Digital books: Reducing physical clutter and overtaking the market

On September 10, The Economist published the article “Great digital expectations” discussing the consumer shift from print to digital books:

In the first five months of this year sales of consumer e-books in America overtook those from adult hardback books. Just a year earlier hardbacks had been worth more than three times as much as e-books, according to the Association of American Publishers. Amazon now sells more copies of e-books than paper books.

As someone who reads an average of three books a week, I have embraced digital books and advocate their use for numerous uncluttered reasons. First, my library allows me to check out digital books for free using their Overdrive service. (Yours probably does, too.) Not all digital books are available this way, but I still use this service a great deal for research and books I wouldn’t usually buy. And, I can download the books at home and skip the drive to the library. Second, digital books are usually less expensive than print books because you’re only paying for the content not the paper and binding and ink. This keeps more money in my wallet, which I like, and saves a few trees (although the components in my digital book reader probably aren’t super environmentally friendly). Third, digital books keep physical books from cluttering up and overwhelming my bookshelf. I love having books in the house, especially children’s books for my son to read, but my house is a home, not a library. I don’t need all books on display. Fourth, and this is my favorite benefit, my digital reader weighs the same if I choose to carry one book or three dozen books with me at a time. I can read whatever book fits my mood, without having to lug around multiple physical books in a bag.

That being said, I still acquire a lot of books in print. Any book that isn’t available in digital form that I want to read, travel books, children’s books, and cookbooks still end up in my house. These come in on a one-in-one-out basis, however, as I am out of bookshelf space.

Speaking of bookshelves, not only are publishers responding to consumers desiring digital books, but so are bookshelf manufacturers:

Next month IKEA will introduce a new, deeper version of its ubiquitous “BILLY” bookcase. The flat-pack furniture giant is already promoting glass doors for its bookshelves. The firm reckons customers will increasingly use them for ornaments, tchotchkes and the odd coffee-table tome—anything, that is, except books that are actually read.

As a way to curb book clutter, have you made the switch (or a partial switch) to digital books? Could a digital book reader help you to get an out-of-control book collection down to a more meaningful size? As someone who consumes a ridiculous number of books a year, digital books have certainly saved space in my home and office, as well as kept some money in my pocketbook. (FYI: I primarily use a Kindle, but for library downloads I use my laptop since they’re usually research related.) Are you surprised to learn that Amazon sells more digital books than print books? What might be keeping you from making the switch to a digital reader?

Check out the full article.

86 Comments for “Digital books: Reducing physical clutter and overtaking the market”

  1. posted by MJ Ray on

    Firstly, DRM is a pain in the bum. I don’t let the bookshop come in and take books of my shelves, so why would I allow that for ebooks?

    Secondly, isn’t e-clutter still a type of clutter, weighing on your mind and needing some (maybe less) management?

  2. posted by ninakk on

    @Jodi: I have a Bookeen Cybook Orizon and there is no glow, it is not backlit since it uses e-ink. I can’t use it without a lamp and the screen is exactly like the one of a paper book. I have migraines too, but definitely not from using my e-reader.

    The only reason I’m not buying e-books yet, but rather downloading the free ones, is the price. I have found very few books that are cheaper than the paper versions, which is rather unbelievable like someone else commented above. I’ve looked into many books on decluttering and lo and behold, almost all of them are more expensive as e-books. Seriously ridiculous.

  3. posted by ninakk on

    Oh and Jodi, at least the Bookeen Cybook Orizon uses energy from the charged battery only when you turn a page. The energy you push into it when charging should supposedly last for 10000 page turns, which is quite a few books.

  4. posted by Janet on

    This is one area of my life I will not be uncluttering.

    Nothing – NOTHING – takes the place of opening up, holding and annotating a book in my world. I work in a restored 19th century home filled with thousands of books. Walking into the library with its walls lined with books ranging in age from 150 years old to the latest editions both calms and enervates my mind. My own book room in my home is the place I go to when I want to relax, think and pray. Reading to me is much more than a way to just pass the time. And books – especially well-used books – are more to me than information receptacles.

    My husband and I recently visited a beautiful new home built by a couple we know well. Everything down to the light switches were planned and beautifully executed since they are in the construction industry. The furniture was exquisite and all needs were anticipated. And yet, there was something missing in it and on the way home we both realized what that was. There was not a single book anywhere and that absence could be felt.

    I don’t think having a well-stocked reader on the coffee table would have filled the void.

  5. posted by Jodi on

    Even though I will likely never ever own an electronic reader, I am intrigued by all who are convinced they will not cause migraines. I have looked at them, but never taken the time to “read” on one. I am going to make a goal to spend one hour reading on a kindle and see what happens. I am skeptical beyond skeptical, but willing to experiment.

    As for the cords, as far as I am concerned, cords to charge things are the new clutter. I just don’t care how small/compact/portable the cords are. Cords drive me crazy!

  6. posted by Julie T on

    As much as I am a fan of decluttering, I have NEVER considered books to be clutter. They are an essential part of my life. That being said, I am an avid library patron, and I do not own many books. I’m on a first-name basis with the librarians at my community library, which I visit twice a week.

    Since I’m in front of the computer eight hours a day (sometimes more) for my job, the idea of more screen time makes me shudder. I LOVE listening to books on CD while I embroider, and can think of little more satisfying than falling asleep at night with a book in my hands.

    I’m rarely without a book – the paper kind – when I leave the house. No batteries (or cord) required.

  7. posted by Rachel on

    @ jodi:

    “7. A paperback wont electrocute me if I fall asleep reading in the pool or bubble bath.”

    Never mind the book–or ereader! What about the risk of _you_ slipping below the water line and drowning? Yikes!

    Can some of the tub-readers reassure me that drowning by tub reading is highly unlikely (e.g., the shock of a wet face would wake you up immediately)? Or can we expect a long series of B-grade movies in which the villain lures the hero/heroine into a cozy bathtub with an ominously inviting stack of paperbacks close by? Threatening music swells up as as the camera lingers on the book spines or the cover of the topmost book…

  8. posted by Linda on

    When my late mother gave me a Kindle she included a leather cover for it. Reading it then felt like reading a nicely-bound book.

    She loved her Kindle (the large-sized one) because she could change the font size and also have it read to her, as her vision became worse.

    Please make sure you are not repeating erroneous information–or even good info that has been stated several times. For example, every time someone corrects the impression that these are “computer screens” (they are “electronic paper” that will not cause eye-strain any more than paper books will) a few comments later, someone says’ “I work on a computer all day and…” There is a lot of this type of clutter in the comments every time I look through them on this site (and others).

  9. posted by Rondina on

    I may have stated this before, but after downsizing I have had the spines cut off of all but a handful of reference books and am on the home stretch scanning them. I run Adobe Acrobat’s OCR function and they are much more user-friendly. I have found that this has given me a huge amount of book shelf space. Many of these books are out of print and can not be downloaded in any form. The books remaining on the shelf are those that don’t have anything to do with my research. Basicly, if it is a book to curl up with, I would rather have the hard copy. (But that may change in the future too. )

  10. posted by Linda Varone on

    I have not made the switch to a Kindle or other e-reader. I am a fan of my local library. I read a lot of books and getting them from the library and then returning them solves my book clutter problems.I am a glutton at the library, borrowing books that look intriguing, but I am not committed to reading or keeping them if they are not what I expected. It is ecological because one book is read over and over again by many people. I do buy reference books, or books I know I will be writing in.
    And I do an annual decluttering of my books when I realize something is out of date, my interest in the topic has waned or realize that I really won’t read that book ever. I donate them to my local library book sale. They take the profits and buy more great books for everyone, and I come home with a handful of specific books that I give to friends and family. And I keep a few for myself, for awhile.

  11. posted by Amanda on

    If any type of e-reader was much cheaper, I would get one for taking on trips. Otherwise, I love my books. I love the smell of a fresh new book, the feel of the paper and the turning of pages, and the look of my book collection. I have managed to declutter my ginormous collection by selling a few that I’ll never touch again to a used book store, but really, I just love to hold a real book in my hand.

  12. posted by Christine on

    My mother who has gotten carsick her entire life and is now in her 60’s has been pleasantly surprised to find that she can read her Kindle in the car without becoming ill, making long car rides more endurable. Also, she has macular degeneration and is blind in one eye and being able to change the size and type of font has been wonderful for her.

    I find that for myself, the e-ink and the flat page, have nearly eliminated the headaches and eye strain from reading paper books. I am now able to read like I used to be able to and once again enjoying one of my favorite hobbies.

    As far as charging and battery life, I rarely have to charge and I read for more than an hour a day. The charger has a usb plug at one end and a micro usb plug at the other. For households with many electronics that need charging while traveling, there are adapters for the car that have several usb inputs, and most newer phones also have usb ports at one end, and if I understand correctly, they are moving towards a universal micro usb charging system which would mean one charger would fit all systems. We have found this to be true for 4/5 phones in our house the exception is one being several years old. Also, you do not have to wait for the battery to die to charge, so you could take turns plugging in so no one runs out. Just a thought for those who have charging concerns.

  13. posted by kate on

    I was recently laid up, and a generous friend lent me her Kindle, which was stocked with great books. Wonderful to have and to use! Not hard on the eyes at all, a seamless reading experience, and so many choices available in a light and convenient format.

    I lust after one, especially for taking on the subway commute. But, given that my access to fabulous libraries, it makes no financial sense for me. If I were to buy 3+ books/week for the Kindle, it would cost me $120.00 or more/month or close to $1500.00/year. That would clutter my budget considerably! So, for now, it’s paper for me. (Nor do I have cable tv or a smartphone. The small convenience is not worth the budget trade-off for me).

  14. posted by Sharon on

    I was a book hoarder. My attic was filled with bookshelves full of books. The I decided that was ridiculous. My husband bought me the large Kindle for my birthday and I spent a couple of days pulling books out of my attic and donating them. I have about 75 books on my Kindle that I haven’t paid a dime for and I’ve really enjoyed 99% of them. I use my library for any new books so I don’t have to buy them, either paper book or ebook. Sometimes it means I have to wait until it’s available but it’s not like I don’t have anything else to read. I still have some of my paper books but not nearly as many. It’s not all or nothing. I read paper books and I read my ebooks. My two biggest reasons for getting a Kindle was to clean out my attic and to cut my book purchases down to nil. After the initial ereader purchase, it hasn’t even cost me yard sale and thrift store prices to get books. I rarely bought new hard backs anyway, but now it’s virtually free! On Facebook I have liked a couple of FB pages that announces free and cheap books when they come out. Usually $0 to $3 and this has been great. You can’t be any cheaper than nothing! Now, some reference books I can see needing a paper copy for. But I have found some great Christian non-fiction books and I use the the builtin highlighter for underlining and the bookmarking feature. I will probably never give up totally on paper books but I’m hooked on the ease, convenience and cheapness of ebooks too.

  15. posted by dianon on

    my husband gave me a kindle for christmas two years ago and i love it. have always been a big reader 2-3 books per week and thought i would never like an electronic book. turns out it’s one if not my favorite “toy”. i’m on a free kindle book emailing and belong to several kindle boards. i always have more than enough to read, especially since most of my reads are free. couldn’t be happier!

  16. posted by Christina Rodriguez | The Diva's Home on

    I love my Kindle. The only drawback to digital books is the new book smell. I have my own ebook (pdf)that I am sending to Kindle soon. It’s called Sassy Decorating Secrets: A Diva’s Guide to Interior Design and Feng Shui. The first chapter is available for free here: on the Sassy Decorating Secrets page.

  17. posted by MelD on

    My husband gave me an iPad for Christmas but I was so disappointed when I found that iBooks has copyright issues where I live and apart from a few free classics, there was nothing for me to fill my virtual bookcase :(
    However, I did later find that I could download a Kindle app and buy books – though again, my choice is severely limited due to my location (central Europe). Although I am mothertongue English (British), I can only buy a selection of ebooks from or .de where the choice is very US-orientated or else in German, not always my first choice, to say the least. Still, better than nothing and I have quite enjoyed the books I have been able to download, it’s fast and easy and reading them isn’t too different than a real book.
    However, I will probably never switch totally, despite what the minimalists say about getting rid of books. Special interest books simply don’t go digital and I still love the feel of a real book. As you mention, children’s books, too, some coffee table books I enjoy etc. Plus you can’t lend an ebook to someone, which has been frustrating at times. Or just pass it on for someone else to enjoy. Or even copy a page for personal reference.
    Although I halved my collection of physical books in the last few years, I still have a houseful of books and am happy for that to be my weakness, as I consider it a strength! And I still buy them, too.

  18. posted by MelD on

    I also wanted to point out that we don’t have a particularly good library system here, either. And even the small libraries we have usually only have German books, often out of date, too. Their choice is also not my choice, so I don’t use the libraries, sadly. The Germanic world is not the Anglo-Saxon world!

  19. posted by Jude on

    I just bought my teenage son a Kindle. He absolutely loves it. He says it makes him want to read more. He’s being very careful about choosing books to purchase. I, on the other hand, am constantly downloading free chapters and “buying” free ebooks from Amazon to read on my PC Kindle.

  20. posted by Leslie on

    Nook color owner here. I spent months researching the different eReaders and settled on the Nook color for several reasons. 1. The beefy android os that if cracked (note: WILL negate warranty), would allow for a greatly expanded use other than as an eReader. I also have a variety of apps on it that allows me to sync up my family calendar, keeps my contacts close at hand and if I have wifi access, I can surf the web if I don’t feel like reading. I buy my books at BN, Powells, Diesel as well as loans from the library. I love the look of magazine and some of the full color children’s books are gorgeous. It’s fast, it’s light, and my failing eyesight loves the ability to increase font size. Battery time has been great. I think I charge 1-2x per month and because of its small size is easy for me to carry.

    AND BN now offers digital textbooks for the Nook, which is great for school work.

    The downside to ebooks is the cost. And having worked for publishers for MANY MANY MANY years. It’s downright criminal how much many publishers charge for eBooks.

  21. posted by Anonymous on


    First of all, even if you read 4, or 6 hours a day, the Kindle’s battery will still last long enough to take an entire vacation without recharging. It’s true that if you are moving to a tropical island with no electricity for a year and you plan on reading all day every day, you will have to recharge your eReader. I did not recharge my eReader on my last vacation, where I spent all day reading the entire time. Provided you read all day and take an extra long vacation, at some point you’d need to plug the device in. I assure you, it won’t be in the top 20 highest maintenance things you pack in your luggage.

    Second of all, no, eReaders do not give off glare. It is factually untrue to say they cause migraines. I get migraines too, have since I’ve been a kid. eReaders use graphite to display text against a static plastic screen. Can you read paper without getting a migraine? You can read an eReader without getting a migraine. They do not have lit screens. They do not have LCD screens. This has already been explained multiple times in the comments.

    No one is doubting that computer or LCD screens strain your eyes or give you migraines. No one is making light of your family’s migraines. No one is telling you you don’t get migraines. People are just telling you that, factually, eReaders are fine for your eyes if paper is, and in fact they’re generally better because as I mentioned they allow adjusting the font size and have read-it-to-you features.

    When I made my first comment, pointing out that your concerns were not accurate, your first reaction shouldn’t have been to assume your concerns were accurate and I was wrong, it should have been to reflect on the fact that you are not familiar with eReaders and seek the facts.

  22. posted by Jennifer on

    I have a Kindle and love it! I have the 2nd generation and the 5-way broke on it last week, but when I called Amazon they said that was a known issue (it’s been redesigned) and they replaced it for no charge even though I have had it almost 2 years! Other than being without my books for a couple of days and then having to reconfigure my collections, it was so painless to have it taken care of.

    I should probably research DRM though, as my criteria for selecting books is directly opposite what someone else mentioned (only buying books they would not mind losing at some point)- I only get ones I want to keep a long time to refer to again and again! :-) Oh, and the free or “under $3.99″ deals that I know my Grandma, Mom, or sister would not want to read, too. I still buy my Christian fiction in paper because my 93 year old Grandma is an avid reader and she loves my hand-me-downs. I would get her a Kindle of her own, but she also falls asleep and drops her books fairly often. ;-)

    I have never had a lot of book clutter; if I won’t be reading something again I pass it along. When I first got my Kindle I held on to the hard copy of some favorites I also got on the Kindle, but have been letting those go. I probably have fewer than 30 print books, yet read several books a month- frequently borrowed. I do prefer the Kindle due to convenience and the fact that I have diverse tastes and often want to read one chapter of something then move on to another genre for a bit- I usually have at least 4 books in progress at a time…

    @Jodi, I have enjoyed your kind posts and I’m glad you are going to try a Kindle. I think (hope) you won’t be disappointed. I don’t get migraines myself so I can’t comment on that, but the Kindle does not strain my eyes at all.

  23. posted by Jennifer on

    I started reading ebooks about two years ago, under protest. I got an iPad and then was old about a book that was only available in digital form. Then I found a book that I would normally be embarrassed to read in public (you know, like trashy vampire fantasy etc.). With an ebook no one sees the cover. :-D

    Now, I almost hate reading real books. Ebooks are easier to read at night without disturbing my family. They are lighter and take up less space. I review a lot of web design books and many ebooks come with interactive videos embedded. I tell publishers I prefer reviewing ebooks, and I check out lots of books from Overdrive.

    The only thing I don’t like about ebooks from publishers are the extreme prices. Sometimes you can get good deals, but often the book costs more than a paperback.

  24. posted by Deborah on

    I didn’t think I would like ebooks, but they are so handy when traveling. Now I can bring 5 books with me on vacation and not worry about the space they take up or the weight.

    I do, however, check the library first when at home before I buy a new book I want to read.

    I am surprised that no one has mentioned LOVE it! I posted all the ISBN numbers of the books I no longer want on the web site and people request the books. For each book you mail (book rate, about $2) you get credit for another book from the site. I cleared out a ton of books, and got new books to read in exchange. Anything that wasn’t requested in a few months, I donated to my local library.

  25. posted by Tim Gray on

    What I am waiting for is a Kindle that will display PDF’s well and have a letter sized display. the kindle is nice if you want really light and read amazon books. It falls down when you want books from other sources. you need to run through their converter or use other hoops. I settled on an iPad because it reads ANY ebook and has a nice big screen. problem is it’s expensive, light, DELICATE (screen breaks easily, kindle screen does not) and 10 hours of battery sounds like a lot but in reality is not. a Kindle will got a week easily between charging.

    When someone comes out with a universal ebook that uses epaper and can display a letter sized pdf perfectly, I’ll be on top of the ebook world.

  26. posted by lady brett on

    i adore my kindle. i don’t care as much about the space books take up at home, but i hate carrying a huge bag of stuff with me when i leave home.

    ever since i stopped wearing the sort of clothes that can fit a novel in the pocket (it’s been a minute!) i find i read less, because i don’t carry a book with me. my kindle fits in my purse, which books do not, and i read regularly again! it is lovely.

    however, i find e-books to be *much* more expensive than print books, because it has been years since i’ve bought a book new, and used books are cheap. of course, most of the books i read are old and *free* on the kindle, which helps.

  27. posted by gypsy packer on

    I love e-books, and have an iPod Touch stocked with quite a few, either public domain or purchased. I’ve given up on the Nook app since they only allow you to read your purchased items online, and I often read offline with no available Wi-Fi.
    Much of my entertainment reading consists of books purchased from local secondhand stores or flea markets. Seriously educational reading, the kind where I would have hoarded the books, is where e-books make real sense. I’ve uncluttered from a full hallway of bookcases to two 24″ shelf areas. If I could afford the ScanSnap, I’d get rid of those.

    Digitized books and digitized music are huge blessings to allergy patients and to those of us who still believe in the “small is beautiful” lifestyle.

  28. posted by Bilgo on

    I am not a book junkie and am very selective about what I choose to read, but I count myself amongst those who believe that e-book readers simply cannot match the experience of sitting down with a good back in hand. I am actually far more weary of uncluttering electronic items rather than physical objects made of natural materials. An e-book reader is just another screen to stare at in addition to my computer, TV, cell-phone and iPod. Thank you but I will pick paper to screen anyday.

  29. posted by Jaimie on

    I found Heather’s comment above really intriguing, especially about how the e-book version is paid for by the sale of the physical books.

    I personally cannot read books on a computer screen the way I read physical books. I like the idea of less physical clutter, but I can’t focus as well when reading that way, and it’s hard on my eyes. I wouldn’t be able to absorb into a story that way. There’s just something so nice about a physical book. I periodically go through and sell books that I know I will not read again, but I have several I do re-read (when I can find the time) because I love them.

    And then there’s textbooks. While I don’t love carrying a 8-12 pound text around, the e-book versions you can only keep for two years and then they’re gone. I have kept most of my chemistry and biology textbooks as references, and as I am looking at another 5-6 years of grad school after I finish my bachelor’s, I believe they will be invaluable for me.

  30. posted by Murray Lunn on

    I’m really glad to see such a large push for ebooks.

    Years and years ago when ebooks started to make their way online I remember thinking about how well they would be accepted one day but it really did take readers to let them enter the market fully.

    I’m still a bit basic in how I use em since I’m generally in front of my computer for work – I just read them on my laptop but I’m more and more leaning toward getting a Kindle these days for the exact purpose.

  31. posted by Xandra on

    I have made the switch, and I LOVE it. I live abroad for half the year, so I do a lot of traveling back and forth with weight restrictions on my bags, and books weigh a LOT, I’ve come to realize :) I also love Notes & Highlights on my Kindle, because I prefer to digitally store information.

    However…nothing compares to the feel of a nice fresh new hardcover, so sometimes I indulge in a paper copy, which I may end up giving away after reading it.

  32. posted by Maarten on

    Books are NOT clutter! E-books are nice when you want to buy a new (recently published) book and have a choice between a paper copy and an e-version. But what about all those books published before, say 2009? Books feed the mind and imagination and I do not give a #@$ about the space they need. I rather ditch the TV than a great book. If you get rid of paper books in favour of e-books only NOW, you will miss some wonderfull stuff and you let a commercial and therefore politically biased third party decide what you can and cannot read. Even when every published book (even those flyers published 3000 years ago) have been converted to e-books, I wil continue to buy paper. Get rid of clutter, not things that enrich your life. (Rembrandt’s and Van Gogh’s paintings are also digitalized, but can one find the original painting in the dumpster? Did and do not think so!)

  33. posted by Lo on

    Why don’t i go all digital for books? I hate the screen. i pass all day long looking at a screen at my PC, on my smartphone and my eyes really welcome the sight of book pages when I read books.

  34. posted by Michael A. Robson on

    This is awesome. As a purveyor of eBooks and a fledgling writer, I love love love this. The old model of publishing, shipping, distribution and book/mortar stores (kinda like HMV, remember them?) can’t die fast enough.

    And to those not into iPad screens, get a Kindle. The screen is beautiful and sharp.

  35. posted by Kwesi on

    If uncluttering your life means to abandon real, physical books and switching to eBooks, I do not by any means want to unclutter it. I want my life to be the total, unimaginable chaos – with me and my books. Their smell, their feeling – who wants t sit in a big armchair or lay in bed with a screen?

  36. posted by Renee on

    I’m very curious how you find time to read 3 books a week. What are your strategies? I struggle with my goal to read 2 books per month! Right now my goal is one hour per day, but it ends up being about 30 minutes and some days I don’t find time to read at all. :(

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