E-readers – nothing left to ponder?

National Poetry Day was on Thursday but were you using a traditional paperback or a slender e-reader to enjoy Wordsworth and his fellow romantics?

04 Oct 2012


National Poetry Day came and went on Thursday in a haze of ruffled lace and rolling verse but were you using a traditional paperback or a slender e-reader as you went fey and ponderous with Wordsworth and his fellow romantics?


Sounds like a simple matter of preference, but over the past couple of years this has become one of those supposedly 'defining' questions akin to "Beatles or Stones", or at least "East 17 or Take That".

The wrong answer has seen friends left hanging for high-fives that'll never come, boyfriends abandoned at bus stops and dinner parties halted by awkward silences as paperback-clutching technophobes and Kindle-sporting technophiles put their equally valid points across.

But recent research suggests the tide is turning in favour of the e-reader as its portability, convenience and general slickness sends us all jelly-legged and coy. The number of e-readers sold worldwide in 2016 will reach 67 million, according to Juniper Research. The figure is up from 25 million sold last year, and shows the devices are seeing many of us question our bookish principles.

Separate figures from the Publishers' Association also showed digital fiction sales soared 188% in the first half of this year compared to 2011 as we clamoured to get better acquainted with the Fifty Shades Of Grey phenomena, ahem.

So what is it about e-readers causing all the fuss? Well, here's the rub.

Portable prose
The main thing is their portability - small enough to fit in your pocket or handbag, they're perfect for whipping out on the train or on your office lunch break. And even though they're much thinner than the average paperback you can get well over one thousand books on one. You don't need us to tell you there'd be some very funny looks indeed if you attempted to mount your entire bookcase on your back and waddle onto the train like a tortoise carrying his home. Daily Mirrors would bristle and heads would shake - this isn't cricket, old chap.

Seeing is believing
Screen quality is another point; any paperback traditionalist taking their first tentative steps into the e-reader world will find an E-Ink screens looks and reads like paper. If you enjoy the great outdoors, E-Ink devices are also a good fit, with them generally still readable as you bask in the sun atop Snowdonia - or in the park for those who like their hikes to stray not too far above sea level.

Summer seems a distant memory now, but cast your mind back to that sepia-tinged world of tanning and trunks for a second. You'll probably remember seeing more than a few e-readers among the sun-bleached and dog-eared paperbacks, with many people swayed by batteries that last as long as one month on a single charge and the fact you can take as many books you like away with you with no chance of facing excess baggage charges. 

Having it all
These are just a couple of things fuelling our love affair with the e-reader. However, despite these points there are certain things we love about books the handheld device can never replace: the fusty smell and yellowing pages of a well-thumbed paperback; the tactile pleasure of licking your finger and turning a page; the sight of a bookcase filled with the cracked spines of iconic paperbacks.

It's a poser, so what do you do? Well, our lives are full of decisions - what we're going to eat, where we're going to live, what we'll have in our sandwich. Why not give yourself one less to make by pledging your love for e-reader and books alike? Have the best of both worlds with your e-reader by your bed or in your bag and your favourite Penguins on the bookcase for when nothing but the feel and smell of a book will do.

If you don't believe this town is big enough for both of them take comfort from the words of a man who does.
Richard Mollet, CEO of The Publisher's Association, who knows a thing or two about books, said: "The huge increase in digital sales shows how rapidly readers and publishers are embracing e-book reading. Whether books are enjoyed physically or electronically, publishers will continue to invest in exciting authors and titles."