Why We Will Never Buy Another Physical Book. Ever.

We used to own a lot of books.

We used to own a lot of books.

All our lives Caroline and I have been rabid bibliophiles. When I was little I read through all the books that had been bought for me and was so fervent about needing something else to sate my hunger for literature my mom caved and let me devour her collection of novels – a decision that led to 1st grade book reports on titles such as Cujo and Eaters Of The Dead accompanied by slightly concerned teachers.

I am the kind of person who would have to be dragged from my house if it caught fire while I happened to be reading. My tendency to bury my nose in books while walking has lead to countless Mr. Magoo style near escapes, some of them humorous others genuinely coming close to finishing my life before I could finish the book.

Understandably as a result of our combined bibliophilia we have amassed a fairly large collection of books.

In the wake of going over our goals for our annual review process we realized that owning all of those books encumbered us more than they helped us.

That’s a problem.

One of our biggest goals is to be able to travel and travel constantly. We want to be able to head off for foreign lands and not come back ‘home’ for months or even years at a time. Maybe not quite as long as Benny’s 8 years and counting of constant travel, but something pretty close. Once we begin traveling we intend to put our current house up for rent (I don’t want to make payments on a house I won’t be staying in), so we would have to find somewhere to store everything we wanted to keep until we returned and found a new place to stay.

It just doesn’t make sense to have boxes and boxes of books that we have to find some place to store while we travel. As a result we’ve come to a decision that has shocked most of our friends and family.

We’re selling all of our books.

Or at least, almost all of them. There are a handful we do want to keep long term, a handful of reference books that we still get regular use out of and a collection of cookbooks that we aren’t finished digitizing yet. We’ve also decided to never buy another physical book.

Instead, we’re switching entirely over to digital copies. So far, we’ve gotten rid of a little over 150 of our physical books and replaced them with digital copies.

Why Switch to Digital?

There’s still a lot of argument back and forth about whether digital really is better than a physical, paperbound copy. I’m not going to argue one way or the other for everybody, but for our situation digital is a lot better and here’s why.

Portability

Portability is easily the biggest factor influencing our decision to go all digital. With our iPhones and with Google Books, we can take our entire book collection with us everywhere we go. That means that if I get the urge to read an old favorite while I’m halfway around the world, I can. It also means I don’t have to worry about storing all the books that I have somewhere here in the States. After all, I’d need to either impose on a relative or friend to put up the space for all our boxes of books or we would need to pay for a storage container.

It’s the information in the books that’s important, not the hunks of wood pulp themselves.

Replaceability

If I had only physical copies of my books and a tornado came through and demolished everything or there was a fire or whatever, those books would be gone for good.

Sure I could salvage some of them, or make a list for the insurance company and try to re-purchase all the books I had lost, but with the volume of books we own that would be ridiculously difficult. I would have bigger things to worry about than getting all of my books back of course, but the fact is the task of getting them all back would be slow, tedious and expensive.

On the other hand, all of our e-books are backed up remotely. If everything I own gets destroyed, I at least know that as soon as I can get back on a computer or an iPhone all of my books will be there waiting for me. A small consolation perhaps in the face of having all of your worldly possessions obliterated, but a nice one nonetheless. Even our PDF books are backed up both remotely on web servers and locally on external drives.

Of course, I’ve had people argue with me that those precautions aren’t as secure as having the actual book in your hands. They say that iTunes or Google could get wiped and we would have no way to prove we owned all of those books. That’s true – but which happens more often, houses burning down or all of Apple’s servers getting wiped? Thought so.

Searchability

I am constantly, constantly finding myself referring back to certain books. We have about a 50/50 split of fiction and informational titles. Usually, after we’ve finished an informational book, it takes a little while for everything to sink in – that means lots of referring back to the text.

I have probably wasted so much time digging through indices, tables of contents, appendices, etc. looking for that one paragraph that I can’t quite remember or that one key sentence that is escaping me that ties the whole idea together. If you’ve not experienced this, believe me, it is maddeningly frustrating.

Digitized books come with a search bar.

Sustainability

E-Books are buzzword approved! Wait, is ‘sustainability’ even a buzzword anymore? Whatever. The point is, millions of trees died so that young girls and middle-aged women could swoon over an insipid love triangle between a vampire, a werewolf and an angst-filled, whiny teenage girl.

That saddens me a little.

A book’s value lies in the information it contains, not in the number of tree carcasses that were ground into a pulp and flown thousands of miles to produce it. If the information can be had without arboreal martyrdom, why kill the trees?

It just seems silly to me at this point, when there is a clear, simple alternative, that anyone would want to burn tons of oil to cut down thousands of trees and then burn more oil to process those dead trees into books which are then shipped over huge distances to get to you. I’m not saying e-books are perfect, I plug my phone and computer into the wall to charge to read those e-books and the servers that hold them all plug in, meaning somewhere oil or coal is likely burned to keep them going. Overall though, I think digital causes less harm.

Affordability

Equally important, to me anyway because I’m kind of a cheapskate, is that e-books on average are a lot cheaper than the old paperbound ones. It makes sense that they should be, given what we just mentioned about sustainability. Cutting down and processing trees, not to mention all the shipping both of materials and of the finished product to distribution centers and stores is really expensive.

All of that expense is passed on to you when you buy the book. Just paying for some data, the information that gives real value to the book in the first place, without all that extra processing is a lot cheaper because it cuts out all that extra work.

Do you really want to pay extra, just so you can get your information in a form that has become largely outdated? You could always get all your books inscribed into stone tablets instead.

For all of these reasons, we’ve decided to ditch all of our books and never buy another physical one again. What do you think though? Are these good enough reasons for you, or do you think we missed the mark somewhere?

Photo: Natalia Osiatynska

Adam is a former English teacher turned personal trainer and writer. He’s addicted to learning, parkour and martial arts. In addition to being a voracious bibliophile Adam’s fascinated by anything related to health, fitness and language. When not studying or training he can usually be found curled up with a good piece of fiction. You can e-mail Adam at Adam@RoadtoEpic.com