Why I Am Still All-in With E-Books

A number of years ago I decided to go all-in with ebooks. I was in transition at the time, having just resigned as a vocational pastor to instead be a non-vocational pastor whose primary focus is writing. My library was at the church and I didn’t fancy bringing it all home. Neither did I have space in my small house for a big collection of books. I had already been wavering between the two formats, but allowed practical considerations to cast the final vote. I sold some of my books, gave the rest away, and have pretty much stayed the course. Today I have perhaps 50 printed books and several thousand electronic (the majority of which are provided by publishers for review purposes).

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That said, the world of ebooks is still pretty goofy in ways and pretty confusing in others. For example, one platform offers the most books and the best hardware for reading them (Amazon/Kindle) while another offers the best variety and experience for the kind of books I rely on for research and sermon preparation (Logos). The two are completely incompatible. And so I buy and read one kind of book on one platform and another kind of book on the other. It’s silly and unfortunate, but at this time necessary.

Then there is the issue of future compatibility. I expect we all have files and software from the past that we can no longer use and no longer access because either the software manufacturer has gone out of business or the old programs will no longer run on new machines. While I have a reasonable degree of confidence in both Amazon and Logos, I am not so naive as to think that either is too big to fail or to believe that I will necessarily always have full access to everything I have paid for. That concerns me.

Then, of course, there is the issue of ownership. It is well understood by now that when we purchase electronic assets, we do not actually own them as much as we secure the rights to use them. For this reason, I have had to come to see books as something closer to a service than a possession. There was a time when I owned collections of CDs and DVDs—of music and movies. But streaming services came along that made both redundant. Similarly, my library has essentially been replaced with a service—with a collection of books I have paid to have rights to, though not to own. This has required a shift in mindset, but it is one I have been willing to make.

Another big issue is that of Amazon’s utter dominance of the market and their increasing willingness to refuse or remove books that are opposed to their ideologies. This concerns me a lot, though the issue is not solved by switching to paper since Amazon’s dominance in the marketplace is so complete that few books, whether physical or electronic, will be printed if they cannot be sold through its channels.

But alongside such drawbacks are real benefits. Electronic books are almost always cheaper than printed books which means I can have all the same resources but spend less on them. Electronic books take up no space, so I do not have hundreds or thousands of bulky objects cluttering up my home. Electronic books have no form, so cannot be lost or damaged by fire or flood. They can, though, be taken with me wherever I go so that my entire library is available to me at all times and in all situations. This often has proven very handy.

Both Kindle and Logos have one unique function I have come to rely on—one that is not easily replicated by their physical equivalents. For Kindle, it is the ability to make highlights that are then synced into the tool(s) I use for knowledge storage and management. As I outlined in “Three New Tools That Make a Huge Difference,” I have come to rely on Roam Research to store key information, and I use a tool called ReadWise to automatically sync all my highlights into it. This same tool also emails me a daily newsletter with some of those highlights so I can continue to refresh my memory about key quotes and significant ideas. This has become key to my workflow and retention.

The unique function for Logos is the ability to perform powerful searches across my entire library. By taking advantage of Logos’ many sales and free resources I have accumulated a significant library of books, commentaries, sermons, and reference works, and rely heavily on the ability to search across all of them. The Sermon Starter Guide, Passage Guide, and Bible Word Study Guide are tools I don’t ever want to do without. I do not at all miss the days when I’d spend hours pulling books from my shelves and having eight or ten of them spread across my desk.

Very practically, I tend to purchase general market and Christian living books in Kindle format, but reference books in Logos. Essentially, if I expect to use a book in preparing sermons or Bible studies, I prefer to have it in Logos; if I expect to merely read a book and perhaps refer to it infrequently in the future, I am content to have it on Kindle.

As the Kindle hardware has developed it has gotten better and better so that both the Paperwhite and Oasis are exceptional devices, especially when compared to earlier generations. I also access the Kindle app on my computer, though primarily to search within books and to easily copy and paste information into other apps. As for Logos, I have long since stopped using the downloadable app to instead use the browser-based equivalent which has all the functions I need and which runs considerably faster.

I do at times miss the simple pleasure of a printed book. There is still something about the form of it—about the look, the feel, the format. The book as we have known it for so many generations is a wonderful medium and one that carries out its task remarkably well. But books have their downsides and ebooks their upsides and in the end, I have decided to prioritize the latter. And as it stands today, I have no great regrets.