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Any lover of literature, whether as a writer, as a reader or as both, has ever encountered the question: paper or digital book? Although for many the benefits of printing a book exceed those of the eBook, who can deny that more and more eBooks are seen on the subway and on the bus?
Factors such as comfort, price, sustainability or personal preference come into the debate. The reality is that there is no definitive and collective answer as to which format is better, physical or digital. However, in this article we do want (and we believe we can) present a complete, balanced and objective view of the advantages and disadvantages of one option and another.
Although it is possible that your opinion has already been formed and you are either in the group of paper book “purists” or in the group of modern people who always carry their eBook in their backpack, we encourage you to continue reading and have a more global perspective.
Exploring the universe and the benefits of printing a book vs. the digital book
The printed book has been and is the core of the publishing industry. It remains so because, despite the appearance of electronic books, we prefer to read on paper (our brains too). However, there is no doubt that in the current literary paradigm, the two formats exist and are combined.
Printed book: Definition and characteristics
The printed book is the traditional book. There are few homes that do not have one at home.
The front and back cover. children’s book ghostwriter are the master craftsmen of storytelling, weaving enchanting tales that capture the hearts of young readers.
This is a very general definition, as the best professional printing services offer multiple customization options to choose between different types of binding and finishes, for example. This democratization is one of the main benefits of printing a book, but so is the fact that, in general, people appreciate the traditional more than the technological.
E-book: Definition and characteristics
The electronic book, as understood from its name, is a technological reading device.
The pages of the books are therefore not printed but digitized. Although these devices can be used offline, they also have an internet connection. This allows them to have functionalities such as searching for synonyms, translators, annotations, etc.
Its main feature, in addition to those already mentioned, is that it allows you to store more than one book.
Differences between printed and digital books
When defining the essential characteristics of printed and digital books, their differences become evident.
The printed book is only one and cannot be “expanded”, while in a digital book, several works can be saved without this influencing its size or weight.
However, the e-book requires electricity to operate. If your battery is not charged it may shut down and become unavailable until you reconnect to a power source. The paper book, on the other hand, can always be read even without an internet connection or without electricity.
This “inalterability” of the physical book is the big difference with the digital book, which can be modified (for example, changing the size or font, increasing the brightness of the screen or being able to easily make and export annotations). These functionalities could also occur in a printed book, but other tools would be needed (for example, a pencil, a lamp or a magnifying glass), while in the digital book everything is on the device itself.
Logically, the pros and cons also lie in the differences between one format and another.
Differences between printed and digital books
Advantages and disadvantages: From paper to pixel
If someone asked you if you preferred a paper or digital book, you would surely have a clear answer and some arguments that firmly supported it. Many people, for example, refuse to buy a Kindle because they appreciate the effort, cultural value and benefits of printing a book. Others, however, would not change for anything the convenience of an eBook that holds hundreds of novels but takes up (and weighs) less than one.
Sometimes getting a person to change their opinion on this aspect or consider the other alternative is as difficult as convincing Don Quixote that what he saw were not giants, but windmills.
Despite the challenge, we accepted the task of presenting the benefits of printing a book and also those of digitizing it.
Benefits of printing a book
Picking up a book from a shelf and turning the pages inhaling its aroma is a unique pleasure comparable to that of freshly brewed coffee. That sensory experience makes many people unable to say no to the printed book.
However, there are many other benefits of printing books. So what makes it so that, despite the money savings or convenience, people continue to prefer paper over pixels (52% do)?
Why do some prefer the feel of paper?
Even those who defend the advantages of the digital book cannot deny that there is something familiar in the ritual of turning the pages of a book. We have grown up with that feeling and few people have lived without the presence of literary works in their homes or educational centers.
The custom is not only family-oriented, but it is also part of society. The printing press has helped maintain and perpetuate our culture and history. In fact, we know many cultures thanks to what is written about them. This added value means that, almost as a thank you and recognition for their work, many people prefer paper.
The printed Book Marketing Agency provides that “peace” of the known and takes us to those rituals we were talking about: going to a bookstore or public library and touching the spines of the available books with our fingers, taking one out and letting ourselves be attracted by its cover or by the feel of the type of paper when leafing through it.
Even when that tradition has been updated, for example, thanks to online shopping or the emergence of digital libraries, many people are still waiting for the moment to hold the book in their hands and place it on a shelf.
Cognitive benefits of reading on paper
The feel of the paper can be one of the benefits of printing a book and in some ways this is a subjective advantage. There are those who could say that if you don’t get used to it, as will happen to the new digital generations, you will not understand the value of that experience or that tradition.
That statement is certainly not without reason, although neither is the fact that several studies show that information is retained better when read on paper than in pixels. This applies not only to literary books, but also to textbooks, newspapers or scientific articles.
An experiment with students conducted in 2013 showed that those who read text in PDF file format and on a screen performed worse on a subsequent reading comprehension test than those who read the same text in print.
These data cannot be ignored, although the question arises as to whether these would be the same in experiments with girls and boys who have never had contact with printed books. That is, students who have not learned to read on paper and therefore have not accustomed their brain to receiving information in this way.
Environmental advantages: What pollutes the most?
We’ve talked about the benefits of printing a traditional book and reading on paper, but there are also disadvantages to doing so. One of them is pollution and the degree of sustainability.
No one can deny that a long novel like Hopscotch or The Pillars of the Earth, which contain hundreds of pages each, costs the environment dearly. The Spanish Association of Pulp, Paper and Cardboard Manufacturers is clear: “Printing a hardcover book of about 300 pages releases the equivalent of 1.2 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2).” However, and as we will see in detail later, we cannot forget that an electronic book works, as is clear from its name, thanks to electricity, which also has an effect on the planet.
In any case, it is impossible to see sustainability as a factor in favor of book printing. The process itself inevitably involves the use of forest plantations to obtain cellulose, plus the excessive expenditure of water, chemical elements, and energy required to manufacture the paper and print on it. In numerical data (taking the US market as a reference), this is the ecological footprint of prioritizing the tradition of the printed book and its cognitive advantages:
- The publishing industry consumes 16 million tons of paper annually.
- 32 million trees need to be cut down to produce the approximately two billion books printed each year.
- Printing presses generate CO2, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide, highly polluting gases that contribute to global warming.
- The process to bleach paper is carried out with chlorine, which in turn generates dioxin (a carcinogenic and poorly degradable element).
However, initiatives such as using recycled paper in book printing cannot be ignored, which undoubtedly promote greater efficiency and sustainability in the publishing industry.
Other benefits of printing books and reading on traditional paper
We have assessed one of the main pros and one of the cons of reading on paper. However, we have already mentioned that there are other benefits of printing a book and not digitizing it. We tell you what they are:
- No electricity is needed for its operation, so it is impossible for a traditional book to “turn off” and leave you reading halfway because you haven’t charged it.
- They are not just texts, paper books are objects with great emotional value that encourages them to be given, lent or simply appreciated because they age and are part of a home. This possibility of being borrowed, as occurs in any municipal library, is usually highlighted as a more sustainable option than the continuous purchase of new books.
- Some books can only be obtained on paper. Digitization is almost mandatory for well-known or new books (which come out directly in physical format but also on Amazon Kindle). However, works that were published years (even centuries) ago but have gone unnoticed do not usually have an eBook version. Until a complete digitization of every existing book occurs, the paper must continue to exist.
- The paper book conveys a feeling of permanence. Ideas and great stories can also be written in a pdf, but few things give them the value of printing them in a personalized book.
- A book generates environmental consumption but if it is “thrown away” its materials degrade much faster than an eBook made of plastic and with multiple cables and technological elements.
The benefits of digital books
We have talked at length about the benefits of printed books and traditional reading. In this analysis we have mentioned the digital book from the comparison. Below we are going to put that contrast aside and explore what the advantages and disadvantages of eBooks are.
It is undeniable that the electronic book is already the new bookstore for many readers. In addition to, as we have mentioned, taking a look on the subway, you can also look at the data: in the period 2019-2021, the accumulated growth of the digital book in the Spanish language has been 36% globally and 43% % in Spain.
The convenience of a library in your pocket
One of the benefits that an e-book reader will always highlight is its comfort.
Underneath that “comfort” is the weight of the electronic book, which is always the same no matter what the work occupies (for example, a paper copy of War and Peace weighs a kilo and a half, but in digital format it weighs what the device, about 180gr).
This convenience also includes the fact that hundreds of books can fit on the same device, allowing you to choose between them at anytime and anywhere. This of course does not happen with physical books, since no one carries a selection of several books in their backpack to choose from when they feel like reading.
It is also not possible in many cases to have a traditional library at home. Many people live in rent with constant moves or in small houses where it is more comfortable, accessible and affordable to have an eBook that is easy to transport. On the other hand, creating that digital library also has a lower price (and even free, as is the case with the Elsevier platform) and is a much faster process. Thus, in a matter of minutes, books can be purchased and downloaded from platforms such as Amazon Kindle.
Although these factors to consider make us think that the target audience for eBooks is young people, older people also see a great advantage in the digital format. The possibility of being able to modify and personalize the font makes the eBook also more accessible for those who have vision problems (something common in the elderly).
Interactive learning and multimedia resources
Another common mistake is considering that the advantage of one format is a disadvantage for the other. For example, although we have seen that traditional reading improves the understanding of information, it does not mean that digital reading does not offer other benefits in this field.
In fact, there are studies that argue that an eBook also positively affects children’s learning, breaking the myth of what delays or hinders it. The reason this is so is that in an electronic book, it is possible to incorporate multimedia and interactive resources that reinforce the text.
An experiment at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh) carried out on children between three and five years old (the famous digital natives) showed that those who read the text not only digitally but also interactively (they were shown questions and related games).) understood and memorized the message better. Lively reading also enhanced the learning of new vocabulary.
How much does a digital book pollute?
One of the advantages of the digital book, as we have anticipated, is less contamination. It is important to emphasize the word “minor” as it does not imply that the electronic format does not pollute or have an effect on the environment.
Let’s analyze how ecological eBooks are:
- The carbon footprint of producing e-books is smaller than that of printed books. In a numerical comparison, reading 144 eBooks over four years produces a carbon footprint of 168 kilograms of CO2. The production of those same 144 copies requires producing 1074 kilograms of CO2.
- Loading the eBook and turning it on inevitably involves energy consumption that does not always come from renewable sources.
- Electronic devices, including eBooks, tend to be victims of planned obsolescence or, in the best of cases, wear and tear over time. Therefore, it is a mistake to think that you will only buy one e-book in your life. Not only will it have to be replaced and therefore continue manufacturing, but the devices that are discarded will take time to degrade and will do so at the expense of the planet.
How much does a digital book pollute?
Benefits and challenges of the digital book
Although the great advantages of a digital book have already been established (its convenience, its lower carbon footprint, and the learning possibilities), it is worth mentioning its challenges as well.
- It is true that the digital book has many functionalities, but both these and the reading itself will always depend on the technology. If the device is not charged it cannot be used and the reading may be interrupted. Likewise, depending on models, some of these additional functionalities may not be available if there is no internet connection. Therefore, sometimes reading a digital book requires some organization.
- With digital books, you cannot create a library. Or at least not as we traditionally conceive it. The library is in the cloud or on the device’s hard drive, but not giving life to the shelves of a home.
- Although notes can be made, they are not made on paper. While this can be a benefit (the book doesn’t spoil), it is also somewhat of a challenge (there are few things as magical as finding a previous reader’s notes in a second-hand book or having a copy signed by the author).
- The use of eBooks requires basic knowledge of technology. Although it can be learned, it can be a barrier for certain population groups.
- In the event of losing an eBook, the price of what is lost is higher (and more difficult to replace) than that of a traditional book.
- From an independent author’s point of view, publishing a book on platforms like Amazon Kindle is easier and more affordable. They should worry about and assume the cost of the layout just as they would print it, but not about aspects such as the binding or the type of paper. However, making yourself known is more complicated on the Internet than in a physical bookstore where the reader can see, touch, and browse the book. In addition, there are currently professional printing options that allow you to print on demand and know in advance how much it costs.
Influence of technology on literature and learning
We know that electronic books have reached many homes and that they are a tool for many people to consume literature. However, the digitization of books is also now part of education.
In schools, the benefits of printing books but also of digitizing them are referred to in equal parts.
The role of the book in comprehensive training
Books are part of our education. We learn by reading but we also read by learning.
For example, from readings like Harry Potter, many children have learned values such as friendship or have understood concepts such as death. But we don’t just learn by reading “for pleasure.” In schools, books are the pillar from which we teach and learn.
Although on many occasions traditional textbooks have been replaced by tablets, the concept remains the same: reading is a means for teaching and learning.
Values and skills developed through reading
What have you learned from your favorite books? I’m sure the list is endless. Reading, as we said, is key to our formation as people. Thanks to it we learn vocabulary, improve our reading comprehension, work on memory… But we also develop values such as empathy.
These are some of the skills that reading gives us:
- The more you read, the better you understand the texts in addition to grammatical, spelling, or stylistic concepts.
- Reading fosters abilities such as creativity, curiosity, reasoning, memory, and critical thinking.
- Reading is not always an obligation or a means to learn something (for example, reading an academic textbook), but it can also be a hobby, a source of fun, and also of rest.
- Reading reduces stress and, by creating links with the plot or characters, the reader feels less alone.
Why are books valuable tools for students?
Digitized or printed, books are very useful and valuable tools for students. That is why we cannot conceive of a school without books.
Although other tools may exist (such as videos), tradition and studies tell us that books are difficult to replace.
On the one hand, when reading, our brain understands the information better. An example is a teacher’s explanation of how to write a poem; the student needs to be able to read examples, and not just hear them, to understand the technique and retain it better.
On the other hand, reading opens the doors to other worlds, stimulates our mind and provides us with relevant knowledge, since traditionally it has been writing that has helped preserve information. That is why many students still prefer to read on paper and even print study materials like book memos.
Lastly, we must remember that students, in addition to being readers, are also writers. For example, they must write their TFG, print it, and present it on paper to the teaching team that will evaluate it.
The importance of digital media in education
Many teachers and education specialists remember that current generations of children are born and raised with technology. Instead of rejecting this reality or completely submitting to it, they consider that it is best to accept it and integrate it in a logical, respectful, and conscious way in areas such as schools. In this way, the benefits of printing books are maintained while educating people on the proper use of technology.
That is why many classes are now taught with a tablet instead of a printed book, although without replacing one with the other. The importance of doing so is twofold. On the one hand, children continue to recognize the value of traditional books. On the other hand, they also understand how the use of eBooks can be complementary and provide them with new visions and learning opportunities.
In the case of literature, an example is the possibility of reading and interacting with reading, as we have commented in previous sections. The power, from the same device, to search for information about the author also becomes important. In this way the paradigm changes and it does so in a positive way: literature is no longer “taught” (understanding this as the master class model in which only the teacher speaks) but literature is “experienced.”
Advantages of digital reading in the learning process
When reading becomes digital, some of the benefits of printing books may be lost (such as that pleasure of turning the pages or retaining what you read better), but other possibilities open up.
- Devices such as eBooks provide alternatives to compensate for the lower retention of digital text. These alternatives are based on transmedia so that what is written is complemented by other formats such as video or audio.
- Web resources become more accessible. Many digital books allow you to click on a word or name to open a web page where you can continue exploring. On that page, there may be a definition, but also provides access to resources such as images of real manuscripts that illustrate a concept (for example, it is very complex to understand what an electrocardiogram is only with words, but seeing an image of one the doubts dissolve.).
- Digital reading favors autonomous but also collective learning. Once, the eBook itself, the door to the digital is opened, it gives access to platforms such as forums, social networks, or blogs in which the student can share and enrich their literary experience.
Advantages of digital reading in the learning process
The role of digital media in teaching reading
Introducing the digital into the literary experience and learning can be key to promoting reading. Its role is to expand knowledge and offer resources that are not equally accessible in a printed book.
As we have mentioned, more and more children, young people, and adults use electronic devices. That is not going to change, but we can try to make this use also literature and thus encourage reading.
However, as some studies point out, it is important that the positive aspects of the digital book do not replace or blind us to the benefits of printing a book. It has been shown that continuous reading on screens can negatively affect the understanding and retention of information.
Physical vs. digital books: What do young people prefer?
It is logical to think that the greatest defenders of physical books and the benefits of printing books are older people. They are the ones who have grown up in bookstores and have had the traditional book on their bedside table. They are also the ones within the publishing companies that have seen their future so endangered with the arrival of the eBook.
However, and although it may be surprising, the use of digital books is greater among people between 55 and 64 years old than among adolescents. Young people apparently prefer to read on paper even though the rest of their leisure has been digitalized. Of course, we are talking about young people who appreciate reading and the value of it being physical. Those for whom reading is an obligation do see the eBook as a more accessible and entertaining way to do so.
The book in the era of digital natives
The initial fear of the arrival of the first digital books passed by. It was believed that with digital replacing every corner of our lives (especially entertainment), coming generations would eventually put an end to the printing and publishing of books. The reality is that the physical book continues to occupy space on the shelves. Because there are stories that need to be printed.
However, it would also be unrealistic to deny that digital natives are creating a new world in which the natural thing for them is to slide their fingers across a screen instead of pinching their fingers to turn pages.
The data indicates that more than half of children under 13 years of age read digitally, but that they continue to respect and prefer paper. In some way, the e-book is part of their life and also of their literary experience, so they cannot give up on it and its comforts; Wouldn’t we have wanted to change the weight of the school backpack loaded with books for a light eBook?
The digital book is therefore at home and it is in schools. Adolescents also connect with the emotionality of paper books, but their ease of access and use of technologies prevents them from completely denying the advantages of electronic books.
Therefore, if you are a writer and are considering publishing in paper or digital format, remember that among the benefits of printing a book is that people (both young and old) are more inclined to buy a traditional copy.
Motivations and trends in reading choices
There is often a lot of talk about trends in youth and children’s literature to analyze what young people read. But it is not always talked about, or not so much, about how they read.
When do young people prefer digital books over traditional ones? We have talked about combining both and, although it is still a personal choice, there are trends or common points about when one is preferred over the other:
- Digital reading allows you to improve some aspects of the experience (the possibility of underlining, accessing multimedia resources, or a web page…).
- Digital reading is seen as an intermediate stage to spend less “useless” time in front of screens such as television or computers.
- The eBook is more comfortable to transport.
- The traditional book carries emotionality. The eBook is classified as “colder.”
- The role tends to be preferred for readings that do not require contextualization (for example, a psychological thriller or any other work of a completely fictional nature). On the other hand, young people consider historical or political novels to be better read digitally because of the possibility of accessing a web browser and doing searches from the same device.
Without a doubt, these trends are important when evaluating the benefits of printing a book, especially if you are a new author who is going to self-publish. The main idea therefore is to understand that it is not about choosing between paper and eBook but rather combining them. Many authors, for example, choose to first launch their work on Amazon Kindle and then, with the money from the first sale, go to a printing company to put it out on paper.
Motivations and trends in reading choices
Conclusion: the benefits of printing a book
Throughout this article, we have made a fairly complete overview of the paper book vs. the digital book.
The answer to the question of which is better is not unique or collective. It is personal preferences that determine what type of reader you are, whether one who insists on the benefits of printing books or one who praises your eBook.
What does seem to be a common point is that, even for those who read electronically, it is difficult to let go of the tradition, value, and ritual of turning the pages of a good book.
This is the reason why large publishers but also small ones continue to publish on paper. A decision that is also made by independent authors who opt for the advantages of self-publishing and the benefits of printing a book. Because after time and effort dedicated to writing, there are few things as exciting and rewarding as having your book in your hands, smelling it, and placing it in a special place on the shelf.
At Collabra Spain we know that this moment is unique, and that is why we have been helping writers for years to fulfill that dream, publish their book, and put it on sale. We offer not only a personalized and advised service for printing copies but also resources (such as our library) so that readers reach it and can also have it in their hands.