A little e-reader evangelism

October 19, 2011 § 10 Comments

I don’t own an e-reader. Yet. I love buying books in bookstores, I love having books on the bookshelves in my house, and I love the smell of the paper, so I held out.  But here’s the thing: the smell of the paper is not my favorite thing about books.  My favorite thing about books is the opportunity they provide to experience the world (or different worlds) through the eyes of someone else and an e-reader can do that just as well as paper and ink.

The world of music changed with the creation of iTunes, Netflix changed movie rentals, and now the world of books is changing too, but change isn’t always a bad thing. Interestingly enough, there are lots of indications that e-readers are actually increasing readership.  A survey conducted last year showed that almost 50% of e-reader owners read more after getting an e-reader than they did before. There are also indications that e-reader owners are buying a greater variety of books than they would’ve in print, meaning they are exposed to more new ideas and more authors are exposed to them. On top of that, Scholastic’s 2010 Reading Report suggests that 50% of kids 9-17 want to read e-books and 33% said they would read more if they had an e-reader.

All this is enough motivation for me to throw my support behind e-readers, whatever the brand.  If kids are going to read more because their book has an “on/off” switch, then I say give them the switch. The convenience of e-readers rivals that of any other medium by delivering books at your convenience whether you’re in your living room, in an airport, or in Guam.  E-books tend to be cheaper than their print counterparts, and with the recent announcement of the $80 Kindle, it actually might save money for the avid reader, and that’s not to mention all the independently published titles available for $2 or less and all the classics that are available for free. An added bonus is the environmental friendliness of e-readers as compared to print books.  If you buy 23 e-books over the life cycle of a Kindle, it’s more environmentally friendly than buying print books (I didn’t link because it was a pdf, but if you Google “kindle environmental analysis” you can see the report).

Obviously there are downsides to e-readers and lots of worry and unanswered questions about what will happen to bookstores, libraries, the publishing industry, etc. I love a bookstore just as much as the next guy, and I will fight long and hard before I see public libraries go quietly into the night, but at the end of the day the crux of the e-reader argument for me is that it gets more people reading, and isn’t that the goal?

Do you own an e-reader? Has it affected your reading habits? Is it blasphemy to take more reading over more bookstores? Are there any other negative (or positive) sides to e-readers that I missed?

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§ 10 Responses to A little e-reader evangelism

  • Rachel says:

    I have a Kindle, but I only bought it because I was going overseas for a year. Since I couldn’t bring my paper library with me, I needed an electronic one. It is quite fun to find all sorts of classics, for free, too! So, I’m already addicted to downloading books that I may never have time to read.

    For a while there, my reading habits actually slowed down, because I was unused to looking up books on my Kindle. I didn’t have a cover picture to intrigue me. I didn’t know how many pages the book was, because sometimes I don’t have time for a long one, if I’m having a busy month. And I just like to have a paper book in my hand! But once I adjusted, things returned to normal. Maybe my carpal tunnel has even improved. : )

    I agree with you that if it takes an e-reader to get more people reading, then go for it. People should always read more than they do, and a book is a book, whether electronic or paper.

    Just as long as all standing brick bookstores don’t disappear. First Walden and Borders. I don’t know how Books-a-Million has lasted this long. I can NOT live without Barnes & Noble in my life, and it isn’t just for the coffee. Going into a bookstore and browsing… that’s freedom. I love Amazon, don’t get me wrong, but I need to be able to look at the books, on the shelves.

    • R. H. Culp says:

      I have to agree that I like shopping for books in traditional bookstores for all of the reasons you mentioned, but I also find myself checking online reviews on my smartphone as I shop. There are some things the internet is incredibly helpful with.

  • Caroline says:

    I own a kindle, but I still read ‘real’ books. I probably read paper books slightly more than my kindle. I love browsing through bookstores and libraries. I was sadden when they closed two libraries in my city. However, it’s also exciting because I can now ‘check out’ books from my library with the kindle. I can see how passionate people are about keeping paper books just by reading many many blogs about the subject. There’s almost a hate vibe against e-readers. I don’t think books will ever die, but if it does it won’t happen for a few generations. Let’s be honest, technology has overtaken society and people love gadgets in their hands and having access to information 24/7. Reading from an e-reader is still reading, so if it gets people excited then don’t hold an opinion against them. It’s nice searching for a book at midnight when bookstores and libraries are closed. I get my book in a minute. Good post!

    • R. H. Culp says:

      E-readers certainly do seem to push some people’s buttons and get their blood pressure up. On one hand I totally understand the feeling, but wouldn’t we rather have more people reading? It just seems so shortsighted. It’s like people objecting to Guttenberg’s printing press by saying that a book should be handwritten with hand drawn illustrations, and it’s true that books before the printing press were practically works of art, but aren’t we all grateful for the proliferation of books and reading that the press allowed?

  • Jay Swanson says:

    I love my Kindle. When I moved to Africa I couldn’t bring much stuff with me, and books get heavy fast. My family was kind enough to get me a Kindle, and I’ve been able to read plenty more for it.

    Part of it is even just the convenience of being able to look up books in the moment. When I was in South Africa I could access the free 3G connection, which made it possible to browse almost anywhere. It enabled me to get books I’d been meaning to read but had either forgotten to look into or had been unable to find when I was looking. Kind of like impulse buying, but I finally got a few under my belt I’d been meaning to for ages.

    I love paper books, and I hope they don’t become just a novelty, but I’m very very happy with my Kindle. Light, friendly, and accessible.

    • R. H. Culp says:

      Something else that reminds me of (and a point which you’ve brought up to me before Jay) is that the Kindle bookstore is much bigger than any brick and mortar store could ever be, and it has more than classics and books released in the last six months.

  • yakyakgak says:

    I’m not sure that I should comment. Most of the people I know who’ve picked up an e-reader love them. Only one has had a bad experience and I think that’s from defective models instead of not liking it for its own sake.

    I’m in favor of them in that they are encouraging more people to read. However I also feel threatened by them in that they may take away my current easy way of interacting with books. My bookstores and my library are familiar and loved places. But I feel like its kind of like yelling at the ocean for sweeping over your sandcastle. It brings some great things, but there’s always a price.

    I doubt that I’ll switch to an e-reader easily. I like having a solid book in my hand and that I don’t have to worry about it running out of batteries or having my permission to read it suddenly revoked. But their pros of being able to read in the dark and not being limited to what’s physically near you?

    If they are encouraging more people to read, then they are worth the cost. It’s just a shame that that cost may be so dear.

    • R. H. Culp says:

      I’m right there with you. I love my books and I’m in my library at least twice a week. My hope is that as e-books grow, bookstores and libraries don’t disappear, they just evolve to better serve the readers of tomorrow. Thanks for your comment!

  • Serafine__ says:

    Few moths back, I was not in favour of e-readers. That is not because I did not like them, but because of the love towards reading real books. But I no more feel the same way… If we look about 20-25 years back, I dont know if people imagined that, from morning alarm to the vast internet, cameras, remote controllers– all would be replaced by a palm-size electronic gadget. Now, it is difficult to imagine the world with out that…. Change is constant and when it is for good, I think we all have to accept it. If the stats show that e-readers are encouraging people to read more, that is a good sign.

    If it is comfort and convinience, I am for e-readers; but if it is the ‘experience of reading’, I would say even the best of the e-reader can not replace real book. I am planning to buy a Kindle and I am sure I would still go to the book stores….

    I have been following your space since the time it appeared on FP, entertaining and informative… I like it…

  • Brie says:

    I have an aversion to calling paper books real books vs. e-books being some how fake. A book is a book is a book. I love my e-reader and totally agree that it is widening the scope of the types of books I read because I would definitely not pay 20 dollars in a bookstore for a book that only looks mildly interesting vs the 2 dollars it costs on amazon.

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