Paper vs Pixels

For the last several months, I’ve been considering getting an e-reader (read: Kindle) or tablet (read: iPad + Kindle app). My reasons are really quite practical:

  1. I  have an insane amount of books to keep in a tiny house; and
  2. When I travel, I like to have options, but maybe don’t want to bring a ton of extra material with me.

As part of trying to see whether or not I’d actually like reading from one of these devices I’ve spent some time trying out reading using the Kindle app on my phone and laptop. In an effort to process my thoughts on it, I’ve made a pros and cons list:

Pros of E-Reading

  1. Easy storage. You can fit thousands of books on a Kindle or on your laptop, where with traditional books you’re limited to your shelf space (and home size). This is a big deal when you don’t want your house to look cluttered.
  2. Accessibility. I can access my Kindle library literally anywhere thanks to my handy-dandy app. This makes travel a lot easier.
  3. Affordability. Kindle books are (normally) just plain cheaper than printed books. This is important if you’re a big reader with a small (or nonexistent) book budget.
  4. Easy quoting. Because highlights are available online, it makes it a lot easier to pull a quote from a book for a

Cons of E-Reading

  1. Overconsumption. This is probably the biggest con of e-reading. I’ve found that unless I really force myself to slow down, I end up skimming through a book in my app; consuming information rather than engaging content. This is a huge problem when you need to actually focus on what you’re reading.
  2. Distraction. Perhaps it’s because I’m not using a dedicated device, but it is far too easy for me to get distracted while reading using an app. I keep finding myself going and farting around on Facebook, reading a blog or checking my email.
  3. Eye strain. Again, this is likely because I’m not using a dedicated device, but reading a screen for a long period of time really hurts the eyes.
  4. Sensory appeal. There’s just something really nice about having a real book in your hands, to feel the paper and be able to make notes in the margins.
  5. Review copies don’t come digitally. Publishers tend to not send review copies in digital formats (though there are a few exceptions). This is a big hindrance to me as it means my house will continue to fill up with giant piles of books no matter what I do!

These are the pros and cons that I’ve noticed so far. I’m still not ruling out getting a device of some sort, but I’m not 100% certain that I should, either. Do any of you use an e-reader or tablet for your reading? What’s your experience been like? Any advice you’d give to someone considering it?

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  • http://mrben.jedimoose.org/ mrben

    With respect to Con3, bear in mind that a Kindle uses e-ink, which shouldn’t cause any more eye strain than reading normal paper. 

    Equally, regarding Pro3, I’ve noticed that Kindle books aren’t as much cheaper than a physical book as I would like. For example, the UK hardcover edition of Love Wins is currently £8.71 (with free delivery) whereas the Kindle edition is £7.99. Usually I would rather spend the extra 72p and buy the hardcover, knowing that I could then either sell it on, or give it to a friend to read. IMO Kindle books should really be at most 50% of the price of a physical book.

    Having said all that, I still really want a Kindle ;) I have a Nook Color here at work (running full Android and using the Kindle App as B&N don’t operate in the UK), and have read a couple of books on it, which has made me sure that I could use an e-reader, but I prefer e-Ink technology to read from, and the Kindle is light enough to read in bed when tired ;)

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Ben, I agree that the Kindle books still have a ways to go in terms of pricing. For the most part, I’ve limited myself to any of the ridiculously awesome sale-priced books (like when Church Planter was $2.99 for example). I’m definitely looking forward to seeing if I can borrow someone’s Kindle to try reading on the device itself. I’ve tried the Kobo Touch reader but it’s not in the running due to the inability to transfer your highlights. 

  • Stan

    Interesting how much blog space this subject is getting lately. Tim Challies (CahlliesDotCom) just release an entire book that deals with digital media; Albert Mohler dedicated an entire podcast to the subject.

    My general opinion (based on the fact that I have been an IT-type for 30+ years and so have dealt with changing digital technology for a decent period of time; I’ve also been an avid e-reader for some 18 months now):
    1. Most new technologies have both pros and cons; they can be used constructively or destructively (just like every other technology we use on a daily basis).
    2. The use of any technology requires personal discipline appropriate to the technology; who would argue that television has offered significant benefits, but undisciplined use is truly destructive.
    3. New technologies seldom completely replace older technologies (although they occasionally do).
    4. New technologies seldom live up (or down) to the initial hype that initially surrounds them; eReaders will most likely find some very productive uses, but will not, as some have predicted, kill the book or eliminate the writer.

    Now some practical tips based on my experience:
    1. Eye strain – there are several things that can be done to assist here: a) adjust the brightness of the display, b) change the background color (I find the sepia background combined with a reduced brightness all but eliminates eye strain for me when using tablets or computers; to my knowledge most e-ink screens can also adjust the brightness but not the background color. c) adjust the refresh rate; a higher refresh rate reduces the perceived flicker noticeable on some CRT screens; LCD screens seldom experience serious problems in this area. d) use of an ereader device (or computer, for that matter) in light that is either too high or too low exacerbates eye strain; much of the eye strain attributed to computer screens is actually caused by workspace lighting; ergonomic design of office spaces now takes this into account.   As one who spends some 10+ hours in front of a screen on most days, I find that following these techniques greatly reduces eye strain.
    2. Over-consumption is a subjective matter, differing from person to person and the reason for reading. This is one of the areas where personal discipline appropriate to the technology and individual needs comes into play.
    3. Distraction – again this is a personal issue but of a slightly different nature. For many of us in the technology industry we find that we must take explicit steps to avoid the distraction caused by today’s media-rich environment; turn off audible or visual notifications, close apps that are not needed while reading, for email and messaging, prioritize the most important and only allow those to interrupt. There are many proactive steps that can be taken to manage distraction, but it does take conscious thought and effort.
    4. The esthetics of the paper book – this is a very real issue for some (my wife as a graphics designer is one of these). But in the end, this is a personal preference issue, not a legitimate con of the ebook technology.
    5. For those who, like Aaron, receive review copies of books; I suspect that you will begin to see a shift begin to occur here. The two drivers here will be cost (my understanding is that advance review copies are usually given away) and a shift in the publishing technology. Many books are already being prepared in ebook format first (due to speed and cost) and then go to print. In addition, as the technology advances, certain DRM techniques can be applied to advance review copies that forestall their unauthorized distribution in electronic format (something many publishers fear).

    Forgive my long post; once started its hard to stop.

  • http://twitter.com/spye Steve Pye

    I find that reading on a computer is very different than a mobile device (namely, smartphone or tablet). On the computer, there’s more potential for distraction (con #2) because of the lack of native full-screen mode (although OS X Lion may change that). On my iPad, though, the uni-tasking model is as dedicated as you can get. When I sit down to read, I’m not distracted by facebook or email, and the ability to make notes right in the book far outweighs sitting down with a paper book and a pen, for me. Going back to a paper book is much harder for me now, because I can’t just grab it in a spare moment, whereas the iPad is always with me.

    Although, that was a lifestyle choice that I made, to push 100% of my consumable and productive life content to the iPad for that very reason, and thus far, it was a wise choice for me. Cons #1 – #4 haven’t been an issue for me, but I can see how #5 would be a major one for you. I am opting for Kindle exclusivity in my purchases, because I don’t receive free books from anyone. Perhaps publishers would be more willing to consider making e-books available for reviewers if they are approached directly about it, and asked to provide that option.

  • http://elehack.net/jennifer Jennifer Ekstrand

    I love reading on my Nook. With the e-ink, I have less eye strain on my Nook than many paper books, partially because I can increase the font size. 

    In my experience, the Nook seems more transparent than paper books. When reading paper books I can be distracted by the aesthetics, slowing for fonts that are hard to read or a page that isn’t printed straight. Even page turning is less distracting, and I especially appreciate the lack of noise from turning pages if my husband is reading when I’m trying to sleep.

    As far as review copies, I’ve started getting digital review copies via NetGalley.

    I still use paper for my notes, mostly because without a physical keyboard (or a stylus and graffiti), I find entering text to be more cumbersome than it is worth.

  • Jacwoolard

    I have done the same thing.  I downloaded an ebook on my android and I am having a difficult time concentrating while I’m reading it.  I’m not having the difficulty as you are with getting on Facebook; however, I find that my concentration level is different.  I, like you, think there is something about holding a book that seems to help me connect.  I love to read and this is a dilemma for me because, I to, am overwhelmed with books.  So, I’m trying to force myself to read the ebook and over the last couple of days, I’m noticing that what I’m reading is not being absorbed in my head. 

  • Doc B

    First, getting a Kindle or Nook won’t make your large stack of books you already have go away.  You’ll have to buy them all over again to get rid of any of the hard copies.

    Second, just because you bought a book for your Kindle doesn’t mean you have access to it on your phone app…you have to pay again to get it on a different platform.  (Or, at least they didn’t tell me this if it’s not true…I can’t access my Kindle books on my droid phone.)

    Having bought a few books for my Kindle, I now refuse to buy any reference book on that platform.  It’s too difficult to navigate on the Kindle for reference books to be useful.  A bible on Kindle, for example, is almost worthless for anything other than straight-through reading.

    I have found quite a few free book offers for Kindle, and have thirty or so thus installed, but these free offers have tailed off to almost nothing.  In 2010 for example, Ref Trust had one of their current titles free on Amazon.com every Monday.  They haven’t posted a free book in close to a year now.  If you follow Twitter and enough blogs, you can still find a few freebies, and a few more deep discounts, but not nearly as many as in the ‘good ole days’.

    I don’t see ebook readers completely replacing books until the interface is much friendlier and more usable, and even then until the price goes below $100.  On top of that, they’ll have to find some way to guarantee ownership.  I still have books that I bought as a teenager.  But what happens to all my Kindle books if Amazon.com goes belly-up?  I know that’s not likely, but it is possible.  If the economy continues to decline and businesses start dropping off the face of the planet, I’ll still have those books I bought as a teenager, but I have no guarantee I’ll still have my copy of Counterfeit Gospels that I bought this year on Kindle.

    • http://mrben.jedimoose.org/ mrben

      I can’t speak for Nook, but Amazon definitely tell you that you can access all your books on all your devices without paying an additional fee. They say:
      “Read Everywhere with Whispersync
      Your Kindle books can be read on your Kindle, iPhone, iPad, PC, Mac, Android device, and Windows Phone 7. Our Whispersync technology syncs your place across devices, so you can pick up where you left off.”
      I do, however, agree with you about e-readers as reference books. 

  • http://www.aaronsellars.com Aaron Sellars

    I’d add the following Aaron:

    Pros: 1. Researching is A LOT easier when it is done digitally (I’ve only moved all my reference works to digital through Logos so far). 2. I hate moving books, organizing books, and transferring them when we move from house to house (we’ve moved a lot).

    Cons: 1. I’d add to your over consumption that it is easy to get free e-books and never read them because so many are given away on Amazon each week for free as promotions by publishers.  2. You cannot lend a e-book (except for two weeks with Kindle) or give away a book. 3. A Kindle or other device doesn’t look as good on a book shelf in your home. 4. Kindle you can’t read in the dark/iPad you can’t read in the sun.  5. You are always tied into your reading platform (unless all these companies begin to share information, which I doubt will ever happen), so you would probably be stuck with one device/platform and technology is always changing. 6. I’ve found some used books to be cheaper than even the e-book on Amazon (not all, some).

    Great post Aaron!

  • Bart

    I absolutely love my Nook Color. My reading has increased by at least 500% (I didn’t read much pre-Nook) because of the accessibility and affordability factors you identify.

  • AWHall

    I’ve had a kindle now for 4 months.  Here are a few personal reflections that you haven’t mentioned:

    eReader pros (specifically the Kindle):
    1.  Searchable functionality – I can find a quote, comment, or idea in an eBook so much easier because of highlight features, search features, etc…
    2.  Transferring info – I can highlight something on my kindle, go online, and move the copied text into a document very easily.
    3.  e-ink feature is very nice, very easy on the eyes.  Anywhere you can read a book, you can read the kindle.  There is no strain on the eyes, no stimulation of the brain from the screen like the iPad does (which can affect the melatonin secretions, causing difficulty if used in the dark before sleep). 

    eReader cons:
    1.  Physicality – I remember things in a book based on where they are on the page, how far through the book, etc…  Though the search feature helps, sometimes I can’t remember the quote, just the idea.  
    2.  Technological Imperative – to use Jacques Ellul’s idea – the fact that I have a 3G device means I can go online any time and look for more books, more stats, etc… instead of being dedicated to reading.  Technology bids me to come, and concentrated periods of reading are easily compromised because of the promise of constant distraction.

  • Bob Tompkins

    Aaron, as a visually-impaired person who had been frustrated at the limited number of Christian books available in large print my iPad with the Kindle app has been a huge blessing. Regarding eye strain, the font size on the iPad is adjustable and the tablet-sized device is much larger than the Kindle reader. Also, if you travel, the iPad replaces the need to carry a laptop/netbook, books, your Bible, calendar, newspaper and even notepaper. You can also Skype/video call from almost anywhere.

  • http://twitter.com/kurtmichaelson Kurt Michaelson

    I find reading on the Kindle to be much easier on the eyes than reading from the computer screen. I have the 2nd generation Kindle and wish that I had waited to buy the latest model.  I think the Kindle 3G is a much better device to use and for making notes and highlights compared to the 2G.

    I do like the fact that I can store a large number of books on my Kindle (up to 125 now) and it doesn’t take up space like a normal bookshelf would.  I do still like getting a few paperbacks, just to have, but if I can, I’ll get an electronic book over a paperback, but I must get through my electronic stack of books first before getting any more!

  • http://thegospelforoc.com Chris Poblete

    These responses are good. I don’t have much else to add except this:

    Kindle, bro. You’ll love it.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      That is a compelling sales pitch, Chris :)

    • http://www.aaronsellars.com Aaron Sellars

      Do you have the physical device Chris or do you use your iPad? I’m moving soon and won’t have room for my book…I’m in trouble and thinking an e-reader might be my only option or to box them all up and leave them in the garage.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BRCZU7NZILZDYKMVHS26ONBAM4 Rob

    Give me paper any day.  I won’t cave into the latest Sheepware…

  • http://twitter.com/phillip320 phillip320

    I love my Kindle. I have the app on my iPhone, and I prefer the actual device. It’s just a reader, so I’m not distracted by Twitter or my e-mail. I do agree that an e-reader does encourage skimming more than a book does, but that might be an issue of self-discipline. Personally, I’d prefer an e-reader to a book–most books, anyway, some classics deserve paper.

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