The Great Debate: eBooks Vs. Paperbacks

Omar: As digital technology became more prominent and accessible, the way we consume media and obtain information has significantly changed. Despite being relatively old compared to other contemporary means of obtaining information, books have also been affected. As books are really established as a non-digital medium, e-books were a revamp to what has been the norm for centuries. Despite e-books being the more contemporary book format, some people still prefer the traditional paper books. Personally, if I had to choose one over the other I would choose e-books, and for good reasons!

Riley: This is such a hard debate for me because honestly, I love both my Kindle and my many (many, many, many…) paperbacks and there really is a true joy to both. They are so different in so many ways – almost as much (although not quite) as the books vs. movies debate we had last month: they’re different mediums and each has its own pros and cons. That said, in the interest of balance and a good ol’ debate, I’m going to side with paperbacks just this once!

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The World’s Books in the Palm of Your Hand!

Omar: Physical books are big and heavy, especially when you have a lot of them. For people with a large book collection, moving or storing them can be a limiting factor. Thanks to eBooks and the cloud technology, no matter how big your book collection is, you can access it and carry it with you at all times. In addition to accessing your existing collection, you can almost find any book you need within seconds. You don’t have to find a physical store that sells the book and go there yourself or having to wait a week until it is shipped to you. You want it, you get it. In terms of convenience and ease of use, I believe eBooks win hands down.

Riley: Yeah…I know about the big, heavy collection thing! My husband once told me that if we ever move house again, my book collection isn’t coming (of course, it is coming – no matter what he says), so I understand. I really do. What I also understand, though, is the joy that I get from alphabetically arranging my beautiful book collection on my shelves – then re-arranging them by cover colour – and then again by height – and so on (yeah, I know, I need to get a life).

I understand how happy it makes me to walk into a room that is lined with books, and how I love the weight of them when I pull them off the shelves to peruse. I understand the delightful scent of a new book that leaves me positively smellbound. I understand the pride I feel when someone walks into my house and admires my collection. I understand the pain I feel when the book falls on my face after I’ve fallen asleep – and why that’s great, because otherwise I’d lose my place or worse – end up sleeping uncomfortably on top of that book! You don’t get any of that with an ebook do you? And certainly can’t use an ebook to balance a wobbly table!

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Knowledge for Everyone

Omar: Democratising education is one of the big benefits of the internet era. The ability to create a digital copy of a book and distributing it to any number of people who need it without added cost is indeed a game-changer. Even if not offered for free, due to reduced production cost compared to that of physical books, eBooks are definitely cheaper to make. Driving the prices down can definitely make books more accessible to people.

Riley: I have to entirely disagree with this point. Ebooks are cheaper than paperbacks if you take it at a simplistic level, but there’s more to it than that. To access this digital information, you need at the very least access to an ereader or tablet of some sort, as well as a reliable internet connection. Whilst councils and schools are going some way in providing kids with these, it can be hard and there are definitely some who miss out. On the other hand, libraries are entirely free and can be accessed by anyone. They hold a wealth of information that can be perused there or be taken home at your leisure. The sad thing is that this increase in the digital market means more and more libraries are closing and that, in turn, means that those with less financial means now have less options for education and for reading as a hobby.

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Save the Poor Trees!

Omar: Another point that I believe should count for eBooks is the environmental impact. Paper is made from cutting trees. On the contrary, eBooks consume almost no resources to make in large quantities. They don’t consume printing materials or require shipping, all of which have a negative environmental impact. In an already delicate environmental situation, any measures that would have a reduced impact on the environment should be appreciated.

Riley: It’s hard to argue with the environmental aspect, and I certainly don’t have any facts and figures to back up my point, but I suspect that it’s not quite as clear cut as you think. Sure, you’re saving paper but producing the ereaders and tablets themselves takes a huge amount of energy and then you’ve got all the energy used in charging them and in the time it takes to actually produce the book too. Saving the trees in undoubtedly a good thing, but I suspect the ‘footprint’ of ebooks is not quite so small as you think.

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The Magic of Paper Books

Omar: Despite the advantages that I believe eBooks have over their paper counterparts, I agree that there is something that traditional books would always have: the magic. The feeling of a book’s pages as you turn them, the smell of that new book eager to be read, the weathering pages of your favourite book, and the joy of being physically surrounded by your cherished book collection. All of those are things that will probably always be out of an eBook’s league.

Riley: For me, this isn’t even really a debate. The world is not black and white and there’s no reason to have to pick one side over another – why not, like me, have the best of both worlds?


Originally trained as an architect, Omar found his true passion in writing about art, technology, and everything in between. Join Omar and I next time, when we’ll be debating whether the ‘classics’ are still relevant today.

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