e-Readers: Celebration or Sacrilege?

Some of the hottest gifts this past Christmas were e-readers: Kindles, Nooks, iPhones, and iPads. The industry expected sales of e-texts to soar and they were not disappointed. In fact, the Association of American Publishers reports that sales took a mighty jump, up an estimated 115.8% in the month of January, and generated some $69.9 million in revenue. No other segment of the publishing industry (paperback, trade paper, hardbacks or audiobooks) saw an increase in sales. In fact, sales took a hit in all other sectors. Mass market paperback sales fell by 30.9%, trade paper dropped by 19.7%, and hardbacks by 11.3%.

So… are “traditional” books doomed to go the way of quill and parchment?

Perhaps. One day. But there is still a lot of love out there for the “real” book. A very unscientific poll I recently conducted included comments from defenders of traditional texts, some grudging acknowledgment of the “plus” sides of e-readers, and a few out-and-out converts to new media. Here is a sampling of some of those comments.

From My Cold, Dead Hands! Pffft to the e-Readers:

“Maybe I don’t want to read the new version of Alice in Wonderland. I would prefer to read a second edition in old type, weathered pages…a book that took decades to get into my hands.”

“I got a big Shakespeare book from 1864 and it feels great to read. Who cares what the file date is on an electronic file?”

“Give me a real book. After all candles, incense, hot bath, and an e-reader? No. I like my books still.”

“I want to feel the paper. I want to hold the book. It’s a sensory experience. If the book makes me cry, I want my teardrop to darken the page and smear the ink. If someone had the book before me, I want to see  notes in the margins, the messages from mothers who gifted the books (before the giftee sold it to Half-Price Books).”

I, For One, Have Decided to Extend a Hand to Our Electronic Overlords:

“I have a Kindle…I use it for my ‘junk food’ pleasure reads. There’s nothing like a book and I still have, buy, and read tons of them, but there’s only so much space and so many bookshelves. The nice thing about the Kindle is the highlighting and notes features…the dictionary too, but it’s fun to reread a book and see what you said on a previous read (you can also save/print, etc., the notes). The free classics are a plus, but the versions are so so. It’s also nice when you want instant gratification…like junk food…you want it NOW. :)”

“I have a Kindle and I love it for the most part, but I still do read real books. It’s really difficult to flip back and forth in the Kindle, which is my only complaint. For instance, I’m reading The Joy Luck Club and I keep getting confused about the characters. Since I’m reading a real book version, I can easily bookmark the page that lists the characters and also scan through the previous chapters to recall their individual stories. But since we are all book junkies here, the Kindle keeps the clutter down a bit.”

I’ve Seen the Light! And It’s the Soft, Sweet Glow of My e-Reader:

“I like being able to read a lot for very little dough. The savings … √+.”

“(The local news) did a story on my son’s school and their e-books and the fact that all students are required to have laptops. The story was due to the fact that they had all classes from home during the icy weather. As for the e-books,… the big advantage is that they come to life. They have links, animation, easy to navigate, easy to click on a word and it will take you to the glossary definition if it is a vocabulary word to be learned for the section and many other things… e-books are quite a worthwhile technological advancement.”

“I bought it to combat clutter crisis. Good to read long novels while standing on public transit. I read most of Wolf Hall on Toronto subways.”

Where do you stand? We would love to hear your own thoughts about e-readers. If you’ve bought one, do you like it? Why or why not? If you haven’t, do you plan to do so?