The Reading Experience: Digital vs. Physical

the reading experience digital vs physical discussion

In celebration of School Library Month, I’ve been asked by MyVoucherCodes to write about my thoughts on ebooks.

I’ve talked about whether I like ebooks or paperbacks on the blog before and how I saw the pros and cons of each and how I liked both. This much is still true. Lately, however, I find myself preferring physical books than digital ones.

For one, I like buying books at the bookstore. Although the ease of buying an e-book on Amazon with just one click is pretty darn cool, browsing a bookstore is an experience in itself– an enjoyable one at that. I love book shopping and sorting through stacks and shelves for book bargains or any book gems and that’s something that cannot be satisfied by purchasing ebooks online.

But onto the actual reading experience. It’s a wonderful thing- to hold a book in your hands. Not your iPad or your Kindle or your nook. An actual book. The feel of a glossy or matte cover, the firmness of a hardback or the floppiness of a paperback, the feel of paper when you turn to the next page. It’s a tactile experience, not to mention a solitary one.

Unlike reading on app on your phone or tablet where you’re tempted to open Twitter or Goodreads to make an update (which I acknowledge is awesome if you like to share how reading is going), if you like to read in solitude, a physical book can allow you that. If someone is threatening to talk to you while reading your paperback novel, by all means, cover your face behind the book.

Ebooks are indisputably convenient, we all know this. Aside from the ease of acquiring them (which if I may point out can also be a bad thing because of the increase of piracy), they’re also quite interactive. You can use the dictionary or translator, search for terms and phrases, add bookmarks and notes, take note of your progress and how long it will take you to finish. In comparison, physical reading is an intellectual and kinaesthetic experience. As you read through and manually turn the pages, your mind forms a mental map of the text. I don’t know if it’s just me but I’m less inclined to suffer book amnesia when I read physical books.

Finally, the feeling of immersion when reading a paperback or a hardcover is transcendent. Yes, I can be immersed when reading an ebook. It’s different with physical reading- where in I lose myself between the pages, lose myself in the book completely.

Don’t get me wrong- digital reading is great. I still read ebooks, although infrequently nowadays. For those who prefer ebooks, I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know that MyVoucherCodes is working a deal with Amazon to get discounts. Watch out for that!

By the way, they’ve let me host an AMAZING giveaway for you guys! Y’all can win a $60 Amazon voucher! Just enter through the rafflecopter widget below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Best of luck! Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on ebooks? How does the reading experience of digital vs physical differ for you?

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96 Responses

  1. I can appreciate why our school issued e-textbooks instead of plain old textbooks, because lugging them around is a pain, but it’s so much harder for me to learn on digital. I absolutely love holding print books, buying them, smelling them, and taking photos of them.

    1. Agreed! When it comes to textbooks, I prefer them in print than digital. There’s usually a lot information going on and if I have to read e-textbooks, I’ll probably get dizzy from reading and trying to absorb.

      PS: Hope school in Shanghai is going fabulously for you, Shannelle!

  2. I’ve written about this quite a bit myself at Bitches With Books and it isn’t bad but I will admit that I prefer the physical. I lived in a country with 0 access to bookstores and my kindle became my lifeline, because I had no other options, but when faced with options, I prefer a paperback. Cheaper and easy to transport.

    1. It isn’t bad at all- we all have our preferences! And yes, sometimes we won’t have access to physical books (which is a thought that scares me- hope this never happens) and ebooks are a great solution. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Claire!

      1. My biggest issue with digital books is the cost- why the heck is it so high if it’s a digital thing I can copy from someone’s computer illegally? At least with a physical book I feel like I’m actually getting something from it.

  3. I find that I am cyclical when it comes to eBooks and physical books (and audiobooks). Maybe for a month or 2, I’ll be all eBooks if I’m travelling a lot for example. And some times, I just can’t pull enough time together to settle in with reading a book, so audiobook listening will ramp up.

  4. First of all, your blog is beautiful – had to put that out there!

    I think this is one of those discussions that’s always going to keep popping up in the book blogging world, isn’t it? I’m ashamed to say I used to be something of a book purist. I hated e-readers for the longest time, and looking back I’m not even entirely sure why; I must have just reverted back to a caveman mentality for a while.

    Now that I have my kindle, I love it. I also still love my physical books. I decided to treat myself to a kindle for a few reasons: a) I was running out of shelf space, b) some books I wanted to read, but not enough to spend a lot of money on a hardback, and c) I wanted to make it easier to request review copies from publishers. Now I’m on NetGalley and I really like being able to buy cheap e-books and receive review copies, although my shelf space hasn’t improved too much. I still frequently buy physical books too, because some of them are just so pretty, and there are some books, like The Goblin Emperor, that I read on my kindle and loved so much I wanted a physical copy, too.

    I find my kindle so much easier to carry around in my bag, plus it means I have a choice between a bunch of different books, but I still love my physical books and if someone put a gun to my head and made me choose I’d pick my physical books. Basically, this is a very long-winded way for me to say I love both and, ultimately, reading is reading!

    1. Jess, thank you SO much! I’m utterly happy you think so! And I love long-winding comments so ;)

      I completely agree with that sentiment- reading is reading, no matter what format. I’m so glad that you learned to appreciate e-reading through your kindle. It’s perfectly convenient, after all. I’m the same when I love a book, I get both formats! :D

      Loved hearing your insights on this!

  5. I agree with everything you said and while ebooks are pretty cool and very practical I definitely prefer physical copies. Like you mentioned above – visiting a bookstore, browsing through everything, TOUCHING those books and being able to hug them really tight when they give you all the feels is just a great feeling! However, I still use my kindle a lot, mostly for ARC’s though, since I can’t get physical ARC’s where I live (well, except for german ones but I barely read that anymore). Both sides have their advantages and disadvantages … oh well. :D

    1. You totally get me, Yvonne! *fist bumps* I rarely get physical ARCs where I live either so most of the time I have to make do with eARCs too. However, I was lucky enough I got to travel to the US for BEA this year which is probably why I have been reading more physical copies recently.

  6. I love digital and physical books almost the same way, but I prefer physical copies. I use an android table with a Kindle app on it to read my e-books and I found it too distracting. I always find my way to Twitter or Good Reads and forgets my book. Additionally, my eyes gets tired quickly whenever I’m using a tablet.

  7. This is a very generous giveaway and it’s kind of you to host it. :)

    I like both physical and digital books. Probably I prefer physical a bit more, simply because the tactile sensation of holding a book and turning pages is so pleasing (plus, special editions are fun to collect). But I can sneak in a little more reading with ebooks on my phone or on my work computer (ahem…), and e-audiobooks are the bomb dot com.

  8. I get what you mean about the feel of a book. But I love my kindle and I would definitely not be able to survive without it. I think the bonus about the kindle paperwhite having such a crappy Internet browser is that I’m not tempted to do any kind of social media while reading. It’s just me and my books, conveniently stored in my device. It also helps with wrist strain when I’m reading huge tomes like A Little Life (which isn’t little at all). Not to mention the wonders ebooks have found for indie readers.

  9. I prefer both physical books and e-books. Usually I read by schedule. Physical books by day and E-books by night. Usually e-books are convenient for me because I’m more of a night reader, it’s cheaper and I tend to read faster. As for the physical books, the reading experience feels more natural. I enjoy book hunting on bargain book stores especially if it’s a popular title. Nowadays, physical books are getting more expensive.

    Great post, Hazel! :)

    1. That’s really interesting to hear about, scheduling which book format you read. But yes, I agree with your last point- physical books are getting so expensive! Totally a downside for readers who like reading paperbacks/hardcovers.

  10. I’m always up in the air, but I love holding a book in my hand and reading it. It’s just the convenience of an e-book is soooo nice. I just love using my kindle because it’s so easy to use at night time because keeping the lights on to read a physical book is just a pain :P oh the struggle, I know, haha.

  11. I completely agree with everything you’ve said in this post. I do get the practicality of the kindle. However, I always end up distracted when I read an eBook and I feel like I don’t get as sucked into the story as much as I’d like to. With physical copies, I have no worries about that and I always find myself emotionally invested in the story and I just enjoy the reading experience more. I see the value in both formats but personally I prefer the physical copy.

  12. I’m definitely with you on the preference for physical reads over e-books. I do appreciate the convenience of being able to carry a lot of e-books around in one go, and also being able to download new ones wherever and whenever. But I love touching physical books and holding them in my hands, and turning the pages. I definitely prefer going to bookstores to browse and buy too!

    1. I knew you’d understand, Alexa. ;) Glad to hear we’re on the same side! And I totally get why you’d love going to the bookstore than just buying online. Your NYC bookstores are majorly fab after all!

  13. I really like that ebooks have been such a great thing for self-published authors and indie publishers, they have much more of a shot at finding an audience now, and ebooks certainly help with the shelf-space issue, so I do read them, though like nearly everyone else here, I have a little more love for physical books, the feel of them, and how they don’t strain my eyes quite so quickly.

    1. That’s one good reason to support ebooks- for indie authors who found their place in self-publishing! Awesome point, Summer! I still definitely read ebooks too but I just like the physical reading experience more. :)

  14. I always use my Kindle for travelling and I travel a lot so it’s super helpful, but really I enjoy reading a physical book wayy more. E-books are convenient, but just not the same as holding a real book.

    1. I travel a few times a year, usually for a week or several for vacation and I totally lug physical books with me. I bring my e-reader too but I love having a physical book in my bag- especially for reading on the plane.

  15. I use my kindle if I am going to be reading on the go because I like my books to be in perfect condition and they easily get bent and scuffed in a bay but at home I favor a proper book! E-books are convenient but just not the same as the real thing!

    1. I’m one of those readers who appreciate some wear on my books so I’m not very concerned about keeping them in perfect condition. Reading the ‘real’ book, even if it gets bent, is always preferable for me. :)

  16. Thanks for the giveaway! I love physical books, but I travel so much that ebooks are sometimes more convenient. ;)

  17. PLease I adore physical books :) I don’t have an ereader I know I am far away for modernity but I enjoy my books in paperback and hardcover :) I really love to see them and touch them :P


  18. Wow this is one awesome giveaway, thank you for hosting it!!
    I actually prefer ebooks for blogging purposes because i) I can take the story anywhere without worrying about weight and ii) I can highlight the passages and find them for references – which makes writing reviews so much easier. Whereas I always get a bit lost when I try to review physical books haha. I find that I read faster when I’m reading a physical book though – mainly as I find them easier to skim. I’m not big on hoarding so I don’t really get the temptation of owning the pretty covers unless they are stunning like Six of Crows or ADSOM — OR IF THEY HAVE PICTURES!

    1. It’s really cool of MyVoucherCodes to sponsor! I’m really happy to host it. And of course- thank YOU for entering! Best of luck!

      Yeah, eARCs in particular are really helpful for lots of bloggers to be able to review books that they otherwise couldn’t because they can’t receive physical copies. I love the ability to highlight and make notes with ebooks too, but I also love actually writing on margins with physical books. Oh and I totally dog-ear so it’s pretty easy to find.

  19. I love my Kindle for traveling or for reading long, heavy books, but I will always prefer physical books to digital books. If I’m going to own a book, I absolutely want to be able to see it, hold it, and share it. I can’t do that with a Kindle book, and therefore I will never feel as if I actually own it. I also think the Kindle creates a different reading experience. It’s a lot easier to skim books or to read faster because the “time remaining” in the bottom corner is taunting you, and often this takes away from my overall enjoyment. Sometimes I wonder if I would have liked certain books better had I read them in physical form.

    1. Maraia, you are not alone!! The time remaining totally taunts me too and I’m a little competitive so I usually want to beat it and I totally wonder if this contributes to how much I like a book. I totally agree with you on the feeling of owning physical books vs ebooks too. Physical books are just more worth it for me.

  20. Physical vs. e-books is a bit tricky for me! I love buying books and collecting them and I’d totally want to have my own fancy library when I get my own place but I tend to read ebooks faster than physical books (perhaps that’s because I can use my Kobo in the dark). E-readers are also a total life saver when it comes to vacations, but such a tough choice! Interesting post & thanks for the giveaway!

    1. Understandable, Shelly! I think what’s always important anyway is the love for books, no matter what format. I used to read faster with ebooks too but lately, when I started to prefer reading physical books, I’m much faster reading them now than ebooks. I guess it just depends on what you’re used to reading more.

  21. I don’t really prefer e-books, I would rather hold the book in my hands instead of on a kindle and thanks for the giveaway!! :D

  22. I’ve ALWAYS loved physical books over ebooks. That’s why I’ve never even read ebooks (plus I don’t have an ereader). There’s just something about physical books that makes the experience so much more enjoyable :)

    1. That’s so surprising to hear, Emily! I’ve always kind of thought that bloggers have read ebooks at some point because of eARCs and such. But I’m totally with you on loving physical books over ebooks! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I don’t know, I love having an actual book in my bag. Maybe that’s just me. Also, having to charge your tablet/e-reader might be a pain especially if you read all the time and have to constantly recharge.

  23. I read ebooks on my laptop and it’s very, very uncomfortable and inconvenient. I’ve almost given up ebooks and only read novellas and such as ebooks. Nothing beats physical books!

  24. I have a love/hate relationship when it comes to eBooks. I love the fact that I can carry them around (and not worrying about damaging them because I have a weird tick about keeping my books in the best quality) and I like the idea of not showing off what I’m reading (because people just want to come and talk to you and ask you how good it is or judge your book). But I hate how expensive they are. Like people have said, really, do they need to be as expensive as a paperback? I understand WHY the publishers are doing it (to not have eBooks completely take over the market and well make a profit) but it still sucks!

    1. I’m with you on this, Lynette. It’s why I only ever buy ebooks when they’re on sale or when I really need to read ASAP and my local bookstore doesn’t have a copy or when it’s the only choice

  25. I used to be one of those people, the ones that go “ebooks are inferior, paperbacks for life!” But then I actually got myself an ereader and it was the best thing I ever bought me. Yay me! I love my ereader. It’s so easy to read on and it allows me to read while lying down, which I can’t do with a regular book. Now I love both!

  26. I read a lot of ebooks because I have to, and even though I have finally gotten used to them (and can finally focus on the words themselves rather than the odd format), I definitely prefer physical copies of books. The smell of the pages, the texture, the ritual of turning the page, the weight of the book in your lap- these are all important to my overall reading experience, and are all completely absent in ebooks. On the other hand, I have a lot of books and very little space, so at least ebooks save some space in my home. I think of myself as I kind of book collector, and if I am ever able to live in a place where I have room to display all my books, I will hopefully no longer be at a point in my life where ebooks are often a necessity!

  27. I read only physical books, mainly because my eyes get really sore after a while if I stare too much at a screen! Plus, I’m a little bit clumsy, so my books often get wet and I can only imagine that I would forget to recharge the battery of an e-reader!

  28. I love my e-reader and I can’t think my blogging/reading life without it, but I will always prefer physical books. The feelings of a book in your hands, browsing in the store and how it looks when you place it on the shelf: an e-book simply can’t beat that :)

  29. Albeit e-books are convenient and handy, I still love to read physical books. It gives me an exceptional feeling – of awe, among others :-)

  30. I think both physical and ebooks have benefits. I read multiple books at the same time, so when I’m at home, I can choose between them, but when traveling, I like to have a lot of books with me, so an ereader works well (although I still sometimes bring a paperback too).

    Thanks for the giveaway opportunity!

  31. i just love books.paperback ,ebooks,hardcovers.all of them are great.
    the difference between them is that in paperback you can feel the paper,you can smell it(don’t judge me) the time is moving slow while in ebook you can forget tiredness and it feels much more least to me…^^

  32. I prefer reading physical books. But I never have time to go into an actual bookstore… so I really like the instant gratification of buying an ebook and getting to read it right away :)

  33. I love reading book physical and digital books :) Physical books are lovely. There’s just something different about holding them and smelling them – like physical touch between friends. I love ebooks, too, because they’re easy to bring – in my phone, in my tablet – I get to read more than one book anywhere without having the bulk! I love both <3

  34. I like a mix of both physical and ebooks. Ebooks are easily transported, I have many many on my kindle, but they are not the same as holding a physical book. If I am buying myself a book, I would buy a physical, but most of the review copies I get are ebooks. I guess because they are cheaper. I like to have both.

  35. What a thought-provoking blogpost. My e-reader is never not with me, and it solves the problem of being away at university then coming home and not having a real base to house all of my books. On holidays, it means your suitcase isn’t weighed down with physical books. But nothing can beat the smell and feel of real paper! I really do flit between the two, depending on what is convenient. But as soon as I’m settled in one place with a massive bookcase (obviously), the e-reader will probably be put on the shelf. Rosie xx

  36. I so agree with you! I used to HATE ebooks and even though I don’t LOVE them now and only read them when it’s the only option (i.e.. review copies that I can’t request as a paperback), they’ve grown on me a tad. They do have their pros, but that doesn’t change my love for hardcopies. Fun post and thanks for giveaway!

  37. I prefer physical books because they’re more aesthetically pleasing but I’ve found I’m able to read more quickly with ebooks, so there’s that. I think we should read and let people read through whichever format/medium they prefer to read with!

  38. Ebooks are convenient to read on the go without the hassle of lugging a bag of books around (me!), when you have a few minutes of spare time to take out your phone, or for me, it makes borrowing a book from the library easier so I don’t have to buy a book I might not like. But I’ve always loved the experience of reading a physical book. I can’t sit still when I’m reading, so in addition to changing my reading position a dozen times, I also flip back through the page corners. I like having a physical copy, especially when it comes to textbooks, because it’s easier to research information and navigate. Also, when my eyes are tired, it’s easier and better for me to put my phone aside and read quietly without distraction. Sometimes I think that when people see me reading on my phone, they just think I’m another teen on her phone and what I’m doing isn’t important, but if I have a book, everyone knows that I’m reading and I like that. It’s not like a closet reader experience. Also, I really enjoy the texture of the book and the aesthetic of a print copy.

  39. In some ways, I am old-school. I grew up loving to read actual paper books, and this has not ended. However, I read very quickly. I can store hundreds of books on my iPad. I can get e-books out of the library quickly and return them without having to make the trip there. I can read them easily in low-light conditions. I’m also at the age where my eyes are not as sharp as they used to be, and I can easily make the text bigger and the contrast better for reading on my iPad. I have some books where the text seems extremely small to me. It did take me several years before I really appreciated reading on my iPad.

  40. Real books makes me appreciate the story that I am reading more. Nothing beats the feeling and smell of the paper pages on my hands. It is an investment that I can pass on to my future grandchildren. Ebooks however, is more convenient. I can bring my digital library wherever I go without the bulk and weight on my bag. I can also save some space in my room because I don’t need a bookshelf.

    For me, I prefer both. Because if you’re a bookworm, whether it’s an ebook or a real book, you’ll appreciate both. :)

  41. I like real books a lot more but I enjoy using Wattpad to read on my phone when I’m on the go. All the books on Wattpad are free which is nice, also there is a lot of fan fiction.

  42. Thanks for the article. It was pretty good.

    There are some books I absolutely cannot read in any e-format. Classics and contemporary classics, mostly. Textbooks and other technical papers I like better in a tablet or laptop screen because then I can highlight/mark/note to my OC brain’s satisfaction. But pop fiction? Anything else that eventually comes out in trade or pocket paperback? Those I adore reading in my kindle (yes, the ebook reader and not a phone or tablet app). That’s because of sheer convenience of being able to switch books or continue reading a series with almost no lag time. Also, while I love the feel and smell and look of physical books, a kindle’s easier to throw into a pocket/bag/overstuffed luggage. However, nothing beats a physical book for reading on board public transportation. That’s speaking from someone who has used a kindle almost every day for at least 2 years.

  43. I actually prefer ebooks for my fiction reads. It’s nice to carry all my books in one device wherever I go to. I also like the comfort of reading books with big fonts, which you can’t do with the normal paperbacks. Hardcovers are too expensive for me.

  44. Good topic! I love physical books and they will always be my favorite. I’m one of those weirdos that really love to smell books, so you can’t get that from an e-book. Besides that weird tid bit, I really like physical books because you can really hold the story in your hands and it’s easier to go back and find something in a physical book than it is in an e-book. If I want to find something in an e-book that I already passed, I tend to just forget about it and move on because it’s too difficult to flip around and then find where you were again.


  45. Physical books are great, they’re gorgeous, they’re nice to hold, they’re easier on the eyes—but, if I HAD to choose one over the other, I would choose ebooks. I love being able to have every book with me at all times, even if I don’t have my kindle with me (because I can access them online), I love there being no chance they’ll ever get ruined or lost, I love being able to highlight quotes, I love being able to look up words, I love too many things about them over physical books to give them up!

  46. I prefer physical books but I like ebooks for fictions because they are convenient. I don’t really like them for rereadings, browsing or non fictions. But I don’t think the reading experience change for me depending on the support, after all there’s at least one book I read as a paperback I completely forgot I read until I reread it and some beloved books I read on my reader.

  47. I’ve always preferred physical copies of books, there’s just something about holding the actual book in your hands and getting to feel and smell the pages and ink. I don’t usually read e-books, but I do on occasion. I find that my eyes get tired of reading from a screen after a while, so I can’t just sit down and read a book in it’s entirety. However, it is really helpful to have e-books for when I can’t make it out to the bookstore or library and want something to read right away.

  48. I like ebooks and physical books for different reasons. I love to travel, so having an e-reader with everything on it comes in very handy because I read relatively quickly and can get through 2 or 3 books per trip. On the other hand, it doesn’t convey the same sort of accomplished feeling? of working your way through a physical book, at least in my opinion. Thanks for the giveaway!

  49. I prefer physical reading rather than ebooks because it’s more fun to see your books (literally) on your bookshelves. And yet you you can have an author’s signature on it (duh) Hahahaha

  50. I love ebooks! I can hoard away without having to worry about shelf space – and when my house gets a wee bit flooded, I don’t have to relocate shelves and shelves of books at 3AM to keep everything from getting wet. (That happened more than once in our first few years of home ownership!) Plus you can read ebooks in any lighting conditions – no more struggling to angle the book *just so* to catch as much lamplight as possible.

    Of course, you just can’t beat the aesthetics of a giant bookcase lined with pretty, shiny books. Good thing I prefer comic books and cookbooks in a physical format. :)

  51. I feel pretty much the exact same way as you! There’s nothing quite like an actual book. I know that on the surface, ebooks have way more pros on their side…. It just can’t make up for the experience of hands on paper! I remember reading somewhere too that someone did a study or something and you do actually remember things less when you read them on a screen any kind of screen. I do still occasionally read ebooks though. :)

  52. I really like e-books, but they will never replace the joy I get from print books. I just like the feel of the pages in my hands!

    Thanks for the chance to win :)

  53. Although physical books are evergreen, through kindle e-readers one can live the books in a completely new way. Reading books through e-reader is completely a different experience.

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