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Wait People Think E-readers are Good?

June 5, 2021


At the beginning of the pandemic I was considering getting an e-reader so I could read and not have to go the store to pick up books. Then once the pandemic ended I would have something portable to read on. After looking into e-readers I decide to just buy physical books.

Then in my news feed I found an article from Markus Riley called “The Advantages of E-Books And Other Forms of Electronic Reading” appear. I felt like some of the claim where deceptive. E-reader’s hype is enmeshed in the techno utopia replacement of legacy technology in other words DISRUPTION!!!! E-readers have more disadvantages than they appear. Here are some common arguments.

E-Books Are Cheaper

A common half truth about e-books is that they are cheaper than physical books. Your average e-book is most likely less expensive than that same book new. An obvious disadvantage for e-books is you cannot buy used e-books which can have a massive savings. However, if you are buying only new eBooks once you throw in the cost of an e-reader this savings becomes murky at best. For instance, I have been reading this light novel series Konosuba over this the pandemic and new volumes cost somewhere between $14 and $10.49 so let’s say on average it cost $12.30 for the physical book. The Konosuba’s ebook average price is $7.99. If we buy the least expensive e-reader (without ads for the kindle people) for $110 dollars we need to purchase 26 books. Konosuba only has 17 volumes so you can’t break even just buying this series. In Riley’s article he mentions textbooks can have massive savings when purchased as e-books.

If we look at the two most recent text books I purchased which where “Wavelets: A Concise Guide” & “Advanced Signal Processing: A Concise Guide” this story gets complex. The difference in the E-book versus physical for “Advanced Signal Processing: A Concise Guide” is $13.50 when looking on Amazon which had the cheapest price. However, when “Wavelets: A Concise Guide” is purchased from the publisher which had the lowest price there was no difference between the physical and electronic edition. The cheapest e-reader is not comparable to physical books but, I will get to that in another section. E-readers file formats are not always transferable and may require conversion software which is not always free. E-book are notorious for their strict DRM (Digital Rights Management) mechanism making it hard to leave the purchase ecosystem.

note: Most e-readers do not have a replaceable battery and have minimal resale value. This means minimal value can be extracted on resale

E-readers are More Portable

An e-reader is more portable than your entire physical library, but most people are reading only one or two books at a time. Looking at a single volume of the Konosuba light novel which weights about 6.9oz and my copy of “Wavelets: A Concise Guide” weights 15.5oz. A 2021 Kindle has a weights of 6.1 oz and an ONYX BOOX MAX Lumi is an e-reader with a 13.3” screen has a weight 20.1oz. If I carry one pleasure book and my text book this is approximately two ounces more than the large e-reader. If I only carry the pleasure book then it is a tenth of an ounce more than a kindle. The e-readers are small bookish size so your not really saving space. Both of the mentioned books are sub 1 inch so at best your saving less than half an inch of thickness going with the e-reader.

It should noted that I am 6ft tall. The Konosuba Light Novel is the book on the left and has dimensions of 8.25″x5.45″ and the book on the right is “Wavelets: A Concise Guide” with dimensions 9.25″x 6.125″.

E-Reader are Better Than Other Screens for Eyestrain

There is no evidence to back this claim up. It is mixed at best. In the study listed below people preferred the physical book anyways!

See “E-Readers and Visual Fatigue” by Simone Benedetto, Véronique Drai-Zerbib, Marco Pedrotti, Geoffrey Tissier & Thierry Baccino

Physical Book purist just care about feel and smell. They are technophobes not ready for the digital future!

This is an argument that is implied and not often directly stated . However, this critique is idiotic because, all the e-readers that I can find have displays smaller than US letter (13.9 inch diagonal) or A4 paper (14.3 inch diagonal) even BOOX MAX Lumi 13.3”. The standard sized e-reader are somewhere between 6-7 inches which is approximately the size of a sheet of paper folded twice or smaller….. so tiny. If you are lucky you will receive an e-reader that has a 300PPI (pixels per inch) which is the minimum density that most books are printed. Most e-readers have a PPI less than 300 and will actually be less crisp than a physical book. PPI (Pixel per inch) is approximately equal to DPI (dots per inch) where the dots are dots of ink.

Most e-reader displays do not even have an aspect ratio that matches the physical print so diagrams will not laid out properly. None of the book mentioned in this article are even near the size of a standard e-reader with “Wavelets: A Concise Guide” having a diagonal of 11.1” and Konosuba having a diagonal of 8.9” inches neither of these books is large. Comparing Ron Larson’s Calculus book (this is most likely the calculus book you used in school. It has the circle thing on the cover has a diagonal length of 14.1”). You would be forced to get the ONYX BOOX MAX Lumi which cost $879 to read content at its native scale but, not at its native DPI. This is not to meant to be a straw man argument against eBooks this literally the only option to get near actual scale! Even if you go for a 10.3” display your breakeven point is still tripled putting you closer to nearly 80 books (if you purchased a Onyx BOOX NOVA 3).

E-readers are supposed to emulate and expand on the book experience yet they are unable achieve this goal. When you tap a large book you get a nice thud. Books can have beautiful embossed covers and marbled pages. Book can have glossy art pages that shimmer in the sunlight. Books edges can be covered in beautiful gold pigments. Book are not merely an utilitarian way to shovel unstimulating text into your brain. Reading is an experience driven by the text, layout, paper choice, color and gray tones. Experience is an important part of a book and cannot be discounted!

The majority of e-readers do not have color and the ones that do have color displays only have low PPI in the color mode. E-readers are unable to model the different characteristics of papers like its whiteness, reflectivity, texture and composition. Books that use mixed paper types ,like Konosuba does -with its glossy color inserts, cannot be replicated on e-readers. E-readers whole purpose is to replicate text better than traditional emissive displays and they fail at this simple task.

Books Mentioned in this Article

Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!, Vol. 9 (light novel) by Natsume Akatsuki

  • ISBN-13: 9781975332334
  • Dimensions (LxWxH): 8.2″ x 5.5″ x 0.85″ (208mm x 140mm x 22mm)
  • Weight : 6.9oz (196g) (from amazon)

Wavelets: A Concise Guide by Amir-Homayoon Najmi

  • ISBN-13: 9781421404967
  • Dimensions (LxWxH): 9.25″ x 6.125″ x 0.75″ (235mm x 156mm x 19mm)
  • Weight : 15.5oz (439g) (from kitche scale a Taylor model 5257576 )

Calculus of a Single Variable 8th Edition by Larson, Hostetler & Edwards

  • ISBN-13: 9780883903469
  • Dimensions (LxWxH): 10.5″ x 7.75″ x 1.25″ (267mm x 197mm x 32mm)
  • Weight : 4.5lb (2 kg)

It should noted that I dispute the thickness of Konosuba Volume 9 because in real life it smaller than Wavelets. I personally measured the thickness of Wavelets the rest comes from amazon from all the books.

Additional Reading


Post a comment
  1. June 5, 2021

    You make some very good points about ereaders! I was recently surprised when looking for textbooks that many electronic versions are almost the same price as the print version (this can vary, but it’s not a rule than electronic versions are cheaper). Thanks for the link


    • June 5, 2021

      Yeah no problem. I know it is shocking that the price differences are so minimal.


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