Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The future is now

A few years ago, I happened to catch Nathan Bransford's first poll on the future of e-readers. Since 2007, he's been asking the same question every year: will you ever buy mostly e-books? The change in answers over the last five years has been pretty startling. I remember voting a firm no in the early days, convinced that you'd never pry my paper books away from me.

And you won't, I'm pretty sure. But this year will be the first time, I admit, that my answer has flipped to the other side- I do, and I will, now buy more e-books than paper.

This change in my own opinion has sort of sneaked up on me.

My husband and I are both huge readers, and between us we worked in a bookstore for 11 years. As a result, more than half our home contents are books- or they were, last time we moved. There's been an interesting shift for us lately, though. We're trying to clear space where there is none to fit a second baby, and for the first time ever, one of the things we've had to get rid of in some volume is books. We've always been determined that once you own a book, that book is yours for life. But given then choice between a room full of books and a kid who has to sleep in a sock drawer, we're erring on the side of good parenting and making a little space.

This means looking through all these books with a really critical eye. So we've read and loved it. Would we read it again? If yes, it gets to stay. If no, gone. Have we read it and hated it? There are plenty of those on the shelves- it's a no-brainer. Gone! Have we been meaning to read it forever but we keep finding excuses to delay and delay? Will we really, truly, realistically get around to it, or are we just slow to admit that it's not really something we want to check out? We've had a fair few of these, too. All in all, I think our cull probably sliced at least 30% of our book collection- unthinkable a few years back.

Or at least until 2009, when we first got a Kindle. I love the Kindle, but I always saw it as a backup for books we didn't care much about- the Steig Larsson and Janet Evanovich and Kathy Reichs ones that were never going to be of lifelong importance.

Enter the iPad in 2011. Even after I adapted to the Kindle, I never thought I'd want to read a book on the iPad. But like everything Apple, it has managed to win me over, against all expectations. And suddenly, looking back on the past year of reading, I realise that I probably purchased at least 90% of the books I read in electronic format. It's now my first choice rather than my second. And world-changing, amazing books aside, I can't see that being any different in years to come.

One of the greatest discoveries of the e-book world for me has been fabulous series of books at great prices. I devoured all six Nell Sweeney mysteries by P. B. Ryan last year, and paid no more than $2.99 for any one title. And over Christmas, I discovered the brilliant Captain Lacey mysteries by Ashley Gardner, and I've chewed through six of those in a fortnight, again paying no more than $1.99 per book. For someone who reads as fast as I do, this is a revelation. It allows me to read so much more than I did before. I'm also reading my way through a small virtual stack of modern classics that I should have read before but never got around to- like The Great Gatsby, which I picked up for 0.99c.

In short, my e-readers have changed my reading habits for the better. They've brought me back to reading in much greater volume than I was before. They've saved my son from having no bedroom while allowing me to keep my book collection booming.

So, against all my expectations, my answer is now yes- I will buy mostly e-books from here onward. And I can see why the market is shifting, because if I move in that direction, it means there are plenty of others out there who've done so well before me.

The only thing I still don't believe will change for us is that our kids' books will be paper for as long as possible. Growing up surrounded by words, pictures and stories is far too important to move it all to another piece of electronic wizardry for them. But I can hardly imagine what the reading world will be like by the time they're my age.

How about you? I'm curious not only as to whether you'll ever buy more e-books than paper, but as to how your opinion has changed over the last few years.


  1. I buy more ebooks than paper now too. In fact it has changed my buying habits drastically. It used to be that I never bought a book until I had read it and knew I wanted to reread or keep it forever. Now it is so much more easy to click on that button rather than drag two toddlers to the library or bookstore.

  2. I buy 99.99999% of my books in ebook form now. The combination low prices (FREE for many classics) and my weak wrists has made the Kindle a necessity. And I love the thing! Add the cheap newspaper subscription with no wasted paper and I'm sold.

  3. I'm a fairly new convert to eReaders, but I love the ease of carting around 30+ books (at this time) on a tablet that also doubles for an internet browser, note-taker, etc. Brilliant. I want a bluetooth keyboard and an iPad next since Scrivener is promising an iPad version of its software. But I digress...

    My only complaint about eReaders are the constant speed at which I have to tap the screen to turn the pages. At least with a book there's a lot more content keeping me on a page before I have to turn it. Tap, tap, tap.

  4. @ S.P. Bowers- I agree with you. I also buy only eBooks, because I love to read them on my new e-reader which was my Christmas gift :D It's great that we can find and download this kind of books...there are many online sites with them. More and more people will choose to buy a gadget like these ones, than to read paper books.

  5. Still no e-reader for me. And no desire to own one. Who knows if that will ever change? Most of my reading is for research (even half the fiction I read), and I need to have my books in sight, sticky notes poking out, key pages marked, ready to be grabbed up in an instant to recheck the facts ma'am. I'm afraid out of sight (buried in a Kindle) would be out of mind for my swiss cheese brain.

  6. I haven't converted yet either - I'm kinda with Lori on this one. I don't think any amount of electronic notetaking or highlighting would work for me. I like the ease and swiftness and laziness of slapping a post-it on to a page (or, more likely, the nearest handy receipt or other scrap of paper between the pages).

    And out of sight out of mind goes for me too - I print all the ebooks I get, and I can see that binder in my TBR pile. If I had a Kindle, I'd fill it up in a few days with every Google and Gutenberg book under the sun (Turkish books, travel books, poetry, classics, etc.) and then would I ever get around to them? Who knows. At least on paper I can scan - not sure how quickly the pages flip on other ereaders; the only one I've seen is the Kindle and it's too slow for me.
    On the other hand, as long as we stay in the condo, I'm really really running out of space [g]

  7. For all I love getting my hands on actual paper, I've never been a scribbler or a marker of books. I tend to have a very strong memory for where I've seen information anyway, but I've discovered that the ease of searching a non-fiction e-book is far greater than any index or folded corner will ever be.

    In terms of research, I think my attitude has also been changed by Scrivener and the ability to import PDF and many other kinds of document- I now actively seek these instead of hard copy non-fiction. I haven't yet tried out any research books on the iPad, but one of the few remaining questions I have is how interactive/ intuitive they can be- I can only imagine the possibilities when I look at how brilliant the books are for kids these days. All in all, I've really been won over!

  8. That's true Claire - all I tend to do is stick a piece of paper between the pages, or circle the page number with a pen (maybe going so far as to mark a paragraph with a squiggly line) - so more often than not I return to the book and sit there wondering 'now why did I mark this page??'