Why I’ve Put eBooks on the Shelf

8 Powerful Reasons I’ve Gone Back to Paper—for Now

I decided to go back to physical books for 2016. I used to be a voracious reader. My pace was about a book a week, sometimes more. But that all changed in recent years.

Even though I firmly believe that “leaders are readers and readers are leaders,” I have found myself reading fewer and fewer books with each passing year.

My goal for 2015 was to read twenty-six books. I ended up only finishing twelve. Worse, I actually bought 106 new books.

I realize I can’t blame my failure to read more all on ebooks, and I don’t want to. But I do think they were a contributing factor. Here’s why, and for me these eight reasons are why I’m going back to physical books this year.

1. Ebooks Are out of Sight and out of Mind

Physical books occupy physical space. Wherever you keep them—the shelf, the nightstand, the bathroom—it’s hard to avoid them.

It was easy to buy nearly 90 percent more books than I read because I forgot what I’d already had in the hopper. A physical book has a way of staring back at you. My ebook library is almost entirely out of view.

2. Ebooks Engage Fewer Senses

Physical books are three dimensional and, well, physical. That means there is a whole tactile and spatial aspect to reading: how a book feels in the hand, how it lays out the page, and so on.

It might be subtle, but it affects my experience of reading.

3. Ebooks Make It Easier to Get Distracted

This is mostly a problem when reading on a tablet or phone. But even reading on a dedicated reader can be problematic.

Research shows scrolling and swiping dislodge data from our short-term memories more than page-turning. And this leads directly to reason No. 4.

4. Ebooks Result in Less Retention and Comprehension

I’ve covered some of the science on this in a previous post. Michael Kozlowski explains more of the problem here:

A reader of digital text might scroll through a seamless stream of words, tap forward one page at a time or use the search function to immediately locate a particular phrase—but it is difficult to see any one passage in the context of the entire text. As an analogy, 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, state or country.

Comprehension assumes you can map a story or an argument in your mind. The digital format works against that.

5. Ebooks Feel Too Much like Online Reading

I read for speed when I’m online. But I’m looking for deeper engagement with a book. And what I find is that a screen is a screen is a screen.

That may be the result of habit, but I don’t see myself changing it any time soon.

6. Ebooks Are More Difficult to Interact With

I take a lot of notes when I read. I highlight and sometimes take notes in the margins. I can do that digitally as well, but it’s not as fluid.

It’s the same with reviewing my marks. If I go online to view my Kindle highlights, they’re all stripped out of context. But I can thumb through my physical copy and get an immediate sense of the context in a few seconds.

7. Ebooks Are More Difficult to Navigate

This ties back to thumbing. A physical book is perfectly designed to fan the pages and find what you need.

Sure, it’s missing the search functionality. But with a quick browse I can find most anything I need. It’s nearly impossible to browse or jump back and forth in an ebook.

8. Ebooks Provide Less Satisfaction in Finishing

I don’t think I realized how important this was for me until this past year. I get a charge when I finish a book. That’s especially true for a long or demanding one.

But ebooks have no presence, no dimension. They’re just a thumbnail on a screen. How excited can you get about reaching the summit of a mountain if it looks the same as a hill?

There’s one more part of this. When I finish an ebook, it just slips further down in the library. But when I finish a physical book, I have a reminder of the accomplishment every time I walk past it on my shelf.

It’s a visual cue. That not only reminds me of what I’ve accomplished, it also instantly reconnects me to the ideas inside. And that’s why I read in the first place.

I’m not giving up on ebooks. I will continue to use ebooks when I travel. They are much more convenient than carrying around physical books.

But for most of my reading in 2016, I’m sticking with physical books.

Question: Which do you prefer, physical or digital, and why?