Electronic readers offer exciting possibilites for future

Electronic books are here to stay. Reading an e-book on an electronic reader isn’t a passing fad that will lose its appeal after the novelty wears off. E-books are already part of the literary landscape, and instead of mourning the change, we should be excited about the new possibilities e-books will bring.

Amazon introduced the Kindle, its electronic reader, in 2007 and now has over 400,000 electronic books available for customers. In Christmas 2009, for the first time ever, more e-books were sold on Amazon.com than traditional print books.

Even the St. Thomas O’Shaughnessy-Frey library has started to realize that in a few years, the print books languishing on library shelves collecting dust will be bypassed in favor of electronic readers.

The library recently purchased five Kindles, loaded them with popular novels and non-fiction books and made them available for students to check out. The library is acknowledging that this is the way the future is moving. Every one of the Kindles has already been checked out, and most have waiting lists.

Although none of the Kindles contain St. Thomas course textbooks, I think it’s an idea that deserves consideration. Imagine how much cheaper textbooks would be if students could purchase them on library Kindles instead of through the bookstore. It would be just one of the many benefits of having electronic readers available on campus.

Of course, many people will say nothing can replace the feel of paper between their fingers or the faint scent of ink as they flip the pages. They will claim there is something special about holding a book, that it connects the reader to the material in a deeper way than reading words on a screen.

And they may be right. Those are all aspects of the traditional book that, in the near future at least, electronic reader manufacturers have no way of replicating. But electronic readers such as the Kindle have their own unique attributes that make them even more alluring.

For example, portability. The Kindle 2 holds up to 1,500 books. Lugging around that many traditional print books in a backpack would get a little heavy. The Kindle condenses all those books into one 10.2 ounce item that’s easy to slip into a purse or hold in your hands.

When I traveled to Greece and Turkey for J-term, we flew on two flights for a total of 12 hours before we reached Athens. Due to the stricter luggage weight limits on international flights, I had to limit the number of books I could take along. I would have loved to have an electronic reader with hundreds of books on it to distract me during those long hours in-flight. Instead, I used up the two books I brought on the first flight.

Electronic readers are the iPods of the literary world. Just as purchasing a song for an iPod takes less than a minute, Kindle users can purchase a book and start reading it in less than 60 seconds. The new iPad, made by Apple, is even more technologically glamorous than the Kindle and should attract additional converts looking for a quick and easy way to purchase reading material.

Electronic readers could even be the key to saving the struggling newspaper and magazine industry. A one-month subscription to the New York Times on a Kindle costs $13.99, and that’s $13.99 more than people currently pay to read articles on the newspaper’s website.

The New York Times also worked with Apple to create an application for purchasing the newspaper’s content on iPads. These moves will bring publications much-needed revenue while making it even more convenient for people to keep up with the news.

Technology moves forward, not backward. Electronic readers and e-books won’t necessarily replace traditional books, but they will provide people with even more reading opportunities. I think we can all agree that’s a good thing.

Katie Broadwell can be reached at klbroadwell@stthomas.edu

5 Replies to “Electronic readers offer exciting possibilites for future”

  1. I vehemently disagree with Ms. Broadwell. It is impossible to snuggle up with an electronic reader by the fire, and turning the page with a key on a screen is not even close to the feel of the paper between your hands as you turn the page of a book. Moreover, staring at a screen for hours on end can ruin your eyes and causes headaches.
    E-Books and their readers will never replace books. Electronic gadgets break down easily and, due to planned obselence, frequently must be replaced, whereas books can last for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
    I used to work for the OSF Library, and we have books there that are over one hundred years old. I highly doubt that an e-book reader can last that long.
    I have no problem with legitimate technological improvements, but I don’t see anything progressive about e-books and I pods and social networking sites. As a child I used to run around outside and use my imagination and make up games with my younger siblings. I spent hours reading novels and got sucked into the stories I read. All this electronic stuff is adding to the obesity crisis and destroying the imaginations and childhoods of many people worldwide. Other than the internet, I don’t see why all this electronic stuff is better than what we had before.

  2. I have a couple of questions:
    Can you share an e-book with a friend who has an e-reader like you can a paperback or hardcover? Is there a restriction on how long you can keep the e-book on your reader? What if you fill up your reader and want to ‘archive’ a book?

    As for textbooks, you can already ‘purchase’ a digital version of many of them. They come with restrictions, of course. You can only print so many pages and you aren’t allowed to copy and paste text. It appears digital rights management trumps ease of use for research or paper writing. And don’t expect the price to be ‘cheaper’ as the objective of publishers is to maximize profits. E-material makes it more cost efficient to keep content updated and reduces printing costs but don’t expect those savings to be passed along.

    Publishers would like to do just what the RIAA wants to do, each reader (listener) pays for each use (time they listen to a song.)

  3. It’s a bit naive to say that the only thing going for paper books is the “feel of the pages” etc. An electronic reader poses different problems; the way web pages and the internet are designed now is to divert our attention from one thing to the other to the other, the goal being that we will surf for longer and hit more sites. (Moving advertisements, etc.) This has created a culture of online reading being only that of short, digestible pieces; it has lowered attention spans on the screen and discourages reading deeply and slowly. This is the difference between electronic readers and books–the Kindle is similar enough to a computer screen that it too encourages short attention span and skittish reading. It takes focus and concentration to withstand the stillness and silence of a traditional book–the inky smell can be there or not, for all I care.

  4. This is largely a generational thing. Younger folks in general will be more receptive to and appreciative of this option. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. In their private purchases, folks will have the option to obtain printed books for the foreseeable future. those that want to try Kindles can, and the electronic viewing capabilities & user experience is only going to improve over time. The Libraries aren’t going to exclusively purchase electronic content, even though vendor options, usage, and cost effectiveness all indicate that larger portions of the content we provide access to will be electronic.

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