Physical vs. eBook vs. Audiobook

Reading comes in different forms, and so do people’s reading habits. Some don’t read at all. Some only read physical books that smell like old paper and dust. Some read magazines or newspapers or websites. Whether you read romance, science-fiction, crime, or anything else, reading is something you probably enjoy. So what’s the best way to do it?

In this article, I’ll outline the three main methods of reading—physical, electronic, and auditory. From there, you can decide what’s best for you.

Physical Books

Physical books are printed on paper with ink and can come in the form of paperback or hardcover. The size and binding can vary, as can the quality of the book’s design. (There are also magazines, newspapers, etc.)

Since these are made of physical materials, these are more expensive than eBooks, but the ease of merely printing the words makes them cheaper than audiobooks.

Typically around $10-$20 (higher for hardcover than paperback).


  • Many people enjoy the weight and feel of a physical book in their hands. They can feel textures on the cover, see the cover art, and enjoy the new-book or old-book smell of it.
  • Having physical books allows one to display their collection. It serves as an accomplishment, décor, and may be a talking piece to guests.
  • Physical books, while you need light to be able to see/read them, do not need to be charged like eBooks.
  • They are also good health wise, as they reduce screentime and do not emit blue light, which would cause strain on the eyes.
  • No changes can be made after the fact. You have a snapshot in time, thus removing the author’s ability to change or censor anything. This also makes first and special editions rare and valuable.
  • Finally, while new books may be more expensive, most books can be bought second hand for cheap—if you don’t mind minimal wear and tear.
  • Some studies show that people reading physical books (not eBook or audiobook) retain more information from the text, though nothing is certain. (Learn more information here.)


  • First and foremost, physical books take up a lot of space. Some people like this, having walls of shelves filled with books, but others do not.
  • Since they have physical mass, they are typically heavy. Physical books, especially larger or thicker books, are difficult to carry around, and if you do bring a book somewhere, you don’t have the option of switching to a different book unless you bring that one as well.
  • They are susceptible to everyday wear and tear. Some people are obsessed with keeping their books immaculate; others prefer to let their books become “well-worn from love.” However, damage from liquid spills, from snow, rain, or ripping, is not always easy to fix.
  • As mentioned earlier, you cannot read in the dark. For those who like reading before bed and need darkness to sleep, an audiobook would be better so you can listen as you drift off.
  • Depending on the type of book, the edition, and the newness of it, it may be quite expensive to acquire.
  • Older books can also go out of print. For collectors looking for out-of-print stock, it may be difficult to find a matching set. For some, the search is part of the fun, for others, not so much.
  • While not as bad for the environment as other things, physical books leave more of a carbon footprint than eBooks or audiobooks. (Click here for more information.)

Electronic Books (eBooks)

An electronic book – or eBook, as they’re called – is a story held within a database. It can be accessed through a Kindle Reader, Kobo, or other devices and apps meant for reading eBooks.

These are the cheapest of the three because of minimal use of materials and time.

Typically $0.99-$4.99.


  • Along with being the cheapest option, eBooks also take the least amount of space, physically and digitally.
  • eBooks are not susceptible to damage the same way physical books are. If the device is damaged, there are still ways to retrieve the information.
  • eBooks are also popular among the elderly community because of the ability to change the font to a preferred size and style, thus making it easier to read for those with poorer eyesight or with reading disabilities.


  • Since eBooks are stored on an electronic device, it must be kept charged, or it can’t be used.
  • Another big downside is that eBooks add to the already exorbitant amount of screentime people have in their day to day lives. The blue light emitted from the screen can cause strain on the eyes and other health issues. For those who already spend all day working on a computer, going home to read on a screen isn’t preferable.
  • Any illustrations the book may have will be higher quality in print, as lower resolution images take up less data. eBooks also have less freedom on design than print books.
  • Despite the ease of reading in the dark, some eReaders don’t have the brightness needed to read in sunlight or other bright light.
  • While overall, eBooks are the cheapest type of book, the initial cost is high, as eBooks are typically only available on specific devices, such as an Amazon Kindle device, Kobo reader, or a Barnes & Noble Nook reader. These are priced anywhere from $80-$300. A reader made specially for textbooks and documents (the Onyx Boox Note) costs around $500.


An audiobook is a recorded voice reading the book in question. Oftentimes, audiobook narrators will use a variety of voices to differentiate the characters. The quality of a narrator can also go up or down, from amateurs posting videos online, to professional narrators who are commissioned for their work.

Since novels can translate into 9-10 hours of narration, it is quite expensive to produce them, especially for novels with multiple voices and accents, thus making these the most expensive of the three.

Typically $20-$30.


  • Audiobooks and eBooks are great for people who love to read, but have minimal space for physical books, since they only take up as much space as the device that they are stored in.
  • Also a benefit of all being stored on one device, audiobooks can be taken everywhere with ease (while travelling, etc.).
  • Since there is no need to hold the book (or eReader) in hand, they are great for multitasking, such as going for a jog, completing chores around the house, or commuting to and from work.
  • Audiobooks can be listened to in complete darkness, allowing people to read before going to bed without being kept awake by the light of a screen or bedside lamp/nightlight. Using services such as Audible allows you to set a timer to turn off the book in case you fall asleep while reading.
  • Audiobooks typically come through a subscription service, so it is easy to access the next book in a series you may be reading. No searching shelves, no waiting for book orders to come in the mail.
  • Audiobooks are highly accessible for those with reading disabilities such as dyslexia, those with vision impairments, and others who may struggle with other methods of reading. (This, unfortunately, does not extend to those with hearing impairments.)
  • For those who may be intimidated by the prospect of a long book, audiobooks often relieve the stress, as listening along may be viewed more in line with a podcast or television show.
  • Audiobooks also give the option to speed up the pace of the reading. The average speaking rate for people is 150 words per minute, while for reading, the number is 250 wpm. For slower readers (and even average readers), being able to speed up an audiobook to 2x speed is a blessing. It can even be a game if you challenge yourself to read the book in a certain time frame.


  • Despite not taking up physical space, audiobooks take up a lot of data space, typically 50-300 MB.
  • Like eBooks, any device you use to listen to audiobooks must be charged for you to use it. It may take a lot of battery life to listen to an audiobook as well, so you may think it’s a waste of battery life if you don’t have immediate access to a power source (such as in cases of a power outage).
  • Audiobooks are typically more expensive because of the cost of a voice actor (or multiple) to narrate. For subscription services, the price is a constant, and may be a waste for people who don’t read often.
  • Depending on the narrator, you may become biased against the book itself. If you don’t like the voice, it may affect your attitude negatively.
  • Audiobooks may not be best for visually inclined people, since you are unable to follow along with the words. It also doesn’t do any favours for the spelling of names, places, or other words within the book.

What’s the Best?

Pros and cons considered, it all comes down to personal preference. How do you prefer to read? If you’re still figuring that out, give them all a try. Many eBook and audiobook subscription services have free trials available, so take advantage of that. if you find a method of reading that you enjoy and that you think would be sustainable and affordable to you, dive right in!

My Personal Favourite

I believe that nothing can beat the smell of paper and the weight of a hardcover in your hands. I love being able to follow along with the words of a story, whether I’m reading the words myself—or, when I was younger, when my mom would read to me before bed. Because of the nature of my work, which entails a lot of computer time, I appreciate being able to unplug from technology.

My favourite combination, however, is being able to listen to an audiobook as I follow along in the paperback, though, for financial reasons, I only do this with books I can find read for free (by amateur narrators). I can find audiobooks of the Classics online quite easily, as they are in the public domain, but popular fiction books are not as easy due to copyright.

Let me know your preferred method of reading as well!

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