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« The iPad Cometh | Main | Updated HCSB Text Now Available in Accordance »

Is It Time to Sell My (Dead-Tree Format) Books?

I realized something in the last few days. As I've acquired digital copies of books in software like Accordance, WORDsearch, and Logos, I rarely pick up hard copy equivalents anymore if I have them on the shelf.

As these programs transition to devices such as the iPad, their functionality as replacement engines for physical books increases. Even a product like Olive Tree's Bible Reader—the clear superior product of its type on the iPhone—stands to take on whole new significance on the iPad.

Kathy and I have an entire room in our house that holds a personal library of somewhere over 2500 volumes. But I've got at least that many books on the MacBook Pro from which I'm writing this right now. Probably more. And my MacBook Pro weighs a lot less and takes up much less space!

My neglect of the physical wasn't always this way. I used to use Accordance to find an article in the Anchor Bible Dictionary and then I'd oven pull the book off the shelf to read it—especially if it was a longer article. But I just don't do that anymore. It's simply more convenient to read it in Accordance.

And as I look around, I've got a lot of significant duplication: the already mentioned six volume Anchor (Yale) Bible Dictionary, the 10 volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Colin Brown's four volume New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Willem VanGemeren's five volume New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, 50 or so volumes of the Word Biblical Commentary as well as hundreds of other commentaries, the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, scores of individual references such as BDAG and HALOT, hundreds of theological journals (yes, I even have duplicates of these) and so much more.

I don't know for certain, but I bet that I could eliminate at least a third of my physical library that duplicates electronic texts I have, allowing us perhaps to throw a pullout futon bed in there and create a guest room!

Of course, having fought (and mostly lost) the battle with being a bit of a bibliophile, such parting is no easy task. I like my (physical) books! I like the look of a room with multiple floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I can fool guests into thinking I'm much smarter than I actually am. And although I increasingly find digital books more useful, I often still more easily "bond" with physical books. True bibliophiles will understand. But maybe this is just emotional sentimentality.

The key factor in my decision rests in the fact that, as I've already mentioned, I've found I simply don't use the physical copies once I have electronic duplicates. And to hold on to things I don't use or need makes me a hoarder and a glutton of things.

There's always the risk that in 20 years, I might not be able to access my books if they are in an abandoned digital format. Physical books generally outlive the original owner. But I'm going to bet against such pessimism. There's comfort in numbers, and the fact that vast numbers of the population are moving to digital books makes me feel somewhat safe that they'll still be around in the future.

In the meantime, even selling the books at a significant discount, I think I can make a pretty decent amount of money on them. I imagine I'll probably list most of the books on Amazon, although I might sell a few combined sets like the NIDNTT & NIDOTTE on eBay. Because of shipping, Craig's List would be a good place for my entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Generally, encyclopedias don't have a great resale value, so I may have to see what kind of "best offer" I can get. Regardless, I'm not using them, and they take up a lot of space.

What about you? Have you sold large quantities of physical books because you had them duplicated on your computer? How did you sell them? What worked best? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Reader Comments (17)

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by R. Mansfield. R. Mansfield said: New This Lamp post: "Is It Time to Sell the (Dead-Tree Format) Books?" [...]

I have about 1,000 physical books. I also have a MacBook Pro (w/Accordance), an iPhone, and a Kindle. There is a convenience factor to reading digital books, but I'm still partial to physical books. Maybe it's just me, but I tend to remember information based on the location in a book (i.e. where the info is located on a page, whether it's a left or right page, how far into the book the info appears, etc.). When I recall the information, I can remember where it is in a book. I'm not able to do that with digital books. All of the pages look the same and there's no sense of space or depth--just a continuous single-page view. So, at least for now, I buy digital books for convenience, but they are mostly duplicates of physical books I already own.

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

I love my Accordance but I use it almost exclusively for language research. So I do not have many digital books, I just prefer the physical ones. I do have doubles of a number lexicons, but when writing an official paper, I prefer to cite these from the print volume to I have kept them.

When you put your print volumes up on Amazon and ebay, post a link to your selling page, I might be quite interested.

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Doleys

having a similar debate with myself, for similar reasons

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbrett jordan


I can help you out if you really want to sell them. Eisenbrauns would be interested in more than a few of them : )

But, how will you show off your geekiness without a wall of books!?


March 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjames

I prefer electronic for reference books where I want to quickly find and read a part of a topic, i.e. what Accordance is frequently used for. If I actually want to read the book cover to cover, I still stick with physical. I guess I'm old school, but I like having a real book in my hands and don't really like reading through a book on the computer.

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersamuelclough

Hey Rick,

I thought that way very early on with Libronix. As I got material in the early days of owning Libronix, I got rid of many of my books. I regret it now. I'm buying them back slowly but surely either through good deals via CBD or Ebay or some other less expensive way.

I am a user of computer applications. I am in no way a computer "geek". When something goes wrong with my computer, it's in the hands of my wife and Best Buy. I don't have a clue how to make it go again. At one point, I was without my laptop for two weeks. I really missed some of those books during that stretch. And I can only imagine it will get worse as I get older.

I still buy books on Libronix that I own in hard copy for the ability to do searches when I'm studying something. It's unbeatable to research on a computer versus pulling out the hardcovers. Plus, I can take my Libronix library anywhere I go. But there is much value in the hardcover if my hand is not forced to give up the space.

March 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Myzia

In the process of purging a 3500+ plus physical book library for similar reasons. There will always be books that I prefer to have as real, tangible books, but I'd estimate that I could go digital for 75% of my reading/reference.

I got a Kindle 2 a little over a year ago, and my reading experience with it has been very positive. Cookbooks and poetry don't work too well on the Kindle 2, nor do books that are heavily illustrated. I'm confident that future generations of eReaders will address will be more suited to those kinds of books, though. Now that Amazon has released Kindle for Mac, I have access to all of my Kindle books and any notes, bookmarks, or highlights I've made in those books on my laptop.

There is, for some people, a psychological advantage to a good book purge. In my case, there was a bit of OCD and a bit of having my identity tied up in the books I owned. Just having a lot of of books, most of which "I'm going to read someday," sitting on the shelf taunting me was a psychological as well as physical weight. Purging books is one of the most liberating things I've ever done.

There are some perceived disadvantages to going digital. You mentioned technological obsolescence. Some people have a problem with DRM. Neither really concern me, especially as it's possible to remove the DRM from Kindle books if necessary.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKenneth B

I hear what you're saying, John. To add to what you describe about the physical characteristics of a book, I find that I can determine context quicker with a physical book, too. So, therefore, even when I often have Accordance open before me on my MBP, it's not uncommon for me to have physical Bible with me as well. If I need to understand the context of a passage rather quickly, this is often my best option.

Nevertheless, it still comes down to an issue for me that I'm simply not using a number of these physical books after I got them in digital form. Case in point is my copy of BDAG. I wore out its predecessor (BAGD?--can't remember the right abbreviation). But because I have BDAG in Accordance, my physical copy looks like it just came off the shelf at a book store. Same with HALOT. I actually bought it in physical form after getting it in Accordance, and I can't even remember a time that I actually used the physical copy.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

Daniel, I, too, often cite a digital source as a physical one—mainly because there's still some bias against digital texts. Therefore, I appreciate that Accordance has been adding more and more page numbers to their modules. But it's still not beyond me to track down a physical copy of a book at the library so that I can cite it in that form.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

James, I guess I may have to learn to let my natural internal geekiness speak for itself. Actually, even if I unloaded a number of these books, no doubt I'd have plenty left.

I was originally thinking about posting a few books at a time, but I think I could put together an initial list for you pretty quick. Email me at and let's continue this conversation.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

Samuel, I still like physical books, too, but the issue becomes the wastefulness of having books that I don't use anymore or won't use again because I have them digitally. I do think it will be easier to "curl up" on the couch with an iPad easier than trying to do the same thing with my laptop.

As Accordance, Logos, and Olive Tree create their iPad apps, they should consider the two page layout that I've already seen in Apple's iBooks reader.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

Joe, I hear you. As I've already said, the issue comes down to holding onto things I'm not using. This has been a gradually increasing experience over the last few years. As mentioned, I used to find an article on my laptop and then often pull the equivalent book off the shelf to read it for an extended period. I realized recently that I haven't done that in quite a while. And although I've never really enjoyed reading a book cover to cover on my Mac (I can think of only one that I've done this with), the resolution on the iPad is going to be higher to make things easier on the eyes.

For what it's worth, I probably am geekier than you. Plus, even in the face of a repair, I haven't been without my computer more than a few hours in years. I've got an inside guy who bumps me to the top of the list and will make repairs for me while I wait.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

Ken, I look forward to that psychological advantage that you speak of. Glad to hear it's going well for you—that gives me hope.

And while obsolescence is a very real concern, it's a total unknown, and something I can't make my plans around. I can only act on the assumption that the companies I've bought digital books from are stable enough to be around for the long term.

Thanks for your comments as someone who is in the process of doing what I'm talking about.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

"Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to remember information based on the location in a book (i.e. where the info is located on a page, whether it’s a left or right page, how far into the book the info appears, etc.). When I recall the information, I can remember where it is in a book."

I had a problem with this when I first got my Kindle. My epiphany came when I was reading a Alastair Reynolds book, and I wanted to refer back to where a character was first mentioned. I got frustrated, because with a paper book, I could just flip back through the pages to where I think the character was first mentioned. Flipping pages on the Kindle would have been a tedious process. Then I had a forehead-slapping "duh" moment: I can _search_ on the Kindle. Can't do that with a dead tree book. I've never had a problem or worried about not being able to find something since.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKenneth B


I have already gone through the whole process. The main incentive for me was living in Madrid, Spain, made many English titles unavailable. So I bought a Papyrus (Spanish e-ink ebook reader) and it has become my main reading device. I don't miss paper a bit.

I cannot say only one yet because somehow Bibles does not translate nicely to e-ink. I have read on the other hand very positive experiences by Kindle owners, though.

I have given away most of my books. I have kept my Bibles and as a matter of fact, I'm looking foward the day my ESV study Bible and HSCB arrives to the post office.

I don't own a mac, and anyway most Bible software is unaffordable for me (but my limited necessities are quite well covered by The Word software.)

PS: This is the first time I write here, but I have been reading your blog for some months now.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJesús S. Pérez

The thing I struggle with is the idea of buying a digital copy of something I already own. I've gotten so used to being able to create digital copies of my movies and music, that the thought of spending money for a duplicate of something sitting on my shelf irks me. I would trade many of them in if I could for their digital counterparts.

As far as file formats go, I don't worry much anymore about my files becoming "extinct." This is for two reasons:

1) Every other week I am converting some ancient data or archived address book for clients so they can hang on to everything even with the newest software. Through this I have learned that there is always, ALWAYS some way (painstaking though some may be) to keep around old files.

2) Being a bit of an early adopter, I'm always upgrading my software to the latest edition anyway, so my data is annually being converted right along with it as the new programs replace the old. Step by step I am ensuring that I'll never find myself needing to open a file that is very many versions aged.

I used to worry about data loss when I would think about converting physical to digital, but I have seen that with so many online always-updating backup solutions, my digital possessions are far more protected than my physical.

You can't refill your (tangible) bookshelves after a fire by logging into an account somewhere and downloading everything.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJosh Clark

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