Would you say that reading was one of your hobbies? If the answer is yes, then how would you describe your pass-time? Do you have a un curso de milagros or a passion for books? This isn’t an exercise in semantics – the question is prompted by recent developments in reading and publishing technology.
E-book readers really took off in a big way during 2009 – greatly helped by the release of the Amazon Kindle 2.0 and, later in the year, the larger Kindle DX model. E-book readers had been around for quite some time before that – the Franklin eBookman launched in 1999, over a decade ago – but it wasn’t until 2009 that these devices really took off. Whatever the reason, during 2009, they were very much an idea whose time had come.
As stated previously, the launch of the Kindle 2.0 was a significant factor – but not the only factor in this. The original Kindle hit the market in November 2007, well after the eBookman and also behind the Sony PRS reader which launched in 2006. Although there was a fairly good reaction to the original Kindle’s launch – Oprah Winfrey even called it her “favourite new gadget” – it wasn’t until the launch of the Kindle 2.0 that e-book readers really went mainstream.
Amazon had certainly listened to their customer feedback and the enhanced Kindle 2.0 was a significantly enhanced piece of hardware when compared with the original. As well as improvements to the hardware, the choice of books on offer for the Kindle had increased enormously. At the time of the Kindle 2.0 release there just over 200,000 Kindle books to choose from. This number has continued to grow at an average rate of around 500 new titles a day. At the moment there are over 500,000 titles available for Kindle users to choose from.
Needless to say, Amazon made a very good job of marketing the Kindle. They had already picked up an endorsement from Oprah – and when Stephen King produced a special novella to mark the release of the Kindle 2.0 it certainly generated plenty of publicity for Amazon’s new device. The release of the large display DX edition made sure that the Kindle would stay in the spotlight into the last six months of the year. This was marketed as being ideal for readers of newspapers, magazines and academic textbooks – and the academic publishing community produced even more publicity for Amazon as they entered into agreements with universities and colleges nationwide.
Of course,people who read a lot of books are the target demographic for e-book readers. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to buy one if you only read a book a month – would it? A lot of avid readers will be every bit as fond of physical books as they are of reading. It’s only natural to wonder if you will miss the feel of a “real” book in your hand, the pleasure of thumbing through the pages, marking your place with old bus tickets – or even dog-earing the pages. You can find many online reviews that will tell you how the Kindle measures up with the Sony Daily Edition reader – or how the new Apple iPad compares to Barnes & Noble’s Nook reader. But how well do e-book readers such as the Kindle measure up against a good old fashioned book?
A recent survey of American e-book reader owners discovered that 4 out of 5 of them actually preferred using an e-book reader to reading a traditional book. Perhaps they may be a little biased – but e-book readers certainly offer some advantages in comparison with conventional books.
E-books are considerably cheaper than traditional books. This makes sense – after all they don’t use paper or ink and, since they are a digital product rather than a physical one, there are no freight fees. For precisely the same reasons, e-books are better for the environment than traditional paper volumes.
E-book readers are easy to operate with one hand – so on a crowded bus or train they are easier to handle than a conventional book. They also have the capacity to store hundreds of books in their memory – so you can take a small library with you wherever you go.
For many bibliophiles the display could be a potential problem. Modern e-book readers use special e-ink technology. This is very different to reading on a back-lit computer screen and produces a reading experience which is astonishingly similar to reading standard text printed on paper. Page turns are much quicker than they were even as little as a year ago. After a couple of hours using an e-book reader you won’t even be aware that you’re using an electronic gadget rather than thumbing through the pages of a traditional book – as long as you’re reading a good book at least.