Monthly Archives: March 2012

The e-reader versus the “real” book

NZ Book Month logoThis month is New Zealand Book Month. A comparison between the supposedly beleaguered book and the upstart e-reader and e-books seemed like a good topic for a post. I love books. I have hundreds of them. And that is part of the problem. I am fast running out of space for them on my shelves. Almost every house I have ever lived in very soon needed more bookshelves. So when a friend let me try out her e-book reader I could see the advantages once I found it would be accessible for me. My experience is of the Kobo. I haven’t tried any others, but many of the advantages and disadvantages will be similar.

E-reader advantages

  • Size An e-book is easier to handle so I can take bulky books anywhere. I don’t have to fit a heavy book into my handbag and I can take multiple titles when I travel and always have something to read.
  • Price It is usually cheaper to buy e-books and many classics which are out of copyright are free to download from sites like Project Gutenberg.
  • Accessibility I can read books which have small print in hard copy by setting the largest clearest print size on the e-reader. The screen is not back lit which is more restful for me. I can more comfortably hold the e-reader closer to my eyes than a large and heavy book.
  • Portability for other long documents and ergonomic benefits I can download reports to read in comfort rather than having to wastefully print them, or read long documents on my PC screen. This is an ergonomic aspect of accessibility often not considered. It contributes to increased sociability when I’m not shut away from others with my PC.
  • Disposability If I am only going to read a book once it won’t take up physical space and I won’t feel bad about getting rid of it.
  • Availability I can immediately acquire a book to read any time of the day or night, whether the library or bookshops are open or not.
  • A clean page I can carefully clean the screen of my e-reader. Library books become worn, and people eat their lunch over them, sometimes even off them I think!


  • Less reading time when flying I have to switch it off for take-off and landing, which limits reading time on planes, especially short flights
  • Power E-readers have to have their batteries charged, which can be inconvenient if you forget to check power levels and run out at the very moment when the murderer is about to be revealed
  • Faults Downloading can sometimes be a pain and occasionally the free Guttenberg versions don’t work, which is annoying if you can’t download again immediately when a book fails partly read.
  • The full sensuous reading experience An e-book is no substitute for the rewarding physical and sensory experience of the real thing. The look, feel and even the smell of a book is something uniquely special. The anticipation of revelations to come when a book is new and unopened has a particular excitement.
  • Browsing experience The experience of an online bookshop is not the same as a “real” bookshop where I love to browse.  and talk to knowledgeable booksellers about books we love.
  • Illustrations If there are any, are in black and white only. That will probably change and I have not yet investigated the e-reader possibilities of our iPad.
  • Annotations Although I was brought up not to write in books, I do occasionally highlight something in an index, or mark a quote I can flick to quickly. Not so easy on an e-reader.


I won’t be giving up regular books any time soon. E-readers and hard copy books each have an important place in my reading life. They both bring to me the physical, intellectual, spiritual and imaginative world through the “printed” word in the English language. But I may limit my hard copy acquisitions to those I want to keep and enjoy for the total experience, especially for those books which are a beautiful objects in their own right, art books, and books I may want to refer to on a regular basis. The e-reader will be a useful travel companion and source of more everyday reading matter for work and pleasure.

I have to confess I bought several books just the other day for all the above reasons!


Filed under Information Accessibility, Media, The Arts