A Comparison of Hard-Copy Books, Audiobooks, and eBooks: A Bible College Student’s Perspective

I considered titling this article, “Don’t Waste Your Books,” but I think John Piper has had enough people borrow his “Don’t Waste Your…” slogan.

eBooks can be really helpful for sure, but some like an old-fashioned hard-copy book. It’s hard to beat the versatility and ease of audiobooks, but  there remains the problem of not having a “written” documentation in a book. Surely there are pro’s and con’s of each category, but should we stick to one type of book? Or, shall we utilize a combination of all three for premium learning and enjoyment. My proposition is the latter, and after observing each type of book, you just might agree with my findings. [*NOTE: this is written from the perspective of a Bible College/Seminary student, so you will find some reasoning that relates to my desired profession and field of study]

Hard-Copy Books

I’ve heard plenty of people say, “there’s just no substitute for a hard-copy book…audiobooks and eBooks are nice, but there won’t ever be a substitute.” That’s a fair assessment, but that might not be for everybody. Since this is with a “Bible College Student’s Perspective” I will provide some helpful information that relates to all of the in-training “theologians” in Bible colleges and seminaries. With hard-copy books, the source information is almost always available such as author, publishing company, date of writing, page numbers, etc. I rarely have trouble citing hard-copy books, thus there is little stress when you find a fantastic quote and whether or not it is something that can be cited. An additional benefit of hard-copies is just the fact that all of the information is available and can’t be taken away with an electrical outage, a computer crash, or some other frustrating electronic “hiccup.” Two negative responses exist for hard-copy books, however. (1) After collecting a while, they take up a lot of space. Think about the amount of time spent for moving a thousand books and 3-4 book-shelves when the time comes to move into another home/apartment [missionaries, church planters, etc. should also keep this in mind when collecting books]. (2) There aren’t any back-ups. Once that favorite copy of, say, C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” with all of your underlinings and highlights is about to bite the dust, it’s gone. Not able to be used. Not so with your Amazon kindle books (or whatever you use). Just something to consider…

Audiobooks

Though this might sound strange, I absolutely love driving to work. In fact, I take the route that takes about 2 minutes longer just so I can take some extra time to listen to my audiobooks. As those in college/seminary/ministry (or those that are just flat-out busy) can attest, we have barely any time for reading books that we choose. Well, I have an alternative: audiobooks. This Spring alone I’ve read several books and have learned a lot about various topics in history, leadership, ministry, apologetics, and more. I want to give three reasons why adding audiobooks to your life can benefit you. First, this allows you to continue learning during with great versatility. Going to work, walking, eating lunch (unless you’re married, I suggest you talk to your spouse then); these are all times that adding audiobooks to your life would be very enjoyable. Second, audiobooks can contribute to those who are “audible” learners. Third, audiobooks are a little “lighter” on the brain. Rather than focusing line-by-line, it can be relaxing and easier to hear someone else tell the story/information for a change. However, there are three main cons as well. (1) There is no citation information for formal research (i.e. it isn’t easily quotable by itself). I listened to “Essential Church?” by Thom and Sam Rainer recently, and absolutely loved it. Great book!…but I can’t use it for a research paper. For the wanna-be theological writer, this is a major difficulty. (2) It is not like a book or eBook where you can very quickly search through chapters and particular sections. That’s frustrating at times when you want to listen to a particular part of the book for whatever your purpose might be. (3) They are not as cheap as eBooks and even hard-copies. For reasons of recording the spoken-word, along with multiple CD’s being incorporated, prices run a little high unfortunately.

eBooks

Some have wondered if eBooks’ impact would render the usage of hard-copy books obsolete. So far, I don’t think it has happened, and I’m skeptical as to if it will ever happen. However, eBooks are very useful and helpful. Thus, an overview is needed for these also. eBooks appear on different formats. I will be discussing Kindle books particularly. There are pros and cons for these. (1) Searching eBooks is VERY easy to do. (2) They are usually cheaper than even purchasing a used copy [when taking into account shipping charges]. (3) They are incredibly easy to get. I would say it literally takes about 15, maybe 20, seconds to search for the book you want, click to purchase, and to have it loaded up and ready to read [at least for the Kindle Fire]. (4) They are tremendously versatile on eReaders, tablets, and computers. More could be said about the positives of eBooks, but I’d like to remind you of the negatives. First, some eBooks do not have page numbers, as I know Kindle books do NOT. Although I really enjoy my Kindle Fire, the lacking of page numbers is by far, for me, the worst negative. Secondly, there are sometimes some “glitches” in eBooks that would not appear in hard-copies. For example, I was considering to purchase Daniel Wallace’s textbook on Kindle, “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics,” but all of the Greek words were incredibly tiny – the kindle book would not have been very useful, even if the font setting was high. Thirdly, there IS something about the feel of those paper pages that are distinct and perhaps missed in the grasp of a piece of hardware.

Conclusion

After having the evidence and personal observations presented, some of you might cling on solely to the hard-copy books. While others, would like to embrace the audiobooks and eBooks. Though it is reasonable if some would only desire to stick with one type of book to avoid confusion (or maybe  for OCD purposes), I would personally like to provide this final observation for categorizing the genre of book with the type (or format) for, in my opinion, the best usage of books.

  • Academic – [Hard copy, Bible software books] I would personally advise that you don’t throw away or lose interest in all forms of hard-copy books. If you have Logos Bible Software (or a VERY high-end Bible program) then you could also group your Logos books together with hard-copy books for an academic study – I do that a lot and it’s a pretty efficient way of studying. These are the types of books that are to be mostly used for scholastic as well as sermonic research. I would group commentaries, systematic theology volumes, books on doctrines, Bible atlases, Bible dictionaries, language resources, etc. In other words, these are the books you use for careful and precise exegesis for primarily the purpose of teaching and preaching. I would not recommend eBooks or audiobooks for these kind of books.
  • Educational – [audiobooks, eBooks, and “some” hard-copies] This could sound a little vague, but these are the types of books that I’m describing: books on communication, leadership (i.e. John Maxwell), apologetics, comparative religious material, church growth, counseling, preaching, etc. Though these are certainly valuable to have as hard copies, and from time-to-time there “might” be a moment when you could support an argument from one of these sources, by and large, these are educational insights into developing your understanding and information for a variety of topics. To give a more concrete example, some audiobooks/eBooks that I own which I would place in this category would be (1) Matt Chandler’s “The Explicit Gospel” (2) John Maxwell’s “Leadership 101” (3) Jonathan Morrow’s “Think Christianly” (4) Josh & Sean McDowell’s “The Unshakable Truth.”
  • Spiritual Growth – [audiobooks, eBooks] These are the books that are great to have when taking a break from parsing Greek verbs, but still are tremendously valuable. Here are the types of books that I’m describing: books on prayer, evangelism, fasting, missions, devotionals, and various others that relate to the Christian life. While I’m certainly not saying that “spiritual growth” books are devoid of “education,” I’m simply trying to bring out different types of books and how we can best use them. While the former are more geared towards Christianity as a whole (less individually), the latter – spiritual growth- I would suggest relates more to personal matters, though I wouldn’t be dogmatic on drawing lines. My personal library includes David Platt’s “Radical,” Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love,” and A.W. Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God.”
  • Biographies – [eBooks, “some” audiobooks too] I’ve only listened to one audiobook of a biography and I did enjoy it – John Piper’s “John Calvin and his passion for the majesty of God.” However, I would say that unless the author writes on a somewhat low reading level, it just might be better on eBook. Piper is fairly academic and thus it was a little tough to stick with everything that was going on in the audiobook. Overall, though, biographies are extremely helpful for not only personal enjoyment, but also sermon illustrations. Therefore, I would not find the need to have these on hard-copies since most of the material does not need intricate citation.
  • Novels/Fiction – [audiobooks, eBooks] I just started my first ever novel on audiobook, and so far, I’ve got to say, it’s really interesting. I was skeptical as to how I would be able to enjoy an audiobook novel, but so far, so good. However, there are some really dry and boring voice actors on audiobooks, so I would say proceed with a little caution. Everyone is different, so really this could be a point of preference in that novels are only able to be read privately for some individuals
  • Leisure – [audiobooks, eBooks] This is an extremely vague way to categorize book genres. However, everybody enjoys some leisure reading every once in a while. (1) Newspapers, particularly on the Kindle Fire, are actually quite nice. (2) Magazines are available as well in eBook form. Though I’m not that into magazines, I’ve observed some of them on the Kindle Fire and look very good. (3) Whatever else is out there that doesn’t fall into any of the previous categories you would most likely be pretty safe to get on audiobook/eBook.

I hope this overview and comparison of your options for books was beneficial. While these contained personal preferences and observations, there’s no way that these suggestions are comprehensive and relate to everybody. Still, I would suggest you take into consideration what has been said and see if expanding your book library will have a future that contains hard-copies, audiobooks, and eBooks. And remember, DON’T WASTE YOUR BOOKS!

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