One of the most controversial ways I ever suggested saving money was with e-books. Ditch the paperbacks, I argued. Buy e-books and save both money and space.
Many people disagreed, violently, with the assertion - plenty arguing that they loved the feel and smell of a physical book and would never get that kind of satisfaction from an electronic copy stored in their e-reader.
Now I’m no romantic, the smell and the feel of a book don’t really bother me. I care about the words inside and less about how I get at them (with a few exceptions of course, I have some first editions and signed copies that I really treasure).
But two years after writing that article I have finally come to agree with the majority of commenters. E-books aren’t as good as physical copies.
Here's what's driving me away from my e-reader and back to the bookshelf...
The price of e-books
When I first wrote that article, almost all the e-books I looked up where cheaper than buying a physical copy. The new ‘Game of Thrones’ novel was out, and was almost £12 cheaper than its hardback alternative. This makes sense; after all, the publisher hadn’t had to print it, ship it or give a bookseller a cut.
But this no longer seems to be the case. E-books are now often sold for the same price as the hardback first edition.
Even old books can be sold for more. I recently wanted to reread a book before watching the film adaptation. I had already bought the paperback but I’d lent it to someone, so I thought I could spend a couple of pounds on the electronic version instead.
But the online shop wanted £7.99 for the e-book! This is a novel that costs £1.99 in my nearest supermarket, with the full trilogy available for £5. You don’t need to be a maths whizz to see that this is not a good deal.
I can’t sell or lend an e-book
And the main reason that is not a good deal is that you can’t sell or lend an e-book. I read a lot of novels and I recommend them to friends. Although I don’t sell books, I do pass them on and receive other novels in return.
While you can lend e-books, there are frequently heavy restrictions. Amazon lets you lend a book for 14 days, but only once. That not only means your friend has to read it straight away, but means you can’t pass it on ever again.
That makes reading e-books weirdly isolating and more expensive. I still get recommendations, but then I have to actually buy them.
It’s too easy to spend
This is a bad one for me. When I had to leave the house to buy books, my habit was mostly under control. I could limit the number of books I read and visit the library as easily as the bookshop.
However, now I mostly read using my tablet this has all changed. If I think of a book or read a review or receive a recommendation, I can instantly buy it. I am in the e-bookshop with just two clicks and pretty much any novel I want is just there.
This has undeniably meant I am spending a lot more on books. It’s just too easy!
So, if I limit myself to free e-books, I should spend less per book and overall. I will also support my local bookshop, which brings me to my final reason for ditching e-books.
I love bookshops
Well, I may not be romantic about the feel and smell of paper books, but I do love my bookshop. I love browsing the shelves, I love it when the staff write their own recommendations, I love it when there are sofas and in-store coffee shops.
In the last two years two of my town’s three bookshops have closed down. I can’t be 100% sure that’s as a direct result of e-books – after all, plenty of other shops have closed too.
But I can be sure that my lack of support has probably contributed, and it’s time I did my bit to keep my favourite part of the high street alive.
Except free-books that is
Of course, I will still use my e-reader. There are thousands and thousands of free classics available to download via Project Gutenberg, an online store of out-of-copyright books.
There are also some free e-books made available via Amazon and the Kindle store, particularly from new authors wanting to build a following. I see no reason not to download those, especially as many are not actually available in print.
What do you think? Do you buy ebooks? Will you? Have your say using the comments below.