Where do you stand on digital books?

Since it’s the day after a holiday, I’m thinking maybe a conversation instead of straightforward advice will help us ease back into the week. Today, I’m putting a little mental energy into figuring out where I stand on digital books.

As far as I am concerned, digital books and the devices that we use to read them — smartphones, Kindles, Nooks and other digital readers — are super convenient and reduce physical clutter significantly. A personal library can exist on a device that is 6.7″ x 4.6″ x 0.36″, in the case of the Kindle Paperwhite. Digital books are usually less expensive (and the author may get a higher percentage of each sale), don’t take up anything but virtual space in your home, and don’t require a trip to a bookstore to purchase. Instead of a nightstand full of books to read, you have a few files on a device that you can re-read and reference whenever you wish.

Software features and other services increase the appeal of digital books. For example, both the Nook and Kindle let customers share books with others who have the same device — all you need is the other user’s email address. Some libraries have devised a way to loan out digital books, and services like Oyster and Kindle Unlimited let customers read all the digital books they want for less than $10 per month. That is serious convenience and clutter reduction.

Of course, there are reasons people may want to keep a few physical books around the house — kids books, first editions of rare books, and reference books might be some of those reasons. Also, there are books that are extremely expensive and you might worry that EPUB and other formats won’t be viable for your entire life. Additionally, thereโ€™s something nice about having books around, despite the bulk and tendency to stack.

So, where do you stand on digital books? Do your uncluttering preferences win out and are you primarily digital? Or, do you tend to collect the physical kind? There isn’t a right answer, but from an organizing and uncluttering perspective my guess is that most of our readers tend toward the digital type. What say you, readers? What is your preference?

41 Comments for “Where do you stand on digital books?”

  1. posted by Scott on

    I have always preferred physical books but my desire to DE-clutter my life has led me to go digital. I use both a Nook and a Kindle (got each of them as a gift) and do enjoy the fact that the books are cheaper. My only worry is that if the technology dies, my books are lost.

  2. posted by CeCe on

    I hate digital books, I find them to be hard on my eyes, uncomfortable to hold and I like to know exactly where I am in a book. I have an IPad and Kindle but will not use either for long reads. I love the feel and the look of real books and have a library of over 3000 books. You might think I stay put in life but I have moved 21 times in 36 years and books are easy to pack and just make the journey with me.

  3. posted by John on

    I resisted E-books for a few years. But I was on a three week business trip and was – at one point – carrying 10lb weight of books. I had ran out of good books and was buying junk from airports and having to leave books in hotels. I was with a colleague who had a kindle and, after seeing the contrast, bought one on my return home. I have given almost all my bookshelf to charity shops and have 700 books on my kindle (and I-phone). Complete convert (apart from books with lots of photos).

  4. posted by ArJa on

    Since I retired I have steadily gone through my books, selling or donating them. I primarily read library books now and love to check out ebooks, no trip to pick them up and no rush to return them on time. I now have only packed three small boxes of books (for two people) for moving, various references and hard to find literary works mostly, with a few old favorites thrown in.

  5. posted by Kate on

    I read on my kindle for travel but mostly get books from the library (I can reserve them in advance and the library emails me when they’re in). That way, I don’t spend all my disposable income on books, I can read as much as I want, and I don’t have too many books to move. Exceptions: cookbooks, musical scores, and signed books by my favorite authors.

  6. posted by Carol on

    I’m still on the fence with this. I always preferred paper books but I’m attracted to e-books as a way to save space.

    The first two e-books I bought had issues. One has a blank table of contents and the other is missing an illustration that the author refers to. I’m not happy about the problems and I’ve heard friends complain about e-books having lots of typos. However I did manage to part with three large, heavy anthologies by purchasing the authors and stories I wanted to keep for under $5 on my Nook, which was a good deal to me.

    I bought a used Nook and now I worry that Barnes & Noble will go out of business. When you purchase a paper book you own the book. When your purchase an e-book you’re just purchasing the rights to read the book. What happens when technology changes or companies go out of business?

    I’ve also estimated it would cost thousands of dollars to convert my entire library to e-books. I’m not sure I want to spend that kind of money buying something I already own. So for now, I’m trying to whittle down my book collection to the books I absolutely love and feel I can’t part with. Once my collection is down to just those books, I may look into converting some of them to e-books.

  7. posted by Julie Bestry on

    “Where do you stand on digital books?” — Am I bad professional organizer (or just a bad stand-up comic) that my first thought was that I stand pretty close to the ground on digital books, but stand much taller on fat encyclopedias or dictionaries. [Insert groans here.]

    The truth is that while digital books are convenient, I don’t find them enjoyable. I vastly prefer the tactile sensation of reading a book, of turning pages, of using a physical bookmark to see how I’m progressing. If I borrow a library book (or several) on my Kindle, I invariably forget I have it because I don’t want to use my kindle or iPad (with app) at the table when I’m eating for fear of getting it wet or goopy. I tend to remember landmarks in books, and can flip quickly through something to find a passage I recall having read years ago. I may not remember a single searchable keyword, but I often recall the structure of the paragraph and where it appeared on the page/in the book. And if I’m spending money on a book, I want to be able to share it with as many others as I want. And I definitely don’t have the same recollection of things I read on a screen vs. things I read on paper.

    In the end, I believe in the importance of digital reading, but it gives me no joy.

  8. posted by Petter Sund on

    I have been seriously using ebooks (just Ibooks on Ipad/Iphone) and
    do find a couple of real advantages not mentioned in the thread.
    Much easier to search for keywords and much more convenient to
    make underlinings and recap them afterwards.
    Also, dictionary function is really practical, in particular if you are
    reading in a third or fourth language.

  9. posted by Cynthea Corlett on

    Total e-book convert. I love not having to find space for or dust another book. If I wake up in the middle of the night I can read on my ipad without disturbing my husband. I’ve begun subscribing to magazines via ipad as well. Love it.

  10. posted by Dede on

    My Dad gave me his Kindle five+ years ago and the more I use it, the more I like it. I like that it shows me how far into a book I am, and that I can carry so many books at one time and that it remembers where I stopped in each book I’m reading.
    I still prefer real books (I am a librarian after all), particularly when pictures are a major focus or when I need to go back and forth between different places in the book, like for research. Children, also, need the joy of holding a real book and turning pages, looking at pictures, etc. Until a child is reading long chapter books, they don’t need an e-book device at all. (just my opinion)

  11. posted by Erin Doland on

    I’m addicted to digital books for one HUGE reason — I can change the typeface size. I’m far-sighted and there are just some days when I want to read and not wear my glasses. No problem, I just pump up the size of the typeface and read my novel like it’s a kid’s book ๐Ÿ™‚ I have a Kindle Paperwhite and there is something about the liquid ink that I find easier to read than text on an iPad or computer. Also, I like that I can be reading a fluffy summer beach novel or a stupid mystery novel and as far as anyone else is concerned I’m reading War and Peace.

    But, I do prefer cookbooks and kids books to be in physical form. Other than that, give it to me digital! I love Amazon Prime for Kindle, too. Super discounted books.

  12. posted by Sivan on

    I resisted digital books for a long time but over the last year I have succumbed. I love to read physical books, to hold them, turning the pages, see how far I am and have yet to go and also to have them on my bookshelf. To me a house doesn’t feel like a home without lots of books on the bookshelf. I’ve been a reader all my life and grew up having books around so I guess their part of my comfort zone.

    Plus, I have collections of books on areas of particular interest. I would never read these on a digital device. I use them for reference and want to be able to flip through the pages.

    That being said, I do enjoy reading pleasure books on the ipad or my nook. I’ve nearsighted and often need to take my glasses off when reading a physical book. I also enjoy reading in book and could never find a good reading distance. Now, I can also read in the middle of the night if I have trouble sleeping but won’t wake or keep my husband awake.

    So, I go both ways and love each for different reasons. I’ll never give up buying physical books but I’ll certainly enjoy reading for pleasure on my digital devices!

  13. posted by Pat Reble on

    I love e-books. I love the ability to change the type face and to get what I want when I want it. I love library books and free library e-book downloads. I love physical books. A graphic novel , for example, needs the original SIZE for authenticity. These days I have a fixed amount of shelf space. If I “have” to buy a book, then one is culled to make space for it. The best of all worlds!

  14. posted by Leslie on

    I have a visual impairment that makes reading books, menus, labels…near impossible. Even with my glasses. My vision swims and I get queasy. ePubs allows me to adjust the font size to what I need and I found that I enjoy reading again. I don’t have to worry about lighting as I can adjust the lighting on my tablet to my needs and the environment. I use a cover for it, so I don’t have to worry about messes/spills. And I was never one to read in the bath, so no worries there. I started with a nookColor and loved it. But it sadly has gotten too small for me. My tablet and my PC are better sizes and the tablet is really easy to carry around and I can store hundreds/thousands of books in byte size pieces. I do go through my library and curate the ones that I know I’ll never read again. I also like that I can highlight/copy text that I find interesting. Most epubs have search options, which makes searching for a quote easier. And for those who fear losing their files, there are plenty of hacks out there that will allow you to convert your files into something generic. Just have to search for them.

    The downside is that I’ve found ebooks to have more grammatical errors in them. Even the ones from the big house publishers. And when I complain, I’ve found that publishers don’t seem to care. And many self-publishers (NOT all), don’t seem to care what condition they publish their books in, which is unfortunate. Amazon does have a return policy, within a certain timeframe. If you are unhappy with an ebook purchase, you can return it for a full refund.

    And generally speaking, I don’t find all epub versions to be cheaper than hard copies. Some are more expensive. Particularly when I can find them used for pennies on the dollar. But I accept that, at times, if I want to reduce my physical possessions. I do have a few hard copy books (gifts, work-related), but there’s only about 20 and at some point, those will be reduced too.

  15. posted by Brian Ogilvie on

    I borrow ebooks but buy them rarely, and usually when I need something immediately or I am traveling. That’s partly because as a scholar, I like annotating my books, and ebooks generally don’t handle footnotes or endnotes well. But it’s largely because I find it annoying to read something more than 20 pages long online. Ebooks are great for searching (as long as you know what term to search), but not so good for sustained reading, at least for me. The two formats are complementary. My university library has access to many ebooks by subscription; I’ll often read one long enough to decide whether it’s worth my time, and then either order my own print copy or ask the library to get it, if I think my students should read it.

    But on a more fundamental level, I don’t like the idea of licensing a book rather than buying it. And I don’t like the idea that I might be locked into a particular platform; even a PDF or epub file might have DRM locking it down.

    It’s bad enough when I upgrade computers and have to jump through hoops to reinstall the dozen or so computer programs that I rely on. Imagine doing that with a library of thousands of books!

  16. posted by Jim on

    I don’t mind the ebook format, but I do strenuously object to the business model. I can’t loan them, I don’t own them, I can’t donate them to a library when I’m done. The largest publishers won’t even sell an ebook to a library. I find them to be a scam, and I would rather build an addition to house my “real” books than to succumb to this business model.

  17. posted by Kathy on

    I use oyster for my reading needs. I tend to read 1or2 books a week and this has saved me a ton of money. I have recently gone a cleaning spree and realized that I almost never read a book twice….yikes! I have finally realized that books are great to read and share. Cheers to 25 boxes donated and about 13more to go….

  18. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    I find I’m buying most of my new books in digital format. As John mentioned, they’re wonderful when traveling; I no longer have to fill my suitcase with heavy books.

    And I also agree with Erin; it can be a lot easier to read a digital book than one printed in a tiny font. Huge, heavy books are also easier to read on my iPad than in physical book form.

    I also love to read in bed before going to sleep, and I like doing that on my iPad, with no lamps required. When my eyes start to close, I just turn off the iPad and go to sleep. I know some people say reading a screen keeps you awake – but that’s not true for me.

    However, sometimes a physical book works better for me. For example, I had trouble wrapping my head around one book’s structure when I had it in iBook form; once I got the paperback, things made a lot more sense to me.

  19. posted by adora on

    Love that classic literature are free or under $1 on Kindle. Which I had downloading hundreds, far more than I will ever have time to read! It’s just another form of clutter I reckon.

    I’m moving towards digital in order to reduce housework/cleaning. So now half of my bookcase are rare (unpopular) books, Chinese books, and Japanese comics. Sometimes I worry that visitors would judge me for being unintelligent. ๐Ÿ™

  20. posted by Anne on

    I love both. I have my library of favorite books that I know intimately, I have my specialized library – both of these are paper books. But I do the vast majority of my casual reading in ebook form. Like others, I love being able to adjust the font and not wear my glasses and read at night without disturbing my spouse. I love getting books from the library and not having to worry about the size. And I acquire when I run across them inexpensively ebook versions of my favorites although i will not get rid of my paper books until they disintegrate.

  21. posted by melanie on

    I don’t want to take my technology to the beach, or the restaurant, or the park. I want to be free to leave my book and go play. I don’t like the light shining in my eyes from a screen.

    I love the feel of different types of paper. I like to turn a page, and dog ear it to mark my place. i like holding a book in my hands after I’ve finished it, relishing not only what story I experienced within it but what has happened in my outside world since I began it.

    Books rule.

  22. posted by Stephanie on

    Reading rules, and I’m not opposed to any format! I’d say I’m probably 75% ebook right now. A used bookstore is still often cheaper, and fun to browse and discover in, but I love traveling with multiple books stored on a tiny device.

    Cookbooks, graphic novels and reference books are the only thing that I absolutely still go for paper on. Otherwise I’ll happily buy the ebook version if it’s priced right.

    I hate to consider books “clutter”, since I love books so much, but it is nice to know that I don’t necessarily need to keep a lot of physical books around. I’m not much of a re-reader, so I tend to not keep the paper books around anyway, unless it’s something that’s really meaningful to me.

  23. posted by Debi on

    I love my print books, but my life definitely has a place for the digital versions. When it comes to reference books and books that I love to re-read, I like to have the hard copy in my hands. However, I love to check out digital books from the library and to preview books before I buy them. The convenience is wonderful: their compactness makes is so I can always have something great to read in my bag, regardless of how long I’m away from the books on my nightstand.

  24. posted by Shadlyn on

    eBooks, but I use the eInk style, not the backlit screen style. I found that monitors hurt my eyes after a while, but gray-scale was soothing and as easy to read as a physical book.

    I will say that I would probably be much less of an eBook convert if not for Calibre. I would probably be more into digital downloads of TV/movies if I could find an organizational program that strong! (It has customizable fields! Easy uploads! A fantastic search!!! So good!!)

    There is something about a physical book, but the difference is small and I still have enough personal favorites in paper format that I don’t miss the effect.

  25. posted by Annie on

    I tend to purchase more ebooks these days than physical books due to the money and space savings. I also prefer having my books delivered instantly rather than wait for a few days for the mail to arrive (there isn’t a bookstore in my town). However, on certain older books it is considerably cheaper to purchase used copies (even with the price of shipping) than it is to buy a digital copy, if you can even find a digital edition available. On these and certain books that I know I will reference later on I tend to go with the dead tree editions.

    That said, I am so grateful for ebooks! I am able to read a lot more books than I would otherwise because of the reduced price and ease of acquisition, and I love the fact that I no longer need a huge shelf just to store my books. In fact, I only own about 20 or so physical books these days–I pare down then my assigned area starts getting overstuffed by donating some to the local library.

  26. posted by Juli Monroe on

    I’ve been an eBook convert since the late 90s when I found that books could be read on Palm Pilots. I’ve never gone back to paper. I’ve used PDAs, eInk readers, cell phones and tablets to read, and I’ve loved them all. We have cleaned most of the books out of our house and freed up so much space!

  27. posted by sjthespian on

    I’m a big fan of eBooks and have been taking a steady stream of my old paper books to the local used book store as I replace them. However, I will only buy non-DRM books, as I want to make sure I can read them in the future if a particular device or book seller goes away. I find I’m reading all of my magazines in eBook format as well, at least where the publisher is providing the issues electronically.

    The big challenge is organizing the books. The only tool I have found that does a decent job is Calibre, but if you have a large book collection it is painfully slow.

  28. posted by Ron Peters on

    Ebooks are good, except for books that are heavy on illustrations, maps and such-like. In that case nothing beats a high-quality illustration on good paper.

  29. posted by Diane on

    Initially I resisted the idea of ebooks and I returned the first Kindle I was given as a gift. I like the feel of books in my hands. But I now have 2 Kindles (one Fire & one Paperwhite), plus an ipad mini. I use them for what I call ‘light reading’, basically for novels that I would otherwise buy in paperback and read once. I think ebooks are perfect for this purpose.

    I do prefer actual books for educational information, or reference books, anything that I want to keep and refer to again later. So I still have a number of physical books around that I can enjoy.

    I find that ebooks are not always cheaper to buy, but I get a lot of free novels on BookBub and some are really good. If not, I just delete them. I have a huge supply of novels to read on trips without carrying anything extra, as I’d bring my ipad anyway. And I don’t have stacks of paperbacks sitting around the house, waiting for me to find a way to get rid of them.

    The other huge benefit is being able to adjust the size of the type & the brightness of the screen. I just can’t easily read the small print in a paperback any more, and the contrast is not good in many paperbacks, so the ebooks are much easier on my eyes. The Kindle Paperwhite is great for reading outdoors or in the car, without any reflection.

  30. posted by Emily on

    I love them! It’s so convenient to browse the library website and download a book in my pjs. ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t appreciate that some publishers won’t let me lend their books to a friend via my kindle. After all, if I bought it paperback or hardcover I could lend it, resell it, do whatever with it. Yep, even stand on it…you did ask how we stand… ๐Ÿ™‚ .
    But I still buy cookbooks and many photography books in print form. A book about using photoshop or on composition doesn’t translate well to kindle.

  31. posted by David Caolo on

    Great comments, everyone! Thanks!

  32. posted by Janine Morris on

    It used to be I couldn’t fall asleep without a book in my hand but with the introduction of children into my life I gradually changed over to almost exclusively e-book reading. I have been reading e-books since the late 90s on my Palm devices and then iPhone. I know I wouldn’t have been able to finish Vanity Fair or some of the other classic tomes if I had to lug them about. I have been borrowing e-books from the library for years and only buy when I am too anxious to wait for a long queue or the title is too obscure. The thing I like the most is with back-lighting I can read in the dark, hardly bother anyone and when I fall asleep, it turns off which did wonders for my electric bill. E-books aren’t for everybody but they are available to everyone for little to no money so why not? Just my two cents.

  33. posted by Lilann on

    I have always loved mass market paperbacks so I was reluctant to get into ebooks. Then I purchased a Kindle paperwhite in March and I love it. I now have over 60 books on my Kindle. Some I got for free and some for as little as $2.99. I love purchasing an ebook and receiving it instantly along with the lack of clutter associated with physical books. I still have several hundred physical books in my collection but now I find if I purchase a book 90% of the time I will purchase the ebook. I’m now working on reducing my collection of physical books.

  34. posted by osric on

    I like ebooks. But I don’t like being trapped in a Kindle or iBooks world where I can’t share the books I’ve purchased or borrow books from friends and family. So I’ve taken to borrowing ebooks from the library (which has improved a lot over the years) and if there’s a book I really want that the library doesn’t have, I buy it in hardcover and then donate it to my public library when I’m done. It keeps the clutter away and then I know that I can always check the book out of the library if I want to read it again.

  35. posted by Connie Grodensky on

    I am with the digital readers–I love my Kindle. I resisted for a very long time, but now that we are moving cross-country, it has been liberating to pack up my books–to give away! My husband owns a hotel that has a lobby with bookshelves, and that is where my books go. Imagine my surprise to find out that the majority of books I took out there last month are gone! I stayed at a hotel that had a library and decided I would do the same for travelers through his hotel–kinda like a payback for having a book to read at that hotel when I was finished with mine. What joy. So now, instead of taking four books on vacation and still running out of reading material, I have my Kindle with over 800 books of every kind–always have something to read, and my packing of the books I DO want is much, much easier!

  36. posted by Pat on

    I do love traditional books and I have 89 linear feet of books (I just measured) to prove it. And that doesn’t count the cookbooks in the kitchen, the books on and in the nightstand, etc. But I love my Kindle. As others have said, I can adjust the font so that I can read it without my glasses and it will hold 3500 books in about a half inch of space. Compare that to my 89 feet! I have borrowed books from the library for the Kindle and I don’t have to worry about them being overdue, they just disappear. I have also gotten many books at low cost – or free – on BookBub.com . There will always be a need for “real” books. I can’t imagine not having my professional books right by my desk so that I can refer to them and to have several open to the same topic when I have a question. And the Kindle is not good for books with pictures or charts. And then there are those beautifully made books you want to keep a lifetime. But I am rushing toward retirement and I cannot imagine that we will be downsizing to a place that has room for all these books. Every once in a while, my husband and I cull a handful with that in mind.

  37. posted by Harry on

    Anti-ebook except for long travel.

    Some problems are inherent:
    Ebooks are hard to mark up, annotate, tab, skim quickly, or find a specific unmarked page. You can’t go into someone else’s house and peruse their ebook collection (perusing someone’s bookshelves is a fruitful source of conversation fodder and discovering new books). You can’t loan them out, resell them, buy them used, or donate them. You can’t pick up a random ebook in a store to look through. They’re highly suseptible to technological change or loss, yet we can read physical books from thousands of years ago. A physical book can be read in many environments, ebooks not so much. Either the pages are small or the readers are inconveniently large.

    Some problems are in current implementation, namely, DRM and invasion of privacy:
    You don’t own your ebook, you “license” it. This severely restricts your ability to fully use your ebook – you can’t legally resell, lend, or donate it. The actual owner (Amazon, for example) can reach into your ereader and grab your book back (which Amazon did with an illegally sold version of “1984”); by the EULA they don’t need to tell you why. Ebooks are hard to give as gifts and even when you can, it’s physically unimpressive. You cannot transfer ebooks from one medium to another and it’s practically impossible to switch from one manufacturer to another. You cannot buy an ebook anonymously. The actual owners keep track of what you buy, what you read, when you read it, how long you spend on a page and which pages you mark, and notes you make in the ebook – even though it’s really none of their damn business.

  38. posted by Rob Dean on

    The comments pretty much cover my experience. I have limited storage space for physical books, so it’s been nice to add books without having to worry about shelving. It’s also easier on my aching wrists to read on the iPad than to manipulate a thousand page hardcover.

    The downsides are also accurate; I’m concerned with long-term viability, and picture/map/diagram heavy material is often better in paper.

    I’d convert more of my collection, but I’m left with a lot of legacy history (in particular) that isn’t available in electronic format (yet) or is ridiculously expensive. Most of my non-sentimental public domain works readily available in e-formats were culled at the last household move.

    New purchases are running 90/10 electronic/paper now.

  39. posted by Marie on

    I just whined about this in another post–I finally stopped moving every few years, want an office with a wall of bookshelves, and am now unsure whether staying with physical books is desirable or practical.

    I think my main issue is the proprietary nature of e-books. If PDF was standard issue, I’d make the change in a heartbeat.

  40. posted by Julia on

    I buy more ebooks these days; the nearest bookstore is 5 miles away and can’t always have what I want, when I want it. But yes, some books adapt better than others, and the ownership issues are, at best, an inconvenience.

    The real answer is: books. All of.’em. Hardback, paperback, new, used, borrowed, owned, or licensed – so long as I’m able to read, I’ll read the format that’s available, suitable, and/or comfortable.

  41. posted by Leslie on

    Nook has a program where you can loan out books and so long as the person has a valid email, they don’t need to own a nook product to read as they can download the app to the computer/tablet of choice. Amazon also has a lending program. I use both regularly when I want to share something I’ve read.

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