Kindles and Kobos and Nooks. Oh, my.
By Timothy Walker
Constant readers, ones rarely seen without a book or a newspaper in hand, certainly aren’t going anywhere. You see them on the bus, in the cafeteria, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. I myself am involved in a lifelong love affair with books, and although I do a larger percentage of my reading on a computer these days, no electronic device will ever be able to replace the feel of a book in my hands. I’m certainly not alone in this opinion but, as the song almost goes, “the times, they are ‘e-changing.’”
E-book readers are everywhere you look these days and the changes this new craze has brought to the literary marketplace are rocking the publishing industry to its very foundations. Sources estimate that nearly 7 million electronic reading devices of various kinds were sold worldwide over the past year, and the owners of these devices now consume, on average, 41% of their books in digital form. Forrester Research predicts that e-book sales for 2011 will surpass $1 billion for the first time, up from $323 million in 2008. In the final week of December 2010, the top six books on USA Today’s “Best-Selling Books” list sold more electronic than print editions and, altogether, 19 out of the top 50 had higher e-book than print sales for that week.
People are reading e-books on their iPads and Galaxy Tabs, on the Kindle and Kobo apps that are now available for their BlackBerries; obviously, lovers of the written word have more options than ever for getting their lit fix, as long as their battery life holds out. Amazon’s Kindle store lists more than 390,000 individual titles for sale and Google’s recently introduced eBookstore claims to have over 3 million titles available for download. By comparison, the largest Borders superstores in the country stock roughly 141,000 titles, according to company figures.
If you didn’t get one for Christmas, a little research will help you to choose an e-book reader that’s right for your needs and your budget. Amazon.com’s Kindle 3 is currently the most popular e-book reader on the market. It retails for $189 on their website, holds up to 3,500 books and you can read for a month on a single battery charge. The Kindle’s screen uses E Ink Pearl technology and is amazingly readable, even in direct sunlight. The main challenger to the Kindle’s market dominance is the NookColor from Barnes & Noble, which retails for $249, but has a full-color touchscreen, supports many more files and has double the internal memory. You can also browse the web and play music on it. The Kobo and the Pandigital Novel are two other popular e-book readers, although neither one comes close to the popularity of the Kindle or NookColor.
Browsing through bookstores is a favorite pastime of many readers, but browsing an online bookstore is a markedly less satisfying experience. Just as an experiment, I went searching for some e-books by a writer I chose at random: Harlan Ellison, author of over 73 books and 1,800 short stories in his 40-year career. You may remember him as the author of the short story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” in which a massive computer destroys the human race.
Google’s eBookstore currently offers exactly one of Ellison’s books for sale; “Paingod and Other Delusions,” a collection of short stories originally published in 1965. Amazon’s Kindle Store is markedly better, offering 28 different Ellison titles for sale, including some from this century. Prices for these e-books are generally around $7.99 a piece. The Barnes & Noble website offers 30 different titles for sale at the same prices. The Kobo website has 29 titles. Any of these e-books can be purchased directly from your e-book reader, and then downloaded directly from the websites via WiFi.
If you prefer an actual physical library of books in your house as opposed to a stack of memory cards, the Borders location at the Dayton Mall, when contacted, had one Ellison book currently in stock, a trade paperback collection of writings on film entitled “Harlan Ellison’s Watching,” selling for $12.95. If you’re willing to wait, you could always order Ellison’s titles online from Amazon.com and have them delivered right to your home address. There are over 50 of his various books available there, but – well, you’re just so behind the times.
(The Dayton Metro Library system, by the way, also has copies of 14 different Ellison titles that you can check out and read. For free. And they don’t even need to be plugged in. I’m just saying.) Are these newfangled electronic devices really a necessary purchase for the average person who just loves to read? Are books really dying? Critics once predicted that television would bring about the end of the cinema. Now the offspring of those naysayers are saying we’re seeing the death of the printed word. I disagree. E-book sales only accounted for about 10% of total book sales last year. Constant readers still love their books and it will take a lot more than a Kindle to take them away from us. I know this: when those e-police finally come for mine, they’d better be prepared to pry them out of my cold, ink-stained fingers.
Reach DCP freelance writer Timothy Walker at email@example.com