Turning the Page: The New Breed of E-readers

By Andrew Pryor

On the Good E-reader Blog’s March 20 post there is a Good E-Reader Poll in the lower right-hand corner that asks readers their preferred method of reading. The seven options were E-readers, PC’s, tablet PC’s, laptops, netbooks, smart phones, and, of course, the humble paper edition. The poll is just the latest reminder of how technology has proliferated and expanded in the last few years. 30 years ago the only options on that poll would be bookstores and libraries. Yet today Borders is in the news for bankruptcy, and libraries are seen more as book museums, mere storehouses for rare books and relics of the printed word that inspire nostalgia rather than convenience.

That same March 20 blog post also lists the “Top Ten E-readers for March 2011”, a list that shows just how much electronic reading is on the rise. Any objections held by paperback purists over the ascent of the E-reader are addressed by one or more of these cutting-edge gadgets. Too expensive for the bookworm with a budget? The Sharper Image Literati boasts a $39-90 dollar price tag for a 7-inch full-color display and 250MB of memory. Not as accessible as the standard paperback or hardcover? The Entourage Pocket Edge is roughly the size of a cell phone. Lacking the unlimited library of books to choose from? The Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, and the Kobo Wireless all have access to some of the largest online E-bookstores in the world. Need more versatility from an electronic device? The Pocket Edge allows users to download custom apps, while the Nook lets users browse the Internet.

Like the smell of paper and ink? Well…E-readers haven’t gotten around to that particular problem yet.

The tactile delights – the smells, textures, and pages – of the traditional book make the question “Is the E-reader the end of books?” incredibly easy to answer. The mp3 player was never the end of records, records simply moved from the main market to a niche market. If the trajectory of E-readers ends up mirroring that of mp3 players, the same thing will happen to paper books. The difference between the two paths is music listeners were eased into the digital era through CDs. For people who read books, there’s been little to no intermediary between the concrete, printed word and the more abstract digital.

The compendium of choices the E-reader market offers to consumers should make the transition a bit easier to swallow. If the past is any indication of the future, paper books aren’t going anywhere. That goes two ways; paper books aren’t going to disappear, but they certainly aren’t going anywhere in terms of greater convenience or technology. Meanwhile, E-readers have just started to get going, and they won’t be gone anytime soon.

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