical, and miraculous. These days however, e-book readers like Amazon’s Kindle are outdated (dare I say, tacky?), while the reading experience they deliver has scarcely progressed. Tech-hopefuls like Oyster, once heralded as the Netflix for books, folded after a year. Books, of course, are not exactly a beacon of innovation, but what they lack in technical advancement they make up for in experience.


Let us get a bit nostalgic for a minute. The intangible nature of e-books strips their ability to evoke the sentimental memories a well-read, dog-earned print book. Call me old- fashioned, but there is nothing that can replace the smell or feel of having a paper book in your hands. Studies have shown that reading is a tactile experience – how a book feels and looks has a material impact on how we feel about reading. [2] Publishers have responded to e-books by investing in the physical experience of reading. James Daunt, chief executive of Waterstones, attributes the resurgence of bookstores to the desirability of the aesthetic of books – “[books are] things of beauty in themselves, cleverly curated and carefully atmospheric”. [3] This physical experience is one that simply can’t be replicated on a screen.


The screen itself if not exactly good for us, either. While the backlight in Kindles can be less harmful than harsh screens on tablets, studies have found that reading digitally required a higher cognitive workload than reading on paper. [4] A 2014 Harvard study also found that people who used them slept worse at night, and were more tired the next day. [5]


E-books also promote a shallow reading. How we read, and what we absorb from our reading is influenced both by the content of our reading and the medium we use. Studies find that reading on screens, be that an e-reader or a tablet, promotes non-linear reading. [6] That is, we spend more time browsing and scanning compared to when reading on paper. If you’re reading on a tablet, the omnipresence of distractions for attention like emails and social media notifications, detract from the ability to properly engage with the book. In doing so, we are missing out on the deep reading that promotes processes in out brain to reach important insights and breakthroughs. [6]


Apart from deep reading, there are there are many things one can’t do with an e-book that make a printed book all the better. You can’t turn down a corner, crack a spine (brutal, but oh so good), or flick the pages to see how far you’ve come and how far you have to go.  If you do want to go back and find something, you have to repeatedly press buttons or swipe the screen (say hello to Repetitive Strain Injury). You can’t tell whether the end is really the end, or whether the end is actually at 94%, followed by 6% index/ tributes/ questions for book clubs.

Last (but most certainly not least), authors and publishers get royally screwed by people (you know who you are) who pirate e-books. Morally, the act of pirating a product, is in fact, the equivalent of stealing. The value of lost sales due to pirating is difficult to estimate, however it has been estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. [7]


So, there we have it. All the reasons but one, as to why print books are better than e-books. The last reason? You can’t do a shelfie with an e-book. (That was bad, I know).







Jasmine Nguyen

E-books slay and are here to stay!

As evolution takes its course, the e-book is set to replace the reign of print books as the superior and far more technologically advanced reading tool. While traditional book sales have stagnated, leading to bookstores such as Borders and Angus & Robertson closing down [1], sales of Ebooks have steadily increased, with sales on Amazon rising by 4% between early 2015 to early 2016. This trend reflects that E-books offer an experience to readers that print books cannot. Once you read the following reasons why e-books are better than print books, it should be a no-brainer why people prefer the utility of e-books!


Firstly, e-books are far more versatile and convenient than physical books. From eReaders, computers, tablets, and smartphones, readers are spoilt with platforms to read their e-book on. The readability of e-books across platforms means you can have multiple copies of the same e-book on different devices, and not have to worry about ever forgetting a book. You can also store all your books onto one device so that you have a wide variety of stories to conveniently read at your immediate disposal.  Furthermore, why carry around a heavy and cumbersome textbook in your bag when you can carry an entire library in your pocket? Just imagine all the space and shelf-money you can save from buying e-books instead!


Secondly, you have much more control as to how you view an e-book, with its enhanced functionalities. Big screen or small screen? E-ink or retina display? The viewing possibilities are plentiful for your optimal reading experience. The brightness and contrast of these displays can also be adjusted. If you don’t like the default font, you have the option of changing it to Comic Sans if you desire. Children and older readers will also appreciate being able to change the size of the text, and struggling readers can use the text-to-voice function.


E-books are also advantageous in the amount of useful features it offers a scholar. The clickable table of contents and search function allows users an efficient use of their time through skimming through a textbook or novel. You can also highlight and annotate textbooks without destroying and devaluing the physical copy, which is beneficial because we all know that textbooks with highlights and annotations are harder to resell. Further to this, as students usually only need a textbook for a semester, publishers have price discriminated accordingly by making the e-book versions of textbooks cheaper than their print counterparts [2]. Besides, when was the last time you read a physical copy of an academic journal?


By choosing e-books, you also avoid all the risks of using a print book. Over time, pages will fade and become more spineless than some politicians. A physical book can be water-damaged, have the ink smudged, dog-earred or even worse – get ripped pages! E-books will never let you down in this regard. Someone can steal your physical book, but as long as you have backups of your e-book in the cloud or in another device, the e-book will always be by your side. In addition, you can read whatever you like without advertising what the title is like the cover of a print book. This is a win for all readers who want to peacefully read 50 Shades of Grey in public.


We already established that ebooks are more economically viable than print books, but did I mention that you get instant access to more content? Don’t even bother going to the book store or waiting for shipping. Buying e-books is an instantaneous process where you can download what you want to read right away. Not to mention, there are an incredible number of e-books available online from multiple e-book stores, digital libraries and online archives, which include books that are difficult to find in print or hard to get in a certain location. This is critical for accessing independent authors, who have sold more than 260 million e-books in the US during 2016 [1].


Lastly, e-books create positive externalities on the environment. E-books have a lower carbon footprint than print books, given they do not require copious amounts of paper to produce. Producing a Kindle also creates the same carbon emission as thirty books. Therefore, as long as you access thirty or more books over the lifetime of owning a Kindle, you will offset the carbon emissions it takes to produce a device when compared to physical books. [3].


From all the reasons above, it’s clear that print books pale in comparison to the mighty e-book. To all the old-fashioned advocates of print books, I urge you to think all of the times you found a dead fly in your book. It’s time for you to save the ink and ditch the print. E-books for the win!




#ESSADebate – who was your winner?

Amy Pereira (Books)
Jasmine Nguyen (eBooks)




[1] Jefferies, B. (2016). The market down under. Retrieved from https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2016/09/30/74713/the-market-down-under/

[2] Jabr, F. (2013). The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/

[3] Preston, A. (2017). How real books have trumped ebooks. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/14/how-real-books-trumped-ebooks-publishing-revival

[4] Wästlaund, E., Reinikka, H., Norlander, T. & Archer, T. (2005) Effects of VDT and paper presentation on consumption and production of information: Psychological and physiological factors. Computers in Human Behaviour. 21(2), 377- 394. Retrieved from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563204000202

[5] Chang, A., Aeschblach, D., Duffy J.F. & Czeisler, C.A. (2014) Evening use of light- emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing and next- morning alertness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 112(4), 1232- 1237. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/112/4/1232.abstract

[6] Power, B. (2010) Our ‘Deep Reading’ Brain: Its Digital Evolution Poses Questions. Neiman Reports, Summer 2010. Retrieved from http://niemanreports.org/articles/our-deep-reading-brain-its-digital-evolution-poses-questions/

[7] Haper, A. (2010) Who’s afraid of digital book piracy? The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2010/feb/18/digital-book-piracy-copyright



[1] Earls, N. (2017). Has the print book trumped digital? Beware of glib conclusions. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/has-the-print-book-trumped-digital-beware-of-glib-conclusions-77174

[2] McNeil, A. (n.d.). Print Textbooks Vs. E-Textbooks. Investopedia. Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0912/print-textbooks-vs.-e-textbooks.aspx

[3] Kozlowski, M. (2014). eBooks vs Print – The Reasons Why Digital is Better. Good E-Reader. Retrieved from https://goodereader.com/blog/electronic-readers/the-main-reasons-why-ebooks-are-better-than-print