Traditional, E-Book and Audiobook Formats: The Pros and Cons

What it means to browse, check out, access, and “read” a book has changed its meaning in the 21st century that we live in – largely due to the influence of technology – and the changes libraries must make to keep up with the needs of their patrons. Books now come in more forms than just the traditional physical copy you check in and out of your local branch library. E-Books and audiobooks have become such a mainstream format for accessing books, that even if you’ve never read an E-Book or audiobook, you’ve surely heard someone talking about reading books in one of those two formats.

If you’ve never read a book through an E-Book or audiobook format, it’s an experience any avid reader would say is worth trying once. You may believe a book is just a story and it’s going to be the same story told regardless of the format, and in ways, that’s true but each book format comes with its own unique list of benefits and disadvantages. Below we’ll explore the benefits and disadvantages of the three main types of book formats available through Harris County Public Library: traditional physical books, E-Books, and audiobooks. As you read along, I ask you to think about your book format experiences and how they compare to mine. Each format has its very own pros and cons, but in your opinion, which format do you like the most? Perhaps to answer that question, it starts with asking yourself, what do you prioritize the most out of reading books? Is it the physical experience? Is it the places spoken words through audio take your senses to? Is it the convenience that can be brought to picking up a book – no matter if it’s physically on you or not? Is it the accessibility brought to the experience of reading? Let’s explore some of these ideas together.  

Traditional Book 


  • Every reader knows that certain euphoric feeling that comes from opening a new book, setting it on your lap, and immersing yourself in a new world - page by page - that doesn’t come from any other book formatting.  
  • It's the style of reading that most of us were first introduced to as children. Perhaps there’s a feeling of reminiscing on childhood memories that first began your love of reading.  
  • There is a certain artistic element to physical books that you just don’t get from an E-book or an audiobook.
  • Physical book covers are a great conversation starter. You can always see what someone is currently reading with a physical book cover. It’s such a good way to introduce someone to a new book, author, or genre by having a discussion over a book cover. That just can’t happen as easily when you’re reading from a tablet or have headphones in listening to an audiobook.  
  • Having a collection of great books, you’ve read on a shelf at home gives any reader a sense of pride when you see somebody admiring your collection.  
  • It gives you a reason to get out of the house, go to the library and see what books are available to you.  


  • If they’re big books, they can be heavy and cumbersome to carry around  
  • Physical books can be damaged to the point of illegibility. I know, firsthand, having to replace a book in the middle of the most important section of the book is awful.  
  • You must physically have the book on you to be able to read it and you need to be stationary in order to read your book.  
  • Physical books don’t have accessibility features to make fonts larger, page color easier on the eyes, or a built-in dictionary feature to find the definition of unknown words.   
  • You can’t easily read in a darker environment without straining your eyes or having an extra light source nearby to continue reading.  

Examples of good Traditional Books:  

Midnight Crossroad – The plot takes place in a small town in Texas consisting of residents who live in the intersection of a crossroad (yes, very small population) where witchcraft and mysteries are always afoot. Inside the front cover is a map of the town and a description and image of each building in the town. It really helps the reader in visualizing Midnight and how its inhabitants are moving, or flying around, during the story.  

Any Classic Novels with their beautiful, ornate book covers whose appearance alone will transport you to another place in time! Who doesn’t love the idea of a book that’s sturdy, leather-bound, and looks like a piece of art? Good examples are the following: 

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Eyre

Wuthering Heights



  • They’re easily accessible - you don’t have to go to the library to find a book you want to read and check out.  
  • They can be downloaded on different devices – cell phones, Kindles, iPads. 
  • They can easily be traveled with. Are you bored waiting for your cup of coffee? Then pull out the book you’re currently reading on your Libby app! Finish your book mid-vacation? Find your next read in the HCPL Catalog on the Libby app!  
  • You don’t have to worry about damaging or losing a book you checked out because it’s all online.  
  • You can change the font size, font style, and background color. The Libby app has accessibility features that just aren’t available when reading a traditional book.  


  • You need an electric device that’s charged to be able to have access to the book. No charged device equals no access to your book.  
  • If your book is due and you haven’t kept up with the notifications that it needs to be renewed, you can one day open your Libby app and your book is just gone 
  • Reading from an electronic screen is a strain on the eyes. It doesn’t give you the opportunity to pull away from screen time like reading a traditional book does.  

Examples of good E-Books:  

All the books I chose below are long and heavy – thus being good books to be able to fit into your pocket through the Libby app on your phone or tablet. 

The Lord of the Rings

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

A Little Life



  • Hearing the narrator of the story speaking gives much more personification and emotion to the characters' words. Sometimes the way the characters express themselves or emphasize certain things in an audiobook is different than how you would read it yourself. It allows the characters to have more personality beyond your own interpretation. 
  • It’s always a joy when you hear the author have a part in the narration. You can sense their devotion to the story, plot, and characters' emotions when it comes from something they created from their own mind. 
  • If somebody has reading difficulties, audiobooks are a great option to still experience reading but in a way that is more suitable for the person reading the book.  
  • It is a great way to burn time in traffic. Letting your mind escape into a book while driving rather than listening to music makes somehow just time go by a lot faster. 
  • Some audiobooks include sounds and music, in addition to the narrative, which puts you in the setting of the book much more than just reading the text. 


  • When listening to an audiobook, you have got to be in the headspace to pay attention to the audiobook. It’s not like an ebook or a traditional book where you can be distracted, pause reading, and then pick up where you left off. If you get distracted, the audiobook will keep playing. 
  • There are certain times in the plot where you need a second to think about what just happened and with an audiobook, you must physically stop the book to give yourself time to think without the story continuing.
  • If you’re unsure of a word you hear in the story, you can’t physically see the word in the text, to be able to look it up and understand how it adds to the story.  

Examples of good Audiobooks:  

Long Way Down – The audiobook is read by the author, and you can hear the passion he has for the artistry of his story.  

The Cousins- With each character getting their own voice actor, it helps the reader feel as though each person in the book is telling their own story through their own words.  

Everything, Everything – The main character is a teenage girl who has lived inside her home her whole life while suffering from SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency) but takes a risk to live her life outside of her home, against her mother's will, when she falls in love with the boy who moved in next door. The character does a great job at expressing herself as though she truly is a teenage girl experiencing somebody's first life experiences all at once, at the age of 18.  


There are plenty of benefits and disadvantages to each style of book format. I listed a lot of them, but I am sure, as an individual reader, you can come up with some pros and cons from your own reading experiences. While I still read books in all the three formats discussed above, I’ve found that reading traditional books is still my favorite despite all the advantages that come along with modern technology integrating its way into libraries and book formatting. I feel that what I prioritize most out reading is the experience itself – it's an experience so nostalgic that I can remember the feeling of picking up my first Junie B. Jones book in elementary school and immersing myself in her world through laughter and connection. Through the years, the books I connect to may have changed, but I’m glad that the joyful experience of picking up a book and reading never went away.