Recent figures show that, in America, almost one in four people will read no books at all in a year. Of those that do read, women read the most with an average of eight books per year and men an average of five.
Looking closer to (my) home in England, I was convinced the numbers would be far higher. My friends are mostly keen readers and I don't think I've ever been 'between books' for longer than a week or two. But no, it turns out us Brits read even less at an average of four books per year.
Now, I'm not here to judge. There are myriad reasons why we might not read as much as we used to. Not least our busy lifestyles and all the other distractions that we have to choose from now. Many will have read enough by the time they get through a magazine, or their favorite websites, others prefer to get their stories from the television (can a pop up book compete with 3D TV??? We'll see!!!).
What does confuse me though, is why a number of electronics manufacturers have gone and gotten all excited about Electronic Book Readers and why many are now forcasting the 'Death of the Paper Book'. The death of the paper book could well be happening, given the figures, but it doesn't seem on the surface to be because of Ebook readers.
So what is an Ebook Reader? Well, basically it's an electronic device which looks like a large version of the touchscreen phones that have become so popular. Most can hold hundreds of electronic copies of books and screen sizes typically range from five to six inches (aiming to recreate the experience of a traditional paper back book) right up to around ten inches, which are supposed to appeal to business and students.
The big difference between an ebook reader and say something like a laptop is the screen. A normal laptop, just like most new televisions and mobile phones uses an LCD screen. They're great for fast moving, super sharp colour images and generally make watching videos and scanning websites an absolute pleasure. What we're told though, is that they're not so comfortable to read a novel on. And this seems to be true. For years its been quite possible to buy a limited selection of books and download them to your laptop to read from there. It totally failed to catch on, mainly because in no way was it as comfortable an experience as reading an actual book. Modern electronic book readers have made big strides in solving this though with the introduction of 'E-Ink' or electronic ink screens. There are a few different variations on the technology, but the end result is pretty consistant. Looking at the screen is like looking at a piece of paper (black and white for now, but colour is coming!). Press the 'Turn page' button and the screen will quickly draw the next page for you.
- Looks just like paper - easy on the eye for long periods of reading
- Works well in the sun - just like paper, you need a light source, but unlike your laptop it will look great outside
- Little or no power use between page turns - In short, the battery will last you around 9000 page turns
- Light - Some are lighter than the paperbacks you're used to reading
- Take it all with you - A typical reader will hold everything you're ever likely to have time to read!
Of course, the book can fight back with having a paper like experience, because it REALLY IS PAPER and is cheap enough that if you drop it in the sea on your beach holiday, you're not going to be too annoyed. Its battery life is pretty amazing too!!!
Still, whatever the advantages or disadvantages over traditional books, perhaps now really is the time of the ebook reader. Amazon have just launched their third generation 'Kindle' ebook reader and it's going down a storm. The Kindle service which integrates a digital book store with their ebook reader has been around in the States for a few years now and although they refuse to release sales figures, the claim is it's their single highest rated, best selling product and has been since launch.
I must admit to being initially sceptial about this claim. I've been a book worm for years, and have also had a play with several of these ebook readers over the last three to four years that that have been on the mass market (or attempting to be). The E-Ink screen is undoubtedly impressive, but boy is it slow. Some readers can take as long as a second to turn the page. This doesn't sound like much, but you know that wonderful feeling you get from a book when you're transported into its world and you're no longer consciously reading the words, rather you're being carried along with the story? These will rip you out of that with every page turn. Especially as the whole page flashes black then white before the next set of words pop up. Given how many physical books you can buy for the cost of the reader alone, it didn't look like it was worth the investment.
The other frustration has been the cost of ebooks. Sometimes as much as 25% more than its physical counterpart! Now, if an ebook is just a (small) file, with no printing costs and no distribution costs (well minimal), then the publisher is definitely saving some money. If they're not only not willing to pass on the cost savings, but they'll also try and hike the prices, then I'm not surprised this new industry has been struggling! Not only that, but there are several different types of ebooks (often referred to as formats) and not every type can be read on every device!
So, after all this skepticism, could I possibly be turned? Could I fall in love with this concept and start pointing my credit card in its general direction. Yes. Yes, I could! And again, it's thanks to Amazon.
One of the ways I got hooked on the Kindle service is through its free software. You see Amazon Kindle is not confined to its ebook reader. You can download it as software to your phone, your ipad and your computer. They include a technology called 'WhisperSync' which will automatically keep your books and what page you're up to registered with every device so that you can read on any of them, picking right up where you left off. I initially downloaded the software to my phone, as I found I could use it when out shopping to download free samples of books I'd seen in the shops that were of interest. The free samples usually consist of the first and maybe second chapters and they're a great way to 'try before you buy' even if you end up buying the paper copy.
It was from that though that I realised that with my phone being with me all the time, I could snatch a few minutes of reading time any time I had a gap and that this was worth the compromise of a mobile not being the ideal platform on which to read for a long time.
Then of course Apple came along and ruined my bank account by launching the Apple iPad and Amazon quickly released a version of Kindle for that. Now I have a lovely big 9.7" screen to read from and although it's not as comfortable as paper, I don't mind reading a few hours worth on it. More recently, the Kindle bookstore came out in the UK and it's the price of the books along with the convenience that finally has me hooked. A book that is £4.99 on a typical website, will often be under £3.00 on the Kindle store. There are also hundreds of out of copyright classics to download and read for free, so I've been loving revisiting Sherlock Holmes adventures and also re-reading classics like 'Great Expectations' and 'Moby Dick'.
With the Kindle Ebook Reader, Amazon seem to have finally cracked how to sell Ebooks. As a buyer, you will not have to be a computer expert to use it. In fact, you won't even have to have a computer! The 3G version has free mobile data access and the Kindle Store is accessible right from the device. Simply go to the store, enter the name of a title that interests you, or browse the various catagories, or check out the charts. Then perhaps download a sample, or buy your copy with a single click! Within 60 seconds, the book will be ready for you to read. You can also subscribe to newspapers and surf the internet, which means an almost unlimited amount of reading pleasure where and when you want it. The device is lightweight, attractive and the page turns seem to be fast enough as to not interrupt the reading experience. I'm very tempted and at £109 ($139 US) the basic model is close to £300 less than the first models of around three years ago.
The key here is, not only is the Kindle affordable, it's easy to use and just lets you get on with the business of rediscovering your love of reading. Come on people, let's get those averages back up!
Featured picture used under 'Creative Commons' license. Thanks to rwx.