Why I buy books in multiple formats, and you should too.

My library holds more than 1,000 books. Most in ebook format. Some titles I own in ebook and print, others in ebook and audio, and some in all three. Why? It’s all about the experience.

I’ve said many times; books are magic. They hold power. They can teach, entertain, motivate, inform, and inspire us. And the more we read, the higher our chances of being happier and more successful. What’s not to love?

But why buy books in multiple formats? Isn’t one enough?

What I’ve realized over the years is that I experience the formats of a book differently. What determines the form is the need I’m trying to fill and the experience I need to have to fill that need. And often I don’t know it until I experience it. And so my method of buying these books in different formats is a bit mad.

The method to my book buying madness

Discovering books

Discovery happens in so many ways: recommendations from friends, reading lists from trusted advisors, suggestions from an algorithm, recommendations from within another book, and a bit of random stumbling. 

Once I do discover a book that looks interesting, I begin first by downloading a sample of the ebook. I appreciate the immediate gratification and an opportunity to get a taste of the writing style and content.

Read the sample

Ideally, I read the downloaded sample immediately, while my interest is still fresh. My action is excellent for the publisher/marketer of the book. They’re counting on the immediate gratification and purchase decision. Otherwise, there’s a chance I’ll lose my initial excitement and leave the sample to gather digital dust.

Enjoy the ebook (or not)

If I like what I read, I’ll buy the ebook. And I’ll be honest, some of the books sit on my e-shelf and gather e-dust at this point. I always have good intentions but don’t always follow-through. And sometimes I start but don’t finish a book, and that’s ok too.

For the majority of my library, it stops with the ebook. There are a few different branches in the approach from here.

Fiction. Almost all of my fiction collection is in ebook format. I enjoy the freedom of reading at my own pace as I visualize the story and hear the characters’ voices in my head. I get lost in the blend of my imagination and the writer’s carefully chosen words. The magic transports me into the story.

I’ve tried to listen to the audiobook version of several works of fiction, but I just haven’t enjoyed it as much. 

And because I don’t often re-read works of fiction, an ebook meets my needs perfectly allowing countless stories to be at my fingertips, anytime and anywhere.

Non-fiction. For non-fiction titles, the ebook is sometimes just enough. I have access to my entire library wherever I am. The ebook format allows me to read any of my books anywhere as well as search, highlight, and taking notes.

There are very few instances where I’ll have a print book without the ebook version as well. That’s why I buy the ebook version first. 

Second and Third Helpings

Sometimes I want something more than an ebook can not deliver. When the ebook isn’t enough,  I reach for the second or possibly third helpings of the audio and print books.

Audiobooks. There are a few books in which the content contains content best experienced as if sitting across from the author having a coffee. The works include personal stories and emotional expression best heard rather than read. For these books, I’ll download the audio version. 

There are other reasons to buy the audio version. The ability to listen to a book while driving,  or doing some other task is a great reason.  I caution that for a deep understanding of a book, this is not the ideal approach.

Of course, the choice of the narrator can make or break the experience. I’d recommend listening to a sample before buying. I love it when the author narrates their work, but sometimes it’s not the best choice. Three of my favorite authors who are exceptional narrators are Elizabeth Gilbert, Brene Brown, and Neil Gaiman.

The books I avoid on audiobook are highly technical, heavy with research or references, or have a lot of visual diagrams.

Print books. I prefer digital copies of books to reduce the need for shelf space and honestly to avoid having house movers complain about how many boxes of books I have compared to all of my other belongings. 

Every so often, a book must be experienced as a print copy. These non-fiction books have a role beyond sharing information; they become my advisors. 

Books I buy in print are used frequently and become a regular part of my life. They grow well worn with bookmarks, highlighting, and notes written in the margins and scraps of paper with notes stuffed in between pages. 

Yes, I can do all of those things with an ebook, but those I select to buy in print are more than mere books.  These books sit on the corner of my desk and night table as reminders of the vital experience they provide. Whatever message they carry, it’s one I have brought into my daily life.

Any book I have in multiple formats, I enjoy in each form. I listen and read the book at the same time, studying, listening, taking notes. The more senses I use to experience the message of the book, the more likely I am to internalize it.


Though I follow this method most of the time, I occasionally try something a little different. I’ll buy fiction in audiobook form, or go straight to a print book from a new author.  I’ve read an ebook and then months or even years later listened to an audiobook version and got something completely different from it. It’s surprising how the format can change the experience. 

My challenge to you: What books can you try in a different format? What format can enhance your experience of the books’ message? What ten books would you benefit from having in more than one form?