'Ebooks vs. print books' is a false battle

Are ebooks and print books in some sort of fierce battle to the death with one another in which the only outcome is total dominance? Will ebooks soon drive their dinosaur cousin to extinction or will print books will see ebooks off and show the whole digital phenomenon to be a mere flash in the pan?

Neither of these outcomes is likely.

I’m a typical fence-sitting Libran and love both; I don’t see it as a battle to be ‘won’, but as providing a choice.

Once a story is written and edited, an ebook version can be produced relatively easily, and then uploaded to a digital retail outlet within minutes. Stories in some genres, such as romance and science fiction, are only produced in this format. Authors often use a short story or novella in digital format to test out a series idea or to supplement an established series.

If the story sells well, then it can be produced in print format (after reformatting) either as a print run of a few hundred or thousand or individually as print-on-demand.  And this is not the exclusive domain of indie authors/publishers; I have heard that mainstream publishing houses are increasingly adopting print-on-demand.

Let’s look at it from the reader’s point of view. Limiting your book to one format cuts your potential audience. Readers may have a strong preference for one format or other. Writers shouldn’t assume they know what the reader wants. Hybrid readers may enjoy a physical book relaxing at home then switch to a Kindle while travelling especially if they have cabin luggage only. When I was younger, my brother and I were rationed to six books each for a holiday of three weeks; I was usually done within the first 10 days – horrendous. If only ebooks had existed then!

Physical books take up space and are heavy. But a book chosen at an event and signed by an author is very special. I’m there in the queue and literary festivals and conferences waiting for my minute with the star author. The smell of fresh paper and the crisp pages all contained in a beautiful cover – heaven!

Ebooks may not be the miracle they’re cracked up to be. Studies have shown that backlit ereaders have an adverse impact on ‘overall health, alertness and the circadian clock, which synchronises the daily rhythm of sleep to external environmental time cues.’ Participants in the study went to bed later and were much tireder the next day. And when sleeping, they spent less time in REM sleep. Even though they were still getting eight hours of sleep, they felt significantly less rested than when they read a print book. And apparently we remember less about stories we read on ereaders than those read from a hard copy.

However, while ebooks can’t be loaned or shared (unless you have a super hacker teenage sprog) and the ereader needs charging now and again, ebooks are much cheaper than print books. Ebooks can be bought anywhere and you’re reading in seconds. Unlike printed books, ebooks don’t require trees for paper and petroleum for ink.

2024 note: And very many people read now on their phone or tablet such as iPad.

On the other hand, spending time wandering round a bookshop, feeling books, dipping in, settling down in a chair and finding a new world then taking it home with you is one of life’s pleasures. And shelves of books are like piles of treasure you can explore on a rainy day and find that book you enjoyed on a holiday or bought at a special time. An ebook doesn’t do that for me.

Amazon is investing a great deal in delivery systems for its books, e.g. drones; they are unlikely to be doing that if they think physical books are going to disappear soon.

So each format has its pros and cons and my woolly wandering around the topic shows how unclear the whole thing is. I’ll be buying and reading both for the foreseeable future. Oh, and we haven’t even put audiobooks into the mix, but that’s another story.

Which do you prefer? Or are you another hybrid reader?


All the Roma Nova books are available in paperback through bookshops, libraries or from online retailers. To buy, select the book of your choice on the Roma Nova book buying page,  then click ‘More links’ to get direct links to various retailers for that book.)

Or stroll down to your local library and if it’s not there, put in a request and they’ll get it for you.


Update 2024: Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA,  Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, starts the Foundation stories. The sequel, EXSILIUM, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

2 comments to ‘Ebooks vs. print books’ is a false battle

  • I once was opposed to e-books, mainly because I’m a traditionalist and a bit of a Luddite. A few years ago I acquired a Kobo device because it was cheap and I downloaded books like there was no tomorrow. More recently, I downloaded the kindle app and can now read direct from the computer. Even more recently I was gifted a Kindle Fire and, of course, more books followed! But my main beef now is that I cannot transfer from app to Fire, nor from Kobo to either Kindle device or app and I would like to organise my 3 ‘libraries’. as you have said, ideal for holidays or even a long train/car ride (as long as you are not the driver!) But I also like ‘proper’ books … the feel, the smell, the way you can hand one to someone and say ‘Have you read this?’ and they can thumb through it. A certain well known author has the 10th (or 11th) in his series: I have pre-ordered from Waterstones rather than Amazon. However, the one big advantage of books over e-books (apart from the matter of prestigious ‘signings’ as you have mentioned) is the matter of maps, place names, cast of characters etc when listed. I know its possible to access these, but it’s rather a pain to do so when you can just flick pages of a book….So, basically, I rthink I am a hybrid, but I do wish technology wouldn’t advance quite so quickly and develop their systems to be compatible with each other!

    • Alison Morton

      Ha! re technologies. Remember the VHS/Betamax war? Then along came CDs, DVDs and now streaming.
      But, yes, holding a book, a real book, is seductive. But it’s really heavy when it falls on your face as you go off to sleep at bedtime. 😉

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