I have quite a lot of roleplay spanning numerous systems, settings and companies. I think I worked out that if I tried to put them on a single shelf the shelf would need to be around 30 feet long and that alone is very telling when asking whether I prefer a physical copy to a digital one. When comparing those two formats physical will always win for me, as it does with books, because there is an intangible something about holding a physical book in your hands, experiencing the smell as you open it (few things are better than that ‘new book smell’) and unlocking the knowledge within.
That’s not to say that digital doesn’t have its place. I personally think that, in the modern world, all physical books should come with a complementary digital copy, for ease of transport and to save wear and tear on the copy. In the age of the tablet digital books are a very useful tool and save the back of many a DM who can carry all the books they need in one small device rather than breaking their backs with bags full of books. I own many a digital RPG book, some I pick up just to see whether it’s worth getting the physical book, others to complement my collection. Some companies, such as Catalyst even do digital only releases of short sourcebooks to help supplement the physical releases and I think this is a great way of exploring parts of a setting that otherwise may not see the light of day.
Still, it’s physical books for me and, when choosing between Hardcover and Softcover I’ll go with the hardcover 9 times out of 10. The reason for this is that they are just much more hardwearing than their softcover counterparts and the state of my books matter to me, I like them to look pristine. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t be used, they should, there is no point having an RPG book and letting it sit unused and unloved, not fulfilling it’s purpose, but I’d prefer that they not fall apart.
The other reason that I prefer hardcovers books I because that’s the format that almost all of the limited edition version of books come out on.
My Shadowrun 5th ed limited edition core book is hardcover-
My Call of Cthulhu 7th ed Kickstarted books are hardcover-
I don’t own a single softcover limited edition. Now softcover has its place, it’s perfect for boxed sets (and I wish more games had boxed sets nowadays #bringbacktheboxedset) and it’s obviously cheaper to produce and buy. I do also find that really thin books that are hardback, say things under 100 pages long, just feel strange and don’t look right at all.
Given the choice I’ll always go for a hardcover but digital has a place for those with limited space or who prize the ability to transport move their collection easily and softcover is good for those who don’t care about condition and who want to get books a little cheaper.