8 Reasons Physical Books Are Way Better Than eBooks

If you love physical books, this article is for you.

For a long time, I was the kind of person who only read ebooks. I could always be found with my Kindle Oasis, talking about how e-readers enable people to carry their entire library around in their pockets.

Not anymore. Over the last few years, I’ve become the kind of person who hangs out in used bookstores, arms filled with piles and piles of books. And I’m beginning to think all those people who told me physical books are better had it right.

Here’s why:

1. Paper books are cheaper than e-readers and ebooks

When you read ebooks, unless you’re reading on your brightly-lit LCD device (which I don’t recommend if you’re reading regularly), you’re going to need an e-reader. Kindle readers (without advertisements) range in price from $100 to $300, so that’s a few hundred dollars right there.

Then you have to buy the ebooks, which, when you purchase from a traditional publisher, are usually only a few dollars less than the physical copy. This slight discount doesn’t offset the price of a Kindle unless you’re buying upwards of 25 books a year at a brand-new print price.

Which, if you’re a clever book buyer, you are not. The savvy book buyer purchases pre-owned books wherever possible.

Pre-owned copies of physical books can be astonishingly cheap. At a bookstore in Knoxville last week, I got a copy of Always Apprentices: Twenty-two conversations between writers for 75 cents.

While that was an astonishing deal, it’s not uncommon for me to find $35 books on sale at my local used bookstore for $7. I’ve snagged copies of expensive bestsellers like Eat, Pray, Love and The Four-Hour Workweek for the change in my pocket.

Even if I can’t find a particular book at my local bookstore, it’s not a problem. Amazon has a “purchase pre-owned” option for all their merchandise, and Half Price Books allows you to order online, making finding a pre-owned copy of the book you want very easy.

The only downside to physical books here is that many self-published books are not available pre-owned because there are not enough in circulation. Here you’re stuck with either the Kindle copy or the brand-new price.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it, though. If the price of a bound copy is only $4 more than the digital copy, you would have to buy at least 25 copies before it would have been cheaper to buy a Kindle.

2. You retain more of what you read from a paper book

According to research from The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, readers retain more information when they read a physical book.

According to scientists, the act of turning pages while reading creates an ‘index’ in the brain, mapping information in a book to a particular page. By mapping the information this way, our brains are able to retain more of what we read.

This jives with my experience. Reading a book on my Kindle certainly feels educational, but I feel like I get more out of a book when I read a physical copy. The difference is slight, mind you, and it could be my imagination, but it could also be evidence the research is right.

3. You can review your notes much more easily

One thing that has always annoyed me about the Kindle reading experience is how difficult it is to write notes.

To write a note in a Kindle book, you have to use their “note” function. For the record, the Kindle is an e-ink reader with a refresh rate slower than congress passing a lawTyping on a display with a refresh rate that slow is nearly impossible, and definitely not worth the effort.

Highlighting can be equally problematic. I often have trouble selecting the right text even in the best conditions. If I want to highlight something that crosses over onto the next page, forget about it.

Physical books don’t have that problem. You can pop open your highlighter and highlight what you want. You can write in the margins, on sticky notes, or on entire sheets of paper you fold between the pages if you want.

And when you want to review your notes, it’s easy to crack open your physical book to get a feel for the annotations you made.

The only downside physical books have is that you can’t search a physical book on a keyword. With an ebook, you can open the Kindle app on your computer or phone and search the entire book within a few seconds.

I’m not sure how much that’s worth, since the search function of Kindle doesn’t always turn up what I’m looking for anyway, but it’s something to consider.

4. Going to libraries and bookstores exposes you to new books

Before I became a bookstore person, I found new books via other bloggers. They would recommend a book in an article of theirs and I would read it. This was an all right system for finding books, and I never had any complaints.

But when I started going to bookstores, I was exposed to a lot more books.

Since I’m a self-improvement writer, I have a tendency to only read articles by other self-improvement writers, and by extension only read books other self-improvement writers read.

Going to the bookstore regularly changed that. Now all kinds of books catch my eye, and my reading palette is much more varied.

It’s even better when the book that catches my eye is in the discount section of the used bookstore for the low low price of $2.

It’s very hard to say no to a stack of books when each one is only $2.

5. Going to libraries and bookstores is a lovely way to spend your day

As I’ve said before in my writing, the national pastimes of America appear to be shopping and eating. If you don’t want to spend money on consumer purchases or takeout, there’s not much for you to do.

Bookstores, however, are good places to shop.

Department stores and malls are expensive and promote fast fashion and superficial consumerism. Bookstores, on the other hand, promote learning and intellectual exploration. A much better way to spend your money, I’d say.

Also, the people you find in bookstores are lovely. They are the kind of people who would rather talk about the Roman third century crisis than talk about the latest fashions. They would rather own a library than a walk-in closet.

Bookstores also have wonderful atmospheres. They’re quiet, they’re friendly, and they actively encourage the act of standing around reading.

If you’ve got a lazy Sunday and are looking for something to do with a friend, visiting a bookstore is a great option.

6. You can loan people physical books much more easily

Loaning books via Kindle is an annoying process.

First, you need the loanee’s Amazon email address. Then you need to log on to Amazon via your desktop environment and navigate to their well-hidden “loan” button for ebook content. Then you put in their email address. This sends your loanee an email link they must click, whereupon they receive the loaned book for thirty days.

If the ebook is available for loan, of course. Many publishers restrict this option, making it impossible for you to loan your ebook even if you want to.

Physical books, on the other hand, are much easier to loan. You pick up the book and you hand it to them. Tada! Book loaned.

7. You can sell physical books once you’re done with them

In the vast majority of cases, once we have read a book, we are never going to look at it again. This is how things should be; books are meant to hold information, and once you have the information in your head, there’s no need to keep the book around.

When you own a physical copy of a book, you can recoup some of your cost by selling your book back to the used bookstore you bought it from. The proceeds can be used to buy yet more books!

When you buy an ebook, though, it just sits there on your Kindle account, forever.

8. You legally own your physical books

When you purchase a physical book, you are the legal owner of that book.

When you purchase an ebook, though, you’re technically only purchasing a license for that ebook. Amazon is the owner of that ebook, and you’ve purchased a single-use license to use it.

This is why you can’t sell ebooks. This is also why publishers get to decide if you’re allowed to loan ebooks or not.

Legally speaking, this also means Amazon withholds the right to revoke your access to your ebook at any time.

I don’t think this is a major problem, since all digital content is sold as licenses only, but it’s something worth knowing.

None of this is to say I’m never going to read an ebook again. There are still advantages to having a Kindle. The digital library service Libby makes my library’s books free as digital rentals, and I love reading those rentals too much to give up that luxury. I also like reading self-published books by indie authors. But these days, I’m reading a lot more physical books than in the past.

If you’re feeling a little bored and looking for something to do, I recommend visiting your local used bookstore.

(They all promote mask-wearing, have low occupancy, and everyone inside is speaking quietly, so it’s not likely you’ll get COVID, either.)