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E-Readers vs Physical Books

Amazon Kindle

R. Alex Jenkins


Overall, the pros of digital e-readers far outweigh the cons. Once you discover the flexibility of digital reading it's hard to exclusively go back to physical books. Technology exists for a reason, to facilitate our reading experience and help us, but there are also drawbacks to using such devices.

Here are the positives and negatives of the e-reader experience, particularly the Amazon Kindle.

Although not perfect, digital now suits most of my personal reading needs. Some books are not yet (and cannot be) digitalised and often feel more expensive than they deserve to be, so read through the Pros and Cons and see what you think.

A small amount of books may never be available in digital format - artistic content, comics, manga or out-of-print novels - so physical copies will always be essential in certain circumstances.

The Pros of Digital E-Readers


You can have a library of more books than can realistically ever be read, all in one place. This library can be carried around with you on a single lightweight device.

On Kindle, books are immediately available through a WiFi connection to download after you purchase them. 


If your device is lost, broken or destroyed, your digital books are backed up and safely stored with the provider you bought them from. Personal documents should be backed up too. There is no need to repurchase books or maintain a subscription once you've legally bought them. These books are yours forever and will always be associated with you. You can read them on other e-reader devices. On Amazon, books that you don't purchase on this platform can be transferred using ‘Send to Kindle’ to read on this device. Other e-reader manufacturers will have similar methods for transferring epub, mobi, pdf files, etc, to their devices. 


On the Amazon website there is a list of all of the books you own, sortable in various ways, such as title, author, purchase order and most-recently read. is extremely useful.


On digital devices it's really easy to keep track of books you have read or that remain unread at the click of a button. No more stacking books on shelves and having to make personalised inventories (if you don't want to). Everything you own, read and download is right in front of you.


Digital means there are a lot less physical books to be stored and organised, often taking up valuable space and becoming a physical management problem. Bookworms, couples and families can accumulate thousands of books over time, which can be a problem to manage when doing any sort of relocation.


Digital books never get old, damaged or yellowed, and you never have to worry about replacing them over time.


Digital is more environmentally friendly than physical. No more cutting down of trees to produce paper pulp. Yes, electronics aren't exactly environmentally friendly either, but once a digital book is created it never has to be printed again. Granted, alternative publishers piggyback the same digital book to create their own versions, so there can be many duplicates out there.


Marginalia and highlights are easy to keep track of on digital devices. On Kindle, press the corresponding icon at the top of the screen for all your notes and highlights. No need to track back or hunt for abstract or esoteric details (although this can be fun). If you use (also owned by Amazon), your highlights are automatically uploaded to the site for future reference, use in reviews and for sharing with others. It's a really great service. You can also send highlighted sections of text to any email address - a bit clunky, but more efficient than constantly jotting things down.

There are also inbuilt features to highlight unknown words for immediate dictionary or Wikipedia definitions. You can inspect these words later on for each book, as well as take advantage of scrollable flashcards to improve vocabulary and learning.

There is even a magnifying glass to delve even deeper and search for this word in your current book or in all texts on your Kindle. It's a pretty amazing cross-referencing tool.


You can easily change the font size on your digital devices. No more poor or miniscule texts that can hardly be read, and no more cracking the spine to really get in there. Lay the device on your lap if you like with both hands free.

When I read physical books I usually have to wear glasses, but not with digital e-readers. This is such a bonus for physical-to-digital transitioners.


E-readers usually have a backlight, enabling you to read them anywhere, day or night. This is another transition delight from physical to digital - no need to find decent lighting all the time.

I like holding my Kindle in one hand, being free with the other, or resting it on my lap. Physical books can be clumsy and awkward sometimes.


It's so easy to switch between tables of contents and chapters, and electronically bookmark your progress as you go. You never lose a page: just open your device and resume where you left off.


Books are normally less expensive in digital format for obvious reasons.

There are so many free classics out there, too, through incentives such as the Gutenberg project. Want to read the complete works of Jane Austen? Do so right now for free!

Physical books cost more money to make, reproduce, distribute, etc.


There are never any shipping fees!

And there is rarely any wait for delivery on an established internet connection.


You can quickly and conveniently show other people your entire library, including recently read books, about to read, etc. No need to invite people round to see your physical collection (although that's pretty cool too).



Let's say you're reading a really difficult book or collection that takes months to get through that you don't want to DNF. No longer feel embarrassed on the daily commute because you're always struggling with the same old tome. It doesn't have to be there for everyone to see.

The Cons of Digital E-Readers


There is something amazing about owning a physical book that can never be beaten, like buying a vinyl album, taking the disc out of its sleeve and the rewarding sensation associated with that. We like to feel, smell and own things. This can't be fully replicated digitally.

When you buy a new digital book, you don't have that material sense of possession, and something can feel missing.

However, the important thing is to read books regardless of the medium they come on. It's about getting the experience into your head. You can do that equally well in digital and physical formats.

You can go as much/little digital as you want, as well as having several copies of books in various formats.


For some people, digital loses that sense of immersion.

Many people like to post photos or videos of themselves with massive bookshelves and collections to validate their status as avid readers.

You lose that status somewhat with digital books.


If you already have a large collection of books, going digital can be a strange new direction and difficult to adapt to.

For example: when do you start replacing physical volumes with digital ones? If you only own a few books at the moment, starting a digital collection is easy, but if you already own hundreds or even thousands of books, how can you make that switch? Is it worth it? It can be impossible to decide.

You don’t have to go full-on digital, but go at your own pace and with what feels comfortable to you.


A digital device is more explicit than a physical book because it holds so much information about you and your reading habits. Some people can get possessive and even irritated by other people scouring their digital collections. Like a mobile phone, it can be wise to use a lock screen if you feel that way.


Many people like to outwardly display what they're reading. It validates them, like showing off the latest fashion or trend. The latest physical book of the month is there for everyone to see because of that physical, outward and ostentatious draw to it.

Physical books can feel more important, personal and alive.


E-readers are far more expensive than individual books, so you'll feel the pinch if they get lost or broken. But then again, there's no danger of losing your entire collection because of fire, flood or another type of unforeseen event.

E-readers are an excellent option for people who read a lot.


Other drawbacks of digital books:

If you don't buy them on official sites you won't see them in retrospective digital collections. You may have to use multiple websites and different apps.

The Kindle app and its associated websites are exclusively for Amazon customers, so, if you buy books elsewhere or have PDF or epub/mobi documents, you won't be able to manage them so easily. This ties you into Amazon, which doesn't suit everyone.

Digital book publishers want to avoid piracy and also tie you into their services, which is understandable. This isn't a detriment to e-readers as such, but a drawback to exclusively using Amazon or any other digital service provider (think movie streaming services).

However, Amazon allows you to transfer pretty much anything you digitally own to your e-reader device. But you can't upload notes and highlights to Goodreads (Amazon-owned) if you obtain these documents elsewhere, nor effectively manage your collection though Amazon apps.

Over time you will be able to establish a collection of e-books, documents and physical books. I recommend a personalised spreadsheet and Goodreads to keep track of everything you own.


I live in Brazil and ebooks are much more expensive than they are in first-world countries (so are physical books). Book prices are multiplied by exchange rates and increased a little bit more. In relative country-based earnings, prices are often out of proportion. There is a reason for this: to avoid people logging in to foreign websites using a virtual private network (VPN) to purchase books at a fraction of the first-world-country price.

Books cost the equivalent in foreign currency all over the world, which is justifiable for publishers and booksellers but bad for people living in poorer countries.


Owning a digital reader is part of the future and I recommend it. Thousands of free and cheap books are available from all over the world, with prices often being slashed and multiple bargains emerging all the time.

It takes no time at all to get hold of digital books and they are always with you on a single compact device, but there are drawbacks: no physical purchase delight, ostentatiousness and less immersion. Some books aren't available in digital formats either because they've never been digitalized or are incompatible.

As you can see, there's no concrete case for exclusively buying an e-reader and abandoning physical books, and you need a bit of both. My favourite aspect of digital is having everything in front of me all at once. It feels concise, clutter free, organised and modern.

The most important thing as a book reader is to get that information into your head!

If you think of anything else that might be missing from this list of Pros and Cons, please message me at

More about R. Alex Jenkins

I went for an extended period from 2002 without regular access to new and competitively priced books. I struggled for a while with this transition after I moved from England to Brazil. There was no Kindle back then and no digital marketplace, so when I decided to go fully digital it was easier for me than for some other people. I had less physical books to replace, but sudden and astonishing access to millions of books at accessible prices. It changed my outlook entirely. The benefits of digital reading are phenomenal, but I can understand why many people are reluctant to make the switch.

The popularity of physical books has resurged with younger generations, for physical, ownership, aesthetic and outwardly demonstrative reasons.

Now I'm a digital convert, I would reluctantly go back to exclusive physical books, but I still buy real copies for multiple reasons: to own them, feel them, have them...

The question is, what do books mean to you? Does intellectual property belong to you more because it’s printed on a physical page? What suits you best?

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