In this corner, weighing in at 10.2 ounces, or twice the weight of your cellphone, is the Amazon Kindle. The sleek, electronic reader that’s taking the publishing industry by storm is white, it’s thin as a pencil and it fits easily in your purse or briefcase. Want to read the latest bestseller? In seconds it appears right before your eyes. No more trips to the bookstore; no more heavy hardcovers weighing you down. But at $359, your wallet will admittedly be a bit lighter.
In the other corner, weighing in at 2 pounds and 576 pages, is the latest "New York Times" bestseller. Its pages are fresh from the printer, crisp to the touch. Flipping it open conjures images of lazy afternoons or lounging poolside. You bought it at a bookstore—real or online—which required either a trip or paying shipping fees. Either way, this book, though requiring no investment in equipment, costs at least twice what the Kindle user paid to read the same words.
Absorbing the written word isn’t what it once was. Whether you’re a new convert to e-reading or a die-hard fan of bound pages, you can’t ignore the evolution of reading. News reported by websites, e-mail and text messages is strangling printed newspapers. E-mail has replaced handwritten notes. And entire books can now be read on hand-held computers with a mere 6-inch screen. Considering that consumer demand has many e-readers back-ordered for weeks or months, these devices aren’t going to disappear anytime soon. In fact, new ones—Apple’s imminent iPad, for example—will likely keep coming.
Still, for many book lovers, reading isn’t just about receiving information; it’s about the experience.
The lure of the screen
• Pocket library
The reading experience with an e-reader is undeniably different, but fans like it that way.
While Amazon doesn’t track the demographics of its customers—and the publishing industry is still grappling with how to track e-reader sales— samplings of visitors to a Kindle users website indicate that the devices are most popular with people in their 50s. The devices’ key features perhaps indicate why.
All e-readers boast readability, a feature that is especially important for those who are past age 50, when it’s harder for more people to focus on near objects, according to the National Eye Institute. Easier reading begins with e-ink. That’s the electrically charged black particles that rearrange each time you click to the next page. The words appear on a soft gray background, much like a newspaper, and aren’t back-lit, eliminating eye fatigue common with computer screens. Unlike paper books, many e-readers offer different font sizes. The Kindle has six, changed by simply pushing a button. Considering that the number of new large-print book titles fell by a staggering 63 percent from 2007 to 2008 (8,895 to 3,303), the e-reader takes on increased importance for vision-challenged readers.
Lightweight and easily held with one hand or used hands-free, the device is suitable for those with arthritis or hand-flexibility issues. On an Amazon online forum for Kindle users, many customers indicated that they use a Kindle precisely because of problems with arthritis. Another bonus: No more propping up a heavy and awkward tome when reading in bed.
E-readers also make travel easier. With their ability to store a small collection, a traveler truly doesn’t have to decide what to take. The Kindle can hold 1,500 books; its brand-new cousin, the Kindle DX, with higher resolution and a 9.7-inch screen that mimics the dimensions of a hardcover book, can hold more than twice as many. And e-reading isn’t just for books; newspapers, magazines and blogs are also available.
Susan Ahern, 57, of Wilmington, N.C., is a convert to the Kindle. Ahern would often take two or three hardcover books with her on trips—not an easy weight to carry around. “A three-pound book feels like a 50-pound load when you cross a large airport terminal with it in your carry-on,” she says. “With the Kindle, I carry as many books and newspapers as I like.”