Audiobook vs. Physical Books vs. E-Books – Which One is Better

If you are a writer or an avid reader, you might have wondered what the best format to read books in is – physical books, e-books, or audiobooks (where you aren’t actually reading the book but still taking it in.

You might be a fan of all three formats since all three of these can be perfectly viable ways to consume books. But, depending on how you are reading and the purpose of your reading, one of the three book-formats might have a slight edge over the others.

Why Do People Read Books?

Instead of breaking books into their three respective formats, let us have a look at why people read books in the first place. Basically, there are three reasons why one would pick up a book:

Reading for relaxation.

One of the primary reasons that people read books is for escapism – they want to have fun through reading.

Reading for expanding learning/ knowledge.

We might also read to expand our knowledge or deep learning to deeply understand a topic or subject.

Reading for reference and research.

Finally, people might read for reference and research when they are trying to pull knowledge out of a book and apply it to something they are trying to do.

Reading for Escapism

The best format might be a physical book for the first purpose of reading for escapism. According to research, compared to e-books, people who read physical books are able to remember the order in which things happen in the story.

There must be something to the physical, tactile sensations that one gets when reading a physical book – the act of turning a page, the act of remembering which side of the book one was looking at when something in the story happened.

The physical touch of a book allows people to have a little better memory of what went on compared to when they were just looking at a screen and scrolling through a never-ending wall of text.

One potential downside of reading e-books is that they are usually read on tablets. Even the kindle-devices have built-in web browsers, and when people have access to additional information and additional things that can be done with a device, it gets harder to really sink into the world of books and really get the feel of the book and get lost in the story.

Reading for Knowledge

This includes that the person reading for knowledge is striving for building deep expertise in a topic or one area of the subject they are reading. But, they could also be reading for broadening their knowledge across a wide variety of topics/

As mentioned before, we are referring to the small advantages of the formats of the different books, but, for expanding one’s knowledge, audiobooks seem to be the better format. There are two types of audiobooks: the abridged, which contain the summary and main points of a book, and the unabridged audiobooks, which contain everything.

For the purpose of widening one’s base of knowledge, the need for complete immersion is not as important as when it comes to reading a book for escapism. Everyone is quite busy; they have loads of things to do, such as running errands, working around the house, going to work, and back.

Throughout the day, people have to do something while their attention isn’t completely taken up. During that time, they might listen to podcasts or audiobooks and broaden their knowledge on something in a shallow way that is still interesting and enlightening.

For people who want to learn for the sake of learning, audiobooks look like a great format to go with.

Now, aside from audiobooks, there might not be a huge edge between e-books and physical books when it comes to reading for expanding one’s knowledge.

Reading for Research & Reference

Now, one area in which e-books have the edge over audiobooks and physical books is the purpose of reading for research and reference during which one tries to pull knowledge out of a book and actually do something with the knowledge, such as writing a thesis after synthesizing the information.

During the research, people try to pull information from several different sources, including books, and synthesize it into something they can present later. E-books make the entire process easier as compared to physical books and audiobooks.

On e-books, you can easily pull up a search field, type in a term, and see where it pops up in the e-book. Additionally, highlighting and taking notes is a lot easier with e-books. For instance, if you are using a Kindle app, you can simply use your finger to create a highlight – the highlights get actually collected in a centralized location within the e-book.

When using a physical book for reference and research, there are definitely ways to highlight the book, but it is harder to find those highlights as one has to skim through the physical pages to search them for future references.

As compared to e-books, physical books are harder when one wants to collect data from them – e-books, comparatively, enable the researcher to find information instantly. Besides, people can even go further than simply highlighting their e-books for reference and research.

They can use different apps, such as Readwise, and have their highlights collected from their e–books and journals, articles, tweets, and certain podcasts. Apps like Readwise ensure that all references and highlights are kept in a central repository.

Final Thoughts – The Verdict

So, the question is, for each of the three purposes, what is the best format to choose. The answer really comes down to what one enjoys using. Ultimately, reading and the format of reading is just like an exercise – there is no perfect routine. Remember, the best overall routine is the one that one enjoys the most and is more likely to stick to. In the end, the best way to read comes down to one’s personal preferences and access to the different format types.  

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