Choosing Paper vs. Electronic Books – 5 Questions to Ask

Book lovers have more options today than ever before. Gone are the days when the only choice was paperback or hardback. Now, we can add to those choices any number of ways to read electronically from a computer screen to a tablet to a dedicated e-reader.

One of the biggest decisions for me when purchasing a book is whether to buy an electronic version or a physical copy. My wife gave me a Kindle for Christmas a couple years back and I love it. I was skeptical at first given my love for the look and feel of ‘real’ books but I have come to rely on my Kindle and use it a great deal.

Having said that, there are still some times when I choose to purchase a physical book instead of the e-book. Here are the questions I ask when making that decision:

  • Will I need to flip back and forth in the book as I read it? This is usually the case when books include charts or other graphics that must be referenced again and again as you read. For example, I purchased Buy-Don’t Holdby Leslie N. Masonson as a physical book because the trading strategies he outlines are illustrated with charts that need to be continually referenced for a complete understanding.
  • Will the book be used primarily as a reference? Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theologyand Strunk & White’s The Elements of Stylewere both purchased as physical books because I keep them at my desk and want the ability to easily thumb through them for things I need when writing or preparing to teach. (Though I must admit I have an electronic copy of Grudem’s book as well that is sometimes useful)
  • Is the book cheaper in physical form? As odd as it seems, some books are actually less expensive as ‘real’ books than as electronic downloads and when you’re an Amazon Prime customer it makes no sense to pay more for the electronic copy when you can get the physical copy for less with free shipping.
  • Will I be reading or studying the book in a group? This is not a hard and fast rule but unless everyone in the group is using an e-reader, I find it easier to stay in sync with the group with reading assignments, referencing quotes during discussions, etc. if I have the physical book.
  • Do I just like the book better in physical form for some reason I can’t otherwise explain? My Bible is this way. I have numerous electronic versions of the Bible but I read, study and teach from my leather bound study Bible. I just like it better.

What are some of the criteria you use to decide in what format to purchase a book?

Do you ever buy both the electronic and the physical version of the same book?

2 Replies to “Choosing Paper vs. Electronic Books – 5 Questions to Ask”

  1. I figure if it’s a book in which I expect to do a lot of highlighting and note taking, I prefer the hard copy. I typically prefer ebooks for things like novels or any books I can get for free or on sale.

    1. Good point Tim. Though it’s sometimes easier to reference highlights made in an ebook (you can just pull up the whole list for each book), making notes to me is cumbersome and I sometimes lose the context of the note or highlight I made when seeing it in a list with all the others rather than in the text.

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