Comparing digital and physical books: One buyer’s journey

The other day I received a recommendation from a friend about a book that they felt I would really enjoy reading. I spent two days trying to decide whether I should buy the book in digital or physical form. I think that providing some insight about my journey in purchasing this book might be helpful for others like me who are still getting used to the idea of a digital book.

The factors that influenced my decision were:

1) Price
The paperback version of the book sells for $10.07 + an approximate $3.50 shipping charge on The kindle version of this book I sells for $9.29 and ships to my iPad for free.
Digital version = 1, Paperback version = 0.

2) Ability to Share
Ok, this factor weighs more heavily in some purchasing decisions than in others. In this case, I knew that my spouse and I would both want to read this book.

Many of you may be aware that iTunes now allows users on the same network to share their libraries. So, if I found the book using the Apple-based iBook app on my iPad, I knew it would sync to every iTunes library in our house, allowing my spouse access to the book. Unfortunately, this book is not available through iBooks. Even if the book was available as an iBook, our ability to circulate the book with friends is limited. Not only would they need the equipment and the willingness to read a digital book, but sharing this outside our home network is probably illegal.

I went back to Amazon, wondering if their Kindle downloads were available for multiple devices. Their help page was informative, although it doesn’t appear to have been updated since the release of the iPad:

Downloading to Multiple Devices

Content purchased from the Kindle Store can be downloaded to your Kindle, iPhone, or iPod touch as long as you’ve registered the device to the account that purchased the Kindle content. There is no limit on the number of times a title can be downloaded to a registered device, but there may be limits on the number of devices (usually 6) that can simultaneously use a single book.

That means you can download and read your books on any Kindle device you own as long you’ve registered each device to the account where your Kindle library is stored.

You can see the items in your Kindle library under Archived Items on your Kindle and send downloads to your registered Kindles from the “Your Orders” section of the Manage Your Kindle page.

So I’m still not sure how sharing a digital book really would work. I believe it would work for users in the same household that linked their devices to one Amazon account. However, I think that the ability to share the book with other potentially interested parties remains a limitation of the digital book (and I should mention that this limitation is confounded by the fact that few of my friends have the technology that would allow them to read a digital version). One point for paperback.
Digital version = 1, Paperback version = 1.

3) Eco-friendliness
My initial thought was that buying a digital version of this book would help to save the trees. However, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that two million tons of electronics are disposed of each year in the U.S., I wonder if biodegradable paper is a better option than a 10 year old iPad taking up space in a landfill. In reality, neither is perfect. Having done some quick research, I found recommendations for appropriately disposing of e-waste, and I decided that eco-friendliness as a solo factor couldn’t sway me towards or against the purchase of a digital book. Thus, I awarded both formats a point for eco-friendliness, assuming I would take proper measures to dispose of either one.
Digital version = 2, Paperback version = 2.

4) Convenience
There are two places where I read for pleasure: in bed, and in waiting rooms. I realize that most normal humans read at other times, but the amount of reading demanded of me in conjunction with my Ph.D. program means that most day-time reading is not “for pleasure.” So, digital book or physical book? Although iPads produce enough light that I do not have to inconvenience my dear spouse by keeping a light on until I finish reading, research suggests that iPads in bed may affect the user’s sleep habits. So basically, paperback books + lamp disturb my spouse’s sleep, but virtual books + no lamp disturbs my sleep. Given the fact that I’m concerned that both of us sleep well, this is another toss up.

Another aspect of convenience is portability. I mean, I my effort to take reading material along to the doctor should not be a huge hassle. I find it just as easy to slip my iPad into my purse or bag as a paperback book. Once again, no real difference between digital vs. physical book.
Digital version = 3, Paperback version = 3.

5) Personal Considerations
For me, there were two personal considerations in this decision. 1) Do I want to increase my screen time? and 2) Aren’t I supposed to be piloting the ipad? While I’m not looking for ways to increase the amount of time I spend looking at screens every day, the fact that I was given this iPad for the purpose of piloting it wins here. I should just take the leap and buy the digital book.
Digital version = 4, Paperback version = 3.

So here I go to the Amazon store on my iPad to buy the book. I know that if I like it enough, I’ll likely buy a paperback copy too. $10.07 plus shipping is cheaper than buying all of my friends iPads…


One thought on “Comparing digital and physical books: One buyer’s journey

  1. lindsay michele says:

    So… last night as I was reading in bead with my headlamp, I thought about this entry. I found myself highlighting portions of text that stuck out to me and circling vocab words that I should look up later and making notes in the margins of points I'd like to bring up during my next bookclub. And then I thought, no matter how heavy they are and how many boxes they take up every time we move, I will always end up buying the tangible book. There's just something about holding it in my hands and marking it up and making it mine that can't be topped. (for me, that is)

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