eBooks or Print?

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2014 • all rights reserved

Which is better

Probably once a week, I get a question about whether eBooks or print books are best on a boat. Not just about The Boat Galley Cookbook, but other books as well or just as a general question.

Let me start by saying that to a certain extent it’s a matter of personal preference. Don’t just do what I do — think about how you use books and what makes sense for you.

My answer: both. They both have their place on Barefoot Gal.

The obvious advantage of eBooks is that they take up no extra space or weight and they’re usually cheaper than a new copy of the same book. Print books, on the other hand, can often be found used cheaply or even free.

Reference books.  In general, we prefer print books for reference materials. Anything that’s going to help us troubleshoot or fix something, such as Nigel Calder’s or Don Casey’s books (links are to posts I’ve written about both). Both of us like to actually flip though pages when we’re working on a problem or trying to figure out how something works.

And yes, in the category of reference books, I prefer paper copies of cookbooks. Again, as I’m looking for something new to make, I just like flipping pages.

If you’re considering getting eBooks for your reference books, I’d recommend getting one first and see how you like it. Don’t get me wrong — I know a few people who love having digital copies of their reference books. But I know far more who don’t like them and prefer print copies. Hence trying one before you spend a bunch of money!

Pleasure reading. For pleasure reading — whether fiction or non-fiction — we both read quite a few eBooks (and eNewspapers). The one advantage with print copies is that you can trade them with other cruisers, whereas trading/loaning is much more limited with eBooks.  Consequently, the idea of “free” print books can make them worth the space and weight.

However, you can get many classic books for free in electronic formats and there are various services that provide daily notices of newer books that are being offered for free or very cheaply for a limited time (BookBub is one I use; there are many others as well).

The one other difference that particularly applies to pleasure reading is reading in the sun. Both Dave and I love to sit in the cockpit and read, and this can be hard with eBooks as we both use the Kindle app on a regular tablet, as opposed to a Kindle. Sometimes the glare makes it impossible to see the screen. We originally decided not to get true Kindles (which you can read in direct sunlight) because we needed them to do numerous other things as well.  As prices keep dropping on bare-bones Kindles we’ve talked about possibly getting one just to be able to use it when sitting in the cockpit.

Bottom line: For Dave and I, the question of eBook or print tends to be how we’ll use the book. Things that we read straight through are great as eBooks, while  books where we jump around or look something up are better in paper. And we always have a few print books to trade when we see something in a book exchange that we’re really interested in.

What about PDFs? Print them or just keep them as electronic documents? It depends. They tend to be reference materials, but many are short and thus easy to refer to electronically.  Consequently, most of them we simply keep on our tablets and call up when we need them. But there are a few (my list of cooking temperatures, for example) where I print a copy and post it in a convenient location.

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  1. Great work Carolyn. We are still working through this issue too. If there is a search function or if you are not sure what you are looking for when looking up reference material. We do find it hard to use our tablets for reading outside. Personally I love a paper book to have and to hold. But we dont have the room to store many of them but they are great for exchange.

  2. Space dictates my choice. The Boat Galley is electronic because it goes with me on the boat.

  3. My Kindle has been the best purchase since moving on board. When you read up to three books a week there just isn’t room on board to keep them handy

  4. EBooks are great. It has taken a while to get used to not handling pages. However one problem when we are at sea as the iPad is used for Navionics !! I find that hard when I was at a good piece in the book !! Would have a paperback on hand as well. The glare on iPad is also a problem.
    I have “The Boat Galley” on Ebook. Last year when in USA I tried buying your book through Amazon. As I am from Australia I had a problem (& still do) with credit cards not matching addresses etc. I got desperate so ordered EBook. Certainly for a cook book u need the pages to flick through. (Still tempted to get the paper book !)
    If anyone from overseas has tips on purchasing on line with an overseas credit card whilst in another country where goods are to be delivered pls let me know (or is it me ?)

  5. We feel pretty much the same as you – reference in hard copy, anything else on Kindle. I have over 360 books that I label “vacation reads” that I have yet to read on my Kindle and probably 358 of them were free through Amazon. I also have about 40 classic books that I got for free and a plethora of non-fiction books as well. It’s a fantastic way to have a lot of books for just about no space at all.

    About the sun glare – definitely get a regular Kindle!! I have the Paperwhite and it is just exactly what I need. The battery lasts about 2 weeks on the boat (I read a LOT on the boat) and at night, it’s easy to read in the dark without waking up my husband. My girls have the regular Kindles and so had to get the covers with the lights and they work great as well. I’d recommend the Paperwhite though and get it with the ads because really, the ads are pretty much the screen savers and a small ad at the bottom of the page of the index of books you have. There is nothing in the books themselves and to save $20, it’s worth it. You will even get advertisements for discounts on stuff like 30% off Kindle accessories. 🙂

  6. My daughter informed me about littlefreelibrary.org for book exchanges in communities. Do you know if marinas on “the Loop” do book exchanges this way? My husband and I plan to retire onto our tugboat in three years and I am planning how to get my “reading fix” now. Perfect timing on your part. Love your blog.

    • Every marina I’ve ever been in — US or foreign — has had an informal honor system book exchange somewhere. Theoretically, it’s leave one, take one, but we all have times where we’ve left 6 and only taken 2 and other times vice versa. Often laundry rooms, bars and other places where cruisers hang out will have a book swap area, too.

  7. Maje Brennan says:

    I agree, Carolyn. I love reading ebooks, but for reference, to-do, or cooking, I need a paper book.

  8. Frank Faubert says:

    Definitely print for reference and ebook for everything else.

    When it comes to ebooks however, read your Kindle agreement. You do NOT own the material you just paid to download (unlike a hard copy) and therefore you cannot trade it with someone else. In fact, Amazon (and others) encrypt their e-wares so it can only be opened through their devices or applications.

  9. Love my Kindle paperwhite. It has no glare in day light, battery lasts a very long time, and has a light to read by at night. I haven’t met its capacity yet, but I borrow books from an eLibrary… so still free! Many counties in the US have excellent ebooks online… if you still own property in the states, get a library card and use it for your ebooks!

    Although I rather use my recipe cards in the galley, I do keep special/unusual recipes on the kindle too. It is great in the galley… but if I don’t touch it, the screen turns off!
    We have a tablet too, but we find that books are much better on the Kindle. We use the tablet for other things… like Navionics or EarthNC and recording video.

  10. I download all my books from the electronic downloads from the three libraries from which I haveblibrary cards. Usually, as long as you can bring in a piece of mail from the library’s town showing you have residence, you can obtain a library card. The books are usually available gor uou to read over two weeks time. I either download them to my nook or to my phone.

  11. It took me a while getting used to my Kindle Fire but I love it! I download free from the library. See what other libraries around yours have reciprocal. I can load from at least two county systems–allowing me lots more books. Reference : paper books.

  12. We have tablets and Kindles aboard Agape and the Kindles win out every time when it comes to just plain reading. For the very avid readers, check out Kindle Unlimited. Might be limiting on really long passages, but otherwise looks pretty neat. We’re deciding if we want to take the plunge on it. http://amzn.to/1Q5jgY3

  13. I have a paper copy. I enjoy it. Good stuff.

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