Before I start this post I have to admit that I am a bit of a purist when it comes to reading. I like reading physical books and I like owning physical books. Over the last year, however, I have had the chance to explore different ways of reading and getting hold of these books. Here are a few of my thoughts on the different kinds of formats you can get books in.
I did say that physical books are my favourite form of book; however, it does get a little complicated when this format can be further divided into hardbacks and paperbacks. Hardback take the edge here in terms of appearance. They are beautiful – the more solid covers allow for more decoration and the sturdiness of the book almost always makes them look spectacular on the shelf (and they last longer). If I had the option, all the books I would buy would be a hardback. But they aren’t infallible. For starters, most hardbacks are about twice the price and what they gain in longevity, they lose in weight. Because those larger, stronger covers and thicker pages are heavy! Not ideal when you want to carry your book to and from work.
That brings us to paperbacks. Smaller, with paper covers, this format makes transporting books a lot easier, not to mention there is more space on the shelf. Unfortunately, with paperbacks, the quality varies tremendously. Some are high quality, others not so much. There are flimsy paperbacks and sturdier ones. Paperbacks also get damaged a lot easier than hardbacks. While a ruined dust jacket on a hardback is a misfortune than can easily be rectified by simply removing the jacket, in a paperback a ruined cover cannot be so easily fixed. They are easier to read, I find, that hardbacks, however, as the pages are easier to turn and the weight is less effort on the arm.
If you want lightweight and portable you can’t do much better than an ebook. Ebooks can be read on a variety of devices – kindle, tablet, computer, phone – anything electronic seems to be able to support an ebook. Those devices can also store a massive amount of books – you need never buy another bookcase and, should you ever finish a book in the middle of the night, another one is only a click away. However, while ebooks could be argued to be more efficient than physical books, they lose so much in terms of appearance and general reading experience. While you have the actual story, you don’t get the beautiful covers (they look terrible on a kindle), smells or satisfaction of turning the final page of a book. It also looks terrible on a bookcase and is heavily reliant on electricity to keep running.
Finally there are audiobooks. While the previous three formats rely on the eyes, audiobooks require a completely different sense – that of hearing. As a result, it is quite difficult to compare. Weight-wise, audiobooks are as heavy as your ipod or phone. Much like ebooks, they are a bit more abstract and technology-dependent but they also take on a whole other dimension. While a lot more expensive that the paperback, or even hardback, the audiobook also takes on the talents of a voice actor to read the book. This can be touch and go in quality – there are some awful narrators out there. But, for the few awful ones, there are plenty of fantastic narrators who really make the story come alive. However, the narration causes the book to take a long time to listen to, with lengths varying from 4 hours to over 30, depending on the size of the book. It is also really difficult to dip in and out of and near impossible to listen to when walking beside a busy road.
So, all in all, these four formats are quite different, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has a different preference for how they like to read books. I still standby my love of physical books, although I will admit the digital versions can be useful on occasion (especially when you can get hold of ebooks for free).
There are other formats, such as graphic novels, and combinations, such as whispersync, but I decided to only cover those that I was really familiar with.
What is your favourite format? Let me know in the comments below.