Paper books, ebooks, audiobooks: what’s the difference?

By Kamila Mushkina / September 23, 2020
paper book ebook audiobook

Today, if you want to read a book, you can choose between an old-school paper book, an ebook or an audiobook. Each of them have their own pros and cons. Let’s explore the difference between them.

Paper books: more emotional but less portability

Most bookworms prefer paper books because they’re real. The emotions you experience while reading a paper book go beyond its content; you can turn its pages, touch and smell it (oh that old book smell!). But it’s not the only reason why paper books are so unique.

You can own a paper book and have it visible on your bookshelf. Buying a real book makes you feel excited on the way home from a bookshop. A paper book can also be a gift, and then it makes you remember the person who has given it to you. If you borrow a book from a friend or a library, you may think about the many people who have read this exact book and gone through the same emotions you experience – isn’t it magic?

The experience of a paper book is more complex and therefore suitable for sentimental readers who like to immerse themselves in the process of reading.

However, there are some disadvantages of paper books too. They are usually more expensive than ebooks or audiobooks. They are also heavy and not easy to move – imagine that you’re moving to another city and you need to move a whole library with you!

If you need to carry a few books at once, you may find it easier to have just one ebook. You may also decide that having many paper books isn’t good for the environment; in that case, digital books may be a better alternative.

Ebooks: more portability but worse comprehension

Ebooks solve the problems good old physical books have. First of all, ebooks are cheaper because publishers don’t need much to produce them.

Ebooks are also more portable: you can have your whole library on your smartphone or Kindle! This way you don’t need to carry a heavy bag, which is safer for your spine.

Another good thing about e-readers is that most of them have the screen light, which means you can read in the dark. Many people like reading before sleep, so some extra light is a good idea! 

The only technical disadvantage that ebooks have is that you need to charge the device you’ve got them on. I remember once I was going to read my ebook and then found out that it wasn’t charged.

Do you think that we consume and process the information differently when reading ebooks? The answer is yes. Reading comprehension is better with paper books than with ebooks, not least because of that tactile feedback paper books provide.

You know that feeling when the number of pages grows on the left and shrinks on the right. At first glance, this seems not very important, but it helps us navigate in the book and helps us perceive the story as the sequence of events. You remember where in the book which event of the story is located. This is something ebooks cannot recreate.

Audiobooks: multitasking is possible (but don’t overuse it!)

Audiobooks are totally different. Not reading but listening to an audiobook is a whole different process.

Audiobooks are an optimal solution for those who want to read more but haven’t got much free time. You may listen to an audiobook while walking in the street or cooking dinner. You may basically do whatever you want with your eyes and hands because you don’t need to hold a book or look at it. If you aim to be productive, you’re an audiobook type.

However, there’s a difference in perception between reading a book and listening to it. Reading a book is different from other kinds of media consumption. When you’re watching a movie or listening to music, it goes on without any effort on your part. Reading, on the other hand, is a more active process because you need to engage in the process of reading. The story won’t continue unless you pay attention to it.

Why is reading actively so important? Because we’re so used to multitasking, reading and concentrating on a book has become a skill that many don’t have. We’re used to absently consuming series, YouTube, and TikTok clips and forgetting it the next day.

It’s okay that we like series and social media. They help us rest and distract ourselves from difficulties. However, they also make us lose our ability to focus. Reading a book gives it back.

So, if you like audiobooks, you really need to listen to them. Do not consider them as an opportunity to escape from uninteresting details in the story. In that case, there will be no difference in comprehension no matter if you’ve read an ebook or listened to an audiobook.

Although an audiobook gives you an amazing opportunity to combine it with another activity, use this opportunity wisely. Do not scroll through your social media while listening to an audiobook. Do not listen to an audiobook if you need to focus on something else.

Still, audiobooks have some advantages books and ebooks don’t have. For example, it’s easier to listen to an audio play than read it on paper or screen. Also, if the character in a book has a specific accent you’re not familiar with, it would be great to listen to it.

Audiobooks and ebooks are very convenient and help us to save time and space in our fast-paced world. However, reading paper books remains a unique experience that is hard to imitate. In the end, you choose what is more suitable for you – a paper book, ebook or audiobook.

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About the author

Kamila Mushkina

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