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E-readers are winning

By Jean-Claude Elias - Dec 19,2019 - Last updated at Dec 19,2019

On a flight from Amman to Athens, Greece, two weeks ago, I could not but notice the number of passengers holding a Kindle in their hands and reading a book in digital format. The now famous e-reader device was introduced by Amazon back in November 2007.

Although surrounded by digital high-tech myself, if only because this is what I do for a living, I do not own a Kindle. Until now I have stuck to good old printed books, for a number of reasons, good or bad. Yet, seeing several passengers reading on Kindle on a rather short flight made me wonder whether I too should get myself one.

My personal analytical approach to acquiring an e-reader entails two main points to ponder. The first is the obvious, old debate about hard copy printed books versus digital contents you read on a screen. The second is whether it makes any difference reading digital contents on any kind of screen such as a laptop computer, a tablet or a large smartphone on one hand, and on a Kindle on the other.

Over the last 15 years or so the trend to avoid printing has gained significant momentum. Despite complex argumentation that computers, online applications, networks and digital devices do affect the environment in the end, given that they have to be powered, it definitely helps our planet to keep text in digital format and not to consume paper and ink by sending it out to a printer.

According to Canadian website ledevoir.com, the printed book market has been sustaining losses of five to ten per cent a year over the past few years. It quotes one of its readers who said that having a nice set of books displayed on his bookshelves “… makes me look smart when my friends are here and they see them!”

The fact is that reading a book is not the same as reading the news, short articles or enjoying social media on the web. A book, a long story, puts you in a special state of mind. A website with countless distractions such as photos, videos and ads, is not necessary the best place for the mind to focus on a book and to enjoy it fully.

An e-reader like the Kindle, in addition to being a digital device, presents several advantages that make it closer to a printed book, while not using paper at all. The e-reader is designed with a screen that makes reading the text very easy on the eyes in terms of sharpness, light and contrast, a non-negligible advantage that tablets and smartphones do not necessarily bring, for they want to let you play games and videos too. Amazon describes the screen of its new Kindle as being “Paperwhite”. Interestingly there is the word “paper” in it.

The new e-readers models are also waterproof so they can be used practically anywhere, anytime. Moreover, and precisely because of their display characteristics, their battery lasts a full day without recharge.

The handling experience is as close as possible to a printed book, plus the digital advantage. A device, especially if fitted with 32GB of memory, can store tens of books at one time. The 6-inch diagonal format is set in portrait mode, making it light and very comfortable to hold and to read. Some models are designed in 8-inch size but they seem to be less popular. The e-reader design is custom-made for the most pleasant book reading experience. Tablets and smartphones just cannot compete.

Another aspect that is rarely mentioned when people compare printed books and e-readers is the timing. We know and we realise that we live in a fast moving world. We want everything instantly. Printed books do not only deplete forests, they take time to print and to be physically distributed and available in bookshops. E-books on the other hand are immediately available, just after being written and edited. Only electronic text and network distribution are fast enough.

According to Rachel Nuwer on bbc.com: “… half of American adults now own a tablet or e-reader”. At the same time, she also wonders: “If the printed word becomes a thing of the past, it may affect how we think.”

Another and perhaps a critical point to ponder: won’t e-readers, precisely because they are particularly attractive, make the younger generation read more books? That would be a huge plus.

How long before no one prints books at all?

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