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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Digital Books

Copyright May 3, 2017 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.


Today we have the option to purchase digital copies of many books. In my opinion, this is a fantastic option for a lot of the books that were once only available as a traditional book.

The purpose of this short article is to review the pros and cons of digital books when compared to traditional books.

Digital Books or Traditional Books?

Digital books have all of the following major advantages:
  1. Lower Purchase Price: Usually a digital book is cheaper than a printed book. However, occasionally you can find a used "Like New" book on Amazon that is cheaper than an e-book even after you include the cost of shipping (if you do not have free shipping).
  2. No Shipping Cost: There is no delivery cost for an e-book because you download it yourself from the internet website.
  3. Immediate Delivery: After you have paid for an e-book you normally receive immediate access to the e-book for downloading. However, sometimes you have to wait for a confirmation email that includes a download code for the e-book.
  4. No Weight: E-books are stored as digital media in the existing memory of your device and it does not increase the weight of your device. However, to access the e-book you must have access to a device that can read your e-book and your reading device probably weighs about one pound or less.
  5. No Size: An e-book is stored in the existing memory of your reading device and it does not change the physical dimensions of your reading device. On the other hand, if you purchase a printed book then you will need some physical space in which to store the printed book.
  6. Quantity: Thousands of digital books could be stored on a portable storage device and they can easily be taken with you everywhere you go. On the other hand, you can only take a limited number of printed books with you from one place to another place.
  7. Portable: When you take your reading device with you, you are also taking your collection of e-books.
  8. Expandable Font Size: It is relatively easy to adjust the font size of the page on your reading device so that it is the optimal size for reading based on how good your actual vision happens to be.
  9. Easy to Read Almost Anywhere: As long as you have a charged battery, or you have access to an electrical power outlet, then you can read any e-book you wish almost anywhere you happen to be. However, a few areas do prohibit the use of electronic devices. For example, on an airplane you are usually asked to turn off your electrical devices during take-off and landing. But I have never been told that I had to stop reading a printed book or a printed magazine during take-off or landing.
  10. Easy to Find: If you keep all your e-books in one or two digital devices then you can find them very easily. However, if you have a reasonable assortment of traditional books, and if you have too many books to store in one convenient location, then finding a specific copy of a traditional book can sometimes take a little time.
  11. Easy to Search: Most e-books allow you to search for specific words or phrases. This is really an excellent feature of e-books. It is also extremely useful in an academic situation if you are allowed to access your reading device during an exam.
  12. Easily Deleted if Desired: If you gradually run out of storage space on your reading device then you can delete the old e-books that you have already read and which you do not think you will read again anytime in the near future.
  13. Listen While You Drive: If your reading device has the option to read the words on each page then you could put your reading device into reading mode and allow it to read an e-book to you as you drive from one location to another. This is a very, very nice option on long car trips, especially if you have several children and every child wants to listen to something different using the earphones on their own reading device.
  14. Learn How to Speak a Specific Language: Some digital readers will highlight each word on the page of the e-book as the digital voice speaks the word that is currently highlighted. This is a very useful learning tool that can help someone who is not fluent in a specific language gradually learn how to read and speak that language.
  15. Not Subject to Deterioration: E-books do not gradually fade and deteriorate the way the pages inside a printed book gradually fade and deteriorate with the passage of time.
  16. Backup Copies May be Available: It may be possible to store an e-book on more than one reading device. However, some e-books only allow for a single copy to be downloaded to single device with a registered serial number. Some college textbooks that are available as e-books are coded to be read on a single reading device.
At the current time many schools are gradually trying to make the transition to digital books for their students for the following reasons:
  1. Reduces the total cost of a student's education without compromising the quality of that education.
  2. The latest most current up-to-date edition is always immediately available at the beginning of each new school term.
  3. Does not involve record keeping and "late fees" if not returned on time.
  4. Does not incur a "lost book fee" because there is no book to misplace.
  5. Does not incur "wear and tear" or damage to a book if it is misused.
  6. In some situations it allows more than one student to have access to the same exact book at the same exact time (a site or school license) and this is extremely useful for brief assignments that are based on one book and that book will not be used again for the remainder of the school year.
If you know in advance that you will only read the book one time, and there is almost no chance that you will ever read it again, then a digital copy of that book would be a much wiser choice than a printed copy of the book because it will usually be a lot cheaper, and you can easily delete it from your reading device after you have finished reading it.

Some of the most practical e-books would include most school textbooks, fictional novels, current best selling novels, how-to books that will only be read once, encyclopedias and dictionaries. Some of these books are available free online to anyone who visits the website where the e-book is located.

However, digital books do have a limited number of disadvantages:
  1. Dependant on a digital reader that works.
  2. Dependant on electrical power or batteries.
  3. Not as practical for teaching young children how to write neatly.
  4. May not be instantly available when it is desperately needed, such as a first aid book.
  5. May not be practical in some environments, such as on a canoe camping trip, or while trying to learn about woodcraft while hiking through a forest, or when outdoors during extreme weather conditions.
  6. May expire if a renewal fee is not paid.
  7. May be more expensive than a Dollar Store book or a yard sale book or a used book on Amazon.


Traditional Books Some older people may never experience the advantages of a digital book because they are accustomed to reading traditional books and it is really difficult to change a reading habit that a person has been using for 50 years or longer.

Eventually some younger people may never experience the advantages of a traditional book because they will have only used digital books from kindergarten through college.

Some books are too important to simply rely on a digital copy of that book. During a serious hard times event your digital reader or your power supply may not work due to an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) that destroys the electronic circuits in every electrical device for hundreds of miles. In a situation such as this it would be really nice if a family had a printed copy of the following books and not just a digital copy:

  1. Comprehensive First Aid Manual: This is in addition to the small first aid pamphlet that is included in many first aid kits. An example would be: American Red Cross First Aid and Safety Handbook, Kathleen A. Handal, M.D., 1992, Paperback ISBN: 0-316-73646-5, Hardcover ISBN: 0-316-73645-7.
  2. A Good Medical Reference Manual: This would be a manual written for average people that could help an ordinary person correctly identify and treat a medical problem that may arise when professional medical care may not be readily available. An example would be: The Medical Advisor - The Complete Guide to Alternative and Conventional Treatments, by Time/Life Books, ISBN: 0-8094-6737-2.
  3. Detailed Area Maps: This is in addition to any maps you may have on a GPS unit that may not work after an EMP event. If you had a good map of your area and you knew you should evacuate your current area then you could consult your printed map and determine the best way to get around major highways that may contain permanent traffic jams.
  4. Firearm Maintenance Manuals for your Firearms: It would be sad if one of your firearms developed a minor problem that could be easily fixed if you just had access to the instructions for disassembling and reassembling your firearm that are on your digital reader that no longer works.
  5. John Wiseman's SAS Survival Manual: This book contains a tremendous amount of information about primitive wilderness survival in a variety of different climates. In my opinion it would be extremely useful to almost anyone who was unexpectedly thrust into a wilderness environment and that person did not have the opportunity to plan and prepare for the experience.
  6. A Good Book on Home Gardening: If the hard times tragedy event lasts for a long time then you may wish you had a really good reference manual on how to grow your own food, and how to significantly extend the shelf life of that food using something other than canning jars and new canning lids, which may not be available. An example would be: New Illustrated Guide to Gardening, Reader's Digest, 2000.
  7. The Holy Bible: Regardless of what you may believe before a serious hard times tragedy event happens, after it unfolds you may wish you had immediate access to a Holy Bible in order to assist you in your prayers.
The above are just a few of the books that a well-prepared family should own in printed form. You could probably easily think of a few more books that you might like to have in the event that you no longer had access to all the digital books on your digital reader.

One final comment. A digital book that contains 100% text without any pictures or illustrations requires almost no storage space on a digital reader. However, if the digital book contains pictures and illustrations then it will consume a lot more space than a pure 100% text digital book. This is important because if you need to free up storage space on your digital reading device, then deleting lots of books that contain 100% text will have almost no noticeable impact. However, if you delete a digital book that has lots of full color pictures then you may notice a small increase in the storage space on your digital reader.

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