/ Travel & Leisure

Is it the end of the story for ebooks?

ebooks vs books

Are you an ebook convert, or do you prefer to stick to printed books?

I’ve never owned, contemplated owning nor as much as physically handled an e-reader.

Being an English Literature graduate and having been in publishing all my working life, I guess I’m not naturally drawn to reading a good book on a screen.

So when I read that sales of consumer ebooks fell 17% last year, to the lowest level since 2011, while printed book sales reached a five-year high, I did an imaginary high kick. Despite what the doom-mongers say, print is not dead after all!

Screen fatigue

The analysts are putting the decline down to ‘screen fatigue’ – with people looking at so many throughout the day, be it laptop, smart phone, tablet or smart TV, a good old-fashioned print book provides a welcome reprieve.

But for me it runs deeper.

Nothing beats that feeling you get poring through the pages of a good book, putting it down and picking the story up from where you left it. For me, the same applies to magazines.

If it’s really good, I want to share it with my friends and family. Hopefully, I’ll get it back eventually, so I can put it on the shelf along with my other well-thumbed, dog-eared favourite reads.

Some books I even get quite sentimental about – especially the ones I’ve scrawled in while studying.

I just can’t see how you can get any of that joy from an e-reader.

It doesn’t seem that there’s even a cost benefit either. The e-reader device itself comes in at around £100 or more, plus the ebooks you download on it.

Not to mention that there’s the risk that it can break – being an occasional bath-time reader, mine would definitely get water damaged.

Easy read

Of course, I do see the merit in e-readers, too. When a friend went back to uni to study zoology, she raved about how hers saved her from lugging heavy textbooks about.

And if you’re a fast reader heading on holiday for a couple of weeks then you may not have enough luggage space to store a few good reads, whereas an e-reader is pretty compact.

Plus, provided your wi-fi isn’t on the blink, you can buy an ebook and start reading it there and then. You don’t have to wait for it to be delivered or visit the bookshop. Although, in my opinion, you’d be missing out on that wonderful experience, too.

So, are you in the real book corner or a fan of ebooks? Are you surprised that sales of ebooks are declining?


It’s true sales are falling rapidly, but those whose eyesight isn’t up to tiny print find ebooks very useful. And when all you need is an iPad pro or kindle to carry around an entire library there’s really no contest.

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Many of my books are technical or out of print and used mainly for reference. Having electronic versions would be useful but I don’t think that’s going to happen and I’ve already got enough waiting to be read or read again.

Ian makes a good point about small text in books. Sometimes I wish I could enlarge the text in a book or magazine using two fingers. I occasionally do this in moments of absent mindedness.

I thought it was now regarded as a myth that reading and watching TV might damage your sight.

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I spent a great deal of time reading during my adult life, and since the 80s staring at computer screens. Years ago I bought reading glasses and then varifocals but did not like either. I don’t need glasses in natural light or if I use a good reading light. I avoid reading when I’m tired, but have no idea if this could cause problems. I’ve noticed that I automatically use the trackpad to make text larger on the computer, even if it is large enough to read.

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Seems we have been here before in Conversations.

The article from the Guardian recounts the increase in some areas and the decline in fiction ebooks so the easy answer is no it is not the ” end of the story for ebooks”.

Once again I will mention the existence of the 9.7″ and 13.3″ ebooks from Onyx which Which ? has consistently refused to mention as existing even as far back as 2013. These are excellent for pdf’s , with twin columns and for people with impaired vision, or people who read very quickly.

A Which? senior exec has said to me that as Onyx are not widely available they are not included in the tests commissioned by Which? I have no problem with them being not tested ; I do have a problem with Which? hiding their existence from subscribers who may benefit -and are old enough to make up their own minds.

If you want to read up or buy them then they are available on the well-used Amazon. I have had two different 9.7″ ereaders and for me they are far superior to the mini-screen versions. I would urge you not to buy a dark coloured cover to any ereader as sitting on them becomes more likely.

I prefer paper books and have a couple of thousand plus, or as Librarything tells me a requirement for 401 linear feet of shelving. I think much more is required for subject breaks and some gaps between the books. I do also have over 3000 ebooks which primarily come from Gutenberg.org where around 36,000 are in epub. or another format.

Whilst these take less shelving they are infinitely less useful for maps , identifying plants and admiring photographic travel books.

Lastly if going on holiday I recommend seeing if there is a second hand bookshop in your vicinity where with luck you will pick up good paperbacks for a fraction of the original price.

I would support Which? mentioning larger ereaders and suggesting that potential purchasers consider various alternatives such as large tablets, laptops and even desktop machines. These are likely to be more versatile than an reader, though the battery will need more frequent charging. A friend who suddenly lost most of his sight during the last year is able to read small amounts using the 24″ iMac that he already owned and the computer also reads ebooks to him.

I’m sometimes surprised by what Which? reviews and what is not covered. A year ago, there were no reviews of carbon monoxide detectors, despite the recommendation that every room with a gas/oil/solid fuel appliance should have one. When reviews did appear, it was discovered that dangerously substandard ones were on sale.

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It’s comforting until you reach the references to war and hate. I think we had better get back to ebooks.

As an aside I have a 28″ e-reader, but I’ll explain. As a pianist whose eyes have developed a small but irritating issue around precision (I tend to see multiple images in fine areas) I can’t really read printed music very easily. So instead of a music stand on my piano I mounted a 28″ monitor vertically, and hooked its output to a Mac Mini. A Canadian charity collates and distributes pdfs of all the music they can prior to the 1950s so apart fro an annual sub to them I’ve managed to get the full pdfs of all the major piano concerti and solos.

A friend who’s a professional harpist takes all her music on iPad and orchestras are starting to appreciate the back light advantage of iPads and also the ease of use, when it’s not left to the orchestral librarian to distribute copies.

If we urge potential ereader buyers to consider tablets etc. I think it should be pointed out that e-ink readers are less stressful to the eye and therefore reading pleasure.


You have provided a link to what is the most useful study, Patrick. It would be interesting to compare a modern ereader with a modern high resolution tablet or laptop. I have little experience with ereaders but it’s certainly important for users of tablets and laptops to set the screen brightness according to ambient light conditions. For those like myself with uncorrected presbyopia, a bright screen is helpful because it constricts the pupil and improves focus.

I suggest borrowing modern devices from neighbours or friends, which is a great way of evaluating products.

Perhaps this may also be of interest as obliquely it provides a reason were a dedicated simple ereader may be superior to a tablet – other than simply eye-strain. The quote below sets the scene you need to read the article for the oblique lead.

” For instance, reading scholars increasingly find that changing the physical reading platform (from a printed book to a digital screen) leads to marked alterations in comprehension of the text read. They point to factors related to the affordance of the reading device such as haptics e.g., perception through touch (Mangen and Kuiken, 2014) and lighting conditions (e.g., Benedetto et al., 2013) as aspects undergoing a significant change which result in a reduced learning outcome. This observation is corroborated by studies probing for accompanying metacognitive processing that show less accurate prediction of performance and more erratic study-time regulation when reading on screen versus on paper (Ackerman and Goldsmith, 2011).


This may be of interest to opticians aswell as patients as I am generally asked what distnce do you hold a book which is rather different for smartphone readers.

“With the wide-spread use of smart mobile devices, smart device addiction has become serious health problem worldwide [6, 26]. Continuous accommodation is necessary to focus on the display of smart mobile devices for an extended period. The fatigue induced by video monitors, such as LCD and LED monitors, has been previously referred as computer vision syndrome (CVS) [4, 5, 27, 28]. About 64–90 % of computer users develop CVS [4]. It has been reported that blink rate during computer work significantly decreases and negatively correlates with eye discomfort score [10]. Another study revealed that computer work for more than 4 h significantly increased eye discomfort [29]. In addition, electronic book readers with LCD monitor cause marked visual fatigue [30].

Our results have demonstrated the aggravation of CVS upon viewing monitors such as those of mobile devices. A recent study demonstrated that the preferred distance for viewing a mobile device (36.2 cm) is shorter than the typical distance for reading books (40 cm) and this requires more accommodation and convergence [31]. The cumulative effect of continuous accommodation and convergence can manifest as various ocular, visual and musculoskeletal symptoms which are collectively called as asthenopia.”

Various methods of treatment have been suggested to manage CVS. These include correction of residual refractive errors, instillation of artificial tears, combination of specific body posture, breathing and mental control, visual ergonomics and Ayurveda medicine [28, 32–34]. There are anecdotal reports about the effectiveness of these treatment modalities. Specific pharmacologic intervention to alleviate asthenopia induced by CVS has been investigated previously. Omega-3 fatty acid was reported to decrease visual discomfort in CVS by decreasing tear evaporation and improving dry eye symptoms [35]. Topical brief application of polyphenol on eyes alleviated eye fatigue after computer work [36]. It is also important to maintain baseline efforts such as taking regular break, proper refractive correction, and treating underlying ocular surface disease to prevent CVS.


I would have hoped that – being both an editor & an English Literature graduate, the author would be able to spell correctly: “you’re wi-fi isn’t on the blink” means “you are wi-fi …”; it should, of course, read “your wi-fi”.

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If we’re going to play at nit-picking, I think that’s more down to a failure of proof reading, rather than spelling.

As wee no, their is an adequate “spilling chucker” on hear, butt it does knot yet cheque context and grammar, sew it allows homophones too slip through unnoticed.

Mel is normally punctilious in regard to her writing, so this is bound to be a simple proof-reading error.

Trevor – People with perfect spelling can still let errors slip through because it is well-known that we can be more fallible when proof-reading on a screen. In Which? Conversation we generally let these trivial faults pass without comment. We type what we hear in our head and reliance on a spell-checker has possibly undermined diligence with spelling and making sure it is the right word.

As to English grammar, Duncan, if we insisted on perfection with that, a lot of what is written here would be almost unreadable and possibly unintelligible to many. It matters that people can understand what others are writing but apart from that, on little slips and trips, “Ça ne fait rien”.

Any comments on ebooks, Trevor?

Following the responses from others in response to my previous comment, I would just add that the reason I commented on it is because, on reading that sentence, I did actually initially read it as written, i.e. as “you are wi-fi”, and then did a ‘double-take’ and had to re-read it 2-3 times before realising what was meant. Many typos and mistakes can be ‘absorbed’ by the reader without difficulty, whereas others do actually cause difficulty to the reader. For me, this one fell into the latter category: hence my comment. Sorry if I’ve offended people.

In response to wavechange, my father was a bookseller, so I’m biased, but I do prefer reading from paper. I have a couple of reference books that are e-books, but wouldn’t read a novel that way.

Hi TrevorD – Thanks for coming back. I prefer to read on paper too. I have just printed a 32 page article by a friend and will mark the most interesting points and then put it in a filing cabinet. I will keep the pdf too because that is much easier to search.

I would certainly prefer ebooks for reference purposes because they don’t gather dust or take up space on a bookshelf. If I’m going to read a whole book, I prefer paper.

Come and join us in a few Conversations. The natives are quite friendly. 🙂

I became a convert to ebooks when the Harry Potter series first came out, the print books are too heavy for me to hold, as time has gone on also my sight has deteriorated and changing font size is essential, and of course the physical storage of my several thousand ebooks, if they were in print form would be a nightmare, I don’t use a dedicated ebook reader, none of them allow me to name the books in a way I want, which is a particular problem with books in a series, so I use a tablet with an app which works perfectly for me.

Entirely up to you how you read ebooks. I wonder if you knew that the larger ereaders existed? The 13″ using different technology is very expensive but weighs the same as an 9.7″

I make use of calibre that can pretty much do anything I want with a file in terms of converting and re-naming. It is freeware and I have paid to the developer over the past decade tiny fraction of what the program is worth.


I do use Librarything also and that now allows you to add ebooks [ and DVD’s ] to your library. This means I can have ebooks and physical books together in a single catalogue if I wish…. though I have yet to get around to it.

Eddie Winship says:
28 May 2017

Got a Kindle for my birthday about 6 years ago and was unimpressed. Couldn’t get used to reading from this thin , flat hunk of metal! A couple of months later, at Christmas, I was given a case for it and WOW! Really just like holding a book. I now have about 1200 e-books. Many heavily discounted or free, Project Gutenberg for example. Never without my Kindle!

A case also reduces the risk of accidental damage of ereaders, tablets and phones. I’m surprised that cases are not provided as standard.

For anyone who may be looking for last minute Christmas gift ideas – this could help: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/12/kindle-oasis-tested-the-best-ebook-reader-of-2017/