The Great Ebook Battle of 2016

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o-EBOOK-facebookTim Challies is selling his library and “going all-in” with Ebooks.

Meanwhile, Michael Hyatt has announced he is shelving his Kindle and returning to print books.

What’s going on?

Tim Challies: New Wine for New Wineskins

Challies says Ebooks are the way of the future. People fail to see the Kindle’s superiority only when they compare their reading device to the older experience of having a book in hand. He writes:

We tend to want the new medium to mimic the old one and judge the new in light of the old. What we fail to account for are the ways in which the new is superior, in which the new is something entirely new. When cars were first invented, people called them “horseless carriages” and judged them in light of the horse and carriage. But over time they proved their superiority and we forgot all about that older technology. We stopped thinking about the new technology in reference to the old. I think the relationship of book to ebook will eventually prove similar.

Michael Hyatt: The Old Is Better

On the other side, Hyatt lists eight reasons that explain why he is returning to print books, and, as Challies point out, his reasons focus primarily on the inferiority of the Ebook.

  1. Ebooks are out of sight and out of mind.
  2. Ebooks engage fewer senses.
  3. Ebooks make it easier to get distracted.
  4. Ebooks result in less retention and comprehension.
  5. Ebooks feel too much like online reading.
  6. Ebooks are more difficult to interact with.
  7. Ebooks are more difficult to navigate.
  8. Ebooks provide less satisfaction in finishing.

Challies disagrees with almost all of Hyatt’s reasons. In fact, he claims Hyatt’s article “helped seal his decision” to dispense with his library in favor of digital reading.

My Reading Habits

Like Challies, I’ve amassed a large number of books. We have a room downstairs with more than 1600 titles.

Also, I suspect the number of books I read in a given year is closer to Challies’ total than to Hyatt’s. (Hyatt says he finished 12 books last year. I don’t know how many books Challies read, but I assume he read a lot more.)

But even though my reading habits resemble those of Challies, I have reverted back to print books due to several of the reasons in Hyatt’s list. I find myself reading less and less on my Kindle, and I’m just now figuring out why.

Enjoying Ebooks

In 2011, I started commuting to Nashville every day by bus. The commute was great for reading, but it wasn’t convenient to haul big books in my bag, and it was too hard to underline and write down notes when the road was bumpy.

That summer, I bought my first Kindle, and it quickly became my constant travel companion. For the next three years, I did much of my reading on the Kindle – history, fiction, theology, politics, biography, classics, and bestsellers. The Kindle was perfect for me as a commuter. It was lightweight and easy-to-store, with a built-in light that enabled me to read on dark and dreary mornings.

Back to Print

In 2015, my reading habits changed.

First off, I wrote the bulk of my Ph.D dissertation. Now, when you get to the dissertation phase of the Ph.D process, you discover that there are books you need to “live in” for awhile. Scrolling through these books on my Kindle would have been almost impossible. I needed to jump around, review, and take notes in these books.

Secondly, I spent a lot of time in several theological libraries in 2015. I don’t know if breathing in the scent of old books had anything to do with my rekindled love for non-Kindle books, but “library time” was a big part of my reading experience last year.

Third, most of the books I purchased in 2015 are what I call “forever books.” I will return to them, reread everything I underlined, and reference these authors for the rest of my life. For months, these hefty books demanded my attention, and now, they have earned the right to sit on a physical shelf. My Kindle feels too “thin” to carry the weight of their insights.

Fourth, LifeWay sold its property in Nashville, and in the transition phase, many of us became more “mobile” in our work. I was spending less time commuting and more time working “from anywhere,” which meant that my Kindle was gathering dust because I wasn’t on the bus as much.

Finally, we moved to a new house in 2015, and for the first time in my life, I have a room dedicated to books. I’ve got them shelved and arranged for easy reference, reading, and study.

Loving Print Books

For these reasons, today I am much more likely to buy a print book than an Ebook. I’ve found that there is nothing like taking a book off the shelf and noting your notes, or rediscovering what you underlined.

Of course, I am not throwing away my Kindle. I continue to enjoy Ebooks, especially when traveling. I don’t agree with Hyatt’s claim that reading on a device is inherently distracting. On the contrary, a reading device is perfect when you’re on an airplane or sitting in an airport or on a bus.

Ebooks are not going away, which is why I will continue to alert readers to excellent Kindle deals every morning, as I have for many years. But I’ve come to realize that print books are not going away either. And I love print more than ever.

And so, my counsel to Tim is this: purge your library of the books you won’t ever read again. But think twice before getting rid of all your books in favor of a large Kindle library. You may reach a point where you start favoring print books again, and then you’d have to start over.

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