This year, for the first time, I am selling more electronic books than traditional ones. And I myself am thinking of making the switch.

Do the pros outweigh the cons?

Here is my definitive list.


Electronic books...

1. Can be downloaded from almost anywhere.

2. Can be downloaded in almost no time at all.

3. Are often cheaper than traditional books.

4. Are much lighter to carry around than traditional books. 

5. Enable you to search for particular elements of text.

6. Are fairly 'green' in that they require neither paper nor shipping.

7. Are much easier for independent authors to publish and distribute.

8. Appear, at least in the short-to-medium term, to promote reading.


1. Require the purchase of an expensive E-Reader which needs regular charging and occasional updating, and which—like all technology—is prone to terminal damage.

2. Do not have the textile and kinestheic properties of a traditional book, for example, the smell of ink, the turn-the-page feel, or the anticipation and satisfaction of approaching The End.  

3. Do not have the physical presence of a traditional book; in particular, cannot be used to say something about yourself or to furnish and decorate your house. Call me old-fashioned, but a house does not feel like a home unless it is packed with books.

4. Cannot easily be lent to friends and family or borrowed from libraries. In that sense, they are more expensive than traditional books, and also discourage sharing and socializing.

5. Cannot readily be given as a gift, let alone handed down from one generation to the next.

6. Cannot be autographed by the author, and unlike, say, copies of a first edition, are completely divorced from the author's milieu and social context.

7. Are not nearly as effective as traditional books at creating and evoking fond memories/Proustian pleasures.

8. Represent a potential threat to author royalties.

9. Represent an actualized threat to bookshops and libraries.

10. Are not pliable enough to fall asleep on (or throw around in a fit of rage).

11. Not all titles are available in electronic format.

12. Some titles do not lend themselves to electronic format: think, for example, of some children's books or scientific or medical textbooks.

I must surely have missed out a couple of things, which you might be able to add on in the comments section. I did notice that the cons, whilst more numerous than the pros, were generally not as simple or as straightforward—less practical and more emotional. 

Thanks to my list, I have concluded that I will get an E-Reader. But I will only use electronic books like I use audiobooks, that is, in certain special circumstances such as, in the case of audiobooks, cooking or long distance driving.

The truth is, I cannot imagine a life without the seductive and reassuring physicality of traditional books, and feel somewhat sorry for those who will never understand just how much they have meant and continue to mean to me. 

The great philosopher Plato once defined a human being as an animal, biped, featherless, and with broad nails, but a much better definition that he gave was simply this, ‘A being in search of meaning.’

Neel Burton is author of The Meaning of MadnessThe Art of Failure: The Anti Self-Help GuideHide and Seek: The Psychology of Self-Deceptionand other books.

Find Neel Burton on Twitter and Facebook 

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