Which uses more energy: books or tablets?

Tablet on pile of books with glasses

Tablets are an increasingly common sight in the average Australian home. Many are using these devices for reading as they are considered to be a cheaper, more energy efficient alternative to paper. But is this true?

The answer isn’t clear cut, so to try and figure it out we focused on the amount of content a heavy reader would consume in one year. This is usually a combination of newspapers and books – both of which are available in either print or digital versions.

We then compared the energy emissions of the iPad Air 2 (including manufacturing, shipping and usage) against the production and shipping needs of physical newspapers and books.


CO2 books vs tablets


For heavy readers, the group most interested in the benefits of tablets, reading digitally can be cheaper and use less energy. Tablets emit less CO2 than it takes to produce a large number of books and newspapers.

They can also save money, with digital bestsellers being nearly 50 per cent cheaper as eBooks[1]. Additionally, nearly 59 per cent of Australian households already own a device capable of opening eBooks, so there is often little upfront cost[2].

However, these calculations don’t take into account some of the hidden environmental and financial factors that could tip the scale in favour of traditional books:

1. It depends on how much you actually read

While the cost benefit is still clear, if you don’t read a lot the CO2 emissions from producing and using your digital device may outweigh that of producing the odd paper book. To offset this, having an energy plan with green energy options can help reduce the negative impact of simply charging your device.

2. Unnecessary upgrades offset the cost benefit

You wouldn’t throw away a perfectly good book after it’s become a bit worn, and buy another of the same title. By the same logic, you shouldn’t throw away your perfectly good tablet either! Despite the rapid progress of technology, chances are your tablet will still be working just fine many years down the track. Apple estimates the lifespan of the average iPad at three years. Upgrading earlier will drastically offset both the energy efficiency and price benefit of reading digitally.

3. You might be paying more than you need to for your energy

Because tablets need consistent charging, there is a continuing cost, even if you’re not using them all the time. That means your energy plan matters. Whether you want an environmentally aware plan or one that is more cost efficient – choosing a great plan can help ensure reading digitally is financially viable.

Our experiments show that when it comes to digital reading heavy readers are the most efficient, both environmentally and financially. Switching their plan to one with cheaper rates means they can save even more money. While light readers will see less of a positive impact from tablets, they can still make choices to maximise their efficiency, even if it means the occasional paper book.


1] Based on the comparison of prices from Dymocks Best Sellers on the Amazon Kindle Store, calculated 17/11/2016




1Data used in calculations:, The, The Guardian,

2 Based on the comparison of prices, Dymocks Best Sellers on the Amazon Kindle Store, calculated 17/11/2016