The great debate: Reading on a screen versus reading on paper

Stephen O'Brien - Sales Manager, Books, Ovato

Since e-readers hit the mainstream in 2007 with the release of the first Amazon Kindle, industry prognosticators have been predicting the doom of the book as we know it.

But while e-readers and e-books certainly have their advantages, the book continues to retain a special place in people’s hearts.

Here’s why.

Selection criteria

The eco-system around your favourite e-reader will funnel you into specific online stores to buy your books. If you buy a Kindle, you must buy through the Amazon store, and so on. But what do you do it these stores don’t have the title you’re after? You’re out of luck, and that’s before the additional layer of complexity is added thanks to some books being available in only some regions. 

If they don’t have it, you need to find the right store that does sell the title, hopefully download it and manually upload it to your e-reader… if your e-device allows that.

It’s a lot more difficult than ordering a physical book online from your favourite online retailer or heading to your preferred bookshop and buying it over the counter or putting it on order. Because you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to bookstores and can choose where you go, it’s unlikely you won’t find what you’re looking for somewhere. And you’re supporting Australian bookshops, booksellers and business who could do with assistance while you do.

Touch point

Print books have the tactile experience that readers love. You can hold them, turn actual pages, and enjoy the feel of the paper on your fingers. There’s a simple enjoyment of touching something that makes book reading a great joy.  

And then there’s the cover. Publishers can invest in lush paper and cardboard stock that feels incredible to the touch. It’s a luxury that’s hard to explain but all too real.

Finally, there’s something to be said about the sense of satisfaction from finishing a great book. You can hold it in your hand, and you can feel the accomplishment. It’s better than tapping the right-hand side of a screen 800 times and then trying to exit away from the suggested titles screen that an e-reader automatically pops when a book is finished.

Collection obsession

People who love to read can spend years acquiring and collecting books. From originals to reprints, new releases to classics, a shelf full of books looks great and represents a lifetime of learning and enjoyment.

What’s not to love about a gigantic shelf of books in the house? They’re welcoming, inviting, and full of wonder and knowledge. It’s a simple pleasure to walk up to a bookcase, select an old favourite, and spend some time losing yourself in another world for a few hours. 

Speciality book printers take this to incredible lengths. They can make amazing collectors editions of books that push the paper, illustration and cover quality to unbelievable levels.

Paper functionality

Illustrations on paper are generally higher quality than even high-end e-readers can reproduce. And who doesn’t enjoy the feel of a beautifully bound book with incredible paper quality.

When it comes to maps, pictures, and other illustrations, it’s hard to argue that e-readers do them better than books. The fidelity of the images on the electronic ink screen is often poor, and images are crammed at the end of a book instead of where they are meant to be in chapters.

While e-books and e-readers often require additional taps to open up pictures and a clunky (at best) way of navigating through a book’s chapters and sections, it’s simple in the extreme to move your way back and forth through a book to find the sections you want.

History books in particular benefit from easily flicking back and forth as needed so you can reference a portion of the book with a maps or other images. Doing this on an e-reader is a nightmare.  Referencing and indexing are often poorly integrated too.

Sharing is caring

Our number one difference between an e-book and paper book is the joy of sharing it with someone else. Reading with kids in particular springs to mind.

Opening up a book, pointing out the words and vivid, colourful images to a rapt kid just isn’t possible with an e-book. It’s a special activity that’s been shown to have benefits that last a lifetime, and that’s besides the memories that it will create between you and your loved ones. 

Then there’s the simple act of giving a friend a book that you love. Lending books spreads the word about your favourite authors and their work and creates vital word of mouth and information sharing.


Book ‘em

The pandemic and its associated enforced downtime has seen book sales rise dramatically. It makes a lot of sense, with more time spent at home and a desire to distract ourselves.

That’s the beauty of books. They can take us to another place. But they can also pass on knowledge, teach and illuminate. Compared to e-books, physical books can boast increased comprehension and that the tactile sensation of holding a book can actually assist in recalling the contents of a book.

We’re obviously huge fans of books - they contain knowledge, adventure, comfort and drama. And with the learning and recall differences, the ability to easily share them with other people and the simple enjoyment and functionality of a physical book, we’d hope that you are too.