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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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31 thoughts on “The Great Ebook Battle of 2016”

  1. Lori says:

    I go back and forth. For my own reading, I do enjoy using an e-books, but to not get distracted I use a dedicated e-reader. I both like that I can keep a library of books without having to take up shelf space but also the ease of one-handed reading, especially nice when nursing or rocking babies. I also do a lot of reading in bed at night, and an e-reader is less of a bother to my husband if he’s trying to sleep than a paper book and a light.

    But, my kids don’t like e-books, and I don’t particularly like reading aloud to them from e-books. So nearly all of our children’s books are physical books, and lately I’ve been reversing my earlier trend of thinking I’d get rid of all of the physical classics I could get as free e-books and instead building a small physical library of classics that I may want to re-read or that I want my children to read. Now I use my e-reader for books that are really only of interest to me, that I want to read when they first come out but are cheaper as an e-book than a hardcover, or that I find on a good sale.

    Free and discount e-books are actually becoming a strike against e-books for me, though, I think. I have amassed so many e-books that were either free or just a dollar or two that I never would have purchased at full price or as a physical book, and now I feel this sense of obligation that I have to read them at some point. I’m not giving up e-books, but I’m trying to give up amassing e-books just because they are free or really cheap.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      I forgot to mention the “one-handed” advantage for e-reading. You’re right about that! It’s one of the aspects of reading on a Kindle that I enjoy, and again, it makes it great for commuting, or whenever you have only one hand free.

  2. Ronald Laitano says:

    Trevin,

    You mentioned purchasing what you call “forever books” in 2015. I’m in the process of building a similar library, if i may ask, which books made the cut?

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Great question. I may do another blog post in which I lay out some of those recommendations.

      1. js says:

        I would appreciate that blog post as well.

  3. Doc B says:

    My biggest concern with ebooks is ownership. What happens to all my books if the company supporting them goes belly-up? Logos Bible Software, which I use and in which I have several hundred ebooks, just laid off about 60 workers. They say they aren’t in trouble, and I suspect they are not in dire circumstances, but laying off folks who’ve been with you for 20 years does not shout financial stability. Kindle has had instances of books being removed from the device remotely by Amazon when a license issue emerged…no warning to the “owner”.

    For me, ebooks, especially a Kindle, are auxiliary to my print library, and will not replace it. I too like the convenience of the Kindle when traveling, but having a shelf full of real books is much more permanent in my opinion. I hope Tim doesn’t regret his decision down the road. If you go onto the Logos forums, you can find testimonials from folks who do regret it.

  4. Doug says:

    Nothing like the smell of a new print book. Ummmm. Like fresh bread out of the oven. Lol. Kindle. Google Play. I use them all. Many times there’s a big spread in price.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      You’re right about that. Hard to argue with a $1.99 Kindle deal. At the same time, however, there have been times I wanted to buy an older book on Kindle and it was $9.99 while a used copy was just a penny (plus shipping).

      1. Doug says:

        Yes! I love those Amazon penny books! Some have arrived like new.

  5. Derek says:

    Hey Trevin, as a Christian bookstore owner you can imagine I follow these conversations quite closely.

    I think Challies is being a bit dramatic with his analogy and the actual numbers tell are completely different story. The “fad” of ebooks has all but waned and in the end they will remain a solid fixture right along side physical books. As this article points out, there are advantages and disadvantages of each, which is exactly why neither are going anywhere soon.

    I just want to point out that Michael never said that reading ebooks is “inherently” distracting (if he did, I’d agree with you), only that it is easier to be distracted reading an ebook. And my experience bears that out, even in an airport with Free Wifi. It’s too easy to be reading a kindle book on my iPad, swipe left and end up on Facebook. When I swipe left with a physical book, I simply wind up on the next page. :)

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      I think you’re right if you’re talking about the iPad. For me, it’s the Kindle, which doesn’t pose the same challenge.

  6. Andy says:

    One huge benefit of ebooks that he doesn’t mention is living a minimal lifestyle! My wife and I have decided we enjoy living in a smaller home, but with the amount that I read, it would not work out to having a ton of books. We recently got rid of 90% of DVDs, all of our cds and 95% of our books and our life feels significantly less cluttered.

  7. Brandon M. says:

    I contiune to shake my head every time I hear someone say, “print is better because of their smell.”

    C’mon people, lol.

  8. davidathome says:

    The main problem with ebooks for me, and no doubt for huge numbers of people, is that they are much more difficult to `quickly get to the heart of’.
    This is related to Michael Hyatt’s point “Ebooks are more difficult to navigate”, but many gloss over what I feel is the main issue. Namely, when one cracks a new book, particularly a nonfiction work, and particularly if one reads a lot of books, one wishes to quickly get some visceral `knowledge’ over it; know basically what its `all about’ at a heart level. With a print book this happens rather quickly. The `nonlinear’ and multidimensional old-fashioned jump-around, plus flip/skim, is far far more efficient at this than the clunky ‘linear’ variant of skimming one does with an e-book, where one largely is doing a variant of scrolling forward along a line. As Michael Kozlowski says, “imagine if Google Maps allowed people to navigate street by individual street, as well as to teleport to any specific address, but prevented them from zooming out to see a neighborhood” [or sector of a city].

    This decrease in efficiency and increase in difficulty is an obstacle that in practice means that very many books suddenly become much less likely of ever being read.

    1. Doug says:

      Agree. I’ve noticed my mind tends to hold images of print books. Many times I can remember where a particular quote resides on a page. I find this “memory” is absent when it comes to my ebooks.

  9. davidathome says:

    PS. Apologies, that quote was Abigail Sellen I believe, not Michael Kozlowski

  10. Doug says:

    Someone—I can’t remember who—wrote about the sociological shift that occurred as a result of the printing press. Ideas that formerly were passed along orally or through handwritten manuscripts, were “cutoff” and supplanted by ideas that got into the new medium of print. It seems a similar “break” with historical thinking is threatened through the introduction of ebooks. Sadly, old books omitted from ebook form may eventually become socially irrelevant.

  11. Remington says:

    Trevin,

    Although I agree with you conclusion (sticking with print books) I don’t find your reasons very persuasive. Recently Logos also responded to Challies’ decision and was, of course, supportive. There I left some comments that I’ll reproduce here, because I try to give reasons beyond the mere aesthetic (I like the smell of print) and amorphous:

    I’ve bounced back and forth on this over the last 5+ years. I was an early adopter of Logos (and used eSword prior to that) and I bought a Kindle and a Nook when they were first released.

    I currently own over 400 kindle books and own Logos 6 Diamond. This far exceeds my print library of about 200 books. But at this stage for my main reading platform I think I’m sticking with… Print.

    For reference work and searching, Logos wins easily. I’m still going to purchase resources on Logos, but at this stage I plan on only purchasing commentaries, dictionaries, and encyclopedia.

    When it comes to sitting down and reading through a book deeply (something I do far more often than reference work and searching) I think print is still the winner. Just this week there was an article released where a study demonstrated better retention rates for reading print material (although I don’t recall the source of article now… should have saved it in Evernote or maybe read it in print :) ). And I’ve seen other similar studies.

    I think Challies mentions some of these studies and he suggests that this is probably due to our being more familiar with print media. As we grow more accustom to reading and learning on digital devices we will see things even out. But at this point that is still just speculation. Maybe we won’t. Maybe there is something about print media, flipping through a page, underlining and circling with a pen and writing out notes that better facilitates memory. But whether we can adapt to digital media or not, at this point I just don’t want to go through the hassle. At this point I just find it easier to sit down and really focus and study with a book in hand and a pen and a notebook. I don’t have to divide my attention between trying to adapt and trying to study… I can just study.

    There are usually a few advantages cited for digital books over print. I’ve actually argued for these myself several years ago… on Challies blog! But over the years I’ve come to see these as not as great of an advantage as I once thought.

    One advantage of digital books is the ability to take much longer notes that are attached to the exact text you want. You don’t have to worry about running out of space on the page or cluttering the page with your notes or having a separate notebook. But here’s the counter-argument that I currently find persuasive: (1) writing by hand facilitates memory, I know of no study that shows typing has similar mnemonic benefits. (2) Trying to take notes on an e-reader, like the Voyage or Paperwhite, is extremely clumsy and frustrating. This could be circumvented by reading on a laptop or tablet with a better keyboard, but this means you have to give up the comfort of having an e-ink display and leads to the disadvantage of eye-strain and device-connectivity distractions.

    Another advantage of digital books is, as mentioned in the post above, the ability to search for text and find it. This is a clear advantage that there is no way for print media to compensate for. But there are some possible draw-backs. I’ve seen articles (again, don’t recall the sources) which cited studies that argued that our reliance on digital searches (e.g., Google) is effecting our ability to remember things. We no longer make the effort to memorize the substantive information, we just rely on our ability to “google it later”. I’m afraid we may be doing the same with digital books. Instead of actually focusing on and re-reading a really great point in a book we just highlight it and tag it and trust that we can find it with a search in Evernote later. I don’t think this is a very effectual way to retain and apply what we’ve learned from reading.

    Yet another advantage of digital books is lower price. This also can’t be beat by print media and unfortunately print media may be artificially inflating the prices of digital media. But this is also an area that Logos can’t compete in. Because Logos adds a lot of functionality that other digital books (like Kindle) don’t add the prince advantage is negated and sometimes it is even reversed: Logos digital books can be more expensive than print books.

    Challies and others have listed other advantages (and I’ve spelled out almost all of them in the past as I’ve argued for digital books), but the question is whether these outweigh the utility of studying and deeply reading with print books. To my mind they do not. I’ll revisit briefly the advantage mentioned above about note-taking. One interesting avenue that is now possible but hasn’t been explored yet is the ability to dynamically annotate and highlight a text. With the advent of digitizer pens on devices like the Surface Pro or the iPad Pro it’s possible to take advantage of the memory-facilitating exercise of note taking, circling words and drawing lines of connection, etc. This would, I think, wipe out the advantage that print media currently has in this area… and I think it’s a big one when it comes to deeply reading and interacting with a book. But so far neither Logos nor Kindle nor any other digital device has explored this possibility.

  12. Stuart says:

    You keep referring to Kindle as if Challies dumped his entire library for a specifically Kindle library. That’s not quite the picture though. I agree that something like a commentary I harder (though not impossible) tonuse effectively in a Kindle. Using a commentary with Bible software is, however, a very different matter. You may still prefer print, but dumping a commentary library for Logos or Olive Tree is quite different than doing so for Kindle.

  13. Trevin, I am too much of an Anglophile-bibliophile to cast away my books, especially my antique collection of Elizabeth Barret-Browning’s books of poetry, which I pull from the shelf and read a stanza or two from the 100 year old book. Ebooks are a terrific tool for less literary genres/non-fiction. Underlining and coffee stained pages are the Mark of a well read piece of published bound writing.

  14. Janis says:

    I can get away from loving the feel of a book. There is something exciting about holding it in my hand. I read some kindle books but lately feel I need to have what I call the real thing. I tried making notes in my kindle copy. I don’t find it easy to look back, or review.
    As for children’s books I can’t see cuddling with a grandchild and a kindle.
    Blessings,
    Janis

  15. Bill Renno says:

    Nothing will replace signed hard copy books personally owned by my Dad who was born and raised in the Old Order Amish way, books that were learning experiences in his never ending search for the truth found only in a fervent relationship with a sovereign God.

  16. Jim says:

    I enjoy the technology of the iPhone and iPad, but I also know that technology and, more specifically, software is subject to obsolescence. I will keep my many volumes of books.

  17. As a local, independent bookseller, I have some obvious bias towards print. Hyatt’s arguments are ones I frequently hear and cite to others. I’d add that print is more discoverable in a shopping environment. Also, print allows us to put our resources in the hands of friends and neighbors as opposed to corporations. Further, once I’ve bought a print book, it can’t be easily altered without my knowledge.

  18. Thanks for this post, Trevin.

    I’d like to make a couple of additional points. As I pointed out in my post, I used to be a voracious reader, usually clocking a book a week, sometime double or triple that. It’s only been in recent years that I began to notice a decline in my reading.

    So I don’t know that there is anything in my reading habits vis a vis Tim’s that account for my preference now for print books. I know that you didn’t say there was, but I still wanted to point that out lest someone come to that conclusion.

    Interestingly, I made many of the arguments Tim makes about ebooks when I went “all in” back in 2007. As the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, I was an early ebook enthusiast. I frequently wrote and spoke on the topic. I committed millions of dollars to digitizing our existing book catalog. We also changed our workflow to ensure we simultaneously published every new book in both print and ebook formats.

    I never expected print books to disappear entirely, anymore than electric lights eliminated candles. However, I didn’t expect the growth of ebooks to flatten out as they did two years ago. eBooks are now roughly 25 percent of the book market and stagnant. Evidently, you and I are not the only ones who prefer print books.

    As I pointed out in my original post, I will continue to read ebooks, especially when I travel, but, for now, my reading is 90 percent print. So far this year, I have finished seven books. I have fallen back in love with reading. I am also enjoying being able to grab a book and leaf through it or share it with a friend without firing up a device.

    Thanks again for your post.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Thanks for weighing in, Michael, and for getting this good conversation started! It’s especially interesting to me that your book reading has picked back up since you went back to print. I wonder why that is the case and if others have had a similar experience.

      Thanks again!

      1. I would like to know that, too. I have heard others claim the opposite—that their reading has increased since switching to ebooks. It may just be that any change like this is helpful, much like how you run more after buying a new set of running shoes.

  19. Clay says:

    I think it depends entirely on what I am reading. If it is a book that I intend to interact with like Russell Moore’s “Onward” or Michael Hyatt’s “Platform” then print is by far the best way to go. If the book is fiction, something I’m going to be blazing through and not really spending a lot of time with like my various Star Wars books (and most fiction for that matter) then eBooks are perfect. Trevin, to your point about forever books, those will stay in print on my shelves for as long as possible. My systematic theology books, apologetics references, Bonhoeffer, history, etc., are all forever books. If I need to find a reference I want to pull a book off the shelf, not hunt through the Kindle.

    If I’m honest though, Star Wars books are forever books as well. Mostly because I’m a huge nerd.

    And Michael Hyatt’s point about the iPad being distracting is the truth. I did buy a Kindle Paperwhite so that I could remove the distractions when trying to read.

    I find myself reading more with print and less with eBooks. I think it lends itself more to the personality of an individual than a general statement, though. Some will find the opposite. The important thing is that we are reading and gathering knowledge from those who’ve come before and those who are our peers.

  20. Mark says:

    I wish this debate would die already. To each his or own own.

  21. Trialia. says:

    I have to note something on this article… and that is that able-bodied people who review the differences between print books and ebooks nearly always seem to forget the accessibility issues present in that comparison when doing so.

    I’ve loved reading since my very early childhood, taught myself to read aged two and a half. I have a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which has been worsening since I was about six; dramatically so from my mid-teens. I’ve been a full-time wheelchair user since the age of 25. I have 4,000 print books – but many of them are inaccessible to me now as reading matter. My fingers, metacarpals and wrists have developed a tendency to dislocate when I turn pages or hold a hardback book. I also have rotational scoliosis and nerve damage to my lower back, which impairs my ability to lug half a dozen print books around with me on a daily basis as I used to in my teens.

    Ebooks, though? Ebooks take that weight off my back and shoulders, easing my chronic pain, as I can carry thousands of books on my e-reader without bearing more weight than that of a comparatively light paperback. That also has the effect of escaping the wrist dislocations previously caused by the weight of most of the fantasy novels I like to read. They allow me to turn pages with a light touch to the screen of my e-reader, without my fingers being knocked out of joint. And they let me change the font size and face to something I find easier to read, which paper books never could, as well as altering the contrast between the text and background colours to make it less likely I’ll end up with a headache after a while of reading.

    Don’t get me wrong; I love print books. I always have. But now that print books are not as easy for me to read as they used to be, ebooks let me keepone of the great loves of my life without the pain I would otherwise have to endure.

    So many people – people like you, too – forget, so easily, to so much as consider any of these potential positives, when comparing the two. But they’re half the world to me. Think about it, next time.

    1. Trialia says:

      *keep one – I really need to take this laptop in to the repair shop to get that sticky space bar fixed.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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