Who will use e-readers, and why?

This comment left on Joe Konrath’s weblog is worth surfacing:

Last night at dinner, I left my wife and her family in the restaurant having dessert while I went outside to smoke my pipe. There was an elderly guy sitting out there reading a Kindle 3.

I struck up a conversation with him, and he told me that he and his wife were both formerly very heavy readers, but both needed large-print books now. They’d read their way through most of the large-print books in our library system years before, so they’d had to cut their reading way back, substituting television.

He’d bought his Kindle 3 about six months ago, and within a week he’d ordered another one for his wife. He said they were both excited because they could now read everything in large print. They were also excited by the number of good books available for $0.99 to $2.99, and said they were buying three or four times as many ebooks as they used to buy print books. I mentioned your name in passing, and he said he’d bought one of your books, but it was still in his TBR pile. I suggested he might want to move that one to the top.

What I thought was really significant was that he mentioned that he was the first of their social group to buy a Kindle, but now nearly all of his friends had bought one, and that they’re all reading a lot more and watching a lot less television. This has been mentioned before, but ereaders are the first technology gadget for which elderly people are the early adopters.

I was also surprised to learn that a young couple who bought a house in our neighborhood are Kindle owners. He’s an auto mechanic. She’s a waitress pursuing a nursing degree. They’re very nice people, but neither are in the demographic that I’d expect to be serious readers, let alone ereader owners.

I talked to her about it, and she said she’d seen one of her friends with a Kindle, who told her about the range of inexpensive books available. She ended up buying one for herself, and mentioned that several of her friends who were not formerly serious readers have also done so.

We need to be cautious when speculating how ebooks and e-readers will or won’t change reading habits. Most of the recent changes are unprecedented, all of them are interconnected, and there is just no way to guess accurately what shape the landscape will eventually settle into.

And why speculate? Right now it’s enough to simply watch with an open mind, something that very few people with vested interests in old-fashioned publishing are doing. Do that and you’ll have a huge head start, just because you’ll see what they refuse to see.

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4 thoughts on “Who will use e-readers, and why?

  1. I’ve always said, I’ll never get a Kindle. I mean, why do it? I have a computer that I can read e-books on. There is Kindle software for my PC if I want “Kindle” books.

    But in recently reading folks commenting about their Kindles, I have heard the nearly unanimous voice that Kindles are so much easier on the eyes than a computer. Like, it is almost impossible to read for any extended time on a computer, but Kindles can be read for hours on end. And the opinions were just as unanimous that Kindles were no harder on the eyes than physical books, and probably a majority actually expressed the opinion that Kindles are easier to read than physical books … particular as one gets advanced age and can benefit from a larger font.

    Add to this the benefit of having multiple books (from hundreds, to even thousands, though those sorts of numbers would be irrelevant — even scores would be sufficient) along at any given time, yet with less than 1 pound of weight to carry; and the benefit of easy delivery to my address that is overseas (the bilingual Bibles I recently ordered took 2 months to the day to arrive); I am beginning to get the e-reader bug.

    I guess I say all this to preface a question. Now I know that that there are many things that you don’t know, and you wouldn’t want to be a “champion” for any e-reader opinion, but I’m clueless apart from the opinions of others on this issue … so would you concur that Kindles are at least as easy on the eyes as physical books? (I hope I’m not ignoring an already-expressed opinion. I’ve read a lot of your material on e-books, but not having had the direct interest until recently, I can conceive that I have read an answer to this question, but simply forgotten having read it.)

  2. Would you concur that Kindles are at least as easy on the eyes as physical books?

    Jay,

    Yes. The experience isn’t identical, but very close. And in some ways better, e.g. the fact that the type face and size stays the same across books once you set your preference.

    I strongly recommend borrowing one, at least for a few minutes, just to see if you like it. And I also strongly recommend waiting until Christmas is nearer, since there is a good chance that prices will drop under $100 by then.

  3. I have a nook, and unlike a computer, you cannot read it without the same kind of lighting you’d need for a book. in each case, you’re reading by reflected light. So I’d say they’re the same.

    The arrival of ereaders has coincided with the availability of a great many public domain books. I’ve been researching popular fiction in the period 1900-1915 and I’d reached the point where I’d have to go to a library and read books kept in Special Collections. They’re too old, fragile, and valuable to be loaned to patrons. With a nook, I have instant availability and can order them up as I think of them, without having to worry about due dates. Most are free, but for .99 you can get a reformatted copy that’s a better copy.

    When you go to Project Gutenberg or Google books, you can often find how many times a book has been downloaded, and I’m always surprised that so many people are reading these old public domain books. The ereader is reintroducing 21st century readers to the writers of 100 years ago.

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