top of page

Physical Book Deception

Stack of Books

R. Alex Jenkins


When I bought my first e-reader (Kindle) I loved everything about it. I still do.

It doesn't matter whether you read books on papyrus or if they're somehow beamed by laser into the sky. All you've got to do is read them.

Similar to mobile phones, the technical aspects of e-readers are amazing because of how accessible and organised everything is.

Physical Book Deception

Even though practically everything is now available in digital format, certain books still need to be bought in physical form for multiple reasons:

  • graphical content

  • comic strips

  • currently out of print and the need to seek out second-hand copies

  • not yet digitised

  • books that don't get translated from foreign languages

  • older books that never really sold

  • other books inexplicably unavailable

It's hard to understand why certain perfectly eligible books are still not available? If you can get classics written hundreds of years ago in digital format, why not everything else?

Sometimes you have to make a choice: buy the physical version or miss out.

Readers with limited budgets and enough good sense have thresholds on what they're willing to pay due to physical books costing double or triple their digital counterparts. This is disappointing. It feels like deception.

Fortunately, buying or receiving physical books in the post is a yummy experience. It makes you feel complete and warm inside (for a while). They're physical, tangible objects that we can touch, hold and cradle while spending hours perusing and fondling the pages.

But there is no electronic version if you're a digital convert. On the road, in the street, away from home, you need to carry around that separate individual tome with you as well as your e-reader for everything else. It's like two universes: an organised digital library accessible from a condensed database, and zillions of physical books that exist individually in their own right.

Reading physical books can be a weird experience if you're no longer used to it. No longer having everything in one place.

You often need to hold physical books with both hands, find specific positions to sit in and get plenty of light behind you to illuminate the pages. No more one-handed reading in dark corners.

For many people it's necessary to wear reading glasses too. This is not a big issue with e-readers because you can pinch or expand the screen to change the font size.

Physical books sometimes feel like hard work, old fashioned and clumsy. They are read, shelved and mentally archived just like digital books, but need to be stored in a unique place that's convenient for you.

Summing Up

Does it matter how you get your reading fix? Digital of Physical?

In a nutshell, NO!

Maybe it was better in the past when there were only physical books? It was a simpler way of life. Buy a book, read it, store it, cherish it and reminisce over it. Now, it's a mix between devices, versions, backups and reality/virtuality.

But it's the central organisation of digital books that makes them such a boon.

Switching between different movie streaming services to find specific films or series is much more annoying than anything I have experienced with digital books. Especially when the movie you want doesn't exist anywhere. Hello Stanley Kubrick!

Websites like Goodreads help you get over organisational problems between physical and digital books by keeping a record of everything you have read or want to read. Where those books are stored and in what format is just a part of life. It's impossible to keep track of everything anyway.

Has anyone else had similar incongruous experiences between digital and physical formats? Like video games split between XBox, Playstation and Personal Computers. Is it too OCD to want your entire book collection in one place? Do you strongly believe in having a physical or digital library, or both?

Physical books can feel like involuntarily going back in time to a cluttered and disorganised past. It's great to have real copies and collector items - physical books are often aesthetic and beautiful - but organising, offloading and unhauling physical books is a nuisance. I used to look at the clutter of books, movies and music and think it was impressive. Now it seems gaudy and unnecessary.

Once you embrace digital there's no going back. Physical books can be beautiful art, especially when they have great covers, printing and binding, but they can also be a pain to organise and keep tidy.

bottom of page