Printed vs. Electronic Books

The sight of stacks and rows of books that adorns a library or bookstore makes visiting such places and browsing the books, touching and feeling them a timeless experience every book-lover will cherish, relish and would love to experience over and over again. It is like good sex, a comfortable massage or a sumptuous meal — something that you will cherish, relish and would love to experience over and over again. It doesn’t matter whether it is your home library or a professional one or a bookstore by the side of a crowded street; the joy and thrill one gets from seeing and feeling books is the same.

The pleasure of interaction with the printed books makes one wonder if replacing them with e-readers filled with e-books a wise choice. I have friends who claim not to have read a printed book in past ten years or more. They prefer to read from their Kindles, iPads, Nooks, and the host of other e-readers that are available. They rave about the paper like feel, how light they are, how many books they can hold, and so on. I have tried almost all of the above mentioned e-readers. I didn’t find them as fascinating as the hype or as elegant and useful as the claims. Yes, they are portable and can hold a large number of books; two features that will help in saving a lot of space.

For me a book-lined study with a comfortable recliner is much more preferable and enjoyable. I prefer the printed books to the e-readers that offer ‘paper like feel’ and contain thousands of e-books stored in their bowels.

“One of the many things that I love about bound books is their sheer physicality. Electronic books live out of sight and out of mind. But printed books have body, presence. Sure, sometimes they’ll elude you by hiding in improbable places: in a box full of old picture frames, say, or in the laundry basket, wrapped in a sweatshirt. But other times they’ll confront you and you’ll literally stumble over some tomes you haven’t thought about in weeks or years. I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me. They may make me feel, but I can’t feel them. They are all soul with no flesh, no texture, and no weight. They can get in your head but can’t whack you upside it.” (Will Schwalbe in The End of Your Life Book Club)

One cannot replace the joy of holding the book, feeling the smell of paper and ink, the crisp sound the paper makes while turning the pages, etc. But the e-book market-share will grow, as e-books are ideal for scholarly publications and technical books. Also they are easier to download and in many cases slightly cheaper than the print versions. Another factor is that many publishers have started offering only e-books for certain genres of books. Yet another factor that will force e-books on to the readers is the non availability of paperbacks, as many publishers now bring out only expensive hardcover versions and e-books.

But e-books will never completely replace printed books. E-books can only imitate the feel of real books but never can reproduce it and therein lies the secret of immortality of the printed books.


  1. Vandana said,

    November 5, 2012 at 6:27 am

    Alexis, I’m old school too – give me a book made of paper any day! On my trip home to India, I always pick up books; never mind the weight – I always plan a huge chunk of my luggage for that. Here in Malaysia, sadly, bookshops and libraries are getting fewer….’progress’ is now associated with e-books. It’s the same story in most countries. Check this out for a heart breaking reflection of the times:

    In my personal opinion, it’s in a way the fixation that most have towards an electronic screen that is to blame. People of all ages, toddlers to the elderly, are now glued to one most of the time. Most have forgotten (and some haven’t even discovered) the simple pleasure of browsing through bookshelves crowded with books, picking one at random, glancing through it, picking another, finally choosing one and then settling down in a comfy place to enjoy it, the feel, the smell of the pages…for me a kindle or something similar is just too plain cold.

    Do check this link for a feast of lovely bookshelves just brimming over….…. the link sounds spammy, but that’s just the authors way of expressing his love of books! 🙂

  2. Bindu said,

    November 5, 2012 at 6:44 am

    You are absolutely right, Alexis! Got a Kindle as a gift along with 4000 e-books, it took me almost four months to start getting used to it. I am kind of comfortable using it now, but still keep going back to the printed ones. Nothing can beat the feeling of paper in your hands and the smell of a newly printed one, even better an old book. It is as if the words breathe and come to life in front of you.
    As for the sight of a shelf of books in a library, ah, that’s my ultimate dream – a room which has roof to floor shelves filled with books on three sides, opening out to a long veranda on the fourth side, overlooking a mist filled mountain 🙂

  3. Sheeba said,

    November 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    ഈ പോസ്റ്റ് വായിച്ചപ്പോള്‍ ഹോ ! എന്തെന്നില്ലാത്തൊരു സന്തോഷം 🙂 പുസ്തകങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് മനസ്സും ശരീരവും ഉണ്ടെന്ന ചിന്ത കുട്ടിക്കാലത്തെ എന്‍റെ വലിയ രഹസ്യങ്ങളിലൊന്നായിരുന്നു! അന്നൊക്കെ അമ്പിളി യമ്മാവനും, തളിരും, അമര്‍ ചിത്രകഥകളും, വീട്ടിലെ മുതിര്‍ന്നവര്‍ക്ക് വായിക്കാന്‍ വേണ്ടി വരുത്തുന്ന മാതൃഭൂമി ആഴ്ചപ്പതിപ്പും ഒക്കെയായിരുന്നു വായന. പുസ്തകമേതായാലും, കയ്യില്‍ കിട്ടിയാല്‍ പിന്നെ ഒരു തരം ആര്‍ത്തിയാണ് 🙂 ആദ്യം കവര്‍ പേജ് നല്ലപോലെ ഒന്ന് കാണും. അതിന്റെ മിനുസം തൊട്ടുനോക്കും. പിന്നെ താളുകള്‍ ഓരോന്നായി മറിച്ചു നോക്കും, എന്നിട്ട് പുസ്തകം തുറന്നുപിടിച്ച് മുഖത്തോടു ചേര്‍ത്ത് കടലാസിന്റെയും മഷിയുടെയും ആ ത്രസിപ്പിക്കുന്ന ഗന്ധം മൂക്കിലൂടെ വലിച്ചെടുത്ത് ഹൃദയത്തിലെത്തിക്കും. ഇത് വായനയുടെ ആദ്യഭാഗം. പിന്നെയാണ് സാക്ഷാല്‍ വായന. അപ്പോള്‍ പുസ്തകം ചിരിച്ചും കളിച്ചും, കരഞ്ഞും, വിതുമ്പിയും,ഗൌരവപ്പെട്ടും ഒക്കെ ഓരോന്നു പറയും. ഞാനത് കേട്ടിരിക്കും. ഇതെല്ലാം ചേര്‍ന്നില്ലെങ്കില്‍ വായനയെങ്ങനാന്നേ സുഖമുള്ള ഒരു അനുഭവമാവുന്നെ.. !

    നല്ല പോസ്റ്റ്‌, അലക്സ്.. ഒത്തിരി ഇഷ്ടമായി.

  4. ROJI JACOB said,

    November 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Alexis… I had a conversation on this to a friend of mine just a few days back….. I too am old school and as said ..”One cannot replace the joy of holding the book, feeling the smell of paper and ink, the crisp sound the paper makes while turning the pages” …. Roji Jacob

  5. ROJI JACOB said,

    November 5, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    How about the morning “piping hot” Chai with the newspaper in hand….. I love it….
    Roji Jacob

  6. Alexis Leon said,

    November 5, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Vandana: It is nice to know that you love the physical books. I visited the Bookshelfporn site; really fantastic bookshelves. Sad to hear that bookshops are being closed down in your part of the world. What I miss most is the time I used to spend in bookshops and libraries. I had a very good relationship with the librarians and bookshop owners (both new and second hand) wherever I went (Kottayam, Trivandrum, Pondicherry, and Chennai). I miss that as now I order 95% of the books online. Am thankful for that—even though the personal touch is gone, I can still get the books 🙂

    Bindu: I don’t have anything against e-books and e-readers. They are good from some sort of publications like technical reports and journals and magazines. But for other genres—fiction and non-fiction alike—I prefer the printed books. Can you imagine reading Asterix comics or Hemingway, James Michener, Conan Doyle, etc. in an e-reader! I can’t and I won’t. And I already have a slight variant of your dream—a room which has roof to floor shelves filled with books on three sides and the fourth side having a window overlooking the garden and pond 🙂

    Sheeba: Thanks Sheeba. Since you have seen my library you know my love for printed books. I too used to read all the books that were subscribed—from Balarama to Mathrubhumi. I read most of the Malayalam novels when they came serialised in the weekly. Those were good old days—days without television and computers to distract and people were really interested in reading and writing.

    Roji: Nice to know that there still are a lot of people who have not lost the love for printed books. Yes, the idea of having a cup of Coffee or Tea while reading is absolute bliss. Still do that a lot 🙂