I’ve owned a Kindle for almost a year now and so thought it was time for a comparison of ereading vs reading. I’ll look at several different categories, from the common issue of readability to more unexpected things like how it’s affected my book-buying habits.
The reading experience
As I’ve said on here before, I’m unable to read anything of any length on a computer screen. The Kindle, though, is noticeably different. I can read for hours and not get tired or distracted. But although it’s an improvement on backlit screens, it still can’t beat the feel of a real book. Reading the Kindle is comfortable and effective, but doesn’t feel like a treat to me in the way that settling down with a good book does.
Verdict: win for books
The book-buying experience
The massive disadvantage of the Kindle, for me, is that it locks me into buying from Amazon. Not entirely – I did download a piece of free open-source software called Calibre which lets me convert between formats, but it’s a pain to do the extra step and it doesn’t always work depending on the type of copy-protection used by the creator of the eBook. On Amazon, on the other hand, it’s so easy – one click and the book is downloaded, and wirelessly transferred to my Kindle.
It’s ultra-convenient, but I dislike being shackled to one company, not only for the life of this device but beyond – with a big library of Kindle-format books, which eReader am I likely to buy when this one breaks down? I also love the experience of shopping in independent bookshops for various reasons which I’ve written about on this site here, here, here, here and here.
Verdict: Kindle wins on convenience, but books win on everything else
The reviewing experience
The Kindle has one very good feature that I use when writing book reviews: the ability to search a book for a particular phrase. It’s great when I think of a section I want to quote or make reference to, but I haven’t bookmarked it. With a book I’d have to leaf through, scanning the pages for the quote I wanted, but with the Kindle it’s much easier.
On the other hand, note-taking is a pain on the Kindle, at least on my model. I know that others have some form of keyboard or touchscreen, but mine has the little four-way button you can see at the bottom of the picture, and it’s quite time-consuming to take notes. The highlighting feature is useful, but none of it can beat a good old pencil note in the margin and dog-eared page.
Verdict: books win, just about
Range of books available
In terms of new books, the Kindle wins hands-down. Amazon has the vast majority of new books available in Kindle format, and as I mentioned above it’s super-quick and convenient. The Kindle has been indispensable to me this year, because in Barbados there are only a few bookshops and their stock is pretty limited. When it comes to older books, the Kindle is good for popular ones, but the more obscure texts haven’t been converted to e-book format.
Verdict: Kindle wins
Effect on my book-buying habits
This is an interesting one. In a way the Kindle has diversified my reading: the huge range of free, out-of-copyright classics has encouraged me to read some classic books that I’ve always heard about but never tried, such as works by Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, Gertrude Stein and others. Also, many new books have special promotions where they’re at 99p or even completely free for a day, and this has led me to try quite a few books I wouldn’t otherwise have read.
But, on the other hand, I don’t browse on Amazon the way I browse the shelves in a real bookshop, and so I miss out on some of the pleasant randomness in that process. I’ve discovered countless new authors just by picking them up on a whim in a bookshop, whereas on Amazon I tend to be more focused: search for a particular title, buy, move on.
Verdict: split decision, but the Kindle might just sneak it on points
What happens after I’ve finished reading
For my life right now, the Kindle is great – I moved from London to Barbados last year, and will be going back again soon, and I can carry hundreds of books with me on a single device. To ship that many books back and forth across the Atlantic would cost a fortune.
But if I was settled in one place, I’d prefer real books. I like having book-packed shelves all along my walls; one day I’ve always planned to have a house with an old-fashioned library, with shelves up to the ceiling and those little twirly staircases going up to a balcony. I love the feeling of books all around me and the knowledge and entertainment contained in their pages, just waiting to be discovered. Staring at my Kindle just doesn’t do it for me.
Also I like the fact that books can be passed on, donated to a library, given to a friend, sold, left on a park bench or otherwise given a new life. I like that they can be inscribed with personal messages that make you smile when you see them years later.
Verdict: Kindle wins for the itinerant, books win for everyone else
I’ve focused here on the things that are important to me. The Kindle has some other features that I simply don’t use but others might love, like the possibility of seeing which passages in a book other people have highlighted, sharing your notes and highlights on Twitter and Facebook, and so on. I keep all that stuff switched off.
My overall feeling is that the Kindle has been useful for me this year because of my personal circumstances, but that if I was settled in one place with plenty of space for bookshelves, I’d probably stop using the Kindle for anything except the free classics and an occasional special promotion.
I’d love to hear from you. Do you use a Kindle or other e-reader? What’s your experience been? Want to take issue with any of my points, or point out anything I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below.