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Why Some are Putting eBooks on the Shelf for 2016

8330702243_d03d8aaa2d_bThis blogger is in love with ebooks, and will never go back to paper (*), but when I read Michael Hyatt’s latest post yesterday it struck a chord.

Writing on his personal blog, Hyatt says that he is setting ebooks aside for 2016, in part because ebooks don’t fit with his reading style. Hyatt is a non-fiction author, and from his points about note-taking and retention I think he is also a non-fiction reader as well.

He says he likes to take notes in the books he reads, and that he has trouble remembering what he reads or quickly flipping through an ebook to find what he’s looking for. He has a point in that ebooks don’t work well for non-fiction, but the part that really struck me was the first section of the post:

My goal for 2015 was to read twenty-six books. I ended up only finishing twelve. Worse, I actually bought 106 new books.

I realize I can’t blame my failure to read more all on ebooks, and I don’t want to. But I do think they were a contributing factor. Here’s why, and for me these eight reasons are why I’m going back to physical books this year.

1. Ebooks Are out of Sight and out of Mind

Physical books occupy physical space. Wherever you keep them—the shelf, the nightstand, the bathroom—it’s hard to avoid them.

It was easy to buy nearly 90 percent more books than I read because I forgot what I’d already had in the hopper. A physical book has a way of staring back at you. My ebook library is almost entirely out of view.

Been there, done that.

No matter which side of the debate you’re on, I’m sure you have had a similar experience with buying ebooks that you’ve never read. That matches with my reading habits, and it is also why I have said that, as a rule, ebook purchases exceed consumption.


For example, I tend to buy every ebook bundle from Humble Bundle and StoryBundle, and then chuck most of the ebooks into calibre unread. I also have a tendency to get all of the free Kindle First books Amazon gives away each month (even though I’ve never read any of them) and I usually get the Baen Webscription bundles.

That’s about fifteen to twenty books a month that I am buying and for the most part not reading. Of course, I don’t see a problem with that, but I also see how it proves Hyatt’s point that ebooks lack the physicality and immediacy of paper books. (It also makes me really glad I can simply toss the ebooks into calibre and let it keep track.)

But is that actually a problem with ebooks? I don’t think so. Do you?

Speaking of out of site and out of mind, how many ebooks do you think you’re buying and not reading?

images by Georgie Rsusivinh

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Mackay Bell January 15, 2016 um 8:16 pm

There is simply no question I’m reading a lot more ebooks than I ever did print books. The print books would pile up and then gradually be hidden under beds and in closets, never to be seen until I cleaned them out years later and donated them to a library in huge piles so I could make room. With ereaders, if I’m bored, I can quickly flip through my library and go, "oh, right, I should read that." But yes, like you, I tend to collect more ebooks than I am likely to ever read, but mostly because there are tons of deals and free offers. Yet, who knows, maybe some day I’ll get to them. The print books that got dumped to the library… they’re gone forever.

Gina Drayer January 15, 2016 um 8:56 pm

Funny thing. This isn’t a problem for me because with eBooks I buy them as a read them. It’s one of the reasons I love eBooks. Finish a book at 1 a.m.? no problem, just get the next one.
I hardly ever buy more than one book at a time (unless I decide to get an entire series so I can read through without interruption.) I do keep a WishList of books that have caught my interest, so if I can’t figure out what to read, I can pick something from the list. Sales rarely cause me to mindlessly one-click. eBooks *usually* have such a low price anyhow, the diffrence b/w .99 and 3.99 is negligible to me as a reader.

Will O’Neil January 15, 2016 um 10:22 pm

I’m a writer of serious nonfiction who reads mostly nonfiction and loves e-books. I have no difficulty highlighting and annotating e-books, whether Kindle or PDF format. Since I use many books for reference purposes I always am buying books that I don’t actually read, but with e-books I don’t feel much need to stockpile against future need, since I can get them so much more quickly when I do need them. And when I need to find one of my 3,000 books to refer to it’s a great deal quicker to do so in electronic form. Moreover, I not only can "shelve" e-books by subject (as I do also with print titles) but can put one book on several different shelves, virtually. So when I’m browsing one of my "shelves" I’m more likely to encounter a book that falls under multiple headings. While it’s not as easy to flip the pages of an e-book, the search function works much better than either the index or flipping for many purposes. When I do buy a paper copy (either because there is no Kindle version or because some fool has priced it too high relative to the market) I at once get it turned into PDF form so I can use it more easily.

Diane January 15, 2016 um 10:30 pm

I used to be like Gina, until the agency thing and the rise of prices. Before agency, prices were pretty stable. Now they seem to be all over the place. So I get half my books from my county digital library, and I buy a lot of books on sale.

I bought Boys in the Boat for $2.99 in July, but didn’t read it until September for my book club. I think it was $5.99 then–now it’s $10.99. I bought All the Light We Cannot See for $6.99 in December 2014. It’s now $13.99. I still haven’t read it, but since it’s the February selection for my book club, I will be reading it in February.

I have 17 pages of unread books on my Kindle–since they don’t take up any space in my house and Amazon lets me know when I already own a book. I like the fact that I don’t have to get rid of books I’ve already read because I don’t have enough book shelves. I could never have too many books.

Barry January 15, 2016 um 11:13 pm

I buy books that I think I’ll read, usually if they’re on sale. I may not expect to read them soon but if a book is $2 and I know I’ll eventually read it and it’s normally $10 I’ll buy it.

Because books go on sale faster than I can read them I accumulate a lot of ebooks. That’s fine with me. Every one is a book I’ll read if I live long enough.

If I’m not pretty sure I’d like to read a book, even if it’s free, I’ll pass on it. So my library is my to-be-read list. I think it’s a pretty nice system. And since I hate wasting money and I’m 75 years old I’ll have to live a very long time to ever catch up, and that’s another good thing. 🙂


poiboy January 15, 2016 um 11:39 pm

protip: kindle (for example) can created groups of books. label one "books with notes" or "to read in 2016" and refer to these lists often.

Syn January 16, 2016 um 1:11 am

I have books on my book shelf that have set unread for ten years. I do get what he means about note taking. Samsung at one point had an ereader app that let you write in the margins of books. I think you still can in apps like Mantano reader. Moon+Reader I thought had this as well. Handwriting a note is needed for retention. Typing a note isn’t the same go figure.

He can always let Amazon Eco read the book to him now while leaving his hands free to take notes. This has been working great for me.

Darryl January 16, 2016 um 2:41 am

I thought the post concerned was absolutely ridiculous. EBooks, apart from agency priced rip-offs, are so affordable compared to paper books of course more go unread. Between the price and the actual visits to stores to buy books little wonder fewer were bought. And from a much smaller selection. Where is the problem? They remain available for you to read, and presumably you have some interest in reading them.

If I never have to read another paper book I will be happy.

Paul Durrant January 16, 2016 um 3:00 am

I have about lots of unread ebooks that I’ve bought, the 'oldest' were bought in back in 2007. I have been trying to reduce my unread pile for about five years. Clearly without much success.

But having a large selection of bought but unread books does mean that I can wait for books I’m interested in to go on offer, and still always have a good book to read. This means that my average price paid for an ebook over the past five years has been under £1.50!

Christian Zierleyn January 16, 2016 um 4:25 am

The criticism resonates with me too, but I think this should be an incentive for e-reader software developers to address these shortcomings in the e-reading experience. I feel that e-reader software developers have become lazy because of the success of ebooks in recent years. Now that there is a backlash it’s time to become a bit more creative and lure readers back to ebooks with new ideas. Of course you can’t address every issue. The tactile nature of paper books will always be something special for a lot of people and ebooks will never be able to challenge this, but that leaves plenty of other issues that can be addressed.

Richard Adin January 16, 2016 um 5:20 am

I am in synch with Hyatt, albeit I basically stopped reading ebooks about a year ago. I have a backlog of more than 7,000 ebooks, about 6,000 are nonfiction. I rarely read nonfiction, but when I do go on a fiction binge, fiction will be all I will read for a couple of months — then back to nonfiction.

I tried reading nonfiction in ebook form and found that I wasn’t retaining the information as well as when I read the book in print. In addition, I found that scrolling through the books on my reader to decide which I wanted to read next was uninspiring. I prefer to run my fingers over the physical books on the shelf and if a book attracts me, read the jacket.

I also find that when I have the physical book and I and a guest or two are sitting in my library chatting, that someone will usually ask about a book they spot on the shelf and a discussion about that book and others ensues. No one has ever asked to browse my reader to see what ebooks I am reading and that they want to learn more about.

Finally, there is the question of cost. Unlike fiction, few nonfiction ebooks are inexpensive. It isn’t much more expensive (and often much less expensive) to buy the print version. With the print version, I own it; that is, I can easily lend it to a half-dozen friends, nor do I need to worry about not being able to read the book 10 years from now when the format standards have changed.

Fiction, for me, is OK in ebook form, but for nonfiction it has to be print.

Richard Adin January 16, 2016 um 5:22 am

Of course, I mistyped in my comment. I wrote: "I rarely read nonfiction, but when I do go on a fiction binge. . ." The "nonfiction" should be "fiction"; the sentence should be "I rarely read fiction, but when I do go on a fiction binge. . ."

Sorry about the mistyping.

cksyme January 16, 2016 um 10:47 am

I agree with Diane. I am also a nonfiction writer who loves nonfiction ebooks and has no trouble taking notes in them. I believe voracious readers will always buy more books than they read. I buy a book, start reading, and realize it will not deliver the value I thought it would and leave. I don’t want to spend the $$ trying to figure that out w/print. I still buy some print books but not many. More importantly, I would never make a business decision based on a personal reading style. That goes against all marketing best practices.

Joe Winbigler January 16, 2016 um 11:15 am

My ebook buying habit is not much different than when I bought the paper version. I overbought then and overbuy now. It is just me. The vast selection and price afforded me in the digital world have meant that I have left the paper version completely behind. Having many references built into the e reader to further look up words, people and events has given me far better comprehension than when I read a book off paper, as I would never have bothered looking up the meaning of a word or exploring more of a name that appears while reading.

IrishImbas January 16, 2016 um 1:47 pm

I’ve now got to a point where I no longer buy ebooks for exactly the reasons outlined in Hyatt’s article. I have a collection of unread ebooks on my ereader that will only get read when I’m travelling. If there’s an author I enjoy in there, I will follow through and buy another but it could be more than a year later.

DavidW January 16, 2016 um 7:31 pm

I have problems buying more than I can read in both paper and electronic. Funny enough it really should be a non-issue for ebooks. You can wait on a book until you want to read it and then immediately buy and start reading it. There are no scarcity issues.

Fahirsch January 17, 2016 um 10:40 am

My main problem is that days are only 24 hours long. Used to have books that were to be read some day, books in suspended animation, and books being read. Now I have ebooks that are to be read some day, ebooks in suspended animation, and ebooks being read

Common Sense January 17, 2016 um 4:01 pm

I have plenty of unread physical books, and now I’m even more unlikely to get to them because I prefer reading on my Kindle.

I do purchase far more ebooks than I will ever be able to read, but that’s partly because we share our account with a variety of family members with just as wide a variety in book taste. Not to mention that my tastes and moods for reading change as well. I also made the mistake of getting every free ebook offered back in the early days. I do buy more ebooks than I ever did physical books, mostly because they are much cheaper. Thanks to the advent of the agency model, I learned early on never to pay more than a couple of bucks for an ebooks. There are less than a handful of authors for whom I’d even spend $5. There is always something else to read.

My ebooks aren’t really out of sight. I frequently browse through them trying to decide what to read next.

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