the ebook wars are over, and paper has lost.


I checked my Amazon account the other day, and of the last fifty books I purchased on Amazon, forty-nine have been Kindle books. (The fiftieth was a gift for someone else that went directly to the recipient.) I don’t know about you folks out there in Intertubes land, but for me, the Paper-vs-ebook debate is over, and the ebook has won.

My current reader is a basic fourth-generation Kindle. I also have the Kindle app on both the iPad and iPhone, but I do most of my reading on the Kindle because the e-ink screen is easier on the eyes than the backlit screens of the iThingies. I picked the basic Kindle because it’s the smallest of the bunch (small enough to fit into the back pockets of my jeans), because I already have 3G capability on my iPhone, and because I dislike touching a screen for turning a page. The hardware page turn buttons on the Kindle are easier to use one-handed and require less finger movement, and the screen doesn’t get all smudged with fingerprints.

I’ve given all the major players fair shakes—I’ve purchased books on the Nook via B&N, on iBooks via Apple, and on the Sony reader via pitiful Sony ebook store. In the end, I’ve settled on Amazon for several reasons:

  • Kindle books are usually cheaper than the same books on the iBooks store or the Nook store.
  • Amazon has the biggest catalog of titles.
  • Amazon offers the easiest and most convenient browsing and buying user experience.
  • The Kindle is the best reader out there in my opinion—and I’ve tried all the current competitors. The new iteration of the basic Kindle is everything I need in a reader—small, flat, long battery life, perfectly integrated with, and not loaded with features I don’t need or want to pay for.

Yes, Amazon has its problems. Among those are the proprietary ebook format and lack of support for the open .epub format. But with Calibre, I can convert .epub to the .mobi format the Kindle does read, and the advantages I’ve listed outweigh the problems for me. Open standards are good, but ease of user experience and quality of integration trumps open source for me. (That’s why I have an iPhone and not an Android phone, which is a whole other argument and a topic for another day.)

So yeah—I love my Kindle, and while I still love and own paper books as well, I’ve converted to ebooks a while ago. Don’t get me wrong—I love browsing in brick-and-mortar bookstores, but with the Kindle, I can buy the books I want in thirty seconds without having to leave the house or even put on pants. They don’t have the paper smell and feel, but they don’t need to be stored and are easily moved, they don’t have to be thrown out by the boxful because of water damage from a leaky roof, and I can carry a thousand of them around in a four-ounce device that fits into my back pocket. The words are the same whether you read them on paper or e-ink, though, and that’s what counts in the end.


65 thoughts on “the ebook wars are over, and paper has lost.

  1. Fred says:

    The two public library systems I patronize most frequently have, in addition to Overdrive (a proprietary e-book system for libraries), also embraced the Kindle format. Couple extra steps required for Kindle, but that’s just a couple clicks. Easy-peasy.

    There’s a battle forming between Nook, Sony Reader, and Kindle – think “VHS vs Beta” – and I think the smart money is on Kindle. I tried a Fire, returned it and got a Plain Jane Kindle instead. I’m hard pressed to come up with much wrong about it.

  2. mac says:

    My daughter got a kindle for Christmas. My only complaint is that the organization of the books, once on the kindle, leaves a lot to be desired. I cannot find a way for it to organize by series, or put the books in order by series number. She reads a lot of series, and you cannot always tell the order (or what series it’s in) by the title.

    I ended up renaming all the books to include the series name, number, then the title. Now they’re organized. Like you, I did it via Calibre. It converts, organizes, and does a decent job of managing what books are where.

    I just read an article that B&N may be spinning off their Nook division. I don’t think it’s going to last. And Sony may end up on the wrong side of the VHS-BETA wars again.

  3. Cat says:

    Ebooks win for things you read straight through. Reference books, not so much. And looking up verses in the Bible is not a win either.

  4. Joe Allen says:

    I might get a Fire just because: Android tablet for $200! But, I agree: e-ink displays are so much better for reading.

    Also, books converted to .mobi with Calibre will take advantage of Amazon’s sync feature – reading locations will be synced across all of your devices.

  5. @mac: I think there is a way to organize them, it’s called “categories” if I remember correctly. I think it’s only available if you registered you Kindle @ Amazon. (I haven’t done so yet)

    I’m a enthusiastic Kindle (Keyboard) reader since October, and I don’t have any regrets. I’ve downloaded over 200 books so far and read about 30 to 40. I’m currently reading the Lord of the Rings, and I can’t imagine carrying this massive book with me, if not binary.

  6. m T Coalhopper says:

    As a library staff-person, I can say that it’s really not so much a war between paper and pixels as much as a battle for content. I prefer my Nook over the library’s Kindle, which matters about as much as some people liking paperbacks over hard-bounds. My personal tastes in literature are so esoteric that Amazon’s broad selection of titles wasn’t a factor for me. I’m doing a lot of epub conversions, so the hardware platform isn’t important.

    What is important is the quality of the writing, whether it’s rendered on paper or pixels. As far as I’m concerned, the ebook war is no more than an us-versus-them argument. Inside, they’re still books.

    One things, though… It’s a lot more convenient to carry “War and Peace” on an e-book than as a hard copy edition. Maybe these e-readers are a good thing, after all.

  7. og says:

    I bought the kindle and never looked back. I like it a good deal, and with the addition of a ziploc bag have even used it underwater in the pool. Mine is a keyboard gen3, and the ziploc trick works fine in it. I don’t know if you can do that with the Fire. I have even used it outside in the rain.

  8. Jeff The Bear says:

    I shudder to think of a world without paper books but even I can see the possibility. I wonder if someone will develop an application to print out in book format from an ebook. Perhaps have an inexpensive cover/binding. This would be helpful for “how-to” type books with lots of photos and illustrations.

    My Color Nook is convenient and offers options but it lacks a soul. And I’ve seen too much change in the last thirty years to rely on batteries and ephemeral technologies.

    • Marko Kloos says:

      They actually have print-to-order printing machines now that can print and bind an ebook for you in minutes. I read of a Manhattan indie bookstore that has one.

  9. Nomen Nescio says:

    open standards trump ease of use and integration for me, which is why i refuse to buy a kindle or any iAnything. but that’s me, and i’ll admit i’m almost as weird as Stallman on this subject.

    oh, and i’m a cheapskate. once i can get an ebook reader that supports all the open formats — ideally with an open OS on it, but i’m not really holding my breath for that — with an e-ink screen for $50-$75 or so, i’ll be sold. until then, i’m sticking to an open source ebook reader running on my Ubuntu netbook.

    in fact, i’m kind of digging my hole by getting used to having all my ebooks stored in the Ubuntu One file storage cloud service, downloading them directly to that service from wherever i find them online, and reading them on any of my computers as i please. too much longer and “can access Ubuntu One” may become a requirement for any ebook reader i’ll buy… and i’ll not see that sort of a device any time soon, if ever.

  10. Montie says:

    Being kind of a paper book snob, I have resisted the e-reader. That is until Tam and Bobbi were so enthusiastic about their new Kindle Fires. So I went ahead and popped for one over the holidays. Perhaps I could have resisted longer if I were only able to access and read formerly print material on it but, it has so many other capabilities that I find useful.

    I understand that it may not be as easy on the eyes as a standard Kindle reader, and comparatively speaking the battery life sucks. But, I love it.

  11. Overload in CO says:

    Did you go with the ad supported or ad free version? If the $79 version, I’m wondering how the ads work and what you think of them vs paying the extra $.
    Overload in CO

    • Marko Kloos says:

      The ads are just that little strip at the bottom of the home screen (you can see it in the picture) and on the screen saver. They are completely non-obtrusive, and picking the ad-supported version is worth the savings in my opinion. I had the ad-supported 3G Kindle as well, and the ads never bothered me.

      • Nomen Nescio says:

        wait, that bit of the screen is an ad?! and you tolerate it??!! clearly we have irreconcilable differences; good thing we’re not related. yet another reason for me to stick with open standards — they enable things like ad-blocker plugins.

        (seriously, there’s a difference of mindset involved here that i truly have difficulty understanding. you paid for the device, you pay for at least some of the books, yet the book publisher still insists on putting advertisements on the screen you paid money for, taking away pixels you could use for reading the book you paid for… and you think you’re making a worthwhile tradeoff? we think too differently to bridge the chasm, there. myself, i might — MIGHT — consider allowing those ads there if amazon was paying me to accept and use their kindle. maybe.)

        • mac says:

          If I read what Marko wrote correctly, the ads only appear on the Home Screen (when you’re browsing the libarary) and the screensaver. That is, they don’t appear when you’re actually in a book. The difference between ad-supported and no ads is $20. The purchaser has the option of buying without ads. I don’t see the issue.

          If putting up with ads in two places is worth $20, you made out. Otherwise, you pay a little more for no ads.

        • Marko Kloos says:

          The ad thingie is only at the bottom of the home screen. It isn’t there when you have a book open.

        • Nomen Nescio says:

          ok, the ads only appearing in certain situations does help some. still, for only a $20 difference, i’d pay that $20 without a second thought. chalk it up to me being weird that way, i guess.

          (and, to be honest, i suspect any price difference large enough that i wouldn’t simply pay it i suspect i’d take as an insult and start looking at competing products. yeah, i’m that weird about it.)

        • freddyboomboom says:

          The price difference between the “ad supported” and “no ads” version is actually $30.

          I would rather use that $30 for something else.

          You would rather pay the extra $30 and get no ads.

          Personally I think it’s nice to have the option.

          Later on, if I get tired of the ads, I can pay the $30 difference and have the ads disappear.

  12. Katrina says:

    Has Kopka paid you for his ad space yet? 🙂

  13. Carl says:

    Thanks for all the interesting comments folks! I’ve yet to succumb to the siren song of the eReader though have been thinking about it. Most of my reading is via library loan hardcovers. I do occasionally purchase books from Amazon too so am beginning to consider purchasing some sort of eReader. How good is the availability of recent publications on these compared to hardcopy?

    • Marko Kloos says:

      They’re usually out on the day the hardcover is available, and usually cheaper by a few bucks.

    • Jake says:

      Perhaps Project Gutenberg will tempt you? 🙂

      Lots of free ebook versions of out of print books, and some that are in print but out of copyright (like the Sherlock Holmes books, for example).

      Baen has their free library, and most books that are available in paperback are on their Webscriptions site for very reasonable prices ($6.00 or less, usually). Even books that are only available in hardcover are usually about $15 for the ebook, compared to $25-$30 for the dead tree copies. There’s no DRM on any of their books, and they’re available in multiple formats.

  14. Mopar says:

    I totally resisted until my wife snagged one at 1/2 price from a friend who bought one then upgraded to a tablet a month later and decided they didn’t need the kindle any more. Once I got to play with hers I had to have my own. One thing I really love is the amount of cheap/free books out there, and Amazon wins that hands down. I have several hundred books loaded, and I’ve only spent about $12 total getting them.

  15. mpk19 says:

    I haven’t switched yet. I’m still holding on to the sensory load of a real, hardcover book. It is just comforting to me. My wife and son have the nook, and I admit that I am tempted, but still holding out. Several years ago, I turned our dining room into a library with an oversized stuffed leather chair. I love that room! Maybe I’ll switch someday, but I’ll still by the hardcover of books I love.

  16. A Critic says:

    Have you tried reading PDFs? I’m curious as I have a few thousand books in PDF I want to read.

  17. David Black says:

    I’ve written three books – The Great Satan, Playing for England and Siege of Faith. Amazon Kindle sales outstrip the others by a country mile. I’m also fully converted to reading other people’s books using my own Kindle. Can’t recommend them enough.

  18. freddyboomboom says:

    Mac, you want to create collections for the series. I have my collections by author’s last name…

    I got the Nook Tablet for Christmas, and played with it for a week, then returned it. It could do a lot more than just read ebooks, but I mostly wanted it to read ebooks. The Kindle Touch is much lighter, and much easier on battery life. Easier to read in sunlight, as well.

    Amazon does a different ebook deal every day, so far I’ve seen them to be $0.99, as well as the “100 ebooks for $3.99 or less”. The “100…” deal runs for a month at a time.

    • mac says:

      The kindle isn’t hooked up w/ an Amazon account yet, and I’m not sure if you can create a collection until it is. Can a collection organize the books by number in the series? If not, then while I can create collections to match the series (or authors), it still isn’t obvious which book comes next. For a short series, that’s no big deal. For something like the Magic Tree House (45 books and counting) or Guardians of Ga’hoole (15? books), it’s a little more difficult.

      Really, this is a minor point. I’ve already figured out how to fix it. I do wonder if I’ll be able to use Calibre to organize books I’ve bought directly through the kindle.

  19. Mopar says:

    Check out at least every day. Many books are on sale of free for only the one day. Case in point, I was busy yesterday and forgot to check, and missed out on getting “Bat-21” for free. Today it’s back to $9.99.

  20. emdfl says:

    I must be the only Luddite reading your blog, Marko, just can’t get interested in a book that’s going to self -destruct the first time somebody sits on it or it gets droppedor …, heh, heh. On the other hand when B&N goes out of business, I’ll for sure be SOL.

    • Marko Kloos says:

      Every book I’ve ever bought at is archived on their servers. I can download them to my Kindle, iPhone, or iPad as often as I want. If the Kindle goes kablooie, I’ll have it replaced under warranty, and the replacement will download all my books to it the first time I turn on its WiFi.

      Paper books are not as permanent, actually. I had to throw out several hundred of them because of water damage about two years ago. We had a leaky roof, and the water ran into the storage area where we had stacked the book boxes from the move.

      • Ian Argent says:

        Every last one of my ebooks are archived locally, on a couple of cloud storage systems, at last two separate portable devices, &c. None of them are limited to a proprietary trader (any more). Plus the vendor’s sites. Backup is cheap, people, and bits are bits. There’s no reason to be afraid of “losing” a file. I have documents in my hard drive old enough to drink in Libby Dole’s paradise, for goodness sake.

  21. Stacie Mc says:

    And Amazon is fantastic at service. My kindle cover clasp loosened without my being aware of it and the kindle fell out breaking the screen. A quick phone call and they sent me a new one using one day shipping. Less than two weeks later the new kindle fell out and broke as well leading me to discover the defective clasp. They quickly sent me another replacement kindle and a new cover.

  22. acairfearann says:

    I don’t have an e-reader but having read hundred if not thousands of online pdfs or scans and being involved in the digital humanities, but also having charge of a private collection hitting about 16,000 volumes and being a complete bibliophile I have a decidedly mixed view. On one hand e-books make collaboration, research, and writing possible in a way that was not possible before. On the other hand, they are terrible for anything to do with art history (screen size is the problem), I can’t scribble notes in the margins, and as a medievalist I have always gotten a kick out of being able to pick up and read a thousand year old document, while the computer geeks agonize over how data is to be stored.
    An interesting problem is funding. A book is basically a one-time cost, once published it has no maintenance cost (assuming it is stored in a building that would be inhabited anyway, e.g. a house) but an e-document has a continuing cost related to storage and/or transmission to a new type of coding as technology shifts. Research grants now tend to consider this: does the project have funding not only for publication but also an endowment for ongoing storage?
    The thing is that burning a library takes effort, but deleting it? Not so much.

    • Marko Kloos says:

      On the contrary. I can copy my ebook a dozen times and save it to as many different locations in under a minute. If I get a hold of your paper book, I have your only copy, unless you’re really handy with a Xerox and have a bunch of good hiding spots for 400+ page printouts.

      • acairfearann says:

        You are absolutely correct. But the very bored hacker who doesn’t know me personally but does look at the cloud and says, ‘hey I wonder if I can screw up this university’s site (and by extension work hosted through it)’ is more likely to cause me problems than the possibility of somebody coming up to me and Physically ripping my work up.
        Besides, when I had neither power nor access (of any sort) to the internet for a full week, I wasn’t cut off from my primary source research. I was cut off from conversation about it and secondary research (all electronic) but not the fundamental information I needed. But, like I said, I am a medievalist and we tend to look at human time on a long scale, right up there with the classicists. I want to know if it will be readable two millenia from now, and considering human history anything that people have to pay upkeep on is pretty unlikely to last that many generations.
        Probably, the stone masons will beat out paper and e-books on that reckoning though…and that is a really impractical medium!

      • Tam says:

        I could have copied my LP’s and 8-tracks to cassette and thence to CD. Too bad I didn’t.

        As someone who owns and regularly uses items that are a century or more old, yet wonders every morning if this will be the day her 8-year-old desktop will finally not boot up, I may have a different view of such ephemera than you.

        Love my Kindle, though, even if it is the sucky inferior one with the short battery life and the backlit touchscreen. 😉

    • Mopar says:

      Actually, you CAN virtually scribble notes in the margin of an ebook. And if you DO that, your margin notes are available to you anywhere, not just in that one kindle. If I make a note in my kindle at home, and need to access it here at work, I just pull up the kindle program on my pc, and there’s the book I’m reading at home, with all the margin notes and bookmarks, and even synced to the last page I read at home. If I’m out to dinner with Marko, and need those notes, I just pull out my phone, open the kindle app on my phone, and viola! There they are.

      • acairfearann says:

        I have tried those electronic notes, they just don’t work for me. I think it is the difficulty with side by side page comparisons. Though some of the opensource transcription programs are extremely powerful (zooniverse’s coding set the standard, but also scripto, t-pen in historical transcription) more than two pages quickly becomes frustrating especially when it isn’t line by line comparison but a footnote there, a paragraph here, footnote and endnote over there…, unless the computer is very fast and you have multiple monitors. I don’t have that budget, maybe you do? I know I am a dinosaur (at thirty no less!) … my desk is currently fenced in with paper, the stacks breed stacks and periodically get sorted on the floor.
        I guess what I am trying to say is that in a very small sub-set of the population when working in some types of research, paper still wins. A small victory, perhaps.
        As for dinner conversations, isn’t that what my memory is for?

      • acairfearann says:

        Yep, and to my shame I admit I never mastered a fountain pen.

        • Nomen Nescio says:

          a couple years ago now, i posted a little whine on this very blog about how i’d been wanting to get into fountain pens but couldn’t pay very much, and Marko kindly pointed me to a few options. maybe it’s time for an update on how that worked out.

          i got a Pilot 78G for ~$12, and it got me hooked. i’m still using it, i like its really fine line, but i’ve somehow accumulated a couple of Hero models since then — a Hero 329 is my daily workhorse writer now, and i play around with a 3-pen calligraphy set from the same maker for italics practice. i’m seriously considering trying one of those noodler’s ahab flex-nib pens just to see what that’s like.

          i’m annoyed when i have to use a ballpoint, now. mechanical pencils are better, but not as good as a liquid-ink pen. getting used to the zero-pressure thing and the different pen holds that makes possible was the hardest part, but i’m pretty much over that by now. i can’t believe i went through mumble years of formal schooling, some of it even with a cheap fountain pen for a tool, and nobody ever taught us kids how to hold a pen… i ended up with thirty years’ worth of bad habits to unlearn. i could kick my kindergarten teachers for the needless hand cramps i’ve had all this time.

  23. JDS says:

    The wife gifted me a basic Kindle for Christmas this year, and I haven’t looked back., Caliber, and MobiReader are all must have applications for getting content onto your Kindle. Funny, that most arguments of those who vehemently oppose ebooks readers come from people who haven’t used them. I’m a voracious reader, and was skeptical at first too…..but after diving into ebooks over the past month, I found that most claims against them were unfounded. Are ebooks going to replace print? Absolutely not. Do they enhance my reading experience? You betcha.

  24. LittleRed1 says:

    My eyes still do not work well with any of the e-readers. They don’t work with computer screens either, so I think I’ll stick with hard copies for the things I really need to read and be able to process, as opposed to what I’m skimming. I’m glad e-readers are doing well for other people, though.

    • Marko Kloos says:

      Really? Because to my eyes, the e-ink on the Kindle looks just like print on paper. I believe that’s one of their main selling points. I can tolerate reading on a backlit LCD, but the Kindle is much easier on the eyes than an iPad or a desktop LCD panel.

      • Mopar says:

        I gotta agree with Marko again. As a matter of fact, I will go as far as say the print looks BETTER then some paperbacks. On top of that, you can adjust the font size to whatever is most comfortable. Try that with a dead tree book. I’m right on the cusp of needing reading glasses for most books, but no problem with the Kindle.

      • LittleRed1 says:

        It has something to do with my astigmatism and some very slight muscle tremors, according to the doc. Anything on a screen causes me problems if I look at it for over thirty minutes at a stretch, no matter if it is magnified or a standard font/text size. That doesn’t work for heavy-duty reading like I need to do for work. FWIW I can’t play any kind of fast-moving game on the computer, either, because I get queasy from the flickering and motion. *shrug* Maybe things will keep improving as technology changes and eventually e-readers will become more of an option. For now I’ll stick to paper.

        • Mopar says:

          Are you sure you’ve seen a real ereader and not something like the kindle fire which is more of a tablet? Dedicated ereaders use a totally different technology then normal screens. There is no flicker at all. Zero. It basically uses magnetically charged particles of ink, and once they are arranged into the text on a page they use no power at all. It’s more like a digital Etch-a-Sketch then a video display. The downfall to this type of display is it doesnt do video or color.

    • Stacie Mc says:

      When I took my new Kindle out of the box for the very first time, I kept looking for the peel off sticker that I was so sure was over the screen. The display looks that much like print.

  25. Mike in Kosovo says:

    I’ve been using the Sony reader for the last 4 years or so – loved it, but the battery finally got to the point where a full charge was lasting less than a week, so it was time to look for a replacement.

    The replacement Sony reader is touchscreen, has wi-fi, the option to directly download books from the library or the sony e-store (gag) and will (supposedly) reflow pdfs.

    I’m well-satisfied with it and the price ($120) was reasonable.

  26. Eric says:

    So when will your books be available on Kindle? I just got one for Christmas, the Kindle Touch. I love it, I am back into reading now. Had a problem reading the smaller print recently.

  27. Tim D says:

    I’ve thought about it but it’s too expensive for me. Not the Kindle itself, getting the books that I have in a new format would run into the 1000s of dollars.

  28. Raul says:

    Physical books have been dead for quite some time in my honest opinion. There are way too many advantages to having an e-reader. For one, you can download e-books for free from many sites like,, and many others. You can hold thousands of books in one small device. There is no going back, e-books are the future.

  29. Tam says:

    When I am ruling the wasteland with a colander strapped to my face, the Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla, people will travel from far and wide to grovel before me for access to my paper books.

    And how long will a burning Kindle keep you warm?

  30. Peter says:

    eBooks have won? I mourn the loss of your soul. Might as well buy a fucking Glock.

    (Have you??)

  31. The Other Jay says:

    I was not ready to buy a Kindle.
    I was not going to buy a Kindle.
    I did not like the whole “e-reader” idea.
    I like the feeling of the actual book in my hands.
    Then came……
    ARC versions.
    I have no patience.
    I had to read my favorite Baen titles before they were available at bar-nez y nob-lez.
    I was reading ARCs on my laptop, and not really liking it.
    Then Wifenkidz gave me a Kindle for my birthday.
    In the 8 months since, I have purchased 43 e-books and 6 paper books. (3 of which were no available in e).
    43-6 is victory for the E.

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