Everyone’s talking about e-readers but who’s using one?

The news this week that e-book sales had stripped hardcover book sales at Amazon over the past 3 months has generated a flurry of comment and opinion both celebrating and despairing the news in a way that few topics can be guaranteed to do. I have what can only be described as minimal interest in the entire subject but with the release of this news I couldn’t help but remember a dark time in my personal history.

It was in 1996 that the first of a very, very long line of sales folk trapped me in a room for 90 minutes to extol the virtues of an early model e-reader (a Sony). The tag-team of expensive suit wearing chaps waxed lyrical about the many ways in which the organisation I then worked for would be more efficient, generate more wealth and solve forever the problem of world hunger if only we bought e-readers for everyone. In the subsequent 14 years I’ve endured countless similar sessions in which the gadgets have gotten fancier and the sales speak has gotten slicker but the reality hasn’t changed much at all: very few of the workforce wants an e-reader.

I think now as I thought then: something that is as good as the sales people say it is shouldn’t need such a strong pitch. If e-readers are such a boon to life, business (and solving world hunger) then they will naturally replace paper books without the help of an army of cologne-wearing salesmen. Won’t they? I don’t remember the switch from LP to CD for the mass consumption of sound recordings taking 14 years and requiring a never-ending stream of opinion pieces. It just happened. Fairly organically. And reasonably quickly. In a business context the smart phone has been around for a lot less time than the e-reader but has experienced a much (much) higher adoption rate.

Perhaps this week’s news means that e-readers are finally on the home stretch for world domination and it just took a little longer than anyone thought it would. But honestly I don’t think so, though I admit my ‘evidence’ isn’t terribly scientific:

  • I can think of two dozen people I know in real life who are moderate to heavy readers and only 3 of them have any kind of e-reading device
  • In the Crime and Mystery Room at Friend Feed where I spend many a happy moment chatting about all things crime fiction with other fans there are (I think) only 2* e-reader users (*Update – apparently there are 4 not 2)
  • At work the take-up rate is minuscule, less than 1% of the eligible workforce has one
  • I don’t have one (I’m an avid reader, could easily afford an e-reader, am in no way averse to technology and harbour no inherent objection to the format but have yet to be convinced of the need to own one)

I wonder where we’ll be in another 14 years.

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16 Responses to Everyone’s talking about e-readers but who’s using one?

  1. Dorte H says:

    I don´t have one, and like you I could certainly buy one if I really wanted to. I love holding a real book in my hand! I can see the advantage for people who travel a lot, though, and for readers like you and me who spend so much money on shipping. But then I save some because I buy many books second-hand (and because Maxine is so generous).

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  2. Kerrie says:

    I have a Kindle asyou know. It is wonderful for travellling with, but I am still reading paper books too. I can’t see the e-reader becoming my only book “platform” any time soon.

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  3. Jose Ignacio says:

    I don’t have one either, but see no reason why both ‘platforms’ cannot co-exist. We still listen to the radio and watch tv.

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  4. Bernadette – I haven’t got an e-reader. I may get one at one point, but I’m in no big hurry. I read some books electronically on my hard drive, but mostly, I read paper. I think if I do get a Kindle or some other kind of e-reader, it won’t replace my love of paper books, anyway. I’ll still read the paper kind of books…

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  5. kathy durkin says:

    World domination? That is funny. My reader-friends don’t use them and I have never seen anyone using e-readers nor anyone in a doctor’s/dentist’s office–where I do see people reading paperbacks. I’ll ask around to see if anyone I know uses them in secrecy.
    As for me, I love books–how they smell, and feel, turning the pages, piling them up next to my bed, bookmarking them, looking at them on my bookshelves (it’s cozy like having a teapot on brewing tea). And then tossing one paperback in my bag to take with me. And I love the covers, blurbs inside and outside the covers. Occasionally, after I read a much-loved library book, I’ll buy a copy to put it on my bookshelf and look at it later.
    I am not a luddite but some things just don’t need changing! (I love my computer.)

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  6. Donna says:

    I have a Sony e-Reader. I mostly use it when travelling and I would get nervous taking only 3 or 4 proper books :o) I also use it to read manuscripts people send me (which, for me, is the best thing about it, as I just hate reading them off the computer screen) – or to read old pulp fiction that I can’t get in print. It’s good – very easy to read and use. I still prefer a proper book though.

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  7. Dorte H says:

    NB: I love Kathy´s comment 🙂

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  8. Mack says:

    I have a KindleDX. My ratio of Kindle to paper reading is probably 1 in 10. The reasons for choosing an ebook for are:
    1. only available as an ebook (eg A Policeman’s Lot by Gary Dobbs)
    2. I want to read it right now! (eg Random Violence by Jassy Mackenzie though I will also purchase a paper copy for my Africa collection)
    3. I want to read it but don’t need a copy on my shelves (eg Written in Bone by Simon Beckett and The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple)
    4. I want to be able to highlight and take notes (eg Sherlock Holmes)
    5. Traveling, though I generally take a paper book for backup

    The disadvantage to using a Kindle in public is that people want to talk about it and if I wanted to talk I wouldn’t be trying to read on my lunch break

    I disagree with the study that said that people read slower with an ebook reader. some might but I read as fast with one.

    Lack of page numbers doesn’t bother me though paging back is kludgy. The use of bookmarks and highlighting can make it less so.

    I’ve tried a Nook in B&N and didn’t like it at all. I dislike having screen real estate taken up by the touch menu at the bottom of the screen and find the general handling and options inferior to the Kindle. A lot of people seem to swear by it so there you go.

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  9. I bought a Nook about 3 months ago, and I love it. One of my friends bought one, and she loves it. Her mom then bought one, but I haven’t heard what she thinks of it. I know a couple of Kindle owners, and they love them. I like not having to wait a week and a half for my books to arrive from Amazon or Book Depository. I can pick something out and be reading it five minutes later. In some cases ebooks are cheaper, too, as I can get a novel for about $8, compared to $10-15 for a paperback copy of the same story. It’s small and fits easily into my purse, so I’ve always got reading material with me. And I’ve found that since I got my Nook, I’m reading even more than before. Whenever I have a few minutes I pull it out and read a couple more pages. I actually like it even more than I expected I would.

    That said, I still read paper books, too, though they are mostly library books these days. I still like paper books, I just don’t like storing them. My library system has plans to eventually start offering e-books to borrow, and when that happens I will be a very happy lady.

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  11. Patty says:

    I love my Kindle…and now read paper books infrequently…
    I still love actual real books…but just also totally love reading on my Kindle…no real clue why…perhaps the ease and the speed of book buying and it is just fun!!! Love it for travel…no more wasting time deciding what books to bring…I bring all of them!!!

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  12. kathy durkin says:

    In 14 years (since you ask), I bet I’ll be going to an assisted living facility, insisting on bringing my books with me, my boxes of books, as my grandmother stood her ground for hers and threatening to file a lawsuit if I can’t bring them.

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  13. LOL Kathy – I won’t be far behind you 🙂

    I’m genuinely pleased that people are enjoying their e-readers (there’s nothing worse than having bought a fancy gadget and leaving it sitting in a drawer) but I still don’t have much sense that they’re replacing traditional books en masse. I shall watch developments with interest though.

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