The Literary Battle – Kindle vs. Books

Since the Kindle was first released to the world in November 2007, Amazon’s revolutionary wireless reading device has divided opinion throughout the literary world. With the announcement on Radio 4 this week that Waterstone’s are to launch their very own e-reader in early Spring 2012, we look at the debate surrounding the move to the digital world.

The effect on the environment is a question which crops up time and time again. As with all technological advances, what will happen to all of the Kindles and iPads when a shinier, newer version comes out? We’re all guilty of it, going out to buy the new iPod or the new mobile phone. Electronic waste is a huge problem in the modern world, with e-waste often ending up in landfills or incinerators instead of being recycled, and toxic substances contained within contaminate the land, air and water. A book, on the other hand, can last hundreds of years and then upon its demise it can be recycled. Also, drop a book and you may bend a page or two, but drop a kindle and you’ve just made electronic garbage, a problem for the same reason.

On the other hand, publishers can often print too many books, many of which then get destroyed. A point in question was the story just less than a year ago that showed 80,000 copies of Jonathon Franzen’s novel ‘Freedom’ had to pulped due to typographical errors, with the pulping process involving a complete waste of energy, water and paper. Comparatively, the e-book version could be easily updated with one software update. Also in the e-books defence, few books are printed on recycled paper and much of the ink used when printing is far from natural. Also, there’s the environmental impact of the books being distributed to the bookstores by plane, ship and by road. It would seem the question of which really has the smaller environmental footprint has no conclusive answer.

Unlike a good old-fashioned book, the Kindle does not allow you to fill your living room shelves with pretty books that can be read and passed on to family and friends. Sharing is, to many, at the heart of reading. Bearing this in mind, sites separate to Amazon such as and allow users to ‘lendle’, providing the facility to share and read e-books for free. However the loan is only for two weeks, after which time the e-book is returned to the original user, giving a lot less flexibility than a real book can offer.

It would appear Amazon has joined this train of thought, with a report today highlighting that Amazon is looking to move into the e-book rental market. The move would see Amazon making a deal with publishers, where customers would pay an annual fee to access a library of content, another move in Amazon’s growing domination of the online book trade (a discussion for another day!) But if Amazon does move into the book lending service, what will this mean for libraries? If publishers were to buy into the service, it would give you the access to borrow an e-book without having to leave the house at all. A positive or a worrying prospect?

Compact as it is, and subsequently useful for long trips to store book upon book all in one place available for your perusal at any time, the Kindle does not have the look or feel of a nice printed novel. With no real pages to turn, the process loses its tactile quality, a sad fact also in the digital movement already seen with music.

Interestingly, a study by the Nielsen Norman Group in July last year found that people thought books are ‘faster’ and ‘more relaxing’ to read but iPads and kindles are ‘more satisfying’.

But what do you think to all of the above? Do e-books or real books win? We’d love to hear your thoughts…

8 thoughts on “The Literary Battle – Kindle vs. Books

  1. Philip Scott

    It seems the idea of loaning e-books is not too far in the future. After reading your post I came across this service which is set to launch in January 2012. Afictionado are the first company in the UK to lend ebooks for computer, tablet, smartphone or ebook reader. Despite the fact they have come up with a brilliant name, it does worry me immensely the impact services like this will have on libraries!

  2. Rachel

    I think that real books will always win over e-books. Personally I like to get books out of the library or borrow a good book off friends from Uni. I would much rather have a few good paperbacks/hardbacks on my shelf than an electronic device containing hundreds of e-books that I probably will not get round to reading. There is so much that can go wrong with an electronic device, what if you were in the middle of a really good book and your kindle broke?! Also if your kindle was lost you would be losing a whole library of books, it would not be like losing a real book, which would mean losing ONE book. Furthermore, devices such as the kindle are not cheap to buy, and I as a student know that not everyone has that sort of spare income lying around. So for me real books will win every time!

  3. Natasha

    I think both have their own values in society today. It is very useful to have a great number of books in my pocket on a train journey or when out and about. Although I don’t have a kindle I have ebooks on my iphone and I have found, for free, several books I read years ago which I would or could not go and buy today but have very much enjoyed reading again. I do believe however, that the ebooks do not compare in any way to having a real paper book. I love to curl up with a coffee and a good book and would advocate buying a paper book over an ebook any day. I also worry about the impact of ebooks on our health. I know several people who have developed wrist, hand and finger problems through gadget use and have noticed myself that turning the pages on my ebook does make my finger hurt after a while. I actively encourage my children to read books and buy books for them regularly, but I know that more and more, they rely on technology to fulfil their literary needs. I think we need to relish our written word while we still have it, because in years to come printed literature will no longer exist

  4. Victoria Gausden

    I got my Kindle almost a year ago. Since then, I have bought almost exactly the same number of physical books as before but in addition have bought well over a hundred books for my Kindle. I suspect many people, like me, succumb to the temptation of the instant download but also like real books and real bookshops too.

    I lent my Kindle to my sister for a week as she was going on a caravanning holdiday with very little room for fripperies like books. I felt as though my right arm had been cut off.

  5. Ruth

    As a life-long, loyal book lover I have to admit I felt a slight twang of guilt when I ordered my Kindle, and felt what can only be described as shame when I discovered that one can get the ENTIRE works of Shakespeare on the device for just 0.79p.

    But, as a commuter, Kindles are light, convenient and not only hold “thousands” of books but also PDFs – great for keeping up with work and research on the train without needing a laptop or reams and reams of paper. The guilt is still there though – when I see other people on the train reading real books (or “tree-books” as apparently they’re now known, as opposed to “e-books”, shudder), I do feel the need to hide my Kindle away… perhaps between the pages of a real book…?

    I find myself buying books on my Kindle because they’re cheaper and I don’t mind taking a smaller financial risk on unknown books or authors, but if I like the book I’ll buy a paper copy anyway so it can be shared with friends and take its place on my bookshelf.
    Nothing beats turning real pages, that’s what you miss most with a Kindle. They’re a great addition to someone’s reading experience, but surely no one really worries that they’ll actually end up *replacing* books?

  6. Claire

    I understand the pull of being able to fit hundreds of ‘books’ in your bag, but then, you loose the joy of hunting through second hand shops, book stores, and your friends book shelves to find the next treasure to catch your eye. There is nothing better to me than curling up on the sofa with a good BOOK, being able to sneak a peak to the next page… Does anyone else look at the last page before they move to the first?!
    do you re-buy the books you already own for the kindle? what happens to that well read and loved copy at home?
    Plus, what happens to the beautiful illustrations that adorn some of my favourites? What would Roald Dahl books be without quentin blake, or Tolkien without Alan Lee…?
    Yes, it may mean that I have to have a bigger bag to fit in the books, but that is a small price to pay for the joys that unfold along with the real pages of a good book.

  7. Laura

    But then you need to also bring the new ‘flipback’ books into the equation. Coined as ‘the next little thing’, this book opens top to bottom & has sideways-printed text, meaning it is lovely and compact. See the cutest book ever here It’s smaller and lighter than the e-reader, slips into your pocket like a mobile phone, doesn’t need charging and has real, yes I repeat, real pages! Competition for the kindle, surely!