Readers are “increasingly likely to read e-books on tablets rather than e-readers, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. The polling firm found that 23% of Americans said they had read e-books in 2012, compared with 16% in 2011.”
And the e-reader vs. tablet debate rages on. On August 15, Slate posted a story titled, “Why Don’t People Want to Read E-books on Tablets?,” in reference to recent declining sales of e-books. The theory: On a tablet device, e-book reading is but one of many entertainment options. Most people would rather skim stuff than do a deep dive into a book.
E-readers may decline in popularity, but I believe they’re far from doomed. And I think that’s a very good thing.
To be clear, the ubiquitous Kindle and other e-Book mobile apps serve a purpose. Have an unexpected 15 minutes to kill waiting in line? Take out your Android, fire up the Kindle app, open the book you were reading last night on your Kindle device, and you can pick up right where you left off.
But reading an e-Book on a smartphone or tablet isn’t always ideal. For example, do you really want to take a $600 tablet to the beach or pool and risk water damage or theft, when you could take a $100 e-reader instead? Even if you take the tablet, you probably won’t be able to see its shiny screen very well in direct sunlight. One time my iPad overheated and shut down on me after 10 minutes in the hot sun.
A tablet or smartphone’s battery will usually wimp out on you long before an e-reader’s charge is gone. Also, unlike an e-reader, a tablet’s bright backlight can trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime, which can cause insomnia. (I can testify to that, believe me.)
Ultimately, I think the real value of e-readers over e-book apps is how inept e-readers are at anything other than letting you read books and, to a lesser extent, newspapers and magazines. This quality is an unintended virtue; it forces the reader to focus on the book.
When using a tablet, I’m likely to read a few pages, then wonder who’s saying what on Facebook, remember an email I was supposed to send, then read a few more pages, check my calendar for tomorrow, and so on. Reading an e-book on a tablet sometimes becomes an extension of my workday, rather than an escape from it.
Pundits such as Nicholas Carr assert that the Internet is fundamentally changing the human brain, causing people to be unable to concentrate for any significant length of time. Some call the phenomenon “digital dementia,” which is probably an accurate description. But I’m not giving in to digital dementia without a fight. And my Kindle—with its grayscale screen and laughable Web-browsing experience—could prove to be a valuable tool in my resistance.
James A. Martin is a seasoned tech journalist and blogger based in San Francisco and winner of the 2014 ASBPE National Gold award for his CIO.com blog. He writes CIO.com's Living the Tech Life blog and is also a content marketing consultant.