Rory Cellan-Jones

Are you still reading?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 9 Feb 09, 09:34 GMT

I took a short train ride on Saturday to a local shopping centre, and in my bag I packed a book to while away the quarter of an hour in each direction.

Hound Of The Baskervilles 03/10/1982 BBC: Tom Baker as Sherlock Holmes and actor Will KnightleySadly, the book never emerged from the bag. I was too busy with my internet-connected mobile phone: sending messages to friends; reading articles after clicking on links they'd sent; even looking at a couple of pages of a Sherlock Holmes story which I have stored in an application on the phone.

Which brings us to the oft-asked question - is the internet killing the book? It's an appropriate time to ask, as Amazon prepares to unveil the latest version of its electronic reader, the Kindle 2.

It strikes me that there are two separate issues: the impact of new technology on the publishing industry and the change in readers' habits caused by the arrival of a flood of online material.

So is the Kindle going to be the iPod, symbolising the moment all publishers had to get with the digital revolution or see their businesses submerged under a wave of piracy? No, because there is no evidence that book sales are declining in the way that CD sales have throughout this decade. In the United States, there was a steady if unspectacular rise in book sales between 2002 and 2007, with quite a shift from the high street to online bookshops.

In the UK, according to the Booksellers' Association, the value of book sales grew from £2.7bn in 2004 to nearly £3bn in 2007. Again, pretty slow growth, but a lot healthier than what happened to the music market over the same period.

In 2007, the UK music industry's total sales - including digital - amounted to about £1.4bn, down from nearly £2bn three years before. Sales of "digital" books are so low that they do not feature on the publishing industry's charts. The book market is not falling off a cliff - even if the bestsellers' list is full of celebrity biographies and cookbooks - and there is no urgent pressure on publishers to go digital.

Electronic books - from the Kindle to the Sony reader to the "Stanza" application on the iPhone - are gimmicks right now, beloved of early-adopting geeks, rather than the mainstream playthings that MP3 players have quickly become. And there is no obvious reason why that should change quickly.

Music is, like it or not, an art form that can be enjoyed part-time, on the move, while doing something else. But it's difficult to read a book while engaged in another task, although I've occasionally found myself walking into lamp posts while engrossed in the final chapter of a compelling novel.

And perhaps it is fiction that will survive best in its analogue form in the digital age. Factual and reference works, which you may want to dip into rather than read all the way through, are ideally suited to online access. Has anybody other than Ammon Shea ever read a whole dictionary or encyclopedia? But a successful work of fiction is something you dive into, leaving the outside world to get on with its business.

The biggest threat posed by new technology is to the attention span of the reader - the "Google is making us stupid" syndrome. The argument goes that there is so much information online that we flit from link to link, without ever reading more than the odd paragraph.

It certainly rings true to this reader. I returned recently from a week's holiday where, with limited internet access, I managed to get through 400 pages of a pretty heavy book. Since getting home, I've barely managed ten pages a day.

But perhaps I'm the exception, and most of you are more diligent readers? Or maybe you didn't make it beyond my first paragraph?


  • Comment number 1.

    I think it's all about where you do your reading. I find it best to read alone in a room with few distractions.
    Incidentally this is probably not the best place to take your expensive new gadget and e-pages are no good in an emergency.

  • Comment number 2.

    I think the figures you quoted in your blog speak for themselves. I know that I am reading more books these days, it may be sign of age and maturity but growing up in a very technological world hasn't put me off the pleasure of wiling away a weekend with a good novel.

    Despite this I have noticed that the digital readers are becoming more common too. Several have been spotted on the my daily tube commute and this is likely to increase as they become cheaper. But it's some years off until people start ditching real books for the digital ones in the same way that mp3's have taken off.

  • Comment number 3.

    Mention is made of the number of 'celebrity' cookbooks in the best sellers lists.

    Buyers of these are unlikely to want them in digital form, electronic devices don't seem to go to well in a kitchen, or is it just the way I cook !!

  • Comment number 4.

    It has been said many times before and still holds true: There is nothing quite like looking at, holding and reading a solid, in your personal grasp book!

    I read approximately two books a week; usually one is a human psyche or suspense-thriller novel and always one is a factual exploration of some aspect of History.
    The Internet will never replace the Book in my home. Irrespective of the cost and effect on the environment (natural and in the house) I will always want to put Books on my bookshelves. Writing this at a computer desk facing a screen with discs etc. on 3 sides is a chore. Behind and to my right stand 5 bookcases of my personal intellectual development and a visual record of countless whiled away hours via over 2,000 hard-paperbacks.

    It may be that the Search engines of the Internet will eventually replace much of the Reference tomes: Want a quote, need to know who said/wrote/first did etc. then accessing Britannica, Wiki and all the rest online may well come to be my first option. None of that could in any way challenge the near indefinable pleasure of possessing a book, turning the pages and reading sitting up, laying down, walking about, alone, alongside my wife etc. Yes, I may already be able to drily retrieve from the computer screen a list of texts I've delved into and hit the button to find the page with that key line of words, however, to linger awhile beside my bookshelves and tantalising consider whether to extract this or that fresh or worn copy of the printed word is a singularly delightful, mystical process no amount of eletronic gadgets could ever replace.

    Similarly, there is no appeal to my senses in the PC Games-Store although it has the latest Football Manager, ClipArt CD-Rom etc. wrapped in their plasticised casings that I may well purchase. It is nothing like the lengthy stroll around the Bookstore's rows wallowing in the range of categories and flicking fleetingly through books on topics I shall probably never take up, but, the option is always there!

    Unfortunately, I can see in my adult children's generation a move away from this devotion to the Book and Printed matter in general. It may be that the wholly computer-orientated/IT-based offspring they are presently raising will simply access their Books online or purchase CD-Rom versions of the same. CD-Romshelves? IPodshelves?

    I don't even know the Hi-Tec terminology: I do know, no more straining over piecing together flat-pack Bookcases would be an incalculable loss in my home and beyond, in the furniture store!

  • Comment number 5.

    Rory - the figures do seem to contradict your basic argument, and I'd definitely say that reading is definitely not dead. If you (could) walk down a single underground train in London, the number of people reading is pretty high. Although books are more expensive than albums and DVDs these days, I've recently discovered how excellent Westminster libraries are. That said, they're sorely underused - the books I borrow have rarely been read more than three or four times (or perhaps the librarians are super-keen to change the ticket labels).

    I'm sure that people were saying that books would die when the VHS tape was invented, so I think it's unlikely that the ebook will completely replace normal books. There's something very satisfying about reading a real book, and if you lose a book, that's annoying - if you lose an ebook reader, that's a few hundred quid down the pan.

    I'm not saying that ebooks won't take off, and they do have their uses, but the paperback has lasted for years and years, and I don't think it's going anywhere.

  • Comment number 6.

    I disagree with the sentiment (or theory) that "Google is making us stupid". One might argue that Google is making us impatient ...but I don't think it's Google. It's the internet in general.

    Obviously, up until the last 10-15 years, most of us had to work pretty hard to do light research, to read news from lots of sources, or to stay in touch with lots of friends. These things are commonplace now; I regularly - daily - read news from 12 sources across the planet and another half-dozen a few times a week. However, I am almost always just reading the articles of interest to me. "Reading the entire paper" is not something many, if any, have time for today. Getting different perspectives on the same issue or event, getting local truly local news and quickly finding the information that you know is relevant is what I, if not we, are seeking.

    Earlier today I was Googling for information on CDMA usage around the world. I took a very quick look at a number of links, perhaps less than 30 seconds on each, before finding the information that I was looking for which I proceeded to read in-depth. Did Googling make me stupid because I quickly scanned a number of links/information? Obviously not; they weren't exactly what I was looking for.

    Do I need to write a long, two or three page letter to my parents, who live 7,500 kilometers away from me? Of course not, we email back-and-forth several times a week; there is no call for a lengthy letter. A few paragraphs with the latest news and we're done. Have we lost the art of letter writing? Of course not, it's just evolved.

    People who had short attention spans or were, lets face it, just plain dim ...were that way before the internet. Yes, there are more kids taking Ritalin or the equivalent today but how many studies are done to verify the huge number of ADD diagnoses? I suspect that mums visit their GP's with the complaint of "he's always running around!" (e.g. being a child) and get prescribed Ritalin. What else would the doctors do? Tell mums to start accept the responsibility of parenthood and spend real, quality time with their children? Obviously not, it's easier to prescribe something.

  • Comment number 7.

    Will Kindle or other e-books kill off the printed book? Of course not, e-books most likely to appeal to engineers etc that need access to manuals out in the field, education in developing countries, travellers and so on.

    We certainly seem to read differently on a screen than when settling down with a book; scanning for key information, distracted by oh-so tempting hyperlinks and so on.
    Information is presented differently too: short, punchy, easy to digest. Even Wikipedia manages to deal with complex subjects in a single page (with lots of links) whereas a book[s] would go into the subject in much greater depth.
    I've read that some students are now writing essays in a style that reflects this change; bullet points take the place of detailed arguments and so on.

    Perhaps Rory has pinpointed his own (and other peoples) problem, he's too easily distracted and undisciplined when Internet access is there to distract him.
    Next time take the book and leave the phone at home, likewise try reading in bed each night before switching the light off.

    Will the Internet kill off the book?
    No, absolutely not. If I want to find out detailed information and explore a subject then I reach for a book (or several books) every time.
    For example this weekend I read the recently published "The Stories of Facebook, Youtube and Myspace: The People, the Hype and the Deals" by Sarah Lacy; As a long term Silicon Valley insider she knows the people and comes up with information and opinions you won't find on the Web.

    Books are much more likely to contain information that you won't find online, on any subject.
    As for reading for pleasure, how many read fiction on-line instead of books?
    I could do without the Web (I'd miss it, but that's different), I couldn't do without books.

  • Comment number 8.

    I disagree with this opinion. One huge advantage electronic devices have is that you can carry around as much reading as you want with you without taking up nearly as much room as the print on paper would.

    I don't think the print book will show signs of dying any time soon but I don't think you give the Kindle etc enough credit.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm a mix of both. I love having my books and I can happily read my way through a book a week if I had the chance. I love the feel and smell of books, I doubt that will change. But I have a DS lite and I'm interested in the new release of 100 books for the DS. I doubt technology will ever fully replace a print copy, but as a trainee information specialist I can see the value of online subscriptions to journals etc. I still think it's hard to beat a book.

  • Comment number 10.

    My New Years resolution was to read more books this year, 6 weeks in and I've just finished the Three Musketeers (finding time is the trouble) but I was aware that the only reading I was doing was on the internet. Electronic gadgets are taking up more and more of our time, but half an hour a day of quiet time away from the mobile and the Zune (yes I have one!) do wonders for relaxation. It's just nice to be disconnected from the world, even for such brief periods.

    Next up - Candide by Voltaire.

  • Comment number 11.

    I take a book in a pocket when I know I'm going to be waiting for any length of time. (At the moment I am spending time in hospitals etc. and necessitates waiting.)To be texting and clicking away would be intrusive in this situation for other people.This is what used to be known as consideration for others - a decreasing quality. I have my mobile on silent/buzz and if I want to talk, I move away from others. I also have a small notebook and pencil for fleeting ideas and questions.Why does everyone need to do things which draw attention to themselves? I counted myself a real wage-slave if I ever had to 'keep in contact with the office'. Others have control over you when that happens.I'm with Sartre on this - Hell is other people. I got that out of a book.

  • Comment number 12.

    I could never give up reading physical books.

    I just like looking around a room and seeing shelves full of books. They may be an inconvenience if you happen to travel quite a bit, however I do not travel that much so still having books isn't really an inconvenience. One day I may move over to the Sony Reader or the Kindle, it won't be for a few years yet.

    If you need me I'll be in the library :)

  • Comment number 13.

    I used to be a big reader as a kid. Then I discovered computers, videogames and the internet. I still read a book every now and then, but only rarely once I left college.

    A couple of months ago, I went back to uni after a 10 year gap to do a computing course. Surrounded every day by the hum and buzz of electronics. I'd often get home and the first thing I'd do is boot up the netbook to check the news and my email. I was doing my christmas shopping on Amazon, and I had some money to spare so I bought myself a book (the first in nearly two years) from the personalised reccomendations list. After it arrived, I set aside a day to read it, switching off the computer, putting some music on the xbox and settling down in a comfy chair. I enjoyed it so much that I've set aside one day a week as a "computer-free day" which I often use to read the latest book I've bought. It helps me relax from a stressful week of assignments and classwork.

  • Comment number 14.

    I enjoy using computers and learning, reading several daily newspapers.

    However, the feel and enjoyment from a good book can't be beaten. A couple of hours on a bus soon pass with a book, and trying to read several hundred pages on a monitor is much harder.

    Publishers needn't worry. Books are here to stay.

  • Comment number 15.

    I also take a book with me if I know I am going to be kept waiting somewhere or am travelling on Public Transport for any distance.

    The price of books and the amount I like to read were becoming a concern. Then I found "Bookcrossing" (, a huge source of free books conveniently secreted around the world. I now 'recycle' my used books, and often pick up new ones on my travels.

    Am I still reading . . . all the time! However, the screen has a long way to go to make it as easy and pleasant to use as a book!

  • Comment number 16.

    When e-readers become popular, what am I going to do with all the bookshelves I've got? Put plates on them or something?

  • Comment number 17.

    The Internet's appeal in common media forms and formats is one of transparency and illusionary infiniticy. You type a couple of words into a search prompt, and any art form, any body of work, thought or prose can be acquired. This is both a threat, and a zen, a way of life for most forms of media. But the humble novel?

    I don't think so. Amassing a virtual library of MP3's establishes a transparent medium, giving you access to any music you want, at the same quality of a CD. But a book, or a book library, is not about the sheer amassal of knowledge and information. A book is a form of art inherently, irreplacably from its paper medium. Its prose flows with the way in which you handle and treat the book. And the satisfaction of procuring your own personal library does not concert the feeling that 'Behold, all information is thus' - it instead bestows a certain tranquility, a certain gentle and natural satisfaction centering on memory and stages within life, one that a massive collection of digital files fails to suffice.

    I just hope that this world does not utterly desensitize themselves to the insatisfaction of total, digitized information.

  • Comment number 18.

    Good blog, I've noticed this also, I was going to buy some reference books for some new technology I'm working on. But have found I can answer any question through Google.

    When will the Cambridge dictionary realise this and start selling advertising space on their web site instead of trying to sell us dictionaries. Don't they realise that I'd prefer to use their web site than shell out money on a heavy book.

  • Comment number 19.

    By using the Internet I have just found a way to read more books and get rid of books I no longer require. Thanks post 15!
    Best of both worlds, really.

    Will the Kindle and other devices kill off the written book. No, not a chance. As Jeff Bezos himself said "the book is the worlds best invention, and it can't be modified, so don't compete"

  • Comment number 20.

    There are several things to bear in mind when talking about digital books (as a fan of reading both books and comics/graphic novels, I've been having this discussion for a while):

    1) Comparisons to the music industry are difficult, not just because of the product differences but the usage differences - music can be enjoyed as one of several activities undertaken at the same time, reading cannot.

    2) The rise of the MP3 player has taken over a decade - the first mp3 players were released in 1998, and back then they truly were only for the devoted early adopter.

    3) The killer device hasn't yet taken appeared, and I doubt Kindle v2 will change that - most current displays are still not comfortable enough for reading text from over extended periods of time, and while development is moving in the right direction it still seems to be a device aimed at enthusiasts, not the general market.

    4) There are pros and cons of digital vs analogue, and the more likely outcome is the coexistence of both. The emergence of cheaper "digital" books would probably see a rise of some sort in consumption of disposable reading material - books you might enjoy reading once but don't particularly want to re-read enough to be worth having on your shelves permanently.

    5) The complainants endlessly decrying the notion of digital books as some sort of unholy contrivance existing only as a blasphemous stain on the existence of pure paper-borne literature might do well to check the bestseller lists for a reminder that medium and content (or medium and artistic merit, for that matter) are separate qualities with no causal connection. Being digital no more removes the power of a work of art than being printed will lend Katie Price's latest chunk of autobiography the merits of a Dickens novel. Stop being so reactionary.

  • Comment number 21.

    It's a case of a time and place isn't it. I've just been to a holiday centre in sherwood forest with free wifi in many of the public areas, but when I went back to my "lodge" I could barely get a normal 2G/gprs signal let alone 3G on my smartphone hence out with the novel and many pages got turned.

    For a number of years many churches have used video projectors for the congregation to see the hymn words. 10 years ago when I started my training for ministry I predicted that we would also use ebooks. I havent seen vast numbers in pews with kindles (infact not seen any) but with the music copies of some of the more popular Hymnals now weighing over 1.5kg I still think it is only a matter of time till church choirs switch to something electronic.

    I myself have in the past (2001-04) used a handspring (palm) as my main bible but its a pain to try and scribble notes, underline text and leave a post-it to find a section again, perhaps the growth of tablet netbooks might let me return in a more flexible way?

  • Comment number 22.

    The book still has advantages over electronics.

    For example, if I decide to read in the bath, I can. If I drop the paperback, I'm out a tenner. If I drop a Kindle, it's a lot harder to replace.

    Books don't have batteries. They work in powecuts and in places where there wasn't any power to begin with.

    They don't overheat. A publisher will never send one out with a faulty battery that explodes. You don't have to worry about a book getting a virus or just failing to work altogether for no obvious reason (unless you're the author).

    Your book will never decide to update itself and then autonomously restart when you're in the middle of something important. It won't go "bing!" at you because it suddenly doesn't like the page you've arrived at. And no matter how many times you riffle through the index, it will not surprise you with porn as the result of what you assumed was a perfectly innocent search. Unless it was that sort of book to start with.

    Also, books are more or less DRM-proof. I bought a book, I own the book. I can always write things in the margins if I feel like it.

    We're coded for books, programmed for them. No matter how digital we go, books are part of the language. The police will never .doc a criminal. At the trial, the judge will never throw the .pdf at him. Being brought to Kindle has some rather Inquisitoiral associations and you'll never place a bet with a .txtmaker.

    I think the book is probably safe for now.

  • Comment number 23.

    Why would anyone need to carry more than 1 or 2 books at a time?

    It's great to have 10,000 songs in your pocket - you can put them on random, play whatever you feel like. But people don't jump from book to book - they usually read one or two at a time, and then move on to the next one. Unlike music, most people don't re-read the same book twice in a month, let alone in a day, like they might play their favourite song.

    The Kindle is just an expensive waste of money.I mean, $359! Think about how many books you could buy from that. Seriously people, move on. The Book isn't dead and won't be for a very long time.

    Audio books on the other hand are great, lazyman's away of "reading" while doing other things.

  • Comment number 24.

    Rory, take a connection break!

    I just don't get people who have to be messaging, blackberrying, talking, emailing, or surfing all the time - the twenty minutes of train travel each way is a great time for me to switch on my music player and get through ten pages or so of whatever I'm reading.

    I'm connected enough at my work and home office, so I don't think I'm missing much going on in the world for that short time.

    As for books - I sincerely hope books aren't dead. I easily get through 2-3 a week (lunch breaks, and always 30-40 minutes before I turn in at night) - and although I've already collected enough to not mind re-reading, I can't think of anything better than a brand new book.

  • Comment number 25.

    I'm as wired as the next geek but books still have many advantages.

    First: for what they do they are cheap, robust and portable.

    Second: as has been mentioned, the experience of reading a book is much different to listening to music on an iPod (even though I routinely do both at once).

    Third: there are, of course, technical issues. No mayyer what Amazon may say, the readability of an electronic device is stil not comparable to that of the paper of the book. Screen reading is more difficult to do for long periods. Kindle and the Sony eReader for example don't really get around that. and they're so expensive, especially since the book are useless out side their DRM'ed environs. All the more reason to support Project Gutenburg I'd say.

    And finally, nothing beats the look and feel (and even the smell) of a good book.

    In fact, I'd agree with most of DSOTG's vomments @22

  • Comment number 26.

    dark side's arguments are pretty good
    but blade 82, raises some interesting comments

    would anyone read more than 1 or 2 books at a time? yes actually they do... I know a number of retired people (and younger) who read different types of novels at different times of day. I know people in their early 50s who take 8 or more novels in their bag for a holiday and I can think of people such as a student using reference books and needing to flick between books to compare notes.

    most people dont re-read.... well that is true assuming it is a novel, however where the book contains complex reference data in tables they might.

    The kindle is an expensive waste of money... well how do you look at it, it is a 1st/2nd generation device and long-term costs will come down, and survivability of drop, even into the bath, will no doubt come. the question though must be will the cost of purchase of ebook editions be considerably less than paper edition? no trees to harvest, no pulping, no transporting, etc. Plus the question of what book are you reading? a bargain bucket novel for £4, or a copy of Fundamentals of Physics (£111-£250 depending on which retailer). If ebooks were 10% cheaper than paper then how many books would it take to break even for a university student?

    Audio books are I agree a good way to absorb a novel, (put a text to speech unit in the ebook device), However technical books, or anything with pictures??? the audio can't cut it.

    the paper book still has years ahead, it will always live on, but as a mainstream article does it have decades or centuries? I'm not so sure!

  • Comment number 27.

    I would describe myself as, amongst other things, a technologist. But I can still appreciate certainly boundaries that technology shouldn't breach. Reading is one such boundary.

    I like to have a physical book in my hands that I can work my way through, seeing my progress and being able to flick back to other sections if I want to check something. It's part of the joy of reading that you have the physical object there; some pieces of paper with their own meaning crafted into them.

    I can think of nothing worse than trying to enjoy a book by reading it off a screen. I just...I honestly can't appreciate why anyone would want to do that. I've tried and its a horrible experience.

    Another problem of reading off screens is outlined early on in the article - distractions. If you've got a phone that allows you to go online, play games etc then you'll just stop reading and do that - you won't feel involved in the story. Similarly, Kindle is practically asking you to give up on a book early on for fickle reasons and just switch to another; rather than persevering and getting involved with the story, which is an important part of literature.

    For me, reading is a way to escape our modern lives. It allows you to stop worrying about the qualms of your own life and get involved in someone elses. A screen can't let you appreciate that in the same way a novel can.

  • Comment number 28.

    Once we have established that e-books are comfortable to read, I see no reason for non mass adoption. Think about how much money a school could save by using them - no supply chain difficulties, no postage, a student's required books for the college term could be loaded easily by the course tutor, and the 'library' could be nothing more than a computer somewhere on the network. Let's face it, much of a student's research will probably be carried out on the internet anyway, so the medium is not that different. Computers are ubiquitous but e-readers are not, yet. Seems daft to me...

  • Comment number 29.

    Of course I am still reading, books - borrowed from the library or bought or I already have at home - AND e-books on my iPod Touch when I am going away or in public transport, or waiting for a hospital appointment, or even at home as the iPod is lightweight to hold and easy to see, to turn pages with, with a painful hand. Also the "stanza" application is free as are any number of e-books - novels, reference books, classics, etc. Downloading takes seconds, but wifi only, no 3G, no access to Amazon's vast stores.
    I may well buy a Kindle when it gets to Europe, is a bit cheaper, has ironed out all the bugs. Or perhaps I will wait until Apple design one...

  • Comment number 30.

    I suspect that until e-Books are free from their DRM shackles their take up will be limited the same way music downloads were.

    Of course the data isn't in yet. If a year or so's time shows an uplift in digital music sales on the un-encumbered variety will the eBook sellers take notice?

    And of course reading a book is still a physical experience beyond the actual words on the page. I suspect I'm not going to be taking eReaders into the bath with me like I;m about to do with my current book.

  • Comment number 31.

    The joy of owing the physical object is a big part of the attraction of books, but the DRM issue is another.

    There's no way that buying a novel published by Harper Collins is going to result in them installing a Root Kit on my bookshelf and getting me sued for having a couple of second-hand paperbacks.

    And there's no way I would put up with a company telling me how many devices I can use to read a digital book. That would be like telling me I can read in the living room but not the bedroom, or in the bathroom but not on the bus.

  • Comment number 32.

    I think the factors that affect whether e-readers will take over from books are the same as those that drove the adoption of digital music files and players over CDs.

    1. The cost of players is similar for .mp3/.ogg and CD (not currently the case for e-readers by a long way).

    2. The cost of the actual music track is equivalent or lower for .mp3/.ogg than CD. E-books currently retail at about the same price as a paperback.

    3. The quality of the music in .mp3 or .ogg format is near indistinguishable from CD using the human ear. E-readers currently aren't as eyeball friendly as paper and ink by a fair margin.

    4. The ability to carry with you as much music (or more) than you are likely to need in the course of your time away from your music collection in a significantly smaller package. This condition held almost from day one for digital music devices but its a bit more dubious for e-books. Certainly an e-reader can hold several thousand e-books in a package the size of one hardback, but how many people are away from their bookcase for long enough to read more than seven or so books? Further reading books is an extremely linear activity, one does not simply put the e-reader on shuffle and read a random selection of pages from your entire library.

    1, 2 and 3 I can realistically see falling into place.
    4 I think can only really fall into place for technical and reference works - with the caveat that any person who has an e-reader for non-fiction may as well also use it for fiction.

  • Comment number 33.

    I recently bought a Sony Reader and would like to make a few points -

    A decade ago a lot of people said digital cameras would never replace film, but how many people still use a film camera now? Give the technology and associated infrastructure a chance to mature and we'll see how long electronic books remain considered a gimmick.

    A large factor in the adoption rate is the availability and price of the books. Several shops in the U.K. are selling the Sony Reader, but the choice of ebooks on Waterstones web site is pathetic. Compare the computing selection, for example, with thousands of paper books versus the solitary ebook of a kids guide to the web published in 2002. How many kids can afford a £200+ Reader and would be happy with a guide to the web more than six years old, I wonder? The majority of novels still seem to be more expensive as ebooks than on paper. I can reluctantly accept DRM restrictions on my ebook purchases as a trade-off for the convenience of downloading them, but there is no way I'm willing to pay more for restricted ebooks than their paper copies.

    The e-ink technology is great and I can't see how any electronic display technology that is far more power efficient and readable than LCD can fail to become much more prevalent.

  • Comment number 34.

    The internet caused my book reading, but mostly television watching to decline but my reading to increase.

    Reading messages or articles on the internet is still reading.

    I'm reading more books since I discovered e-books. I read them on my GP2X, a multipurpose handheld which cost a good deal less than a kindle.

    I generally read in the morning when I wake up, I couldn't before because the light and page turning noise disturbed my wife.

    I also read on the train to/from work - my reader is lighter than a book, even more so when I'm getting to the end of one and need to carry another.

  • Comment number 35.

    I have the Sony ebook and it coincided nicely with a time when I had been saying to myself "I really must make good on that promise to myself to read some classic works of fiction. " the sony has 100 of them bundled with it.

    So far I have read The Three Musketeers and a couple of Shakespeares plays.

    I also read the latest Iain M Banks book in more conventional book format. You would think that Science Fiction would make it on to ebook pretty quickly after all arn't us geeky early adopters also the sort that read Sci-Fi and fantasy?

  • Comment number 36.

    "The biggest threat posed by new technology is to the attention span of the reader"

    "Threat"? Maybe your IPod pulls a knife on you for not listening enough, or your mobile makes phone calls demanding more attention or else? Your attention span isn't determined by anything external, it comes from your own ability and willingness to concentrate and think, and that 'thinking' bit is under pressure from almost every aspect of modern western society. All technology ever does is magnify what's already there, it's not the 'cause' of this supposed threat at all.

    ".. even looking at a couple of pages of a Sherlock Holmes story which I have stored in an application on the phone".

    Purely out of interest - when you 'finish' that particular story, will you consider you have 'read' it in the same sense you have 'read' a paper book from start to finish, or is there a difference? You certainly seem to be saying it's not 'engrossing' in the same way, judging from your lamp post collisions, but are you choosing to lose the 'engrossing' aspect to cram in more sensation and activity - and if so, why?

  • Comment number 37.

    A good time to point out that Northern Ireland Railways (Translink) have installed bookcases at six train stations and are runnign a Bookcrossing sharing scheme to encourage reading while on the train.

    A friend suggested that given the short journey times, only poetry and short stories need be supplied! If I spot War and Peace on the shelves, I'll start to scared about delays!

  • Comment number 38.

    ParkyDR @34:

    "Reading messages or articles on the internet is still reading."

    Well, yes and no. Interestingly, Michael Rosen raised this very point in a recent documentary he made for BBC4 and its reading season. While screen reading is indeed reading, it hppens for much less time an is much more functional. The mechanics for of screen luminosity, for example, make reading for longer periods more difficult than it ight be with a book.Reading lots of text with a screen is neither easy nor comfortable. This is perhaps one reason hy our culture seems to be moving toward the more obviously visible. Even the best technology, such as the eReader doesn't quite address this yet.

    Rosens's initial discovery that fewer children than ever read for pleasure now is certainly one that should give us all pause.

  • Comment number 39.


    I agree that reading off a desktop computer screen is uncomfortable and harder than a book but I don't find the same is true for the text reader on my handheld.

    It has a 3.25 inch LCD screen (not e-ink) and display just over 50 characters a line. The size and number of characters is much the same as a paperback (ignoring the margins).

    I find a black background with yellow characters most comfortable.

    I have read about 30 full length books this way and no I'm not a masochist.

  • Comment number 40.

    I used to read a lot - I was reading before I started school, so I got a head start on other children. I'd read a lot of library books if I didn't have my own, and as the books grew larger and more mature, I read more of them. In my early teens, I'd read three or four 2-300 page books a week. At university I'd trawl through the libraries and bookshops (there were several cut-price places selling cheap surplus or remaindered stock, so I had plenty to choose from), buying books and magzines at a rate of a couple a week.

    When I got into computing and computer games more deeply, I found that I tended not to read as much. I still buy books and magazines, but I don't get through them as quickly as I buy them - the pile of mags next to my bed has been 8 months old for about 4 years. An 800-1000 page book, about typical for my tastes nowadays, takes me about a month, reading only a little before bed, and not even every night.

  • Comment number 41.

    I love reading and at always have a book 'on the go'.

    I think the versatility of a book wins over any electronic version, not to mention the fact that people who cannot afford £100+ for a gadget can easily and cheaply pick up a book. (Have to mention our fabulous libraries where books can be accessed freely).

    Although I love my email, Facebook, etc. I don't think anything can compare after a long day to sit down with a cup of tea and a good book.

  • Comment number 42.

    Are many of us barking up the wrong tree? Kindle or any such thing is not replacing books or reading - it is only replacing paper as in dog eared, sepia tinted, coffee stained or plain simple crumpled, aged, torn paper.

    No, I wont make a case of e-books being more environment friendly than paper books, because I don't know whether e-books, depending on server farms for content feeds, are integrally less environment friendly than the forest-depleting paper books.

    But I will make a case for progress. For the benefit of electronic archiving when compared to hard-copies, for portability, for convenience (yes, you can use the Kindle in the loo and wait for the likes of 3M to come with a coating film that makes it use-able in kitchens).

    As a school going kid several summers ago, during the annual visit to my maternal grandparents, I came across, in one of those cobwebbed attics, a stained, sepia tinted book on Newton's first law, and the word inertia. The book might be dead a long time now, but the word lives.


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